Government

Senior, disabled, or low-income Iowans can receive help to pay their heating bill

Archive Photo of Jim Harford from Fosters Heating & Air Conditioning cleans a buildup off a flame sensor of a furnace Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Marion, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Archive Photo of Jim Harford from Fosters Heating & Air Conditioning cleans a buildup off a flame sensor of a furnace Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Marion, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Low-income Iowans are being encouraged to sign up for help in paying their winter heating bills.

Beginning Nov. 1, eligible Iowans who meet income guidelines can apply for acceptance into the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Iowans 60 and older or disabled, low-income Iowans already can apply for this winter’s program. Christine Taylor of the state Department of Human Rights, which oversees the program, said more than 21,000 residents already have applied.

For the 2018-19 heating season, Taylor said, Iowa expects to receive slightly more than the $54.8 million that was allocated to the state last year, but the exact allotment has not yet been determined.

LIHEAP is a federally funded energy assistance program — administered by the Division of Community Action Agencies in Iowa — that is designed to help low-income families meet the partial cost of home heating through a one-time payment made directly to the utility or heating fuel vendor.

Iowa law also protects qualified applicants who are the head of a household under LIHEAP or the Weatherization Assistance Program from being disconnected from natural gas or electric service from Nov. 1 to April 1. Although qualified applicants cannot be disconnected during that time, officials with the Iowa Utilities Board urge customers to continue paying toward their energy bills to avoid accumulating debt and facing potential service disconnection in the spring.

‘Quite an increase’

Community action agencies in Iowa review applications and administer grant funds provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Household income and size, type of primary heating fuel, housing type and other factors are considered as grants are awarded.

“Last year we had quite an increase,” Taylor said. “We had 88,000 households apply last year throughout the entire season, and that’s about a third of the population that’s actually eligible for the program, so there are still quite a few people out there who aren’t taking advantage of this.

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“We always have people in need,” she added. “We’re still missing a lot of people who are struggling out there to make ends meet. They’re having to make those difficult choices between food and medication or having the lights on and being warm.”

To be eligible for LIHEAP, the total household income for an applicant in Iowa must be at or below 175 percent of 2018 federal poverty guidelines. For example, a single-person household can qualify with an annual gross income at or below $21,245. A family of four can qualify with an annual gross income at or below $43,925.

Each year, LIHEAP-qualified households may receive a one-time payment to assist with their heating costs.

Officials with MidAmerican Energy said 41,898 households in the company’s Iowa service territory were approved for LIHEAP assistance last year. The average grant per household was $420.

Weatherization assistance program

Another federally funded program with eligibility based on household size and income is the Weatherization Assistance Program. The program provides long-term financial relief by improving energy efficiency in homes and educating utility customers about their energy use and methods to reduce consumption.

As part of the program, experts may install permanent, cost-effective measures to weatherize the building shell and improve heating and cooling systems. A computerized energy audit helps determine the cost-effectiveness of various energy efficiency upgrades such as additional insulation. Potential indoor air quality and other health and safety issues also are addressed, including checks of all combustion appliances.

Applications for the LIHEAP and weatherization programs are accepted on a first come, first served basis. Those interested in applying should review federal income guidelines to determine whether they qualify, then apply at the community action agency serving their area.

For assistance, utility customers may contact their local utility company, or contact the Iowa Utilities Board staff at 1-877-565-4450 or customer@iub.iowa.gov. Information also is available at the IUB’s LIHEAP Web page, iub.iowa.gov/liheap, or through the Iowa Department of Human Rights, humanrights.iowa.gov/dcaa/liheap, or call 1-515-281-3861.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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