Key Takeaways

  • Many low-income households struggle to pay for heating and cooling costs, in addition to other household and healthcare expenses. 

  • Benefits Enrollment Centers have numerous strategies to help older adults apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Emergency Broadband Benefit, now called the Affordable Connectivity Program.

  • Discover how improved document collection, online applications, and partnering with administering agencies has increased access to energy and utility benefits.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent legislation to address it created a large infusion of funding to programs that can help older adults pay for their home energy (heating/cooling) costs and receive broadband Internet service. But older adults still must apply to receive help from these programs.

How to help older adults pay for home energy and broadband Internet costs

NCOA’s Benefits Enrollment Centers (BECs) have numerous strategies to help ensure that someone applying for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Emergency Broadband Benefit goes on to receive that benefit.

Getting copies of documents needed to apply for benefits

To receive LIHEAP in most states, older adults must produce several documents that prove their identity, income, and heating/cooling or utility cost burden. 

Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada works with seniors to gather the appropriate documentation, makes copies, and use them to fill out the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) application form that the client then signs. Some tips they offer to get the paperwork easily for clients who may not have it on hand: 

  • Approach the landlord directly for a copy of the client’s current lease
  • Have the utility company email the client’s most recent bill
  • Use the automated system from Social Security to get a faxed copy of the client’s award letter (to prove income). 

Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada hand delivers all documentation and the signed application to the LIHEAP intake office.

The turnaround for a determination is three weeks, and the BEC typically has a 95% approval rate if all documents are included with the application.

How to tracking LIHEAP applications online

Several BECs operate in states with online portals that permit them to submit and track applications on behalf of their clients. In New Mexico and Arizona, the Native American Disability Law Center creates accounts for their clients (including setting up an email address for those who don’t have one) in the state portals, which can be used to track LIHEAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicaid benefits applications.

Similarly, in Ohio, National Church Residences uses the Ohio Benefits Bank portal to submit the monitor application status. The portal was recently updated with easier navigation and a more visible area to upload documents with the understanding that applications that have documents uploaded will be processed more quickly by case workers.

Why building a relationship with case managers is important

Aster Aging, Inc. in Arizona has eased the process of applying for LIHEAP thanks to a strong relationship with Mesa Community Action Network (CAN) / Turn A New Leaf, which administers the program in their local area. 

Aster completes the individual’s application, gathers the needed documentation, and then emails the information to Yvette, the case manager at Mesa CAN. Yvette typically gives Aster a status response to include award amount within hours of the application email; she also calls the applicant with the details and funding processes. In addition, Yvette assists Aster in answering questions and taking special cases as needed. Both Mesa CAN and Aster retain the application records, making the next annual application process very smooth. 

Honestly, because of our relationship with MesaCAN and Yvette’s hard work, we have been able to navigate the benefit easily if participants are willing to accept other federal, state, and local benefits.” --Anne McFarland, MASM, Aster Aging Director of Social Services

How to help older adults apply for the permanent Affordable Connectivity Program

The Emergency Broadband Benefit was created temporarily to provide assistance with broadband Internet access during the pandemic. At the end of 2021, the benefit was replaced with the permanent Affordable Connectivity Program.

An older adult is eligible if they meet at least one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines; or
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates in Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income program.

The Area Agency on Aging, Five County AOG in St. George, Utah has been partnering with local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to help clients enroll in the benefit. Most of the ISPs just refer people who are not current customers who are interested in the benefit to be able to have a new service set up and installed, but one ISP is directly marketing the benefits and the BEC’s ability to assist with the application process.