April 4, 2014 — In a recent report, the Iowa Utilities Board found that 243,403 accounts were behind on their utility bills, and these households owed more than $46 million. About 15 percent of the accounts belong to LIHEAP recipients, and they owe approximately $11.7 million of the total outstanding balance.
Iowa officials found these numbers particularly concerning since the moratorium preventing utilities from disconnecting service ended on April 1. The moratorium, which began last November 1, only applied to households certified for LIHEAP.
There were numerous reasons that households fell behind on their energy bills this heating season. These included a cold winter, higher fuel prices, and higher heating costs. Iowa was one of the states hit hard by the propane crisis earlier this year. In some areas of the state, the price hit $6 per gallon. As a result, Iowa LIHEAP made almost 1,500 emergency propane deliveries in January and February. As a comparison, it only made 43 in December.
According to media reports, the state tapped into funds normally used to purchase propane during the summer for the next winter heating season. Iowa officials predicted the state would have about $1.2 million less for this purchase than last year.
By the end of February, Iowa LIHEAP said about 76,000 households had applied and received heating assistance. The program plans to take applications until April 30. It told the media that about 86,000 people will utilize LIHEAP assistance by the end of the application period, which is a slight increase from last year's total of 85,000.
In addition to LIHEAP assistance, the Iowa Utilities Board encourages people to contact their utility companies directly. A Board spokesman said it has met with many companies, which are doing "extra things this year to try to reach out to customers and communicate that they need to enter into payment arrangements" to avoid service disconnections.
The $46 million owed on utility accounts is up 40 percent from last year at the same time. It's also a record for the amount owed since the Iowa Utilities Board started keeping records in 1999. The February record comes on the heels of also setting a record last December when customers owed $34.9 million. The table below offers a comparison of totals for February going back to 2010.
Dates Past-Due Accounts Amount Owed February 2010 221,344 $35,758,901 February 2011 239,783 $38,986,281 February 2012 224,016 $32,997,587 February 2013 233,814 $32,896,475 February 2014 243,403 $46,029,616 Source: Des Moines Register
Sources: Media Reports, Iowa Utilities Board