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Thousands of Applications for Emergency Utility Assistance

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - You can already tell winter is on its way. While many people turned on their furnaces for the first time this weekend, some fear they won't be able to pay their bills down the road. That's why the low income home energy assistance program or LIHEAP started accepting applications for help one week ago today.

1,500 people, seniors and those with disabilities, qualified for the early application process. But just this past week alone, 350 more people applied for LIHEAP. But HACAP, who administers the program, says they're still handling claims from summer cooling costs.

Even though some people call with thousands of dollars in utility bills past due, HACAP can only give up to $300 to help with emergency utility assistance.

"When we hit August first, we had over 100 names on our list we had to stop. We knew we weren't going to get to them," said HACAP's Lorna Golson.

And for some, that meant getting their electricity shut off this summer. Alliant Energy calls a disconnection a last resort.

"A, they've never communicated with us and said they can't pay. Maybe we made an agreement with them and then they broke that agreement," said Alliant Energy's Justin Foss.

Now those same families will also likely struggle paying heating costs as temperatures drop even though experts say natural gas prices are at all-time lows.

"The colder the weather gets the more people use gas. It doesn't matter how cheap it is, the more gas you're using the more expensive it's going to be," said Foss.

That fear sparked a panic for LIHEAP applications. This pink stack of files sits waiting to be processed. This black rolling table shows the 350 applications filled out over the past seven days.

"For the most part, it's just five or six pages and a little documentation on their income," said Golson.

The average family can get about $150 more this year, because of leftover funds from last year's mild winter. But HACAP says it still might not be enough.

"They're needing LIHEAP help along with another bill whether it be a non-heat source," said Golson.

Once people apply for LIHEAP, HACAP offers them free energy conservation courses so they can see how to prevent such high bills in the future. In order to reach more people in need, HACAP plans to go to more rural locations and set-up satelitte locations.

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