Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown
Winter storm Polly visited Iowa this winter, and her effects are still lingering. News coverage reported continued snow and ice hitting the state, and larger impacts to the region as "snow is flying across parts of Kansas into Nebraska, the Dakotas, Iowa, and southwestern Minnesota."
Winter storms are a normal feature of winters in the Upper Midwest, and programs like LIHEAP have been a critical component of health and safety for decades. Back in 2002, longtime Iowa U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley touted the support of energy assistance for Iowans: “People will look to programs like LIHEAP to help them keep warm this winter…Adequate funding for LIHEAP is essential to provide meaningful aid to families struggling to pay their monthly bills. It helps those on fixed incomes to stay warm at home in the winter months and pay for other necessities like prescription medicine and groceries.”
Nearly 20 years later, those comments appear to be frozen in truth. In an interview with LIHEAP.org, the State of Iowa's LIHEAP/Energy Assistance Bureau Chief Christine Taylor underscored the constant importance of raising awareness about LIHEAP. Taylor noted that "only 26% of the eligible households in Iowa apply for assistance each year. The other 74% is at risk of being disconnected or choosing between heating their home or purchasing much needed medication or food for their families.”
Local NBC affiliate Channel 13 revealed that through the winter of 2018 thus far, “the funding translates into keeping almost 200,000 Iowans warm each winter.” Director Taylor added more details, noting that Iowa has had 73,264 households apply to the program and 67,420 were approved.
"During the same timeframe in FY17, we had 71,676 households apply with 67,096 approved," Director Taylor added, noting an increase in this winter's application numbers. This increase in need comes on the heels of an announcement from the White House through its proposed elimination of LIHEAP in the FY2019 budget. Program elimination means funding decreases for those most assisted by the program, including households across multiple demographics from single mothers and their children to the elderly and Military members returning home from active duty.
Director Taylor explained that “because Iowa is mainly rural, cuts to the program would affect a large amount of our eligible population. Veterans, of course, live everywhere in Iowa and would be equally impacted. Iowa most certainl agrees that LIHEAP is a life-saving program.”
Partnerships between other longtime allies have been helpful in both outreach and additional funding avenues. Iowa radio station 105.7 KOKZ shared reminders to residents about upcoming deadlines for the program, and collaborations among key collaborators in the region, including MidAmerican Energy, Alliant, and the Iowa Utilities Board, also garnered public interest. In particular, Upper Des Moines Opportunity, a prominent community action agency, accepted a generous donation of $76,070.16 from Alliant Energy’s Hometown Care Fund. The funds were intended to supplement state LIHEAP funds. Alliant's total contribution to the area at large was over $3 million, raised via contributions from individual residents, 'shareowners', employees, and retirees. Jamey M. Whitney, Executive Director of the Upper Des Moines Opportunity, expressed his gratitude to Alliant for the "generous donations to assist low-income individuals and families with their utility costs. It is by generosity such as this that we can truly make a difference in the lives of our customers.”
With a second White House budget in two years proposing the elimination of this vital program altogether, Director Taylor painted a vivid picture of the potential fallout for the families who depend year in and out on the helping hand of energy assistance. Taylor noted that “the impact of cuts to the LIHEAP would be immense. ithout LIHEAP assistance, over 80,000 individuals each year would be at risk of not having life-saving heat during winter months. With every dollar that funding decreases, fewer income-eligible households would be assisted.”