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Bitter Cold Can Be Unsafe for Some Low Income People

Michael Leland/IPR

The man in charge of administering Iowa’s low income heating assistance program, known as LIHEAP, says the cost of staying warm this winter may become a public health emergency. Jerry McKim says he is especially worried about some of the state’s older citizens.

“In an effort to better afford their utility bills, a lot of those elderly households will cut back on their prescribed medicine or they set their thermostats too low risking their already insecure health,” he says.

A report last month by the Iowa Utilities Board shows nearly 9,000 customers were involuntarily disconnected in September and October for nonpayment of bills. McKim says he is very concerned that number will rise significantly if energy providers ask for and are granted rate increases in 2017.  He’s also concerned that some people might turn to less safe sources of heat or light.

“They may use unsafe methods of heating that increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and those who live by candlelight increase the likelihood  of a house fire tragedy, so in my world this is much more than an energy issue,” he says.

Iowa utilities are not permitted to shut off utilities for nonpayment between November 1 and April 1 if someone in the home is eligible and applies for aid through LIHEAP.  McKim says there is still LIHEAP aid available for people who qualify.