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The cost of heating a home and keeping the lights on is extremely high this winter. But there’s still time to apply for assistance with energy bills, and expanded assistance options are available for Granite Staters this year.
Here are three main things to know if you’re applying:
- The place to start is your community action agency. They administer heating and electricity assistance programs, and can help you figure out if you’re eligible.
- Some kind of energy assistance is available for anybody making under 75 percent of the statewide median income. Apply even if you think you may be over the income limit; community action agencies can figure that out with you.
- Renters can qualify for assistance through a federal program.
Read more below on how to find help in New Hampshire.
How to apply
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program, also known as LIHEAP, is the largest source of help for Granite Staters. It’s federally funded, but it’s distributed by New Hampshire’s community action agencies.
The first step to take when applying for assistance is to reach out to the community action agency that serves your area.
The community action agency will help determine your eligibility for the program. Granite Staters can get assistance through LIHEAP if they make less than 60% of the statewide median income.
These agencies also distribute a new state-funded emergency assistance program aimed at Granite Staters who aren’t eligible for LIHEAP funds. This new state program serves customers who make between 60% and 75% of the statewide median income.
Ryan Clouthier, chief operating officer at Southern New Hampshire Services, said they’ve seen a lot of Granite Staters apply for the new statewide program geared toward moderate income residents, then find out that they actually qualify for the regular LIHEAP program because of the way the agencies calculate income. So even if you think you might be over the income limit, you should still apply.
Renters are able to qualify for LIHEAP even if heat is included in rent; in that case they would get a voucher. But if a resident already has rental assistance, and heat is included in rent, they wouldn’t qualify for LIHEAP, according to Clouthier.
When applying for help, Granite Staters should be prepared to bring along these documents.
If there are multiple people in the household, residents should bring copies of social security cards for each member of the household, and a copy of 2021 tax returns and proof of income for each adult.
Applications should be processed within 30 days. Energy assistance can be retroactive, and Granite Staters can apply until April 30th to get help with this winter’s bills.
What energy assistance can help with
Depending on the household, LIHEAP can provide between about $300 and $3,000 in assistance with heating bills. The average benefit is $1,342, according to the state.
Those funds can be used for any kind of heat – whether it’s natural gas, propane, wood, electricity, fuel oil, or something else. The money will be paid directly to the vendor.
There’s enough money for the agencies to provide heating assistance for the number of applicants CAP agencies expect to see, Clouthier said, but not enough to cover every applicant’s entire cost of heating through the winter.
“In some cases it might be able to cover a complete delivery, or maybe even two,” he said. “In other cases, it may not even be able to cover an entire delivery.”
This winter, there are some Granite Staters who have already exhausted their benefits. And with the number of cold days and the high cost of heating fuels in New England, it’s difficult to help residents get through the whole season with LIHEAP, Clouthier said.
For the new state emergency energy assistance program serving those who make between 60% and 75% of state median income, recipients will get $450 in fuel assistance and $200 in electricity assistance. That assistance will come in the form of credits.
Community action agencies can also help with emergency heating assistance.
“Oftentimes we’re able to work with those fuel vendors in order to make sure a delivery is made within 24 hours when someone is in an emergency situation where they have no heat,” Clouthier said.
New Hampshire has some protections from utility disconnections in the winter. From November 15 to March 31, utilities aren’t allowed to disconnect your service if you use electric or gas heat and owe less than $450. For electric customers who aren’t using the service for heating, that limit is $225, and for gas customers who aren’t using that service for heating, the limit is $125.
In addition to a notice of disconnection, the utilities are required to notify customers in person or by phone a minimum of two days before a disconnection. If they aren’t able to notify a customer, they must seek approval from the Department of Energy to disconnect.
The department is not allowed to approve a disconnection if a customer has a financial hardship and has made a “good faith effort” to make payments on their bill. Utilities also need permission from the Department to disconnect the service of residential customers who are 65 years or older. They are not allowed to disconnect customers who have a certificate of medical necessity for utility service during the winter.
Customers with a financial hardship must notify their utility every year about their situation, state rules say.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig advocated for a moratorium on disconnections in a September letter to the Public Utilities Commission. With the high cost of heat and power, the Department of Energy says it’s considering changes to disconnection policies. But a disconnection moratorium could have unintended consequences, Chris Ellms, deputy energy commissioner, said in an email.
“Without a disconnection notice, many households do not seek assistance during the winter when it is most available and, as a result, may find themselves in a very difficult financial situation in April and May when resources and funding are no longer available,” he said. The application deadline for fuel assistance is April 30th.
Other assistance options
Agencies might connect residents in need of emergency assistance with the Neighbor Helping Neighbor program, which serves people who don’t qualify for other programs.
There are no income guidelines for Neighbor Helping Neighbor; residents are eligible if they have received a disconnect notice and are having some kind of financial emergency or hardship. That program is funded by New Hampshire’s utility companies and ratepayers who elect to contribute.
The community action agencies also run an electricity assistance program, which gives customers a discount on monthly bills. That can range from 8% to 76%. Residents can apply at the same time they apply for fuel assistance.
New Hampshire’s utility companies also offer payment plans that can reduce the amount customers owe on their bills or offer a fixed monthly rate. The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative also has payment arrangements for people who have fallen behind on bills. Get in touch directly to set one up.
Energy efficiency efforts like insulation can lower heating bills in the long-term by reducing the amount of energy a household needs to use to stay warm.
The community action agencies run a weatherization assistance program, which can help Granite Staters with things like installing insulation and sealing air in with caulking or weather stripping.
Residents can apply to be put on the waiting list for that program when they apply for fuel or electric assistance. Once off the waiting list, an energy auditor will come to their home to determine what energy efficiency improvements can be made. Then, if their home is qualified, those improvements will be made.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.