Past-due utility bills, like rent and mortgage payments, are a part of family budgets affected by job losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the summer, Governor Kim Reynolds used federal CARES money to subsidize low-income families’ housing needs. Now, she is improving on it.
Last week, the Governor announced that up to $2,000 for a family can be used to pay past-due electric, natural gas and water bills through a new Residential Utility Disruption Prevention Program. State agency data shows that 185,000 families have overdue utility bills and that the amount of arrearage is nearly $30 million.
The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) already determines which families might be eligible for such aid. State officials will coordinate the new program with LIHEAP.
This policy move is overdue, but welcome. Much of the $1.25 billion given to Iowa through CARES has gone to business either in direct payments or to reduce unemployment insurance obligations.
The latter, in particular, was a poor use of emergency funding because it was not addressing any sort of emergency, while many Iowans have been struggling economically during the pandemic. By contrast, using the funds for the most vulnerable Iowans — as the Governor is doing with this new program — is both a responsible and effective response to help Iowans who without it would be left behind.
David Osterberg is the senior environment and energy researcher at Common Good Iowa, a nonpartisan policy analysis organization created by the merger of the Iowa Policy Project and the Child and Family Policy Center. email@example.com