Federal Aid Could Offset Higher Home Heating Bills

Natural gas tabs could go up by 30% this year, but federal help has increased

Parents sitting with children in living room at night
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While the cost of heating your home may be higher this winter, households struggling to stave off the cold have more options for help than usual.

Federal heating assistance, for example, has more than doubled. Because of the American Rescue Plan pandemic relief bill passed in March, an additional $4.5 billion is available for the state-run Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that provides heating assistance, compared to the $3 billion to $4 billion that’s available in a typical year, the White House said Thursday. On top of that, renters suffering financial hardship can get help paying their past and current utility bills through the Emergency Rental Assistance program that got rolling earlier this year.

The additional funding comes at an opportune time. Households that rely on natural gas can expect heating bills 30% higher than last year, and those that use less common methods like fuel oil and propane could also see big increases, according to a recent estimate by the Energy Information Administration. As of October, natural gas was already 28% more expensive than the year before and heating oil was up 59%, a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed. The extra funding means the state programs that administer heating assistance will be better able to deal with the higher costs.

“We received double our block grant for the LIHEAP program for this heating season that has allowed us to provide a larger-than-ever-before benefit to our households,'' said Nicole Tousignant, senior policy and operations manager for Vermont’s heating assistance program. “Benefits have gone up dramatically. We were hoping it would give us more purchasing power but, at this point, it should help to offset the increase in heating prices.”

Eligibility for LIHEAP heating assistance depends on household size and income. For example, a family of four must make under $39,750 a year to qualify. Contact information for your state’s program can be found on this website. Renters can find emergency government assistance in this directory.

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