Lower Income Iowans Fear Coming Utility Bills
By Dave Franzman, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The worst part of the hot weather right now may not be just the heat itself. It may be waiting for the July electric bills to hit the mailbox.
Alliant energy says electric bills rose an estimated five percent in June of this year compared to June 2011. July bills, available sometime in the first week of August, should run even higher than that.
And lower-income Iowans are already turning to various charities for help in keeping cool this summer.
Angela Jones and her son took advantage of the free meal program at the Salvation Army in Cedar Rapids at noon on Wednesday. But she was planning to come back to the Salvation Army next week to apply for the utility assistance.
Jones said she’s already pretty sure the July electric bill will come to more than she can afford. Medical issues, both for herself and her father, mean they can’t just shut off the air conditioning to save money.
“It’s pretty scary with my dad having that heart condition and not being able to pay the bills by ourselves because the bills are so high,” Jones said.
Jones said her June electric bill for a rented home amounted to about $157. That’s double what she would pay in a more typical summer month. So she shutters at what July will bring.
The St. Vincent De Paul charity also takes applications from people who can’t pay utility bills. Cedar Rapids store president Jim Zachar said the assistance is limited to $50 for a qualifying family every three months. He said dozens of new people have applied in recent weeks in expectation of high electric bills.
“Sometimes they’ve had to turn the air conditioning off to try to catch up with the bills. A lot of people are having to buy fans, to keep cool as well,” Zachar said.
Those who receive heating assistance in the winter are often encouraged to arrange a budget bill cycle with local utilities. Laurel Clark, a LIHEAP or low income home energy assistance program, recipient pays the same amount every month for a year. So she won’t pay more for July right away. But Clark said that’s just a temporary reprieve.
“I receive heating assistance and I feel in the long run it has helped me. But you still have to pay (the big bills eventually),” she said.
According to the state energy assistance office, help with summer utility bills is much more limited than the winter program. And it’s reflected in disconnections. Approximately 234,000 Iowa families were behind on utility bills statewide in June. And utilities disconnected 4,500 people that month.
The approximately 88,000 Iowans who received LIHEAP assistance last winter will get a bonus.
Jerry McKim, chief of the energy assistance bureau for the Iowa Department of Human Rights, said fewer people than expected qualified for assistance last year. So those recipients will get a $50 dollar utility credit in the coming weeks that will be applied to summer electric bills.
What's On KCRG