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LIHEAP Q & As for Professionals

Published: July 9, 2012
Audience:
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Category:
Guidance, Policies, Procedures, Q & As

LIHEAP Crisis Assistance

1. Can LIHEAP assistance be used for disaster relief?

Each state establishes its own policies and procedures with respect to all aspects of its LIHEAP program, including the criteria it will consider when designating a state emergency or crisis. In addition, the state can set up a payment structure for issuing crisis benefits that considers (among other things) a household's income, number of household members and type of fuel. A state may pay a crisis benefit only up to a certain dollar amount, or it can provide enough of a benefit to cover the entire cost necessary to alleviate an emergency situation. Each state has its own guidelines for issuing LIHEAP crisis benefits. LIHEAP funds may be used for weather-related emergencies, supply shortage emergencies, and other household energy related emergencies, including the reconnection of electrical service. There is no legal limit on the amount of LIHEAP funds that can be used for energy crisis assistance. However, the LIHEAP grantee is required to tell us in its annual LIHEAP application how much of the funds it expects to devote to this activity, and what uses will be made of the funds. If the disaster causes a LIHEAP grantee to change the amounts or percent of funds it expects to spend on crisis assistance or to change the use of the funds, a plan amendment must be sent to us as soon as possible to advise us of this.

2. When are LIHEAP emergency contingency funds released?

LIHEAP contingency funds are generally released in the event of an energy emergency, such as unusually severe weather or high home energy prices. There is no formal application for these funds--usually Congress and the state governors advise the President of the need for contingency funds. The amount of funds released, when funds are released, and which states receive funds are determined by the President.

3. How quickly do LIHEAP programs have to respond to home energy emergencies?

Under normal circumstances, section 2604(c) of the LIHEAP statute requires crisis assistance to be provided within specified time limits (i.e., within 48 hours of application, or within 18 hours in life-threatening situations), acceptance of energy crisis applications at geographically accessible sites, and provision to physically infirm low-income persons the means to apply for crisis benefits at their residences or to travel to application sites. However, section 2604(c) specifies these provisions "shall not apply to a program in a geographical area affected by a natural disaster in the United States designated by the Secretary, or by a major disaster or emergency designated by the President under the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 for so long as such designation remains in effect, if the Secretary determines that such disaster or such emergency makes compliance with such sentence impracticable."

The Secretary's determination will be made after communication by the grantee's chief executive officer (or his or her designee) to the Secretary of the following:

  • Information substantiating the existence of a disaster or emergency;
  • Information substantiating the impracticality of compliance with the standards, including a description of the specific conditions caused by the disaster or emergency which make compliance impracticable; and
  • Information on the expected duration of the conditions that make compliance impracticable.

Section 96.89 (c) of the LIHEAP regulations specifies that, "The initial communication by the chief executive officer may be oral or written. If oral, it must be followed as soon as possible by written communication confirming the information provided orally. The Secretary's exemption initially may be oral. If so, the Secretary of HHS will provide written confirmation of the exemption as soon as possible after receipt of appropriate written communication from the chief executive officer."

Section 96.89(d) specifies that, "Exemption from the standards shall apply from the moment of the Secretary's determination, only in the geographical area affected by the disaster or emergency, and only for so long as the Secretary determines that the disaster or emergency makes compliance with the standards impracticable."

The grantee will need to request a waiver from the Secretary in order to use LIHEAP funds for this purpose without meeting the 48/18 hour deadlines. We will promptly respond to any such waiver request.

 

LIHEAP Grantee Qualifications

1. Does the Federal government invite unsolicited proposals for LIHEAP projects?

No, the Federal government does not review unsolicited proposals for LIHEAP projects. Section 2609A of the LIHEAP statute provides that up to $300,000 can be used to make grants to States and public agencies and private nonprofit organizations; or enter into contracts or jointly financed cooperative arrangements or interagency agreements with States and public agencies (including Federal agencies) and private nonprofit organizations to provide for training and technical assistance.

From time to time, we solicit proposals for specific LIHEAP projects through the Commerce Business Daily (CBD). Check the CBD for a listing of the kinds of projects that interest your organization and for which it may be eligible.

2. Can local agencies apply for LIHEAP funds?

Local agencies cannot apply to the Federal government for LIHEAP funds. By law, the federal government can only distribute LIHEAP block grant funds to States, Indian tribes/tribal organizations, and Insular areas.

