Published: July 15, 2022
Reviewed by: Angelo Musumeci
Covered in this Guide:
Home energy costs vary throughout the United States, and in many areas, these costs have increased in recent years. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, winter fuel costs for the 2021-2022 heating season were expected to reach multi year highs nationwide, with many households facing up to a 30% increase in their home heating costs.
Weather-related emergencies, such as the 2021 winter storm that saw record-low temperatures in Texas, have triggered exceptionally high utility costs for seniors in that state. Heatwaves, snowstorms and wildfires have also contributed to increases in heating and cooling costs for many Americans.
While rising utility bills can put a strain on any household budget, low-income seniors are at a greater risk of health problems when they’re unable to safely heat and cool their homes. Given that many older adults spend a significant part of the day in their homes, seniors who aren’t able to cover their heating and cooling costs could suffer from a host of health issues, some of which can be life-threatening.
In this guide you’ll learn about three government-sponsored energy assistance programs — the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly (EHEAP) and the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It includes information on the eligibility criteria, a summary of the program benefits and an overview of the application process for each program.
Weather-Related Health and Safety for Seniors
A number of physiological changes come with advanced age, and these changes impact how seniors perceive, and react to, the weather. Older adults don’t sweat like younger adults do, which can make it difficult for them to recognize when they’re overheating. Seniors are also more likely to take one or more prescription medications that interfere with their body’s natural ability to regulate temperature.
These age-related changes and medical concerns put seniors at an increased risk for a host of serious health issues ranging from dehydration to hyper and hypothermia, disorientation, dizziness and cardiovascular problems.
Heat-Related Health Issues
Seniors are especially vulnerable to multiple heat-related health concerns, many of which can be life-threatening. Known as hyperthermia, these issues can include:
- Heat edema: Uncomfortable swelling of the ankles and feet that can make walking difficult, lead to heat rashes on the feet and ankles and increase risk of falling.
- Heat cramps: Painful muscle spasms impacting the arms, legs and stomach, which can limit mobility, cause diarrhea and reduce manual dexterity.
- Heat syncope: Sudden dizziness caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain, which can trigger fainting, especially when rising from a seated position. The use of a beta-blocker, a common type of drug that treats high blood pressure, increases the risk of experiencing heat syncope.
Unfortunately, many older adults who live on fixed incomes try to save on their utility costs by turning off their air conditioning, even when the outside temperature is dangerously high.
Cold-Related Health Issues
Seniors are also susceptible to a number of health concerns related to cold temperatures.
As people age, their cold tolerance declines. This is due to various reasons, including:
- Fat loss: Seniors lose subcutaneous fat as they get older, which is the fat that sits directly beneath the skin. This layer of fat acts as insulation for the blood vessels and nerves, and when it thins, people are more sensitive to cold temperatures.
- Blood vessel rigidity: Circulation plays a key role in cold tolerance. Blood vessels in older adults tend to be lacking in elasticity, and that can trigger a loss of circulation to the extremities, leading to cold hands and feet. Loss of circulation in lower extremities could cause numbness and loss of sensation which increases risk of falling.
- Reduced response to cold: It’s common for reaction times to slow as people age, and that includes the body’s receptors that trigger physiological responses to cold.
- Cardiovascular disease: Close to 40% of adults aged 65 and older have been diagnosed with one or more cardiac diseases or conditions that can restrict blood flow, leading to increased sensitivity to the cold.
- Kidney disease: Kidney problems can cause a build-up of waste products in the blood, triggering a decrease in the body’s core temperature and in some cases, anemia.
- Diabetes: Nearly one in three American seniors aged 65 and older lives with diabetes, a disease that may trigger diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that can make it difficult to feel extreme cold or heat.
Government Energy Assistance Programs for Seniors
Fortunately, there are a number of government programs designed to help moderate- and low-income households reduce their energy costs, and cover emergency expenses related to home heating and cooling. These programs focus on improving energy efficiency as well as protecting vulnerable seniors against utility disconnections.
There are programs that provide emergency assistance to cover one-time energy-related costs, such as furnace repairs. There are also government programs to help low-income seniors pay their household utility bills year-round, as well as during high-use periods such as the winter and summer. Some programs focus on decreasing energy bills through weatherization measures.
IWeatherization Assistance Program (WAP)
What Is the WAP?
