As public interest attorneys, we often represent low-income clients at a low point in their lives, such as during an illness, injury, job loss, incarceration, eviction, divorce, etc.

When clients are struggling, it can be helpful to provide resources for as many benefits as they may be eligible for to get them back on their feet. One of these benefits is assistance with their energy bills.

Did You Know?

According to the
2020 Energy Burden Report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, low-income and minority households have disproportionately higher energy burdens.

An “energy burden” is the portion of income paid toward energy bills. For example, compared to white (non-Hispanic) households, Native American households spend 45% more of their income on energy costs, Black households spend 43% more, and Hispanic households spend 20% more. Low-income households (those with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level) spend three times more of their income on energy costs than non-low income households.

The report also found that older adults face disproportional energy burdens. The energy burden for adults aged 65 and over is 36% higher than the average household.

Housing type also affects these burdens. For example, residents of manufactured homes have 71% higher energy burdens than average households. Households in multifamily (5+ unit) buildings have 23% lower burdens than average households, but low-income households in these same buildings have burdens 81% higher than average.

What Energy Assistance Benefits are Available in Wisconsin?

There are several types of energy assistance benefits available to Wisconsin households that can combat these inequities. The goal is to prevent residents from having to make difficult decisions, like whether to heat their homes or pay for food, medication, and other costs of basic living.

Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP)
provides assistance for heating costs, electric costs, and energy crisis situations.

WHEAP assistance is a one-time payment during the heating season (Oct. 1 to May 15). The funding pays a portion of energy costs – payment is not intended to cover the entire annual energy costs of a residence. The amount of the energy assistance payment varies depending on a variety of factors, including the household’s size, income, and energy costs.

Crisis assistance may be available if a household has no heat, is nearly out of fuel, or if the electricity has been or will soon be shut off. WHEAP agencies provide a 24-hour crisis phone number to help with emergencies that occur after business hours.

Non-emergency crisis or prevention assistance services are also available, and may include information on how to reduce energy costs, counseling on budgeting and money management, payments to a fuel supplier, and copayment agreements.

Wisconsin Weatherization Assistance Program
reduces energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, while ensuring health and safety. Rather than focusing on low-cost improvements or short-term fixes, the Weatherization Assistance Program analyzes the entire building system through an energy audit before performing any repairs or improvements. This can include water heater conversions, refrigerator replacements, furnace upgrades, insulation, lighting and other electrical use upgrades, health and safety measures, and energy education.

Home Energy Plus (HE+) Program Services is a year-round program that provides assistance to households when their primary heating system no longer provides heat, is inoperable, or becomes unsafe. Assistance may include repair or replacement of leaky or nonworking water heaters, leaky fixtures, toilets and piping, and other water conservation measures.

Who is Eligible for Energy Assistance?

To be eligible for this benefit program, you must be a resident of Wisconsin and need financial assistance with home energy costs.

Energy Assistance is a means-tested program. There is no asset test, but there are income guidelines based on household size. In 2023-24, the income limits, which are based on 60% of the State Median Income (SMI), are:

Household Size

Annual Income

















Additionally, if a person participates in or has family members who participate in certain benefit programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called FoodShare in Wisconsin), SSI (Supplement Security Income), or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), they automatically meet the eligibility requirement.

Where Can Clients Find More Information and Apply for Energy Assistance?

The best resource for energy assistance is the
State of Wisconsin Division of Energy, Housing and Community Resources webpage. This website has links to brochures, applications, and state maps for contacts within each county and tribe in Wisconsin, and offers housing and community resources as well.

This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s
Public Interest Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar
sections or the
Public Interest Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.