Iowa Senate approves emergency utility bill funds
DES MOINES – The Iowa Senate on Tuesday agreed to provide extra money to a fund for low-income families who can’t pay their heating bills.
The Senate voted 41-8 to approve a bill allocating $2 million in state funds to supplement a federally funded program that helps people pay their utility bills. The legislation now goes to the House.
Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Robins, the measure’s sponsor, said soaring propane prices and a frigid winter have left many Iowans struggling to afford heating bills. Mathis said families experiencing financial hardships through this extended cold might not receive the help they need if additional funds aren’t allocated by the state. House Republicans have called for waiting to ensure the extra funding is needed.
“It’s cold outside,” Mathis said. “And it’s been cold for quite a while. And while we go home and turn up the heat, there are Iowans who can’t do that.”
Iowa’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program assists families with anything from broken furnaces to emergency propane deliveries, and Mathis said funds to carry out these tasks are dwindling. The federal government funds the program, but states can supplement it.
Iowa received about $54 million from the federal government for the program for the 2014 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. As of December, more than 60,000 households received assistance through this program, a number creeping closer to the nearly 86,000 total households helped in 2013.
Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, proposed an amendment to the bill that would appropriate $3 million in unspent state funds to address the situation. This would involve taking money from unspent economic development funds and capping administration costs to create additional dollars.
Mathis’ bill calls for $2 million appropriated from the state’s general fund.
The amendment was struck down in a 27-22 vote.
Sen. William Dotzler Jr., D-Waterloo, said economic development dollars should be allotted for their appropriate purpose.
The best way to address the situation at hand will be to draw money from the general fund to support Iowans in need, he said.
“That’s what Iowans are about,” Dotzler said. “We have a history of taking care of each other.”