Another heating season isn’t far away as Iowans noticed with a sudden change to colder weather this week. But for some it’ll be a disaster, according to Jerry McKim. He heads LIHEAP, Iowa’s Low-Income Heating Energy Assistance Program that helps low-income families pay energy bills. McKim says folks who use the same amount of natural gas they did last winter are likely to see a 40-percent increase in their bills. And his program already has plenty of takers. Last year, 85-thousand-678 households applied and received assistance, and he’s expecting a “fairly significant increase” this year. The looming high energy costs are just one factor, McKim says. There’s also a significant number of Iowans carrying utility debt from last winter. As of August the power companies that are regulated by the state had reported more than 22-thousand of the LIHEAP households had past-due balances — almost half again the number from August of last year. That means trouble, with even higher bills ahead. McKim says so far, Congress has less money appropriated for low-income heating assistance then the program got last year. If there’s no emergency supplemental funding added, McKim says this means his program will have no more money than last winter, and perhaps less. He’ll see more people coming in for help, and the money he has to give them will cover a lot less of their cost than it has in any previous year. McKim points out that all of that can be figured out by anybody, from the daily news. “The thing that strikes me as somewhat ironic,” he says, “is that this is … like an energy-price disaster coming, and just like Katrina, it’s visible on the horizon. But nothing significant is being done to prepare an effective response.” McKim is bureau chief in Iowa’s Bureau of Energy Assistance.
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