Keeping up with rising home energy costs can be tough, especially since the price of other essentials like groceries has increased an average of 10% between March 2021 and March 2022

Unfortunately, many low- and moderate-income seniors as well as those on fixed incomes struggle to cover all their household expenses, and oftentimes opt to cut back on their home energy use to help make ends meet. While that approach may keep the bill collectors at bay, turning down the thermostat in the winter and up in the summer can put older adults at risk of a number of serious weather-related health issues. 

This guide compares three federally funded programs: Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (EHEAP) and helps seniors understand how to access these energy assistance benefits.

Climate-Related Health Issues Among Seniors

As we age, we all become more sensitive to changes in the weather. This is due to several unavoidable factors, including:

  • Chronic health conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes
  • Slower metabolic rate
  • Thinning of the layer of fat just below the skin that acts as insulation for our blood vessels
  • Reduced blood circulation due to loss of elasticity in our blood vessels and arteries
  • Limited ability to sweat 
  • Side-effects of many common medications used by seniors, such as beta-blockers

When the mercury rises, seniors are at an especially high risk of heat-related health problems such as heat stroke, heat edema and dehydration, all of which can quickly become life-threatening if left untreated. 

During the winter, older adults are vulnerable to hypothermia, which can happen anytime the ambient temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Other cold-weather risks for seniors are associated with unsafe home heating appliances, such as certain types of portable space heaters that cause nearly 22,000 residential fires and 300 deaths each year and improper use of stoves and ovens for heating purposes. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to choose between paying your energy bills, putting food on your table and staying safe. There are a number of federally funded energy assistance benefits for seniors and programs provided by regional utility providers and nonprofit agencies that you can access to help manage your home energy costs. 

Federally Funded Energy Assistance Benefits for Seniors

Low- and moderate-income seniors may be eligible for home weatherization services, energy-saving home improvements, subsidies on their utility bills and emergency funding to cover overdue energy invoices through one of three federally funded energy assistance programs. 

These three programs, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly Program (EHEAP), are available nationwide. 

Comparing WAP, LIHEAP and EHEAP

In this guide, we’ve included information on three government-funded energy assistance benefit programs: WAP, LIHEAP and EHEAP. This chart provides an overview of each program.

Benefits and Eligibility

Weatherization Assistance Program

Low-Income Energy Assistance Program

Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program 

Utility payments 

No

Yes 

Yes

Home energy upgrades 

Yes

Yes, in some states

No

Furnace or air conditioning repairs 

Yes

Yes, in some states

Yes, in some states

Age-restricted 

No, but seniors, people with disabilities and households with minor children are prioritized over all other applicants.

No

Yes. Households must include at least one senior 60 or older to qualify. 

Annual gross income limit

$27,180 (single applicant)

$36,620 (two-adult household)

$20,285 (single applicant)

$27,465 (two-adult household) 

No greater than 60% of the median income in the applicant's state

Weatherization Assistance Program

Weatherization Assistance Program

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and supplemented with funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Weatherization Assistance Program helps low- and moderate-income households reduce their energy expenses through a variety of energy-efficient home improvements. 

The WAP is the only federally funded energy assistance program that doesn’t include any direct financial benefits for participants. 

How Does WAP Work? 

WAP is administered at the state level, and many states contract out their WAP services to regional governments and other agencies. 

WAP funds can finance a wide range of energy-saving home upgrades and services delivered through approved contractors. These services may include:

  • Comprehensive home energy audits to identify which weatherization services can provide the best return on investment
  • Weatherstripping doors and windows
  • Door and window replacement
  • Furnace or air conditioner repair or replacement
  • Replacement of old, inefficient water heaters
  • Installation of low-energy light bulbs 
  • Installation of low-flow faucets and showerheads
  • Ventilation and mold prevention 
  • Refrigerator replacement

On average, WAP beneficiaries save $372 each year on their home heating and cooling costs. 

Who Can Access WAP Services?

WAP benefits are available to low- and moderate-income households. Although there are no age restrictions, seniors, people with disabilities and households with one or more minor children are prioritized. 

WAP services can be used for all kinds of homes, including rentals and owner-occupied units. These include mobile homes, detached single-family homes, apartments, townhomes and RVs used as full-time homes. 

As of 2022, the following gross annual income limits apply to WAP applicants: 

  • Up to $27,180 for one-person households
  • Up to $36,620 for two-person households
  • Up to $46,060 for three-person households
  • Up to $55,500 for four-person households

Benefits.gov lists income limits for larger households.

If you or a member of your household receives Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance or Aid to Families with Dependent Children, you may be prequalified for enrollment in WAP. 

