The man who runs Iowa’s program to help low-income families pay heat bills is angry over how little money he has to do the job. Jerry McKim’s administrator of LIHEAP, Iowa’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Last year and this year he’s had money to give the same onetime benefit — about 317-dollars. But with energy prices up, despite an unexpectedly mild spell of weather, bills have increased by an amount that totals half the benefit, so the program’s losing ground compared with last year.
He says there’s an unavoidable crunch coming. The number of households seeking assistance is growing, and money coming from “the feds” is shrinking. McKim says over half the states have put some of their own funding into heating assistance programs but that hasn’t happened in Iowa. He says the state legislature appropriated about five and-a-half million dollars four years ago but hasn’t put money into the pot for heating assistance since that season.
He’s heard proposals to add state money to the program, but doesn’t think lawmakers understand how it works. While he hears talk of possible supplemental funds, lawmakers opposed to it seem to think it hinges on when the program runs out of its current funding. McKim says the issue really should be the gap between the benefit needy clients are getting and what their heating costs are. He has strong words for federal lawmakers who’ve known heating-fuel prices were skyrocketing since last summer. “As far as I’m concerned, Congress’ failure to act and the Administration’s failure to lead on this issue are nothing short of unconscionable,” McKim says. “They certainly were aware of these increases.” He says last year was hard on low-income households too, and I fact heating prices today are four or five times higher than they were four or five years ago.
With the trend of volatile and increasing prices, McKim says leaders are failing at both the federal and state level to address the need to help poor families heat their homes this winter.