Government Assistance for Bills

If you are not making a lot of money or are unemployed, you might worry that you can't pay your rent or afford utilities such as heat or electricity. The U.S. government sponsors several programs to assist low-income persons with housing and utility bills. You must apply for assistance at the state level to begin receiving help. Whether you are having a temporary problem or need a longer-term solution, do not be ashamed to ask for help with your bills, especially for vital services.

  1. Emergency Assistance Programs

    • Many states have emergency assistance programs for low-income customers who are about to lose electric or water service because of nonpayment of bills. Contact your state's Department of Human Services for more information about these programs. Most programs offer one-time emergency help such as paying the bill for the customer. Customers must submit a copy of the final notice with their application as well as proof of residence in the state or county offering assistance.

    Home Energy Assistance Program

    • The Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, assists customers with paying heating and cooling bills. Each state administers this program using federal funds. Families or individuals must make less than the federal income limits for HEAP to qualify for this program. As of 2010, HEAP recipients must make less than 110 percent of the federal poverty guidelines; families receiving other assistance automatically qualify. HEAP offers both emergency assistance and regular assistance with heating and cooling bills.

    Section 8 Rental Assistance

    • Low-income persons may get assistance with rent via the Section 8 program. This program is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. You must apply for Section 8 housing via your state's HUD office. HUD then talks to your current landlord, who must agree to accept Section 8 vouchers. If the landlord does not agree, you may have to move to another apartment where the landlord will accept your vouchers. HUD must inspect apartments before a tenant can move in and pays a portion of the tenant's rent. The tenant is responsible for paying the rest of the rent each month.

    Other Actions to Take

    • If you are having trouble paying your bills, contact the creditor immediately. Utility companies often offer financial assistance programs of their own, some of which may be government sponsored, and other creditors may be able to offer you reduced payments or spread out your payments over time so that you can pay back your debts. Most creditors prefer working with customers to the expensive and unpleasant business of collecting past due debts from them.

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