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HEATING HELP: Energy Assistance For Winter

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Iowans enjoyed a beautiful start to November, but colder temperatures will soon set in and furnaces will be working overtime. The federal government forecasts higher utility bills this winter. That's bad news, especially for those already having a tough time making ends meet.

It's a busy start to the month at the Human Services building in West Des Moines. West Des Moines Program Outreach Assistant Tami Lage says, "The need is great, and I think the need continues to increase."

November 1 is the first day people can apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. LIHEAP State Director Jerry McKim says, "Clearly, energy is unaffordable for a large segment of our population. Energy is another commodity like oxygen is another gas. It's a basic necessity of life, particularly in the middle of an Iowa winter."

McKim says the program had a drop in participation last year because of the mild winter, but he expects a bigger need this year. He says, "I know the energy information administration of the federal government is projecting a 15% increase for those who heat with natural gas, which is most of Iowa."

The West Des Moines Human Services building in Valley Junction is one of several sites around the state where you can come apply for energy assistance. Lage says people should be prepared before arriving. She says, "We try to encourage them to be prepared as best they can, whether call ahead, or come in ahead."

Applicants will need to be able to verify income, have proof of a social security number and bring a utility bill. The appointment takes about thirty minutes. Each qualified household will get about $460 to help heat their home this year. Lage says, "The assistance is usually a drop in the bucket. What it is they're actually going to pay for the winter season. However the moratorium in place protects them from any disconnection."

Lage says that could be the biggest benefit of a program helping keep Iowans warm through the winter.

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