A state Senator says utility shut-offs are a “public health issue.” Senator Jack Hatch, a Democrat from Des Moines, wants to give the Department of Public Health the authority to forbid utility cut-offs this winter in homes with children or elderly residents. Hatch says natural gas prices will be at an all-time high and the impact on poor families will be dramatic. The Iowa Utilities Board has used its authority to prevent utility disconnections in homes where residents have signed-up and qualified for government heating assistance grants.
But Hatch says there are many Iowans who fall through the cracks. Hatch says over 16-thousand Iowa households have no heat or electric service as of November 1st because of past-due bills. “That is a tragedy and it is a crisis,” Hatch says. He says those folks in those homes will struggle through the winter without heat, and will get sick and stay sick because of the cold.
Hatch proposes setting aside six-million dollars in state tax money for the Low Income Heat and Energy Assistance Program. “People who are still the poorest of the poor may not get assistance because there’s not enough money,” Hatch says. “That’s why part of our proposal is to supplement the federal dollars for (the) Low Income (Heat and Energy) Assistance Program with state dollars.” Hatch says he’ll immediately seek that six-million dollars in grants to help pay heating bills when lawmakers convene the 2006 legislative session on January 9th.