Cold winter means high energy bills, assistance available - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Cold winter means high energy bills, assistance available


DUBUQUE (KWWL) -- Some people are getting sticker shock when it comes to this month's utility bills. Part of the reason for high bills now is reflected in the temperatures from the first ten days of 2010. During that time, Eastern Iowa saw bitterly cold temperatures. The highest temperature in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Iowa City was between 19 and 21 degrees. It's normally 25. Lows dipped down during that period as low as 20-degrees below zero. The normal low that time is five degrees above zero.

That difference is now being reflected on monthly energy bills. But there is assistance for those who need it. It's called the low-income housing energy assistance program, also known as LIHEAP. In Dubuque, it's providing relief to many people, caught between a tough economy and the effects of cold weather.

It's Courtney Ramquist's first visit to 1473 central avenue.

"I needed some help I'm gonna gonna be able to make ends meet this month," said Ramquist.

A single mother, Ramquist's energy bill left her trying to make ends meet.

'I was only expecting 60 bucks and when it was double that's what sparked me to come here," said Ramquist.

At New View in Dubuque, Ramquist is getting assistance to pay her bills. Thanks to the low-income housing energy assistance program.

"We are having a very cold winter, it started in early December. So a lot of people really strapped with heating," said Executive Director, Tom Stovall.

And by a lot, he means over four thousand. A ten percent increase from a year ago.

"We're seeing a lot of new people this year that we've never seen before. Most of those are the result of job losses or layoffs," said Stovall.

Executive director Tom Stovall says a lot of people are eligible.

"The qualification for our program is to make no more than 150-percent of the federal poverty level. That's the total income of the household," said Stovall.

For a single person, the federal poverty level is about $10,830 a year. That means in order for a single person to qualify, they must make no more than $16,245 a year. That number changes, depending on the number of people in your household.

"And so, for a household you multiply that by the number of people," said Stovall.

As for Ramquist, she knows she's not alone, and she's grateful for programs like this.

"They may have jobs but not making enough to make ends meet. And that's exactly where I'm at I feel for all the single families like myself that are working hard everyday but just don't have enough," said Ramquist.

New View's money comes from federal allocations by the Department Human Services. There are 18 agencies in Iowa that received assistance money.

New View has offices in Dubuque, Manchester and Maquoketa.

Even though we saw a very cold beginning to January, last year our utility bills would have been even higher. The price of natural gas is down 24-percent when you compare this past December to December 2008.

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Online Reporter: Lauren Squires

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