Iowa Reports Record Numbers Behind on Utility Bills

January 25, 2013 -- As winter weather arrived, a record number of Iowa households were already behind on paying their heating bills and an above-average number in Pennsylvania had their heat disconnected.

In Iowa, LIHEAP Director Jerry McKim told the media approximately 279,700 households failed to pay their entire utility bills in November 2012, which was the highest number ever reported for a single month, going back to 1999. This means these households were running debts even before temperatures dropped below average in December and January.

However, McKim noted that thus far this heating season he's seen a 7 percent drop in the number of Iowans seeking help through LIHEAP. He said his agency has at least $49 million to help low-income households with their utility bills.

Almost 16,000 Pennsylvania households weren't just behind on their heating bills going into winter. Their power was already disconnected. In December the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued its annual "Cold Weather Survey." Based on information that regulated utilities must gather and submit, the report looks at the number of natural gas and electric customers entering winter without heat service.

Statewide, the PUC found 15,983 households without heating service, which was less than the 17,475 in the previous year's report. However, it was about 300 more households than the average from the years 2007-2010. Also, the figures don't include households that may lack heat because they cannot afford the oil to fill empty furnaces. Those numbers aren't collected for the report because oil-based heat is not regulated by the PUC.

Sources: Newspapers, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.