Energy assistance is a government program to reduce energy costs for low income people who might have difficulty paying for heating and cooling. A common example is the low income energy assistance programs (LIEAPs) available in many US states. To qualify for energy assistance, people usually need to document income below a certain level and to provide information on their energy costs, such as statements showing how much they spend on fuel or electricity, depending on the type of energy they use for heating and cooling.
There can be several components to an energy assistance program. One is usually a program to reduce energy consumption with the goal of lowering costs overall. This can include free home audits and provision of things like weather stripping, exchanges of energy-hogging appliances like fridges, and other measures for energy efficiency. These programs are sometimes made available by utilities, as well as the government and may be available to everyone, not just low income people. People with more money can ask about things they can pay for to address efficiency concerns, such as retrofitting home insulation.
The other component is a program offering vouchers, reimbursements, and similar measures to cut down on energy bills. People who have low income can apply for these from the government or through their utilities. The energy assistance program is designed to prevent situations like utility shutoffs for nonpayment during periods when people could die from extreme weather conditions. It is also designed to encourage people to heat and cool their homes sufficiently for their needs, without being as concerned about cost, an important consideration in regions where people may do things like only turning on heaters for a few hours a day during the winter to avoid high energy prices.
The baseline qualifications for energy assistance vary, and people can get information to see if they qualify by contacting utilities or government offices. These numbers are often adjusted in response to shifting energy costs, and typically, people can get assistance even when they are above the poverty level. In extremely cold regions where energy costs can run very high every month, governments recognize that even people not officially in poverty may have trouble paying for fuel oil, propane, and other sources of heat.
People who qualify for energy assistance may also be eligible for other forms of utility assistance. Cities sometimes provide lower rates for water and garbage to people who cannot afford regular rates for these services, for example, and many phone companies offer a so-called “lifeline service,” with very basic features on a landline at a low fixed cost.