How To Apply for WAP Benefits

Applications for WAP are processed either directly through your state or a government-approved WAP partner such as a county government, tribal council or energy contractor.

You can find your local WAP provider by clicking on your state contact listed below.

State

Contact



New Mexico



Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program 

If you live in a low-income household and you’re struggling to keep up with your home heating and cooling expenses, you may be eligible for financial assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

LIHEAP beneficiaries can apply for ongoing funds to reduce their energy expenses. Emergency funding is also available for those who need help with critical furnace repairs during the winter or to purchase an air conditioner during extreme heat events. In some states, LIHEAP funds may also be used toward residential weatherization services for low-income households. 

Who Can Access LIHEAP Funding?

To be eligible for LIHEAP funding, your gross annual income must be no greater than $20,385 if you live by yourself. If you share your home with one other adult, your combined gross annual income can’t exceed $27,465. 

Depending on where you live, you may already be pre-approved for LIHEAP if you or someone you live with is a beneficiary of certain government aid programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,Supplemental Security Income or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

How To Apply for LIHEAP

Each state administers its own LIHEAP, and in most areas, there are specific filing dates for assistance with heating and cooling. Note that LIHEAP funds are limited and may vary from year to year, so if you need help, it’s important to apply well in advance of your state’s filing deadlines. 

To find your nearest LIHEAP administrator, click on the link for your state in the table below.

LIHEAP State Filing Dates

State

Contact



New Mexico



Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly

Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly

Seniors who are at risk of losing their utility services due to overdue invoices may be able to access emergency funds through the Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly Program

What Does EHEAP Cover? 

EHEAP is an emergency home energy program. It helps prevent heat- and cold-related hardship and illnesses among older adults who are in arrears with their utility providers or can’t afford to buy heating fuels such as firewood or heating oil during the winter months. 

EHEAP payments are generally made directly to the beneficiary’s utility provider, although this policy varies depending on the state. 

In some jurisdictions, EHEAP funds can also cover emergency supplies during heating and cooling emergencies. These supplies may include thermal blankets, portable air conditioners and fans, and CSA-approved space heaters. 

Who Can Access EHEAP Funds?

In order to access help through the EHEAP, seniors must be aged 60 and older and experiencing a household energy crisis. This means that you’ve either received a disconnection notice from your utility company, already lost your utility service due to nonpayment or can’t purchase heating fuels as a result of financial hardship. 

Eligibility policies vary slightly in each state, but in general, seniors must have a combined gross household income at or below 60% of their state’s median income level to qualify for EHEAP. 

If funding is available, EHEAP beneficiaries can receive assistance more than once each year. 

How To Apply for EHEAP

To connect with your regional EHEAP administrator, call or email the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) project at (866) 674-6327 or energyassistance@ncat.org

Other Ways To Get Help With Energy-Efficient Upgrades

If you’re interested in reducing your home energy costs and you don’t qualify for any of these federally funded energy assistance benefits, you may want to contact your utility companies or your local Habitat for Humanity chapter. 

Regional Utility Provider Energy Assistance Programs 

Many utility providers offer a range of services to help customers control their home energy consumption rates, such as:

  • Complimentary or low-cost home energy audits
  • Discounts on energy-saving LED light bulbs, power bars and home energy monitors
  • Rebates on the purchase of ENERGY STAR certified appliances
  • Rebates on home weatherization projects such as duct sealing, upgrading attic and wall insulation, and the installation of low-flow toilets and plumbing fixtures

Some states, including New Jersey, Oregon and Wisconsin, collect a surcharge from ratepayers who use energy services provided by for-profit utility companies. The funds collected are applied toward programs to help low-income ratepayers, invest in renewable energy projects and subsidize energy efficiency initiatives for homeowners. 

Habitat for Humanity Aging in Place Program

Habitat for Humanity is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to improving access to safe, affordable and accessible housing. Most of Habitat for Humanity’s work is performed by volunteers. 

In the United States, a number of Habitat for Humanity chapters offer the Aging in Place program, an initiative designed to help at-risk seniors retain their independence and community connections. Through this program, eligible seniors can access a host of home repairs, modifications and improvements to make their homes safer, easier to maintain and more affordable to own.  

Eligible seniors may be able to use the Aging in Place program to get help with energy-efficient upgrades such as installing new windows and doors, enhancing insulation in their walls and attics, and replacing inefficient heating and cooling systems. 

You may qualify for help through the Aging in Place program even if you already receive benefits from one or more government-sponsored energy assistance benefits such as the WAP or LIHEAP. 

To learn more, contact your local Habitat for Humanity chapter.