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Oklahomans can now apply for assistance with water, sewer bills

Aerated water comes out of a faucet, sort of an old-fashioned stainless steel faucet.
Steve Johnson
/
Pexels
Oklahomans can now apply for the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program.

The Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) is a service that could help households cover their water and sewer bills, including overdue charges.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created LIHWAP in 2021 to assist people who have lost – or are in danger of losing – access to drinking water and wastewater utilities.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services opened its LIHWAP application in late October, and many tribal areas also have applications or information available on the water assistance program.

“People are so excited for this program and feel just a sense of relief from desperation,” said Casey White, a spokesperson for OKDHS.

Eligible households who apply will receive a one-time credit, which will go directly to their water or sewer utility provider to cover bills. The amount depends on household income and the LIHWAP provider. Some tribal areas can distribute assistance up to $5,070 per household, but in most cases, assistance caps out in the hundreds of dollars.

A household receiving assistance is eligible to reapply for more next year if the program is offered again. Right now, funds are available through Sept. 2023 or until they run out.

The program uses federal pandemic relief money, but states, territories and tribes are responsible for determining eligibility and distributing assistance. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has divvied $1.1 billion in water assistance funds between 49 states, the District of Columbia, 97 tribal areas and five territories.

There is no fee to apply or receive assistance from the program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says people should contact their fraud hotline if anyone offers them a direct grant to cover water utilities or tries to charge a fee to apply for assistance.

Oklahoma LIHWAP application 

The following information is needed for everyone in a household:

  • Legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number (optional)
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Citizenship
  • Military service
  • Current pregnancies
  • Disabilities
  • Military service
  • Health insurance
  • Income (amount and frequency of paychecks, estimates about average freelance earnings)
  • Property & resources (like cars, cash savings, real estate and insurance policies)
  • Expenses (like child support)

This information is needed about each household's water, gas and electric utilities:

  • Service provider
  • Account number
  • Name as it appears on the account
  • Address of your household
  • Average monthly cost

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has almost $15 million to distribute.

The state uses federal poverty guidelines to determine who qualifies for assistance. Households that make less than 130% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for benefits in Oklahoma. Right now, the income limit is $2,495 per month for a three-person household.

Oklahomans eligible for LIHWAP benefits will have a one-time credit applied to their water utilities account.

Depending on the household’s income and water needs, that credit will be between $80 and $750. For Oklahomans in a verifiable water crisis, ODHS may intervene with the utility company to prevent a shut-off or restore water.

To apply for state LIHWAP benefits, visit the Oklahoma Department of Human Service’s benefits website and click on the red banner that says “Apply for water assistance.”

For the initial application, households just need to provide this basic information, but OKDHS may ask for documentation later in the process. Eligibility is based on income and is first-come, first-serve, but OKDHS said it would prioritize households with people who are elderly, disabled or have children under the age of 5.

Oklahomans can apply for SNAP grocery assistance and SoonerCare at the same time. The state also offers a similar Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program that assists with heating bills. That program isn’t accepting new applications, but information from this application can be reused or updated to apply the next time the state opens enrollment later this winter.

Information and applications for LIHWAP in tribal areas 

Twenty-two tribes in Oklahoma are also providing LIHWAP benefits. Together, they have over $11 million in assistance to distribute.

Indigenous people may meet eligibility requirements for both tribal and state benefits, but a household can only receive LIHWAP assistance from one entity per federal fiscal year.

Tables showing Yearly Gross Income and Monthly Gross Income limits for households with 1-6 people. 

	Yearly Gross Income					Monthly Gross Income		
Household size	130% FPG	150% FPG	60% SMI		Household size	130% FPG	150% FPG	60% SMI
1	$17,667	$20,385	$24,344		1	$1,472	$1,699	$2,029
2	$23,803	$27,465	$31,834		2	$1,984	$2,289	$2,653
3	$29,939	$34,545	$39,325		3	$2,495	$2,879	$3,277
4	$36,075	$41,625	$46,816		4	$3,006	$3,469	$3,901
5	$42,211	$48,705	$54,306		5	$3,518	$4,059	$4,526
6	$48,347	$55,785	$61,797		6	$4,029	$4,649	$5,150
Graycen Wheeler
/
KOSU Radio
These tables show different income eligibility caps used in Oklahoma. These limits are based on pre-tax, pre-deduction income. Each state or tribe will be able to provide the most accurate information on income limits for larger households. These income limits are based on federal poverty guidelines or state median household income for federal fiscal year 2023, which began on Oct. 1, 2022.

Each state or tribe determines its own income-based eligibility. Here’s what the state and tribal areas in Oklahoma use:
130% FPG: Kaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma.
150% FPG: Cherokee Nation, Comanche Nation, Eastern Shawnee Tribe, Muscogee Creek Nation, Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma, Pawnee Nation and Thlopthlocco Tribal Town.
60% SMI: Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Delaware Nation, Delaware Tribe of Indians, Fort Sill Apache Tribe, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Modoc, Osage Nation, Otoe-Missouria, Sac & Fox, Shawnee Tribe, Wichita & Affiliated and Wyandotte Consortium.

Each tribe has its own independent process for determining eligibility. Nearly all the tribes in Oklahoma use either 150% of the federal poverty guideline or 60% of the state median income as their income eligibility limit. Kaw Nation is the only exception — it uses the same 130% federal poverty guideline limit as the state of Oklahoma.

You can read more about each tribe’s LIHWAP funding and eligibility process on its LIHWAP Tribal Summary Profile.

Below is a list of tribes in Oklahoma that have funds for LIHWAP benefits. Application links and tribal membership requirements are included if they were available at the time of publication.

Tribes in Oklahoma with LIHWAP benefits:

Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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