Wisconsin has a number of safeguards in place to ensure both tenants and homeowners stay warm through winter. Tenants have the right to have working heat in their rented units. Wisconsin law mandates that landlords must ensure that their rental units are able to maintain a temperature of at least 68 degrees in all habitable areas of a rental when the outside temperature is above zero and a temperature of at least 60 degrees when the outside temperature is below zero.
In addition, there are available public benefits for eligible homeowners who struggle to keep their homes warm in the winter. As temperatures start to drop across the state, Wisconsin seniors are urged to evaluate their eligibility and consider applying for Wisconsin’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WHEAP). This mix of federal and state funds helps keep Wisconsinites warm through the winter and eases the burden of high utility costs. The Wisconsin Division of Energy Services contracts with agencies, local governments, and non-profits to provide various services to eligible Wisconsin households.
Who is eligible?
Wisconsin households with income at or below 60% of the state median income guidelines are eligible for WHEAP. The state estimates that close to 215,000 Wisconsinites are eligible for this assistance. You may apply at your local energy assistance agency.
Find a list of these agencies at www.homeenergyplus.wi.gov.
What are the benefits of the WHEAP program?
Energy assistance. Eligible households may receive assistance with their utility costs regardless of the type of fuel used to heat their home. WHEAP may provide a one-time payment between October 1 and May 15. The benefit amount varies based on a number of individual factors; however, the benefit is not intended to cover the household’s entire utility bill. In most cases the benefit amount is paid directly to your utility company. Unfortunately, due to funding cuts Wisconsin residents will be receiving on average $100 less in energy assistance this year as compared to 2012.
Emergency assistance. The WHEAP program provides stop-gap coverage to help ensure eligible households do not suffer from heat disruptions during winter. Homeowners may be eligible for emergency assistance if they have no heat, if they received a disconnect notice from their utility company, or if they are out of fuel and cannot purchase more. WHEAP program agencies staff a 24-hour phone line to assist with heat-related emergencies.
Weatherization Assistance. Wisconsin households that are eligible for WHEAP may also be eligible for basic weatherization services with the goal of making homes warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and cutting utility bills in the process. After filling out the WHEAP application and found eligible, homeowners will be contacted by a local weatherization agency that will perform an analysis of the home. Some possible services provided through this benefit include insulation updating, installation of energy efficient lighting, refrigerator testing and possible replacement, reduction of air leakage, and possible repair or replacement of a furnace.
Wisconsin winters can be harsh and cold. Take the steps now to prepare your home and to ensure that you will cover your utility bills. For more information, please call 1-866-HEATWIS (432-8947) or visit www.homeenergyplus.wi.gov.
*Published with permission from the Legal Services Team at the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources’ Elder Law & Advocacy Center.