Launched in 1976, the Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP, provides energy-efficiency assistance to about 35,000 low-income households each year. The WAP is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and administered and operated through state, territorial and tribal weatherization agencies.
This program helps low-income homeowners and renters reduce their energy costs by improving the overall energy efficiency of their homes. WAP participants enjoy average annual savings of $372 on their household energy costs.
The WAP is designed to help beneficiaries reduce their home energy costs while improving their safety and comfort. Services funded through the WAP include:
- A comprehensive home energy audit to assess where weatherization is needed, detect air leaks and check heating and cooling equipment
- Installation of thermal insulation in attics
- Adding solar film to windows to reduce heat gain
- Repair of furnace ducts
- Installation of low-flow faucets and showerheads to reduce water consumption
- Adding and replacing weatherstripping around doors and windows
- Installing awnings on sun-exposed windows in homes that use air conditioning
The services provided in specific areas vary depending on the local climate and energy consumption patterns.
Who Qualifies for WAP Assistance?
To qualify for assistance, households need to demonstrate financial need. Because funding is limited, most states prioritize low-income applicants who are aged 60 and older, and households with one or more members who have a disability.
As of 2022, the annual pretax income limits for WAP eligibility are:
- $27,180 for a single-person household
- $36,620 for a two-person household
- $46,060 for a three-person household
- $55,500 for a four-person household
Applicants who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are automatically eligible for WAP services.
While eligibility requirements may vary depending on the location, most states use WAP funds to weatherize detached homes, townhomes and mobile homes. Both rentals and owner-occupied homes can be weatherized under the WAP, although renters do need to obtain permission from the property owner before proceeding with any work on their home.
How to Apply for WAP
To apply for weatherization services through the WAP, contact your local weatherization administrator using the links provided on the DOE website.
Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly (EHEAP)
What Is the EHEAP?
The Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly Program (EHEAP) is a federally funded program that helps low-income seniors cover emergency heating and/or cooling expenses.
The program is designed to help seniors who are at risk of losing their utility services due to nonpayment of their monthly bills or lack the funds to purchase heating fuel such as firewood, oil or gas.
Eligible seniors may receive multiple EHEAP payments each year, depending on need, benefit limits and funding availability. The program is administered at the state level, and in most cases, EHEAP payments are sent directly to the utility company on behalf of the beneficiary.
In some states, EHEAP funds may also be used toward the cost of furnace and air conditioner repairs, portable heaters and fans, and warm bedding.
Who Qualifies for EHEAP?
To be eligible for EHEAP assistance, households must include at least one senior aged 60 and older.
Applicants must also demonstrate financial need, as verified by past-due or disconnection notices from one or more utility providers. The annual gross income of all household members cannot exceed 60% of the applicant’s state median income.
How to Apply for EHEAP
Seniors can apply for EHEAP assistance by contacting their local program administrator through the National Emergency Assistance Referral Project at 1-866-674-6327. Alternatively, they can contact their local Area Agency on Aging through the nationwide Eldercare Locator by calling 1-800-677-1116.
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
What Is the LIHEAP?
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is a federally funded, state-administered program designed to help low-income households cover their heating and cooling costs.
The program can also be used to fund one-time emergency benefits for those who are at risk of utility disconnection; to assist those experiencing energy-related crisis (such as essential furnace repairs during the winter); and to provide low-income households with free energy-efficient upgrades.
LIHEAP benefits vary based on an applicant’s:
- Household income and size
- Type of dwelling
- Heating fuel/method
In some states, the LIHEAP is operated under a different name, and it may be referred to as fuel assistance. For example, in Colorado, LIHEAP funds are administered under Colorado’s Low-income Energy Assistance Program.
Who Qualifies for LIHEAP Assistance?
To be eligible for LIHEAP benefits, applicants must demonstrate that they require financial aid with their home heating and cooling costs. This means that their annual income can’t exceed 150% of the federal poverty guideline (FPG) or 60% of their state median income (SMI) level, whichever is greater.
In some states, households with one or more participants in certain government benefit programs such as SSI, SNAP or TANF may automatically qualify for LIHEAP benefits.
How to Apply for LIHEAP Benefits
LIHEAP applications are processed at the state level, either directly through a state agency or by an organization contracted by the state.
