The statewide telephone service 211 is being swamped with calls from people who are looking for help paying their utility bills. Shawna Forsberg is spokeswoman for the United Way of the Midlands and says the brutal winter is taking a significant toll on many Iowans’ finances. “A lot of calls are coming in around folks needing help covering their heat bills,” Forsberg says. “Maybe they’ve run into health issues in their family or loss of a job and are looking for some help in that.”
She says they’re seeing a 43-percent increase from last year in calls from people needing assistance with utility bills. Of those who called during January, 81-percent either had received a utility shutoff notice or had already been shut off. Forsberg says dialing 211 is a free, confidential call that provides information and referrals to a variety of public and non-profit programs. “It could range from anyone that needs heat assistance or needs help in finding services for health care,” Forsberg says. “Right now, a really popular call is helping with taxes. There are free tax services available to people.”
As further evidence of the tough times, she says there’s also been a boost in people calling 211 looking for a hot meal. She says, “Food and meals for example or finding out where pantries are at or congregate meal centers.” You can also reach the 211 information line online at the website: 211iowa.org.