Thousands of Iowa families behind on utility bills

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News,Business,Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Iowa customers are behind on their utility bills following this winter's unusually cold weather, and some officials think the problem could get worse.

As of February, more than 243,000 households were in arrears — 4 percent more than a year ago, according to the Iowa Utilities Board. The dollar amount associated with that debt has hit a record high, at $46 million, because of the severe cold and the higher costs of natural gas and propane, The Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1jn1UXX ).

"That is an all-time high for a single month — at least going back to 1999, when the Iowa Utilities Board started keeping track," said William Brand, administrator of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in Iowa. "This is a very startling number. It's an almost 40 percent increase over February of one year ago."

The assistance program helps low-income people who are having trouble paying their utility bills. Brand said 38,000 of the Iowa households in the program are behind on their bills by a total of $11.7 million.

Some officials think the situation could get worse.

"I think we could see these numbers go even higher for March and for April," said Lana Ross, executive director of the Iowa Community Action Association, which administers the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program at the local level.

April 1 marks the end of the winter moratorium on utility shutoffs for households under the assistance program.

"With so many households having past-due accounts, we know there are going to be a significant number of utility disconnection notices served on people beginning April 2," Brand said. "That's going to result in a lot of additional folks looking for assistance."

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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