State officials are hoping to expand the “Lifeline” program that helps the poor pay their phone bills. Rob Hillesland of the Iowa Utilities Board says last year, about 12-thousand low-income households in Iowa signed up for the benefit, but thousands more are eligible, so sign-up is now being done through the LiHEAP or “Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.” Hillesland says the benefit winds up being a monthly credit of between six and seven dollars, to help provide basic phone service. There’s a “universal service” charge on everyone’s phone bills, and the money goes to the Federal Communications Commission, which they distributes it to states to help pay low-income Americans’ basic phone service. Jerry McKim, director of that Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, expects up to 50-thousand Iowans to sign up for “Lifeline” this winter — which would be a four-fold increase in participation. McKim says the money’s been there all along, it’s just that the roughly 200-thousand eligible Iowans haven’t been signing up for it. Sixteen-thousand Iowa households have already signed up for “Lifeline” this year through McKim’s LiHEAP program.McKim says that first wave of applicants are the disabled and the elderly, for whom a phone is truly a lifeline to the outside world. Iowans can apply for the benefit through their local phone company, on the Iowa Utilities Board’s website, or via local offices for the Department of Human Services, Area Agencies on Aging, or Community Action Agencies.
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