Record cold weather has led to record numbers for Iowans when it comes to heating bills. State Bureau of Energy Assistance administrator, Bill Brand, says the Iowa Utilities Board tracks the numbers. “In February those reports showed that there were just over 243,000 households in Iowa who had a past-due balance on their utility accounts. Those households owed just over $46-million dollars,” Brand says.
Brand says the $46-million is historic. “It is the highest that we have seen since the board started keeping records in 1999,” Brand says. “So, what that means is there are households out there owing record amounts to their utility companies.” Brand says everyone has seen their heating bills go up this winter. “Especially for households that heat with propane — which is about 10-percent of the families or so that we serve with the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP),” Brand says. “Those folks that heat with propane saw price spikes that were sometimes triple what they had paid just a year ago or even a few months previously. So those folks were especially hard hit this winter.”
The dollar amount owed is 40-percent above February of last year. A state moratorium prevents utilities from turning off utilities to people enrolled in LIHEAP until April 1st. Brand says anyone who has gotten behind should explore their options with the utility company to see if they can avoid a shut off. “For those households that are facing those circumstances, we’re really strongly encouraging them to talk with their utility company about negotiating a payment agreement to pay off their past due (bill),” Brand says.
He says his agency is working with LIHEAP participants to let them know what they should look for in a payment agreement. Brand says the agreements must be for a minimum of 12 months, must take into account household income, and any extenuating circumstances that might present a financial hardship for the family. “We want to make sure that households know what the rules are around payment agreements and agreements and make sure they have the opportunity to pay off that arrearage if they are able to do that,” Brand says.
Brand says you can still sign up for the LIHEAP assistance and should contact your local social services agency to do so. The LIHEAP payment is a one-time amount paid to participants, and Brand says it averages $460.