Federal Energy Assistance Programs

Guiding principles: Accessibility, Community Engagement, Compatibility and Integration
Barriers addressed: Cost, Compatibility and Integration, Market Forces

Nationwide, in the past five years federal energy assistance funding under the Department of Health and Human Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has totaled approximately $15 billion. Both of these programs are vital in assisting low-income families to pay their energy bills, provide weatherization services, and install health and safety improvements for their homes. However, there is a growing interest in directing more federal energy assistance funds toward investments such as solar, which can help low-income families reduce their energy burden and move toward greater self-sufficiency, as described in a recent George Washington Solar Institute report and in a report for Vote Solar.  

LIHEAP provides direct utility bill assistance to help households cover their energy costs and keep their utilities running. LIHEAP has historically received between $2.5 and $4.5 billion per year in congressional funding and provides approximately 6.7 million households with heating or cooling assistance annually.  Eligibility for LIHEAP is limited to households with incomes between 150% and 185% of the federal poverty income guidelines or, if greater, 60% of the state median income. The federal LIHEAP program allows state administering offices to transfer up to 25 percent of LIHEAP monies to weatherization programming. For approval to use LIHEAP monies for solar, state LIHEAP administrators must include the solar as a measure in their state energy plans.

The DOE’s WAP program provides assistance to help low-income households reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient.  Typical weatherization measures include insulation, duct sealing, and repairing or replacing appliances and HVAC systems. The WAP program recently clarified its rules for allowing some of the available funding for families receiving weatherization services to be used for solar pilot programs, in Memorandum 024.