In the past two months, over 52-thousand Iowans have enrolled in the state’s Low Income Heat and Energy Assistance Program. Jerry McKim, the program’s director, says that’s a worrisome record.
They started taking applications October 1st, and compared to last October and November, there’s been an eight percent increase in the number of Iowans applying for government grants to help pay their utility bills.
Iowans file their applications for assistance with their county community action agencies.
McKim says those agencies tell him they’re seeing a lot more elderly Iowans applying this year compared to past years. McKim has about 34-and-a-half million dollars to spend this year on the grants — the same amount as last year — and he predicts the average grant to help cover utility expenses will be about three-hundred-17 dollars. “Of course, the problem with that is that $317 is going to cover a lot less of their total heating costs this year than it did last year,” McKim says.
McKim is alarmed by the number of financially-strapped Iowans who’ve had their utilities cut off before the wintertime moratorium on disconnections went into effect. On October 31st, over 221-thousand Iowa households had “past due” utility bills. That’s five percent higher than at the same time last year, and the highest number of past due accounts in any month in the seven years McKim has been tracking those numbers.
It means about 12 percent of Iowa households were finding it hard to pay their utility bills heading into the winter, and McKim is concerned because utilities were cut off in about 16-thousand Iowa homes on October 31st. McKim says these households routinely forego basic necessities so they can pay their winter heating bills, but he’s concerned that folks will turn their thermostats too low and use unsafe methods to heat their homes.