The head of the state program that helps poor Iowans pay their utility bills is worried that more Iowans are going without electricity. Jerry McKim, manager of Iowa’s LIHEAP or Low Income Heat and Energy Assistance Program, says in June, there was a 153-percent increase in disconnection notices sent to LIHEAP recipients compared to June of 2002. McKim says a lot of Iowans are falling behind on their utility bills. McKim says it looks like folks just aren’t able to catch up in paying rising utility bills, and what’s worrisome is that natural gas and propane prices are expected to soar in this winter. McKim has been tracking a growing gap between the number of actual disconnections and those who’re able to scrape up the money quickly to get reconnected. McKim says in June alone, utilities cut off service to nearly seven-thousand Iowa households, and only 35-hundred households were reconnected. McKim says thousands of Iowans “are scrambling to come up with the money to get reconnected at a time when the need for cooling is apparent.” McKim’s agency has set aside some money to buy propane now and it will be distributed to LIHEAP recipients this winter. LIHEAP is buying about two-and-a-half million dollars worth of propane in the summer, when it’s cheaper. About 15-percent of LIHEAP households use propane heat. McKim worries, too, about a U.S. House plan to reduce federal spending on the program. McKim says he understands there are competing interests, but he says it’s “somewhat unconscionable to be talking about cutting funding in view of these high prices” for natural gas and propane. Last year, about 75-thousand Iowa households received government heating assistance.
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