Benefit Bulletin: October 2013

Benefit Bulletin: October 2013

Program Helps With Heating Costs But Don't Wait to Apply

Research shows that people over the age of 65 are more vulnerable to heating-related health risks. That's why it's so important to have adequate heat in the winter. But with some forecasters predicting a bitterly cold winter this season, senior households could be hit pretty hard. According to TSCL's annual survey of senior costs, home heating is the fastest growing senior expense, and heating fuel deliveries take a huge portion of the average senior’s monthly Social Security payment.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a 250-gallon delivery of home heating oil this season may cost more than $907.  With the average monthly Social Security payment around $1,100, that's a cost few seniors can afford and still have something left over for groceries.

If you're having trouble affording your heating fuel, look into the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, often called LIHEAP. The program helps low-income households of all ages with home heating and cooling costs. LIHEAP may also help keep your home warmer with weatherization improvements, repair, or even replacement of equipment like furnaces and air conditioners.

The program differs significantly from other benefit programs in that it sets a priority on households with the lowest of incomes that pay a high proportion of their income for home energy. Seniors who rely on Social Security for the majority of their income would be among applicants spending the highest portions of their income on home heating costs and therefore most likely to qualify.

But it's very important to apply as early as possible, because the benefit is typically available only on a first-come, first-serve basis.  This could mean that even if you meet the income eligibility criteria, you might not be able to receive assistance if all the funds have been given out, so don't delay. To apply for LIHEAP, contact your local Department of Social Services, Area Agency on Aging, or contact your local state LIHEAP agency.