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New state program to help Iowans with past due utility bills due to COVID-19 losses

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The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) launched a new program on Friday to help people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic pay past due utility bills. The Residential Utility Disruption Prevention Program “will provide eligible households with up to $2,000 towards electric, natural gas and water bills if they are at risk of disconnection due to an inability to pay due to a COVID-19 related loss of income,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The new program comes more than three months after Gov. Reynolds lifted the prohibition on utility disconnections during the pandemic.

In order to qualify, a person must have had “a COVID-19 loss of income (job loss, reduction in hours, reduction in pay) on or after March 17, 2020 that resulted in hardship in paying bills for electric, natural gas, and/or water utility service provided between March 17, 2020 and October 31, 2020.”

Applicants need to have incomes at or below 80 percent of the average annual household income in their county.

80 percent of average annual income in Johnson County by household size

1 person: $54.950
2 people: $62,800
3 people: $70,650
4 people: $78,500
5 people $84,800
6 people: $91.100
7 people: $97,350
8 people: 103,650

80 percent of average annual income in Linn County by household size

1 person: $47,750
2 people: $54,550
3 people: $61,350
4 people: $68,150
5 people: $73,650
6 people: $79,100
7 people: $84,550
8 people: $90,000

Payments from the program will be made directly to utility companies. A person can only apply to the program to cover past due bills at their primary residence.

Application forms and more information on the program can be found at the Iowa Housing Recovery site.

Applications must be submitted by Nov. 20, but IEDA cautions that funding for the program may run out before that deadline. The governor has allocated $14.5 million of federal CARES Act funds for a utility assistance program, but that money is being used for both residential programs and a similar program for small businesses launched in July.

According to the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), more than 184,000 households in Iowa have past due electric or gas bills.

“We’ve seen a lot more households that have never needed assistance before,” Christine Taylor, state director of LIHEAP, told Radio Iowa.

The current surge in new cases of COVID-19 due to community spread in northwestern Iowa and other rural parts of the state continued on Friday. At 10 a.m., the Iowa Department of Public Health reported a total of 97,041 Iowans have tested positive for the virus so far, an increase of 1,184 cases since the same time on Thursday. The newly reported cases included 34 residents of Johnson County and 50 residents of Linn County.

IDPH also reported another 14 deaths during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Friday, which brought the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,439. A Johnson County resident was among the deaths that were reported on Friday morning.

As of 10 a.m. on Friday, 29 residents of Johnson County and 117 residents of Linn County have died from the virus.

For the third day in a row, the number of COVID-19 patients in Iowa hospitals hit a new record high, with IDPH reporting 461 Iowans hospitalized at 10 a.m. on Friday. That number represents a 30 percent increase in the number of hospitalization compared to the same time last month.

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