Thousands of Iowans at risk of having utilities disconnected
Written by Michelle Corless, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
HIAWATHA (KWWL) -
More than 35,000 Iowans are at risk of having their gas or electric service shut off as early as Tuesday. Under Iowa law, these services can't be disconnected to people who receive energy assistance, but the moratorium only applies from November 1st through April 1st.
People at risk are some of Iowa's lowest wage earners. Anyone who receives help through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is protected from utility disconnection during winter. With the ban ending those behind on their bills fear what may be coming.
"We are seeing a lot of conversations, calls, and applications due to the fact that they have a utility bill that might be disconnected soon," said Lorna Golson, LIHEAP Program Manager for HACAP.
Lorna Golson helps people apply for LIHEAP in Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington counties.
To qualify, there are strict income guidelines. For a family of five, the annual household income has to be under $40,515 a year. Even with financial assistance, many of these utility customers are still behind on their bills.
"They're searching for 'Ok, how am I going to afford to, what can I do to help,'" said Golson. "'Where do I call ?' And it helps that they know they can call us and we'll help them."
The Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) has already helped more than 70 Eastern Iowans get back on their feet using crisis funds, but they continue to get calls for help every day now that the moratorium on cutting service is here.
Utility companies like Alliant Energy say customers at risk will receive several notices and that ending electricity to a home is not something they want to do.
"Just like any other business, if you're not able to pay your bill we're not able to provide a service but that truly is the last resort," said Heather Holmes, Alliant Energy Spokesperson.
According to the Iowa Utilities Board 549 Iowans who are eligible for energy assistance received disconnection notices as of February. More than 85,000 people who don't qualify for LiHEAP also received notices.
There's some good news for some of those Iowans in danger of losing utilities. The LIHEAP application deadline isn't until the end of the month. If you apply and qualify, you could potentially receive a credit on your utility bills for next winter.
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