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Iowans saw heating bills rise throughout the winter

Heating bills for some Iowa homes have risen anywhere between 50 and 100 percent this winter.
Sarah Gilbert
Heating bills for some Iowa homes have risen anywhere between 50 and 100 percent this winter.

As predicted by energy companies last fall, higher natural gas prices have meant higher heating bills for Iowans this winter.

MidAmerican Energy said back in October customers could expect natural gas bills to rise by 50 to 100 percent. A MidAmerican spokesperson said customers’ natural gas bills did increase this winter. The average heating bill this past December rose 108 percent compared to last year, while November and January bills rose 56 and 98 percent, respectively.

At the same time, Iowa’sLow-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, reports it’s had about a 20 percent increase in those applying for assistance with this winter’s heating bills.

Bill Marquess, LIHEAP program planner, said the program has been able to provide an extra boost to participants, thanks to federal funds.

"In addition to what individuals would normally get, which is determined by a benefit matrix that looks at different categories— types of fuel, do you own, do you rent, things like that—in addition to that, we just issued out supplemental payments at 40 percent of what that first statement was," he said.

Marquess said the program can help people make ends meet when money is spread thin across a household's budget.

"When households are already struggling and facing hardships, and then you do put in this extreme weather that we've been having, which forces usage to go up, and then because of these other issues, the cost of usage is that much higher. It has definitely, I think, a stronger impact for households, maybe than what they're used to," he said.

LIHEAP also provides financial assistance for crises, like when a furnace breaks down and needs to be replaced immediately. Marquess said they were able to increase the amount they could provide to participants for that program, as well.

"We really wanted to get that money out into the community in the most effective way possible. And not every LIHEAP customer is going to experience a crisis and need that particular assistance, which is why we wanted to increase the regular benefit that any approved LIHEAP applicant will receive," he said "But we recognize too, that the crisis element of it, it could hit people especially hard financially this year, and so we have been operating off higher expenditure limits as well."

People can apply for LIHEAP funds through their local community action outreach office.

Utility companies MidAmerican and Alliant Energy both say if customers are struggling to pay bills, customers can reach out to the companies to talk about payment options and accommodations.

"Another example is we offer payment extensions. You know, that would delay customer's current due date. If either of those options would benefit a customer, we encourage them to contact us and check their eligibility," said Morgan Hawk, a spokesperson for Alliant.

Hawk said close to $7.9 million in LIHEAP funds were distributed to Alliant customers in 2021, and around 17,000 customers were approved for the assistance.

Catherine Wheeler was Iowa Public Radio's All Things Considered host and a reporter from 2021 to 2023.