CEDAR RAPIDS — The worst part of the hot weather right now may not be just the heat itself: It may be waiting for the July electric bills to hit the mailbox.
Alliant Energy said June’s electric bills were an estimated 5 percent higher than they were in June 2011. The totals for this month’s service should run even higher than that.
Lower-income Iowans are turning to various charities for help in keeping cool this summer.
Angela Jones and her son were at the Salvation Army in Cedar Rapids at midday Wednesday to take advantage of the free meal program, but she’s planning to come back to the facility next week to apply for utility assistance. That service can provide $50 for qualified families to help with utility bills once every three months.
Jones said she’s already pretty sure the July electric bill will come to more than she can afford. Medical issues, both her own and her father’s, mean the family can’t just shut off the air conditioning to save money.
“It’s pretty scary with my dad having that heart condition and not being able to pay the bills by ourselves because the bills are so high,” she said.
Jones said the June electric bill for her rented home amounted to about $157 — double what she would pay in a more typical summer month. So she shudders at what July will bring.
The St. Vincent De Paul charity also takes applications for help from people who can’t pay utility bills. Cedar Rapids store president Jim Zachar said the assistance, like the Salvation Army’s, is limited to $50 every three months for a qualifying family.
He said dozens of new people have applied in recent weeks in expectation of high electric bills.
“Sometimes they’ve had to turn the air conditioning off to try to catch up with the bills,” Zachar said. “A lot of people are having to buy fans to keep cool as well.”
Those who receive help with their heating bills in the winter through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program are often encouraged to arrange a budget billing cycle with local utilities. Recipient Laurel Clark, for example, pays the same amount every month for a year, so she won’t pay more for July right away. But Clark said that’s just a temporary reprieve.
“I receive heating assistance and I feel in the long run it has helped me,” she said. “But you still have to pay” the big bills eventually — the payment amount is adjusted periodically, based on participants’ actual usage.
According to the state energy assistance office, help with summer utility bills is much more limited than the winter program, and that’s reflected in disconnections. About 234,000 Iowa families were behind on utility bills statewide in June, and utilities disconnected 4,500 people that month.
However, the roughly 88,000 Iowans who received LIHEAP assistance last winter will get a bonus.
Jerry McKim, chief of the energy assistance bureau for the Iowa Department of Human Rights, said fewer people than expected qualified for assistance last year. So beneficiaries will get a $50 utility credit in the coming weeks that will be applied to summer electric bills.