Helium Shortage Has Balloon Prices Up

By Forrest Saunders, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Grabbing balloons anytime soon is going to cost the customer a little bit more. That's because the nation is experiencing a helium shortage.

Behind it is simple economics. The private sector can't provide enough to meet demand.

Helium is used in MRI machines, cellphones, welding, and more. But customers will probably notice higher priced balloons this weekend, when buying for a graduate or a mother.

Shawn Atay purchased three balloons at Party City. The price wasn't quite right.

"$45," said Atay. "It's a little high."

Experts blame a world-wide helium shortage. No laughing matter for professional clown Jacob Cowger.

"It's been quite the struggle, quite the headache," said Cowger.

He has to drive out of state just to find enough helium to supply his balloon shop, Balloons Etc. Once he gets it, he stockpiles it. Tanks used to cost 50 bucks, now they're almost 200. It's inflation, he's eating.

"You don't want to drive the price up to the point that it so ridiculously priced that nobody wants to buy balloons," said Cowger.

Many blame the helium shortage on natural gas. Helium is a byproduct, and natural gas is hitting record low prices. In turn, not much of either gas is being produced.

So, for now, prices are high but help is in the works. Last month, the U.S. House passed legislation that would keep helium reserves from closing in Texas, this fall.

Heavy helium users, like Cowger, say it isn't likely to drop prices, but maybe it'll stabilize the market.

"It's going through Congress now. We're kind of at their mercy if they get it through, and get it passed," said Cowger.

The so-called "helium bill" faced little opposition in the House, winning 394 to one. It's now moved on to the Senate, where a similar bill exists. Lawmakers say they will likely be able to iron out differences.
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