The federal government offers grants to qualifying, low-income families and individuals to assist in a hardship, improve a person’s quality of life and to help bring a household out of poverty levels.

Government grants offer invaluable assistance in paying for certain living costs, such as household bills and education-related expenses. 

While each federal grant program has different eligibility requirements, these grants are commonly provided to households that are considered to be low-income and are already receiving assistance through another federal or state program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid health insurance and the Housing Choice Voucher Program. 

What are government grants? 

Government grants are considered to be free money that does not generally need to be repaid. However, most government grants must be used towards a particular expense, such as utility bills, housing repairs or higher education expenses. 

While most grants can only be provided to low-income households, it is worth learning about each individual grant, as each has other eligibility factors that must be met to receive assistance.

For example, some grants will require a specific family composition to exist within a household, such as a qualifying senior citizen. Other grants may only be available after the U.S. president has made a declaration of natural disasters. 

Do you have to repay government grants?

If you are granted a government grant, that grant will probably not need to be repaid so long as you ensure that you use the grant towards its intended purpose.

If you do not use grant money towards the purpose that it is intended for, you may be required to repay the amount you were given. 

For example, financial aid for low-income students is available in the form of an educational grant, but this type of grant will require students to attend a certain amount of class hours.

If a student does not meet that class hour minimum, his or her grant would be converted to a government loan and need to be repaid. 

About The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides qualifying low-income families and households with monetary assistance that is applied to heating and cooling bills. Generally, LIHEAP payments come as a single lump sum amount and households are limited to assistance from LIHEAP once per year.

This invaluable government grant program is run on a state level. In most cases, grant money is only available during certain times of the year or until funds are depleted. 

Several states also provide a “priority” status to households containing certain makeups, such as households with young children, disabled persons or senior citizens. In cases where funding is very limited, assistance is provided to priority households first. 

 In addition to non-emergency heating and cooling assistance, LIHEAP also offers emergency grants to prevent the shutoff of home utilities. However, LIHEAP funds can only be used towards heating and cooling bills and cannot be used towards water and sewage bills.

If approved for assistance from LIHEAP, this government grant will likely be deposited directly to your heating or cooling bill. Some states choose to provide money to the approved applicant directly instead. 

In addition to heating and cooling assistance, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program also assists low-income households with approved improvements to be made to a home that will ensure that the home is more energy efficient.

This process is known as weatherization, and it can reduce a household’s overall heating and cooling costs, thus reducing a household’s reliance on the LIHEAP program.

While LIHEAP eligibility requirements can vary by state, it is primarily an income-based program.

Therefore, if you already receive assistance through another federal or state program, you may already qualify for LIHEAP benefits. State and federal programs that have similar income-based eligibility requirements include:

  • Food stamps. 
  • The Housing Choice Voucher Program. 
  • Medicaid. 
  • The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). 
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

If need of assistance, you are strongly encouraged to apply for LIHEAP as soon as possible. Funds are very limited and it is estimated that only 20 percent of households that qualify for assistance receive aid. You can apply for LIHEAP by contacting your local LIHEAP office. 

Find Out About IHP

The Individuals and Households Program (IHP) is a government program that provides disaster-relief grants through FEMA, the agency dedicated to managing federal emergencies after the United States president has made a declaration for natural disasters.

These grants provide invaluable assistance towards the repair or replacement of damaged residential properties as well as aid affected families and individuals in obtaining temporary housing. 

To be eligible for benefits through IHP, you must either be a United States citizen or you must be an eligible non-citizen. Additionally, you must meet the following qualifications: 

  • You must have experienced property losses within the area that was specifically declared as a disaster zone. 
  • The property that you lost must have been your primary place of residence and all damages that the property accrued must be related to the occurrence of natural disasters. 
  • You cannot access or live in your primary residence, due to damages or destruction from the natural disaster. 
  • You do not have an insurance policy to cover the loss, or your insurance policy will not provide enough coverage for the amount of damage that your property sustained. 

To apply for assistance through the Individuals and Households Program, you must contact FEMA for further instructions. 

Understanding Section 504

Section 504 Rural Housing and Rehabilitation grants are provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to qualifying very low-income families and households that are in serious need of home improvements or repairs but do not have the finances necessary to repay a Section 504 loan. 

To be eligible for Section 504 funding, a household’s income must be well below the poverty line and there must be at least one qualifying senior citizen living within the home.

Additionally, eligibility requirements are based upon citizenship, whether or not you own the dwelling and the type of repairs or improvements that need to be made. 

If your family qualifies for a Section 504 grant, $7,500 in assistance may be available. However, this grant can only be used for home improvements and repairs that would either: 

  • Remove a health hazard. 
  • Remove a safety hazard.
  • Increase accessibility for a disabled household member. 

If you would like to apply for a Section 504 grant, you may do so by contacting your local USDA office. The office will inform you as to whether or not you qualify for assistance. 

Financial Assistance Grants are Available to Low-Income Students

If you have low-income but you would like to seek higher education, you may be eligible for free financial aid as there are several student-based government grants available. In addition to income, eligibility is also determined by: 

  • Citizenship status, as grant money is only available to U.S. citizens and those with qualifying immigration statuses.
  • Current standing on other federal student loans, if applicable, as all other student loans must be in good standing. 

While some federal grants are available for any degree or certification program, others are only available to specific types of degrees or specific types of classes. For example, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant is only given to individuals who are attending school to become a teacher in a field that is of “high demand”. 

Most federal education grants will also include additional requirements, such as the completion of a set number of academic years.

Other grants may require students to obtain a position within a specific field within a set number of years following the completion of higher education. If these additional requirements are not met, grants that a student received would then be converted to a federal government loan. 

If interested in receiving free financial aid to obtain a higher education, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) prior to the academic deadline.

Your application will determine the type of financial aid that is available to you, including whether or not any federal grants are available.