However, LIHEAP grantees can determine which local agencies will administer LIHEAP funds. In most States, at least some parts of the program are administered at the local level by nonprofit organizations, such as Community Action Agencies and Area Agencies on Aging. States that administer their programs at the local level through the State Social Services Department must provide alternative sites for outreach and intake.

Local agencies or nonprofit organizations need to contact the State directly to find out about its policies and procedures for contracting and selecting agencies to administer the LIHEAP program at the local level.

3. Is the "State" defined as the state agency or department that administers LIHEAP, the state legislature, both, or either?

The State is the state government in total, which is why the Governor has to make the required assurances. We send the LIHEAP grant to whichever entity that the State chooses. The state agency is bound by the state legislature. But we don't distinguish among parts of the state government.

4. Which agencies/organizations are eligible to be LIHEAP grantees?

By law, LIHEAP grantees include the following government entities:

The 50 States and the District of Columbia; any federally or state-recognized Indian tribe or tribal organization; and five insular areas (American Samoa, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands/Palau, and U.S. Virgin Islands.

5. What do LIHEAP grantees have to do in order to apply for LIHEAP funds?

States, insular areas, and federal or state-recognized Indian tribes/tribal organizations can submit to the Federal government an application that describes their LIHEAP programs, provides required assurances about how they will run their programs and certain other information required by the LIHEAP statue. Applications are due September 1. LIHEAP grantees must obtain timely and meaningful public participation in developing their application, States and insular areas must conduct public hearings.

6. Why can't a nonprofit organization compete for LIHEAP funds?

We understand that low income households may not wish to involve themselves with government assistance, but will seek assistance from nonprofit organizations. However, by law, the federal government distributes LIHEAP funds by an allocation formula to the States, Indian tribes/tribal organizations, and insular areas. Each grantee can determine which local agencies will administer the funds. In most States, some parts of the program are administered at the local level by nonprofit organizations such as Community Action Agencies and Area Agencies on Aging. States that administer their programs at the local level through the State Social Services Department must provide alternative sites for outreach and intake.

 

LIHEAP Renters Assistance

1. Are there programs available to assist landlords of low income apartment buildings with the increasing cost of utilities?

Since LIHEAP is a block grant, states have discretion in designing and implementing their LIHEAP programs. Although homeowners and renters are to be treated equitably in LIHEAP, states may set their own policies and guidelines concerning a renter's eligibility, benefit amount and payment process. States must make LIHEAP benefit payments to eligible households, and this can be done either directly to households or to energy vendors or to landlords on behalf of households.

Whether a state pays a landlord LIHEAP benefits for the energy costs of low-income households living in a low income apartment building would be a decision left up to a state. We would expect the state to review the LIHEAP statute's definition; and verify that households in the apartment building who will ultimately receive the benefits are LIHEAP eligible.

2. Can people who receive SSI and living in a group home where they have their own room, but share a bathroom qualify for LIHEAP?

It would depend on how the State interprets the LIHEAP statute's definition of "household." The Federal government distributes LIHEAP funds to the states, and each state designs its own program, within very broad federal guidelines. Each state is different. Under the law, the key point is whether a person is or is not part of an economic unit that customarily purchases home energy in common.

See also the response to the question: "Can the LIHEAP program pay for the heating or cooling costs of non-profit organizations?"

 

LIHEAP Weatherization/Repairs

1. Is there a restriction on buying capital items like trucks? Keep in mind, these trucks are not for a state agency but for an 'agent' of a state agency (non-profit)?

As in most issues regarding a block grant, the Federal government cannot provide a definitive answer. The LIHEAP regulations at 45 CFR 96.30 state, "Except where otherwise required by Federal law or regulation, a State shall obligate and expend block grant funds in accordance with the laws and procedures applicable to the obligation and expenditure of its own funds." Part 92, and thus OMB Circular A-87 do not apply to LIHEAP (or most other block grant funds) except to the extent the State has chosen to apply them for use with their own funds.

A state can elect to use any, all, or none of the U.S. Department of Energy's Low Income Weatherization Assistance Program rules that are to its benefit; for example, if DOE would allow the state to purchase a truck, it could use LIHEAP funds earmarked for weatherization in that way.

Otherwise, clearly, trucks are necessary to haul equipment and materials, and maybe even workers for weatherization projects. A state could use its LIHEAP funds to buy trucks if the State rules allow State funds to be used for a particular class of expenditures including trucks. In addition, if the truck was used for purposes other than weatherization, a state would need to use its standard rules for allocating costs between weatherization and whatever other uses were involved.

