LIHWAP IM-2021-04 Categorical Eligibility FY2021

Publication Date: September 28, 2021

Low Income Household Water Assistance Program

Information Memorandum

IM#:                                 LIHWAP-IM-2021-04

DATE:                               September 28, 2021

TO:                                   Low Income Household Water Assistance Program Grantees

SUBJECT:                         Frequently Asked Question and Answers about Low Income Household Water Assistance Program Categorical Eligibility

ATTACHMENT(S):          N/A

The purpose of this Information Memorandum is to provide Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) grantees background and answers to several frequently asked questions about categorical eligibility.  The Office of Community Services (OCS) has shared this information during LIHWAP office hours, through one-on-one technical assistance and training, and through feedback related to LIHWAP Grantee Plan reviews.  OCS supports and encourages the use of the following categorical eligibility to the extent feasible and practical by LIHWAP grantees in order to:

  1. Ensure Processing Efficiency — LIHWAP is an emergency support effort related to COVID-19.  Where possible, OCS supports expedited efforts to help restore services to households that have been disconnected, prevent future disconnections, and help ensure affordable water services for households;
  2. Reduce Duplicate Document Requests — Households in need of immediate assistance that have already provided income information for other eligibility programs may not need to provide additional documentation; and
  3. Increase Opportunities for Integrated Service Delivery — When combined with integrated outreach and intake systems, implementation of procedures for categorical eligibility can facilitate linkage to a range of other services and supports for low-income households. 

LIHWAP Definition of Categorical Eligibility

For the purposes of the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, “categorical eligibility” means that a household is considered to have automatically passed an income eligibility test because a household member has already been determined to meet income eligibility requirements of one of the means-tested programs included in the LIHWAP Terms and Conditions and the accepted LIHWAP Grant Plan for the state, territory or tribe.

Allowable Programs for Categorical Eligibility in LIHWAP

Consistent with the LIHWAP Terms and Conditions (PDF) (see 11.C.i) resources may be used to make payments with respect to households in which one or more individuals are receiving the following:

  1. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
  2. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF);
  3. Supplemental Security Income (SSI);
  4. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); or
  5. Means-tested Veterans Programs (payments under section 415, 521, 541, or 542 of title 38, United States Code, or under section 306 of the Veterans' and Survivors' Pension Improvement Act of 1978).

While categorical eligibility is encouraged for any of the programs identified above, all grantees are asked to at minimum consider categorical eligibility for LIHEAP recipients, along with coordinated outreach and intake efforts where possible.  Because many of the local administering agencies for LIHWAP are the same agencies that administer LIHEAP, categorical eligibility is both feasible and recommended to ensure efficiency, prevent duplication, and create opportunities for enhanced household supports.

Grantee Selection and Procedures for Categorical Eligibility

While any of the programs identified in the LIHWAP Terms and Conditions may be used for intake and eligibility purposes in LIHWAP, each LIHWAP grantee selects which of these programs to include in its grantee plan and each grantee must develop its own procedures for documenting that a household is officially enrolled.  Grantees may establish procedures for time frames, acceptable documentation, and record-keeping.  For example, procedures may include the following:

  • •  Allowing household applicants to provide certain documents (e.g., an official letter documenting program eligibility, proof of water, and wastewater cost);
  • •  A client release form allowing information sharing between programs; or
  • •  Joint intake and eligibility determination (especially for programs administered within a single agency).

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Question:  Why are the five specific programs (e.g., TANF, SSI, SNAP, Means-tested Veterans Programs, and LIHEAP) included it the Terms and Conditions?

Answer:  Four of the programs included in the LIHWAP Terms and Conditions (TANF, SSI, SNAP, and Means-tested Veterans Programs) are the same programs outlined in the authorizing statute for LIHEAP.  OCS included these four programs for consistency with congressional instructions to follow existing policies and procedures where possible.  LIHEAP was added to this list because the new water assistance effort is directly modeled on LIHEAP.

  1. Can a grantee elect to include other programs besides those listed in the LIHWAP Terms and Conditions in procedures for categorical eligibility?

Answer:  Grantees may not automatically determine that a household is eligible based on enrollment in a program that is not listed in the LIHWAP Terms and Conditions.  However, with household approval through a client release form, grantees may establish coordination or information sharing agreements to expedite eligibility determination (e.g., document sharing agreements, coordinated intake systems) with other programs.

  1. Question: If my state, territory or tribe did not include an allowable program for categorical eligibility in its LIHWAP Grantee plan, can we include at a later date?

Answer:  Yes, a grantee may amend the LIHWAP Grantee Plan to add an allowable program to the categorical eligibility list.  If you are considering this type of change, please contact your program specialist to notify OCS as soon as possible.  However, the grantee must submit a formal plan amendment request within 60 days of the effective date of the change.  Grantees may begin implementing modified approaches to categorical eligibility immediately.  