LIHEAP State Filing Dates Table
|State||Heating Filing Dates||Cooling Filing Dates||Crisis Filing Dates|
|Alabama||10/1 – 5/31||6/1 – 9/30||ContinuousCrisis heating assistance 10/1 – 5/31Crisis cooling assistance 6/1 – 9/30|
|Alaska||10/1 – 4/30||N/A||11/01 – 04/30|
|Arizona||11/1 – 03/31 (Apache, Cochise, Cononino, Graham, Greenlee, Yavapai, Navajo and Santa Cruz counties)12/1 – 03/31 – All other counties||04/01 – 10/21 (Apache, Cochise, Cononino, Graham, Greenlee, Yavapai, Navajo and Santa Cruz counties)04/01 – 11/30 – All other counties||Continuous|
|Arkansas||1/1 – 4/30||4/30 -9/30||Continuous|
|Colorado||11/1 – 4/30||N/A||Continuous|
|Connecticut||11/13 – 3/16||5/1 – 8/31|
|Delaware||10/1 – 4/30||5/1 – 8/31||Continuous (weather-dependent)|
|District of Columbia||Continuous||Continuous||Continuous|
|Florida||10/1 – 3/31||4/1 – 9/30||Continuous|
|Georgia||11/1 – 3/31||4/1 – 6/31||11/1 – 3/31|
|Hawaii||6/1 – 6/30||6/1 – 6/30||Continuous|
|Idaho||10/1 – 6/30||N/A||Continuous|
|Illinois||9/1 – 5/31||N/A||10/1 – 5/31|
|Indiana||10/1 – 5/16||10/1 – 5/16||11/1 – 8/21|
|Iowa||10/1 – 4/30 (Seniors over age 60/disabled)11/1 – 4/30||N/A||Continuous|
|Kansas||12/16 – 3/31||12/16 – 3/31|
|Kentucky||11/4 – 12/13||Cooling assistance availability depends on weather conditions and state funding||1/6 – 3/31|
|Louisiana||11/15 – 3/15||4/1 – 9/30||Year-round|
|Maine||8/23 – 7/15||N/A||11/1 – 4/30|
|Maryland||7/1 – 6/30||7/1 – 6/30||Year-round|
|Massachusetts||11/1 – 4/30||N/A||11/1 – 4/30|
|Michigan||1/1 – 9/30||N/A||Continuous|
|Minnesota||10/1 – 5/31||N/A||10/1 – 6/30|
|Mississippi||10/1 – 4/30||5/1 – 9/30||Continuous|
|Missouri||10/1 – 4/30 (Seniors over age 60/disabled)11/1 – 4/30||10/1 – 4/30 (Seniors over age 60/disabled)11/1 – 4/30||Winter: 11/1 – 5/31 (Seniors over age 60/disabled) 12/1 – 5/31Summer: 6/1 – 9/30|
|Montana||10/1 – 4/30||N/A||Continuous|
|Nebraska||10/1 – 3/31||6/1 – 8/31||Continuous|
|New Jersey||10/1 – 8/31||10/1 – 8/31||10/1 – 8/31|
|New York||10/1 – 3/16||5/1 – 8/31||1/2 – 3/16|
|North Carolina||12/1 – 3/31 (Seniors over age 60/disabled) 1/1 – 3/31||N/A||Continuous|
|North Dakota||10/1 – 5/31||N/A||Continuous|
|Ohio||Continuous||Continuous||11/1 – 3/31 heating7/1 – 8/31 cooling|
|Oklahoma||10/15 – 2/14||6/1 – 8/31||Continuous|
|Pennsylvania||11/1 – 4/10||N/A||11/1 – 4/10|
|Puerto Rico||N/A||3/2 – 9/30||3/2 – 9/30|
|Rhode Island||9/1 – 5/31||N/A||Continuous|
|South Carolina||10/1 – 4/30||5/1 – 9/30||1/1 – 9/30|
|Texas||Continuous||Continuous||10/1 – 8/30|
|Utah||10/1 – 4/30||4/30 – 9/30||Continuous|
|Virginia||10/8 – 11/8||6/15 – 8/15||11/1 – 3/16|
|West Virginia||10/1 – 3/31||N/A||Continuous|
|Wyoming||10/1 – 2/28||N/A||10/1 – 2/28|
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