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Water bill assistance available for Iowans affected by COVID-19

Iowans can apply for assistance to cover water utility bills through a new program. Applications open Friday. Eligibility will be based on income, household size and other factors.

The new federal Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program is part of an ongoing effort to help families who have lost income because of COVID-19.

The water bill assistance program will run until Sept. 30, 2023 or until there is no money left. And those in charge of disbursing it said they expect all funds to be used. Des Moines agency IMPACT Community Action Partnership will be in charge of the program for Boone, Jasper, Marion, Polk and Warren Counties.

“We want the families in our communities to have safe homes and to be healthy. And we know that water service is essential for those things. And so we want to do what we can, again, reduce those barriers and burdens that families are experiencing at this time," IMPACT's health and energy coordinator Paula Arkema said.

The funding is available for all 99 counties in Iowa. Arkema said individuals interested in the assistance who live outside of the five counties in IMPACT's jurisdiction should contact their local community action agency to apply. If a household within those five counties is interested in the assistance, they can make a phone appointment with IMPACT at 515-518-4770.

The pilot program is dual funded through the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan with little more than $10 million to distribute to families who meet the requirements. These include falling into a low-income bracket and late bills or bills unable to be paid. Arkema said households with mixed immigration statuses may still be eligible for the assistance.

"This program is essential to helping those families maintain their water service. You know, a family, if their water is shut off, that could make a home become uninhabitable. There could certainly be health effects that would impact the family as a result of that. And it's costly to then have water service turned back on if it's been disconnected," Arkema said.

A survey conducted by United Ways of Iowa found low-income families have struggled disproportionately to pay for basic necessities during the pandemic. Those surveyed said they have a high concern for paying bills on time. More than half surveyed reported loss of income or increased expenses during the pandemic.

The checks for water bill assistance will go directly to a household's utilities provider in their name. The funds can go toward past-due charges, taxes and other fees.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines