Funds for utility assistance cut - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Funds for utility assistance cut

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

As the economy continues to struggle, many folks are having a tough time paying utility bills.  Soon, applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP, will be available to the general public.  But getting help could now be more difficult than ever.

Kenneth Allen suffers from several medical conditions and struggles to get by each month on a small disability paycheck.

"Paying all the bills I pay, sometimes it can be really hard.  If it wasn't for my sister and my parents and Operation Threshold, I don't know what I would do," Allen said.

Operation Threshold has helped Allen with his utility bills.  As the economy has continued to struggle, more folks like him are seeking assistance.

"Needs are up.  Last year, about 12 percent of the households we saw, we'd never seen before.  And we took about 6,000 applications in our three county area," said Barbara Grant with Operation Threshold.

On top of increased demand, LIHEAP is also facing big budget cuts.  Since the federal government still hasn't set LIHEAP funding levels, the state's being conservative by issuing a maximum of $285 per family this year, down from $517 in 2010.  With less assistance, some families might not be able to pay their full electric bills.  The power's required to stay on for LIHEAP families through the end of March, but…

"They may be able to eat OK and pay bills this winter, but come this spring, I think we'll have a lot more households without utilities," said Grant.

For folks like Kenneth Allen, getting less heating bill aid could have a ripple effect, pushing him to ask family and friends for more help, while also looking at other assistance programs.  

"I would probably go to the food bank," Allen said.

To limit the strain on family budgets and other agencies, Operation Threshold is encouraging folks to make any small changes they can to help lower utility bills—from sealing up air leaks in windows and doors, to setting your heat at the lowest comfortable temperature.

Several power companies do offer financial assistance programs to help weatherize your home. Operation Threshold accepts donations for its crisis fund, which can provide emergency aid for things like furnace repairs.

To learn more about weatherization assistance, you can contact the Iowa Bureau of Weatherization at (515) 281-3861.  For utility bill assistance or to make a donation to the utility crisis fund, call Operation Threshold at (319) 291-2605.  (Seniors and those with disabilities can apply for assistance now.  The general public can apply for LIHEAP help November 1.)

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