CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - When the snow starts to fall, thermostats get cranked, and applications for heating assistance go up. But the federally-funded LIHEAP (Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program) is still waiting to see how much money it will have for the 85,000 or so Iowa households expected to apply this year.
Jerry McKim, chief of the Iowa Bureau of Energy Assistance, said because of the partial government shutdown earlier this month, he still doesn't know exactly how much federal money his program will get. He's estimating that the average statewide benefit per household will be about $460 for heating assistance, similar to last year's number.
But he and local energy utilities are still urging people to apply for heating assistance as soon as possible.
"We know that times are tough for people and they have to make choices, so we don't want to have them make the choice of, 'can I or can I not pay my heating bill?'" said Heather Holmes, spokesperson for Alliant Energy.
Holmes said Alliant Energy offers budget billing to even out monthly payments, which can help customers avoid spikes in their bills. Their winter heating moratorium begins November 1st, meaning that if a customer's bill goes unpaid, their heat can't be shut off. However, Holmes said that only applies to LIHEAP-approved customers.
"Just like with any utility, we don't shut our customers' power off in the winter," said Holmes. "So when it comes into April, and when it gets into the warmer months, the moratorium ends, and that is a process that we have to look through."