Keeping the Lights On: Help with Utility Bills for Low-Income Families
US residents paid a monthly average of $115 for electricity in 2019.
Between electricity, running water, and sanitation services, the cost for utilities quickly adds up. Unfortunately, rushing to turn off a faucet and always keeping the lights off doesn’t always bring down our bills as we want it to.
Finding money to pay for utilities is especially difficult if you’re a person with low income, including the millions of people whose incomes have decreased or disappeared in the last year. What do you do if you don’t have the money for utilities?
We know the extra help is appreciated. Below you’ll find a guide on finding help with utility bills for low-income families.
Contact Your Utility Company
Start by contacting your utility company. Many utility companies offer utility programs and special help for low-income, elderly, or disabled people.
Each company offers a different type of program, but you might be able to receive direct grants from the company or a lowered monthly cost. If you suspect this might be a one-time situation, you can even ask about the possibility of a deferment.
Depending on where you’re located, the utility company may work with local organizations to assist, or they may provide support themselves. Many utility companies will offer referrals if they aren’t directly able to help.
Check With National Assistance Programs
If you’re having trouble receiving help from your utility company, there are several national assistance programs offering help with utility bills, including one from the US government.
Inquire about assistance in applying for these programs when speaking with your local energy company. Receiving application help may expedite the process.
Weatherization Assistance Program
The Department of Energy offers the Weatherization Assistance Program. This program improves the energy efficiency of low-income homes to reduce monthly electricity bills. They’re able to help about 35,000 homes each year.
The weatherization of your home can include everything from installing weatherstrips on your doors and windows to adding insulation to your water heating pipes. This program will also improve the health and safety of your home by repairing vent systems, evaluating mold hazards, and installing smoke alarms.
Not only will your electricity bills be lower, but you’ll also feel safer living at home.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program offers initiatives to assist with energy bills, crises, and minor home repairs. They aim to keep you safe through improved home heating and cooling.
To apply for assistance, reach out to the agency administering LIHEAP in your state. You’ll find the program is administered in most states by local either nonprofit organizations or the Department of Social Services.
Tribe members who cannot find their tribe on the LIHEAP directory list should apply to their state program.
What’s needed for documentation of low income depends on the state. Some states evaluate your assets, and other states ask for pay stubs or proof of citizenship.
Applying to national programs can be time-consuming. In the case of immediate emergency help, there are charities you can reach out to in your area.
Below is a list of charities offering assistance. Take some time to see if they’re serving your area.
The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army can often provide low-income utility assistance and assistance with rent and other emergency financial needs. Contact your local Salvation Army to ask about available resources.
Due to resource availability, they may only provide one-time assistance or assistance in certain seasons. They’ll also offer budget planning tools and case management if needed.
Their goal is to provide quick assistance and to work towards long-term improvement.
If you know of a local church affiliated with Catholic Charities, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to receive help with utility bills.
Catholic Charities aims mostly at ending homelessness within the country by providing temporary beds for houseless individuals, financial assistance to those facing eviction, and food pantries for struggling households. Luckily, they also offer assistance with utilities and medical needs.
Many churches have waiting lists due to the high demand, but there’s no harm in seeing what help you can get.
This non-profit organization helps low-income individuals and families in a variety of locations. Reach out to your local Urban League office to ask which specific assistance programs they offer.
The staff is trained to assist individuals from all backgrounds, but they heavily focus on underserved populations. Their main objective is to offer housing, education, and medical help to people in need.
Their ability to help depends on their available financial resources. However, they always have financial literacy resources available to help put you back on your feet in the case of an emergency.
Contact Local Churches
Are you experiencing difficulty finding local branches of the above-mentioned charities? Look to your local church.
Many local churches offer emergency financial assistance through outreach groups and church offerings. Depending on how large the church is and how high the local assistance demand is, they may provide a one-time grant or extended help.
If the church is not directly able to assist you at the time, ask about their connections with other local religious organizations. You might even be able to find a family willing to sponsor you for a short amount of time.
Research Electricity Shut-Off Laws
Some states prohibit the shutting off of electricity during the winter months. Check your area’s electricity shut-off laws. Certain states even have laws protecting the elderly and disabled.
While these laws protect some families from loss of electricity, the bill remains. You’ll need to find a way to pay the utility company.
Look for Free AC Units
Some organizations may not offer financial help with utility bills, but they can off free AC units or fans. These are crucial during hot summer months, especially in Southern states.
If you’re in a colder climate, ask local charities about free heaters or blankets. Many local thrift stores have these items at a reduced price.
Save Energy at Home
To help save money, you’ll want to become more energy efficient at home. There are several ways to do this.
During pleasant days, turn off your heating/cooling system and open up the windows. The breath of fresh air is great for your health, and it gives your energy use a break.
You’ll never want to leave a light on that you’re not using. Make sure to flip off the switch once you leave the room and keep appliance use at a minimum.
If you find yourself frequently doing laundry, try washing some things by hand. All you need is water, soap, and a bucket. You can even use your tub!
Once your items are washed, whether by hand or machine, try hanging them on a line outside during a sunny day. The warm sun will have your clothes dry and smelling fresh in no time.
As you take showers each day, make them quick. Standing too long in the shower uses more water than you’d think. You’ll also want to keep the use of your faucets as low as possible.
Evaluate Your Budget
On top of cutting down electricity bills, it’s important to evaluate all areas’ budget in your life. Many people spend more than they realize.
First, take a look at how much you spend on food. We know feeding large families gets to be pricey, but there are plenty of food assistance programs available. Contact your local SNAP office to apply for food stamps.
If you have small children, there are plenty of places to receive free baby supplies. Many organizations specialize in helping low-income mothers to provide baby formula, cribs, and diapers.
Is your family in need of new clothing? Head to local thrift stores and clothing drives for new essential clothing items, including coats and shoes. There’s no need to buy new outfits.
Cutting down on vehicle gas bills will also put more money back in your pocket. If it’s safe, try running local errands on a bike if you have one. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s also more eco-friendly.
Reach Out to Friends and Family
Asking for help is stressful, but it may provide a solution.
If you have a network of friends and family, consider asking some of them for financial help even if it stings your pride. You may find that there are people in your life who are happy to help you. Just be sure that any strings attached, such as a repayment program, are outlined and agreed by both parties in advance.
Finding Help With Utility Bills for Low-Income Families
Electricity, water, and sanitation services aren’t cheap. Covering the bills for utilities is a challenge for many families. There are ways to find help with utility bills for low-income families in your community.
Start by reaching out to the above-mentioned national assistance programs. If they aren’t able to help, inquire about assistance programs through your utility company or apply for a local charity grant. Many religious organizations also offer financial aid.