Iowa’s energy assistance program had a record number of applicants last year

Colder temperatures are here and that means some Iowans may qualify for financial assistance for their heating bills. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, helps pay heating bills for families or individuals and can also provide emergency funds for repairs.

Bill Markis, chief of the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Energy Assistance Bureau, said there were 90,000 applicants last year and about 83,000 received benefit payments.

Over the past two winters in 2021 and 2022, the program received additional funding through federal pandemic aid totaling $78 million, Marques said. This is on top of his regular budget.

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Marques said LIHEAP is able to increase payments for its regular assistance and emergency assistance.

“During the pandemic, we were able to offer up to $3,000 to help with the crisis. And now we’re up to $500, and that’s a significant difference,” he said.

Marquis said the additional funding has been exhausted, and was almost completely used up at the end of last winter.

“Our goal is always to have as much outreach as possible in the community. And the last two years have shown us that when we’re given a lot of money, we’re still able to get it out into the community,” he said.

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Marques said the large number of people applying for assistance during the period of increased funding shows the need for these services and highlights the greater need for related services.

“That’s where the agencies come in, and they really look at every household and they say, ‘Okay, okay, in addition to LIHEAP, in addition to SNAP, in addition to these other things, family self-sufficiency, skills, do we Can? We help teach? What employment or training programs might be available to this family to help bring them to a level of self-sufficiency?” she said.

So far this year, the program has about half the number of applications it had at the end of last year’s season, about 52,000, he said. Marques said the majority of people apply for assistance at the start of the warm winter season in October, November and December. Applications are open until April and people can apply through their local Community Action Agency.

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According to MidAmerican Energy, 43,985 customers sought help through LIHEAP last winter, an increase of more than 3,700 from winter 2020. As of December 15, more than 23,000 customers have sought help from LIHEAP this winter.


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