Heat Help: Legislators Work on Funding for Low-Income Iowans

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

LINN COUNTY, Iowa - Rising propane prices and dropping temperatures are a bad combination when it comes to winter heating.

Now there's a move in the legislature to help low-income households keep up with some unusually high heating bills.

Last week federal lawmakers approved more than $7 million in federal money for Iowa's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP. That's a program that assists low-income Iowans with heating bills. The federal government supplies funds for the program, but states can also pitch in.

Some state senators are now trying to do their part with a proposed $2 million that would also go to LIHEAP.

Outside of Marion, signs of the long winter are visible on a white house out in the country. Icicles hang from the roof and steam fills the air.

There's another sign, however, that this winter is dragging on.

"We are at 30 percent now. We use about fifteen percent a week," said Dana Graves.

Even though Graves has her thermostat at 63, her propane supply is dwindling. She said her bill could be more than a thousand dollars, and she can't afford to get her tank filled.

"How do you sleep at night? I mean what are we going to do for heat. I have heard other people are using heating blankets," Graves said.

So on Monday, she went to HACAP to sign up for emergency heating assistance through LIHEAP

"We have been busy. It has been steady," said HACAP's Dan Rauser.

HACAP workers are getting one call after another. People need help with propane costs and broken furnaces.

"There's definitely demand out there with as much cold weather, cold temperatures we've had this year," Rauser said.

State Senator Liz Mathis, D-Robins, is working to get state funds to places like HACAP.

"It will be part of a supplemental appropriation, and supplemental appropriations we do about this time every year, depending on who might need some type of emergency funding," Sen. Mathis said.

Sen. Mathis said if the bill passes, the money could still get used yet this winter. As for Dana, she's hoping HACAP approves her application for emergency heating help soon.

"We are going to need it within the next week or so," Graves said.

Some people voiced opposition against the $2 million funding plan at the State Capitol. Governor Terry Branstad said the extra funding could be premature.
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