  1. Question:  If a household is determined to be categorically eligible based on income information provided to another program, how can a grantee determine “household water burden” as required in the LIHWAP Terms and Conditions?  OCS instructions state that household water burden may be calculated based on gross income or net income depending upon the policies, procedures, and requirements of the state, territory, or tribe.  It is also calculated based on the amount billed to the household for water services.

Answer:  Grantees must document income information for households that were determined to be eligible based on categorical eligibility.  There are a number of options available to grantees depending upon the systems and procedures of the state, territory or tribe.  For example, if an eligibility determination letter or accepted application materials from another program includes information on the income levels used to determine eligibility (and the household composition has not changed), grantees may establish procedures to use information from these materials in calculating a drinking water and/or wastewater burden.  Grantees may also establish procedures for information sharing or even joint applications with programs such as LIHEAP.  In circumstances where income information is not available--or the household composition differs from the application of another program--grantees may need to obtain additional information on income for at least some household members.

  1. Question:  What if the household composition is different in the application for a categorically eligible program from the composition of the household included in the LIHWAP application.  For example, what if the LIHWAP administering agency receives an application for a household with 4 members.  One of the household members receives SSI, which qualifies the household by means of categorical eligibility.  There are members of the household with income in addition to the SSI. When the total household income is calculated it exceeds the limits for income eligibility (above both 60 percent of the state median income and 150 percent of the federal poverty).  Should the household be considered eligible?

Answer:  Yes, this household is eligible if the grantee uses SSI for categorical eligibility.  LIHWAP specific Terms and Conditions (PDF) at section 11.C.i lists five programs that LIHWAP grantees can rely on to determine that a household is categorically eligible for LIHWAP.  Grantees can make categorical eligibility determinations for households based on enrollment in another means-tested program including LIHEAP, TANF, SNAP, SSI, or Means-tested Veterans Programs.  Categorical eligibility allows some households that may not have otherwise been eligible, to receive LIHWAP benefits due to the presence of vulnerable household members.

  1. Question:  In the scenario described in Question 5 above, what responsibility does the LIHWAP intake worker have regarding the income eligibility determination based on categorical eligibility?

Answer:  Once a household is determined to be eligible through categorical eligibility, additional income eligibility assessment is not needed.  A household can qualify for LIHWAP based on one of those options, either categorical eligibility or total household income.  When a grantee allows categorical eligibility, the grantee reduces the administrative burden of the LIHWAP intake staff in that they do not need to repeat or verify the household or individual income for purposes of LIHWAP eligibility.  Categorical eligibility also reduces the burden for the household as they likely have fewer supporting documents to provide to apply for LIHWAP.  For example, the grantee may choose to verify independently with the SNAP, TANF, or LIHEAP office that the household or household member is currently receiving that other benefit.  Alternatively, the grantee may accept a copy of the benefit letter provided by the applicant as support of the LIHWAP application.

  1. Question:  In the scenario described in Question 5 above, how do we calculate the LIHWAP benefit?

Answer:  Grantees do not need to prorate the LIHWAP benefit based on the presence of household members that are not categorically eligible.  With priority groups 1 and 2 that have arrearages, it is expected that LIHWAP grantees ensure the household benefit/interventions will be sufficient to restore services or avoid a service disruption.  For priority group 3, which only needs help with current balances, the total household income should be considered.  If that income exceeds the normal cutoff for LIHWAP, as determined by the grantee, then the grantee can give the lowest benefit available based on that combination of household members and income.

  1. Question:  If the household is categorically eligible as a result of receiving SSI, is the state still required to obtain income information for the other household members?

Answer:  The income of the other household members is not necessary for determining LIHWAP eligibility, but it would be relevant for the determination of the LIHWAP benefit if the household falls into priority group 3 (no past due bill).  The grantee should collect income information for all household members.  LIHWAP program reports will include information related to the income level for households that received LIHWAP services.  (Please see LIHWAP Terms and Conditions #10 (PDF) for additional information related to LIHWAP Reporting Requirements.)

  1. Question:  When determining categorical eligibility, is it acceptable to use documentation provided by the applicant to verify enrollment in other means-tested programs?

Answer:  Yes . Grantees may use documentation provided by the applicant as proof of enrollment in means-tested programs.  If the applicant provides documentation of enrollment in a means-tested program, the grantee is not required to obtain additional forms of proof in order to make an eligibility determination for LIHWAP benefits.

If you have questions or specific circumstances that differ from the information or scenarios described above, please contact your assigned program contact to discuss.

Thank you for your attention to these matters. OCS looks forward to continuing to provide high-quality services to OCS grantees.

/s/
Lauren Christopher
Director, Division of Energy Assistance
Office of Community Services

Current as of: