LIHEAP allows ETHRA to help thousands of families with home energy costs

Every year, the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency assists over 4,500 low-income households with energy costs.

The Knoxville-based nonprofit is able to help so many families and individuals because of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which is administered statewide by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

Known as LIHEAP, the program helps homeowners and renters pay electric, gas, propane or other energy resource bills by providing them with an annual payment that is made directly to the energy company.

Steve Bandy, who oversees the LIHEAP program for ETHRA, said the average payout is around $800 in the six-county area they serve, which includes Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Morgan, Scott and Union counties.

“A lot of times we’ll see an elderly or disabled person on a fixed income and they’re responsible for paying all of their utilities. So when they get that $800 benefit that will last for several months and that’s one less worry they have on them for the next month.

“I’ve had many people tell me that it can be the difference when it comes to affording the other basics they need.”

Financial hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic also caused more people than usual to seek LIHEAP assistance, Bandy said.

“Since the pandemic began in 2020 we’ve helped over 13,000 households,” Bandy said. “Those aren’t individuals, those are households, many with more than one person.”

Most of ETHRA’s clients are on fixed income, Bandy said, or have just lost a job or transitioning to a new one and need the help to make ends meet.

Bandy said the program makes a profound impact on those who receive assistance, something that he and his staff a reminded of regularly through thank you cards and letters they receive from clients.

“It really encourages us when we get these, especially when it’s a handwritten card or letter,” Bandy said. “The fact that they sit down and take the time to write something like this shows how much they appreciate the help they get.”