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Utility assistance available to low-income Oklahomans via American Rescue Plan-funded programs

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families

With new funding from the White House's American Rescue Plan (ARPA) federal COVID-19 relief package, low-income Oklahomans can now apply for financial assistance to pay certain utility bills.

The Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, has been offered in Oklahoma for years, but the White House touts an infusion of $32 million from ARPA funds, combining with the pre-allocated $38.3 million for a record-high $70.3 million total allocation for Oklahoma this fiscal year. The program assists with home heating and cooling costs.

The Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, or LIHWAP, is a new program which provides help in paying water and wastewater bills. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says Oklahoma's allocation for the program sits just under $15 million.

"So many Oklahomans have, you know, had challenges during the pandemic," said Deborah Smith, director of adult and family services at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which processes applications for the programs. "Any kind of assistance, especially this time of year, I think, can really go a long way towards helping people overcome some challenges."

"I think it really goes a long way to support families by taking care of that basic utility assistance," Smith said. "We're really providing an opportunity for them to use their income in other ways that, you know, are really needed this time of year."

Eligibility is based on income, Smith said, with each program having the same cutoffs, meaning a family or individual approved for one should be approved for the other. The water assistance program requires the water company to be a participating provider, however, which not all Oklahoma water providers are.

More information on the programs is available at the Oklahoma DHS website.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.