2. Can the federal government waive the 15% limit on the use of LIHEAP funds for weatherization or other energy-related home repairs?

The LIHEAP statute limits the amount of LIHEAP funds that may be spent on weatherization to 15% of the funds available, or up to 25% with a waiver from HHS. We have no legal authority to grant a waiver higher than 25%. However, in cases of floods or natural disasters, work can be done under the crisis part of the grantee's LIHEAP program, thus bypassing the weatherization limits. Our attorneys advise us that a LIHEAP grantee may not run just a crisis program (i.e., they must run some type of fuel assistance program), but short of that, there is no limit on the amount that may be spent on energy crisis assistance.

LIHEAP grantees may need to send us a plan amendment if they're going to be doing things other than what they normally do, such as spending more on crisis than they had planned (in terms of percentage), or if they want to change their definition of a crisis. A simple letter after the fact will suffice.

3. What are the conditions for receiving a waiver of the 15% limit on the use of LIHEAP funds for weatherization or other energy-related home repairs?

There are two kinds of waivers:

A grantee is entitled to a "standard waiver" if it can demonstrate that, even with the waiver, they won't spend less than the previous fiscal year on heating/ cooling/crisis benefits, they won't serve fewer households, and all of their weatherization measures (not just those with the additional weatherization funds) are demonstrated to provide energy savings. If the measures they're using are on the U.S. Department of Energy's list of approved activities, we'll stipulate that they meet the energy savings requirement.

If a grantee entitled to a "standard waiver," the grantee can apply for a "good cause waiver," and demonstrate that it should be granted a waiver anyway.

LIHEAP grantees cannot apply for a waiver until March 31 (that's in the law). They can send a preliminary application in as early as Feb. 1, but they cannot end their public participation before March 15, and they can't officially submit it before March 31. A grantee thinking of applying for a waiver should read the detailed requirements in section 96.83 of the regulation.

 

LIHEAP Funding

1. How much LIHEAP block grant funds does each LIHEAP grantee receive during the federal fiscal year?

Congress appropriates funds for LIHEAP each fiscal year. This amount may vary each year creating higher or lower allotments for grantees. Grantees receive a percentage of these appropriated funds. Our web site does include a chart which shows nationally the amount of LIHEAP funds distributed since federal fiscal year 1982. That chart is available on our web site at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/resource/liheap-funding-tables.

For FY 2002, $1.7 billion in LIHEAP block grant funds has been allotted to LIHEAP grantees. Further information about the distribution of these funds are available for each LIHEAP grantee. In addition to LIHEAP block grant funds, several types of funds usually are distributed to LIHEAP grantees each fiscal year. Such funds may include LIHEAP emergency contingency funds, reallotment funds, and LIHEAP leveraging incentive awards. However, each distribution of LIHEAP funds needs to be added to come up with the total amount of LIHEAP funds that a LIHEAP grantee received for a particular fiscal year. Tables with the total sum of LIHEAP funds distributed to each LIHEAP grantee are included in our LIHEAP Annual Report to Congress. If you would like a copy of the tables from the latest report, we can mail or fax them to you.

States receive their annual allocations in quarterly allotments.

Under the LIHEAP program, states can provide estimates of their anticipated quarterly obligations for the following fiscal year. Otherwise, grant awards are made in the amount of 25 percent of the grantee's allocations in four quarterly grant awards. States can request up to 90 percent of their funds through the second quarter.

2. How does the Federal government calculate the amount of LIHEAP funds each LIHEAP grantee is to receive?

There are two for allocating federal LIHEAP block grant funds to the 50 States and the District of Columbia. The original or "old" formula distributes LIHEAP block grants when the Federal LIHEAP block grant appropriation is at or below is $1.975 billion. It is based on the allocation formula percentages developed for the FY 1981 Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). The revised or "new" formula distributes LIHEAP block grant funds when the federal LIHEAP block grant appropriation is above $1.975 billion.

3. How does the Federal government calculate the amount of LIHEAP emergency contingency funds when they are released?

The LIHEAP statute provides that the President can release emergency contingency funds if and when he believes circumstances warrant. The funds can be released to some or all LIHEAP grantees, and by whatever allocation method seems appropriate, considering the nature of the crisis and other factors.

4. What enforcement power does the federal government have over the use of LIHEAP funds at the state or local level?

HHS block grant regulations provide that the LIHEAP grantee is the primary interpreter of the federal LIHEAP law. We accept the grantee's interpretation of the statute unless we find it to be "clearly erroneous."

