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November 2017 Blog

November 2017 Blog

LIHEAP Assists with Heating Bills

If you have ever had to live on $1,759 a month, you know how difficult it can be to afford rent or a mortgage, heat and electric bills, food to eat, clothes, transportation, medication, and any other need that crops up. What if your family of four makes $3,588 a month and has to pay child care and medical bills in addition to the basics? Living financially strapped wreaks havoc on a person’s health. Stress increases demand upon our bodies and our minds, elevating our heart rate and blood pressure. In short, not having enough money to make ends meet can be extremely stressful and cause a person to make drastic decisions, decisions you’d rather not make such as paying the heating bill instead of buying food or medication. This is where LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) can help by providing eligible applicants assistance with their home heating costs, enabling them to stay warm in the winter and free up much needed resources for food and medication.

According to the Iowa Data Center, in 2015 there were 1,247,249 households in Iowa, with 7.7% (roughly 96,000) families living below the poverty level. In fiscal year 2017 (October 1, 2016 - September 30, 2017), just over 80,000 households were approved for LIHEAP in Iowa. Over one-third (33.5%) of those households were below 75% of the federal poverty level, making no more than $754/month. Most of us would have no idea how to sustain our lives on that meager amount. With demands on families and the cost of living increasing each year, these startling numbers indicate the hardship many families face.

To help combat the stress associated with living in poverty, the United States Department of Health and Human Services funds LIHEAP as a block grant which is administered by the states. In Iowa, the Department of Human Rights/Division of Community Action Agencies, contracts with 17 community action agencies to provide direct LIHEAP assistance for qualifying households whose income is at or below 175% of the federal poverty level. Eligible households are awarded a benefit which is paid directly to their heating vendor. Awards are calculated on a number of targeting factors. The average payment in FY 2017 was $470 per household. Once applicants are approved for LIHEAP, they have added protection against utility shutoffs from November 1 to April 1, giving the household a sense of security against freezing during the winter months.

It should be noted that when a household applies for LIHEAP, they are applying in tandem for the Weatherization Assistance Program. Also a federally-funded grant, the Weatherization Assistance Program was established to help reduce the heating and cooling costs for low income persons, particularly the elderly, disabled, and children, by improving the energy efficiency of their homes, thereby reducing the households’ energy bills. Each year approximately 2,000 homes are weatherized in Iowa, ensuring lowered utility bills for the next season.

Should you know of anyone struggling to pay their heating bill, please encourage them to contact their local community action agency.

For more information about the LIHEAP program, please visit https://humanrights.iowa.gov/dcaa/liheap.

Written by Christine Taylor, Bureau Chief, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Meet the DHR AmeriCorps Staff

Junior Jaime - Iowa Youth Congress (IYC)

My name is Junior Jaime and I am from Denison, Iowa. I studied Child, Adult, and Family Services with an emphasis in Youth at Iowa State University.

I am very passionate about working with the youth population and as the Iowa Youth Congress Coordinator I am very lucky to get to work with students from all over the state of Iowa. During my time at Iowa State I was able to work as a peer mentor and knew I wanted to continue working with the youth population. As the IYC Coordinator I get to continue impacting students and work closely with current youth issues.

Iowa Youth Congress (IYC) is a diverse and dynamic group of student representatives from across the state and brings them together discuss issues that affect youth. Members get separated into regions based on geographical location. Each region, based on their interests and goals, will focus on civic engagement, lobby efforts, and advocacy activities in their community and around the state of Iowa.

If you are a student or educator interested in Iowa Youth Congress, you can contact Junior at junior.jaime@iowa.gov.

Brianne Potts - Iowa Youth Congress (IYC)

I was first introduced to the Department of Human Rights by a professor during my junior year of college. I was looking for an internship opportunity to gain experience and knowledge in my major of Criminal Justice. Upon my interview, I was then given the chance to become an AmeriCorps members while serving with the Department.

For a year I worked as the coordinator for the Iowa Youth Congress (IYC), a group of up to 100 underrepresented high school students interested in advocating for youth issues. I have never met a more promising group of bright kids interested in speaking up about issues that affect them on a daily basis. One of their main concerns was the death toll of young drivers due to cell phone use, so they set out to talk to Legislators and former Governor Branstad. IYC members advocated for a ban of cell phone use while driving and they succeeded! In FY 2017, Senate File 234 was passed giving law enforcement officers the authority to pull over drivers they suspect of using their cellphones to send messages, snap photos, or browse the internet.

Working with youth definitely has its challenges, but if I make a difference in just one kid’s life I feel like I have succeeded. After one event in September, an IYC student came home talking non-stop about the event because he was so excited. I received an email from his mother which read, “Thank you to you and everyone who makes this program possible for our young people, especially my son.” To this day, I have that email saved and I look at it as a reminder that this program makes a difference.

While I am finishing out my senior year of college, my coordinator duties have shifted to a new member of AmeriCorps.  I will be working more with issues concerning the Juvenile Justice System, but I will continue to work with IYC on a part-time basis. I am excited and cannot wait to see where this new group of students will go.

To contact Brianne, send her a message at Brianne.potts@iowa.gov.

Rachel Nulle - State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC)

I am originally from small-town Manning, Iowa located in Carroll County. This year I will be finishing up my Masters of Social Work degree through the University of Iowa. My specific interests of the field include social justice and racial disparities, especially with the youth population. I came across the Iowa Department of Human Rights through the university and my position with the Criminal Justice and Juvenile Planning Division serves a dual purpose as an internship and the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council Coordinator.

The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC) is made up of 24 youth aged 14 to 21 who provide input to the Governor, general assembly, and state and local policymakers on youth issues. They are a nonpartisan policy advocacy organization under the Iowa Department of Human Rights, committed to creating policies to benefit Iowan youth. It is a great opportunity for youth to become closely involved with Iowa's legislative session and gain a better understanding of the process. Along the way they meet the current Governor of Iowa and establish connections with their local legislators and representatives. 

To contact Rachel, send her a message at rachel.nulle@iowa.gov.