Democrats in the legislature are pushing to plug an additional $1 million into the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, but House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha — the top Republican in the legislature — says the agency’s not asking for it.

“What I have done and what the House Republicans have done is we’ve had conversations with the executive branch, including the governor’s office, to make sure the LIHEAP resources that are required are there,” Paulsen says. “It appears they are. We’ll continue to monitor it as we continue through the winter.”

Paulsen says Democrats haven’t talked with him about their proposal.

“I don’t know how they came up with a million dollars,” Paulsen says.

Representative Joe Riding, a Democrat from Altoona, says he and other Democrats talked with staff in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program’s Iowa office and officials with the state’s Community Action Agencies to come up with that dollar amount.

“Coming this spring…there could be another huge crisis…Utilities will be able to start shutting homeowners off…if they’ve fallen behind on their bills,” Riding says. “Obviously we know what the weather’s been like since November 9. We know what the weather’s going to be like over the next 10, 12, 14 days, so that’s going to be another huge issue.”

A spokesman for the agency that runs the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program says they have not asked legislators for more money, but are concerned the “emergency crisis” program which can cover the costs of things like space heaters or putting some propane in an empty tank may not have enough money if the demand for help continues to grow.  Julie Heck works for the Red Rock Area Community Action Program which serves people in Boone, Jaspter, Marion, Polk and Warren Counties.

“I’ve been working community action for nearly eight years and I can tell you without a doubt I have never seen such a devastating hardship for our low-income families,” Heck said today during a news conference organized by House Democrats. “The impact that the price of propane has had is unbelievable. Not only is it unaffordable for them, it’s unattainable.”

The volume of calls to the 18 Community Action Agencies in Iowa has risen dramatically in the past week, according to Heck.

“Households are truly grief-striken over how are they going to be able to keep their families warm,” Heck said. “Community Action Agencies all across Iowa are doing everything we can to provide assistance, but we just do not have enough resources.”

An elderly couple who came into Heck’s office this past week faced a $1758 propane bill. Heck’s agency was able to give the couple $650, but they’ll have to pay the rest and Heck says the couple’s meager monthly income isn’t enough to cover it.