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Unemployed? How to Get Utility Assistance from the Federal Government



When you become unemployed, suddenly the world you once navigated easily seems more uncertain. Everyday expenses are increasingly harder to manage and if you weren’t given severance pay, it might be hard to make ends meet. Cutting back on extra expenses like eating out and cable TV is easy, because those are obvious things to do when you need to spend less. However, someone who has lost a job still needs to eat, needs to keep up on rent or mortgage payments and needs to have basic utilities like electricity and heat.

It can be hard to admit when you need help, especially from a government agency, but if the stress of paying the bills gets to be too much and you’ve cut back as much as you can, consider reaching out to agencies, both local and federal that can help you meet your needs.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides federally funded help with home energy costs, energy crises, weatherization and minor repairs in the home. LIHEAP can help someone who is struggling financially keep the heat on in the winter or even cool down in the summer in places where heat can be dangerous.

LIHEAP works by states and federally recognized tribes applying for grants from the federal government and then distributing that money to local people in need. Income eligibility is capped at 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or 60 percent of a state’s median income. Higher benefits must also be given to households with the highest energy need as opposed to household income or number of members in a household. Households with children, elderly, or disabled members must also be targeted through the program.

For information on how to qualify for LIHEAP, go to

The Home Repair Resource Center has a variety of options available to those who might need help repairing their appliances, heating and cooling systems. A Senior Grant, for example, can provide up to $1,500 towards the cost of replacing a roof. Other programs provide loans at 0 percent interest so that a homeowner can reduce the cost of heat, for example, by better insulating their home.

Basic phone service is offered through Lifeline. Lifeline is a federal program offered through the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund. The program can help you get free or discounted cell or landline service. The program has both program-based and income-based eligibility. If you already receive certain benefits, such as food stamps, or unemployment, you may qualify for Lifeline. If your income is below certain limits, you may qualify as well, regardless of whether or not your receive benefits.

Applying for Lifeline is easy. Simply contact your local phone company and fill out the application. The phone company will verify your information and enroll you if you are eligible.

If you are worried about not having a phone for emergencies, then don’t. Any cell phone, even the most basic, will still dial 911, even if the service itself isn’t turned on. Every phone and every plan has to have this capability. If the phone is charged, you can get emergency services.

The Weatherization Assistance Program will also help you get on top of utility bills. By weatherizing your home well, you will reduce the cost of heat and cooling. Many programs will also help you reduce your electric bill as well by helping you eliminate or reduce the use of electricity consuming appliances.

The program’s main purpose is to improve the energy efficiency of dwellings owned or occupied by low-income people and help them reduce the cost of their electric and energy needs. Each year the Department of Energy receives funds from Congress which are then dispersed to states based on need. The program started 40 years ago during the energy crisis of the 1970’s and has served over 7 million families since then.

It is crucial to apply for many of these programs early so that you can receive the maximum benefit. Even if you hope to get a new job right away, looking into programs like this as soon as you lose your job can help you get on the list and qualify for these types of benefits should you need them. When winter comes, it will be much better to have the heat running efficiently and cost effectively than worrying constantly about the bill.

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