The State's "single audit" covers LIHEAP funds. Through the audit or other federal review processes, those funds determined not to have been spent in accordance with the LIHEAP statute must be returned to the federal government. We work with grantees to resolve issues concerning compliance with the LIHEAP statute.

 

LIHEAP Household Income

1. May a Grantee require a social security number for the LIHEAP applicant and all members of the household?

NOTE: Change in LIHEAP guidance

The Privacy Act, as previously applied to the LIHEAP program, had been interpreted to prohibit Grantees from requiring social security numbers and denying a LIHEAP benefit because of an individual's refusal to disclose his or her SSN.

After a review of statutory changes made subsequent to the enactment of the Privacy Act, HHS has determined that Section 205(c)(2)(C)(i) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(i), provides grantees the discretion to require that individuals disclose their SSNs for "the administration of any law, general public assistance, driver's license, or motor vehicle registration law within its jurisdiction." HHS has further concluded that LIHEAP is a "general public assistance" program and as such, Section 205(c)(2)(C)(i) of the Social Security Act authorizes Grantees to require SSNs as a condition of eligibility for use in verifying the identity of individual applicants and their household members.

While HHS remains bound by the Privacy Act provisions and cannot compel Grantees to require SSNs as a condition of eligibility for LIHEAP, we have concluded that Grantees have discretionary authority to require SSNs in the administration of their LIHEAP programs.

Please see LIHEAP IM-2010-06.html, dated 05-05-10 for more information. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/resource-library

2. Are "non-qualified aliens" eligible for LIHEAP funds?

The process of determining eligibility for LIHEAP services is established by the State. However, States are to ensure that their eligibility criteria are in compliance with Federal requirements for the LIHEAP program and that services are provided only to U.S. citizens or qualified aliens.

"Qualified aliens" are defined in section 431 of Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), commonly known as the welfare reform law. The Act covers the larger groups of legal immigrants (legal permanent residents, refugees, asylees, individuals paroled into the U.S. for a period of at least 1 year, individuals whose deportation has been withheld, individuals granted conditional entry, and certain individuals who are victims of domestic abuse). Qualified aliens are eligible to receive assistance and services under the LIHEAP program so long as they meet other LIHEAP program requirements.

As States set their eligibility requirements for LIHEAP-funded benefits, they are to ensure that they are in full compliance with Federal provisions related to verification of qualified alien status in providing services. State procedures for verifying U.S. citizenship or immigration status of applicants should be in accordance with the United States Department of Justice's (DOJ) Interim Guidance on Verification of Citizenship, Qualified Alien Status and Eligibility under Title IV of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, published November 17, 1997 (62 FR 61344). In addition, States should refer to LIHEAP-IM-98-25, dated August 6, 1998, which discusses the DOJ Interim Guidance and its applicability under the LIHEAP program.

3. Are LIHEAP benefits considered to be income and taxable?

The LIHEAP federal statute indicates that LIHEAP benefits cannot be considered to be income or resources under federal or state law. Therefore, it is our understanding that the receipt of LIHEAP benefits should not count towards any utility deduction in calculation of Food Stamp benefits.

The LIHEAP statute says that LIHEAP benefits cannot be considered income or resources for any purpose under state or federal law, including taxation. So LIHEAP benefits are not taxable. It does not make any difference whether the funds go directly to the household or to a vendor on behalf of a household. This provision is in section 2605(f)(1) of the LIHEAP statute, which states that,

(f)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law unless enacted in express limitation of this paragraph, the amount of any home energy assistance payments or allowances provided directly to, or indirectly for the benefit of, an eligible household under this title shall not be considered income or resources of such household (or any member thereof) for any purpose under any Federal or State law, including any law relating to taxation, food stamps, public assistance, or welfare programs.

4. What are the household income limits for LIHEAP?

The federal LIHEAP law establishes a minimum and maximum household income range. This income range is adjusted by the number of members in a household. The maximum income eligibility level under the LIHEAP statute is the greater of 150% of the poverty level or 60% of the state median income. This standard is referred to as the "LIHEAP federal income maximum." However, a LIHEAP grantee may choose to set its income eligibility level as low as 110% of the poverty level but not lower. In addition, a LIHEAP grantee may establish additional criteria that a household has to meet in order to be eligible for the program.

Under the law, state LIHEAP agencies have the flexibility of providing assistance to households with at least one member who also receives assistance under the following federal programs (also referred to as categorical eligibility): Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Food Stamps, or certain needs-tested veteran benefits. Not all state LIHEAP programs provide this categorical eligibility.

