BY BILL BRAND
By all accounts, our country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many families have experienced job loss or reduction in employment. These circumstances could lead to difficulty in paying utility bills.
There is help available through Iowa’s network of community action agencies if you find yourself in this situation. These agencies have an office in all 99 counties of the state. Families can apply for the Energy Assistance Program through their local agency. This program can pay a portion of an eligible household’s utility bill. Eligibility is based on household income and size. To find where to apply for energy assistance in your county, visit https://humanrights.iowa.gov/dcaa/where-apply.
Applications for regular energy assistance are being accepted through June 30. Applications for emergency energy assistance are accepted year-round, contingent upon available funds. Anyone facing difficulty in paying their utility bill is encouraged to contact their local agency.
Community action agencies have other types of help available, as well, including food and clothing pantries. Learn more about community action agencies from the Iowa Department of Human Rights at https://humanrights.iowa.gov/dcaa.
If you’re having difficulty paying your utility bills in full, you should also reach out to your local electric cooperative and other utility providers to discuss payment options. Your electric co-op can also share easy ways to reduce your energy use, which will help lower your bills.
For many Iowa families struggling right now, this may be the first time you’ve needed to reach out for public assistance. We encourage you to explore other resources available at the following organizations that may provide some financial relief in these challenging times. Remember, we are all in this together!
Free financial consultation
If you’re concerned about your finances and unsure where to start, get free, confidential financial help from a family finance educator at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. For more information, visit their Managing Personal Finances in Tough Times webpage at www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/finance or leave a message by calling the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985.
HealthWell Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to cover the costs associated with delivered food, medication, diagnostics, transportation and telehealth as a result of COVID-19 risk or incidence. Visit www.healthwellfoundation.org/fund/covid-19-fund for more information. Applications are also accepted by calling 800-675-8416.
Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS)
The Iowa Department of Human Services has several assistance programs such as food, childcare and cash assistance. Visit dhs.iowa.gov/COVID19 for information on programs and eligibility related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iowa Workforce Development is the state agency that administers unemployment insurance benefits. Visit www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov or call 866-239-0843 for eligibility guidelines, application process and updates.
Iowa regent universities
Iowa’s three state universities have established emergency funds to support students who may be adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa launched funds to help students address their most urgent needs as they transitioned from living and learning on campus to online classes.
Iowa State University Cyclone Strong Fund: www.financialaid.iastate.edu/cares-act
University of Iowa Student Life Emergency Fund: dos.uiowa.edu/assistance/student-support-initiatives
University of Northern Iowa COVID-19 Student Support Funds: pawprint.uni.edu/g/studentsupport/about
Bill Brand is the administrator, Division of Community Action Agencies at the Iowa Department of Human Rights.