Families may have trouble paying for utilities — such as heating, cooling, cell phone service, and internet service — during emergencies and natural disasters. Head Start and Early Head Start family services staff and home visitors can partner with families to:
- Access energy assistance
- Access cell phone and internet service assistance
- Track progress and celebrate successes
Access Energy Assistance
Families may struggle to pay electric, gas, heating oil, and water bills during an emergency or natural disaster.
- Contact utility company. Let families know that, as a general rule, the best thing to do when they can’t pay their bills is to call the utility company and open up a line of communication.
- Families can call and explain their situation and see what kind of arrangements can be made with the utility.
- Remind families to keep a written record that they called and explained their hardship. Have them record the day and time of their call, as well as the name of the customer service representative they spoke with.
- Families can also check with their local government to see if a state of emergency has been declared for their community and if service shutoffs are temporarily suspended.
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP funding is intended to help low-income families respond to home energy needs.
- You can help families contact their state’s or tribe’s Low-Income Energy Office to determine their eligibility and apply for energy assistance. Visit the LIHEAP website to learn more.
- National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR). If families need help finding their local Low-Income Energy Office, they can call the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) service toll-free at 866-674-6327 or TTY 866-367-6228.
- They can also email NEAR at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remind families to include their city, county, and state in their email message.
- NEAR is a free service for people who want information on where to apply for LIHEAP. This program may pay a portion of the energy bills of eligible families and individuals with low incomes.
- Ineligible for LIHEAP. If a family’s income is too high to qualify for LIHEAP but they need help paying for energy bills, their local social services agency or nonprofit organization may have funds to help.
- Families can also contact their gas, oil, or electric company to ask about budget billing programs or new payment options, especially for customers with disabilities who are on Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Access Phone and Internet Service Assistance
Cell phones, landline phones, and internet access are critical services during emergencies and natural disasters. They are necessary for communication and accessing information when face-to-face interactions are limited.
- Contact the service provider. Encourage families to reach out to their landline phone, cell phone, or internet service company if they are worried about paying their bill.
- They can check to see what kind of arrangements can be made with the company, such as setting up a payment plan.
- Families also can ask if the company has decided to waive late fees or not suspend a customer’s service during the emergency.
- Access financial assistance. If families do not have access to the internet or need assistance paying for their landline phone or cell phone service, you can connect them to Lifeline.
- Lifeline is a federal program that helps make communications services more affordable for consumers with low incomes.
- Lifeline gives subscribers a discount on monthly telephone service, broadband internet service, or voice-broadband bundled service purchased from participating companies.
- Access computers at the Head Start program. If it is allowed, you can encourage families to use computers and internet access at your program’s location.
“Broadband” is high-speed internet. Share with families information about receiving a temporary discount on monthly broadband bills under the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program. The application process opened on May 12, 2021. Families can receive up to a $50-per-month discount on their broadband service and associated equipment rentals (up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands). The benefit program also offers a one-time discount of up to $100 for purchase of a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50).
Encourage families to complete an application and use the search tool to find a company that offers EBB discounts. They should apply as early as possible given that the program will end once the funds run out or 6 months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) health emergency.
Track Progress and Celebrate Successes
Follow up with families to see if they are able to access utilities assistance they may need. Celebrate their successes!
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Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Parent, Family and Community Engagement
Last Updated: February 18, 2022