The statute does not define what items or sources of funds are to be counted as income. It is up to the state to determine what it will or will not count as income. As a general rule, states treat Social Security benefits as income for purposes of determining eligibility for LIHEAP assistance. Since some Federal program benefits cannot be counted as income, grantees may need to check with those programs when determining what to count as income.

5. Does the LIHEAP statute define household income (gross/net)?

Neither our statute nor regulations define income. Because LIHEAP is a block grant, grantees are the primary interpreters of the statute, and we accept their interpretation unless it's clearly erroneous. In other words, states may define "income", so long as the definition doesn't stretch credulity. Generally, income means gross income, but a number of states have deductions for medical expenses over a certain level, or for some limited expenses associated with employment such as child care. If a state is going to exempt taxes or go beyond the medical and employment expense, we should look at it with the grantee before it acts.

Please note that some LIHEAP grantees use gross household income instead of net household income (income after certain deductions) in determining household income eligibility for LIHEAP. Using gross income is a generally accepted (though not required) practice in many programs, including the LIHEAP program. Total gross income provides a "base" from which to evaluate a potentially eligible household in the fairest way possible, relative to other potentially eligible households. In addition, many LIHEAP grantees count the receipt of child support payments as income, and that amount is included in the income total when determining a household's income eligibility for LIHEAP benefits.

The Federal law establishes an income range for LIHEAP. States may choose to set their household income cutoff anywhere within the range in determining whether a household is income eligible for LIHEAP benefits. States also may establish additional requirements which must be met to qualify for help. Examples include limits on available assets or the presence of household members who are elderly, disabled, or 5 years or younger.

Therefore, there is no one answer to the question of how much income is needed to qualify for energy assistance.

 

LIHEAP Use of Funds

1. Can the LIHEAP program pay for the heating or cooling costs of non-profit organizations?

A non-profit organization is not eligible to receive LIHEAP payments for heating or cooling costs because it does not meet the LIHEAP statute’s definition of an ‘‘eligible household.’’ Even though a non-profit organization may provide a home environment for its residents, such as a homeless shelter, a nursing home or a group home, we do not believe that based on this fact alone, non-profit organizations are eligible to receive LIHEAP benefits.

However, a state may provide payments for energy costs to non-profit organizations "on behalf of eligible LIHEAP recipients" residing in a residential facility. The state will need to ensure that the residents are income or categorically eligible, meet the LIHEAP statute’s definition of a household, and are responsible for energy costs either directly or through their rent. Since LIHEAP is a block grant, states have flexibility to design their LIHEAP programs to meet the needs of their low-income population. It is up to the state to determine if it will provide payments to non-profit organizations on behalf of LIHEAP-eligible households.

You may want to contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to see if it has programs for which your organization may be eligible.

2. Can LIHEAP funds be used to pay for fuel used for cooking or refrigeration?

The use of LIHEAP funds for the heating or cooling of food and water was addressed during Congressional committee consideration of the reauthorization of the LIHEAP statute in 1990. The Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, in its report on H.R. 4151 reauthorizing the LIHEAP statute (S. Rept. 101-421, dated August 3, 1990), stated that, "The Congress has never intended to exclude such essential energy uses as heating of hot water or refrigeration and cooking" from the eligible heating costs covered by the program." (NOTE: the Senate Committee report actually said "cooling", not "cooking". However, we were advised by Committee staff that this was a typo and the Committee meant "cooking".)

3. Can the LIHEAP program assist condo associations with their heating bills?

LIHEAP is federally funded, but we give funds to the states which, in turn, design and operate their own energy assistance programs. Program design and eligibility requirements vary from state to state, but assistance must be provided to or on behalf of individual households who meet eligibility requirements. This means that the condo association as an entity would not be eligible for assistance, but individual residents of units may be.

4. Our building serves as a senior citizen center. Is it possible for the center to receive LIHEAP assistance to keep senior citizens warm during the winter and cool during the summer?

LIHEAP is designed to help low income households pay for heating and cooling their homes. It is a federal block grant program that gives LIHEAP funds to the States. In turn, the States design and operate their own programs within very broad federal guidelines. Each State's program is different. Under the law, the key is whether a person is or is not part of an economic unit that customarily purchases home energy in common.

See also the response to the question: "Can the LIHEAP program pay for the heating or cooling costs of non-profit organizations?"