Iowa Senate panel OKs $2 million in additional low-income heating aid

February 04, 2014

Written by William Petroski -  Des Moines Register 
An Iowa Senate subcommittee approved a $2 million additional state appropriation Monday for the states Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which has seen heavy demand because of a cold winter and soaring propane prices. The measure now goes to the Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sens. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, and Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, both backed the Senate Study Bill 3137, which is sought by a host of groups, including the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, AARP, the Iowa State Association of Counties, and others. In the Iowa House, Democrats have said they plan to seek an additional $1 million for home heating aid, although the proposal faces an uncertain future.
Lana Ross, a lobbyist for the Iowa Community Action Association, said about 86,000 households participated in the low-income heating assistance program last year, and about 10 percent heated their homes with propane. State officials and the propane industry have done everything possible to ease the problems which has included high prices and a shortage of propane. she said. While the cost of propanehas beendeclining slightly, it is nowhere close to what it was before this crisis, she said.
Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, declined to immediately back the bill. He suggested the committee may be responding prematurely to the propane issue, noting that many experts have described the shortage of propane as primarily a distribution problem. He said that in a few weeks, its possible the cost of propane could drop significantly and that a smaller amount of state money could address the problem. He also suggested Iowa churches couldaddress the situation by seeking donations to help low-income Iowans paytheir heating bills.