thermostat1A report from Iowa’s largest utility companies shows residents in the state owe more than $40 million in past due power bills.

The numbers are worrisome for those who administer assistance to low-income families. Jerry McKim, spokesman for the Iowa Human Rights Department, says he’s troubled by other information in the report, too.

“Just for September and October, there were 8,696 households disconnected,” McKim says. “So going into November, even though the weather was mild, and it doesn’t looks like it coming out, we have nearly 9,000 households at least without power.”

McKim says that disconnection figure is the largest for any October dating back to 1999. A federal program called LIHEAP provides protection from having the power shut off during the colder months, but only for households certified as eligible.

“If you’re scheduled to be disconnected and the National Weather Service says it’s going to be 20 degrees or colder within 24 hours of that disconnection, the utilities have to hold off,” McKim says. “The blanket protection that runs from November 1st though March 31st only applies to households certified eligible for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or the weatherization program.”

While some 9,000 customers were disconnected in September and October, McKim fears that number will rise significantly if energy providers ask for and are granted rate increases in 2017.

(Thanks to Pat Blank, Iowa Public Radio)