Iowa Finance Authority, Iowa Economic Development Authority launch program for Iowa residents experiencing financial loss

With more than 900 residents just in Iowa City behind on their utility bill payments, the program aims to help residents experiencing financial loss from COVID-19


Raquele Decker

City of Iowa City Town Hall is seen on Tuesday, October 20, 2020.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

Iowa residents who are behind on their utility bills because of COVID-19 financial strain, can apply for a new state program to catch up.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Finance Authority recently took part in launching the Iowa Residential Utility Disruption Prevention Program, aimed to help residents across the state who have suffered financial loss from COVID-19 related issues.

Iowa Economic Development Authority Team Leader for Marketing Communications Kanan Kappelman said this new program was launched by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Oct. 9, to help Iowa residents with utilities.

“We recognize that the current pandemic is creating a lot of hardships for our most vulnerable populations,” Kappelman said. “As a result, Gov. Reynolds and the State of Iowa launched the program because we also recognize that utilities services are perhaps one of our most basic needs.”

Kappelman said the Iowa Economic Development Authority has launched similar programs since the beginning of the pandemic, one of those programs helping small businesses pay their utility bills.

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Photo of Dennis Bockenstedt, finance director for the city of Iowa City. Contributed.

“We had a small business relief grant, an eviction and foreclosure program, we did a nonprofit recovery program,” she said. “This utility program is actually an extension of a program we launched in mid-July, which was for small businesses, but now we’ve extended it to residents.”

Iowa Finance Authority Communications Director Ashley Jared said the Iowa Residential Utility Disruption Prevention Program is currently utilizing allocated program funding to help small businesses catch up on utility bill payments.

“The residential utility program actually uses the same funds and is an extension of our Iowa small business utility program,” Jared said. “So, we had initially launched this for small businesses that were struggling with their utility payments, because of COVID-19, so we’re using some of the same funds for the residential part.

Kappelman said the state received funding through the federal CARES Act, which then was distributed to these programs for residents experiencing financial loss amid other hardships brought by COVID-19.

She said to be eligible, applicants must be an Iowa resident; must have an unpaid balance or previously entered into a payment plan with a utility provider; their annual income must be 80 percent of the median family income in their county of residence; and they must have experienced a COVID-19-related loss of income.

Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority are defining COVID-19 related loss of income as residents who have experienced job loss, reduction of work hours, or reduction of pay between March 17 through Oct. 31 of this year, she said.

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Jared said residents’ loss of income from COVID-19 has to be documented and uploaded to their application to provide proof of this factor.

Applicants who are eligible and admitted into the program will receive up to $2,000 that will go to their utilities provider and be directly applied to their account.

Kappelman said it is a rolling application – it is not first come first serve. She added that the deadline to apply for this program is Nov. 20, with the program continuing up until that point or until funds are exhausted.

City of Iowa City Finance Director Dennis Bockenstedt said Iowa City has many residents that are currently experiencing past-due utility bills, something that this program should help resolve.

“We’ve lost count,” Bockenstedt said. “There’s over 900 past-due accounts, so I think it should help quite a few residents out there.”

Bockenstedt said the city plans on alerting residents who are struggling to pay their utility bills of this program, to relieve stress from their financial situation.

“The program just came out not too long ago,” Bockenstedt said. “We’re intending to send out letters to customers that have past due accounts, letting them know that that program is available.”

Jared said the finance administration is also hosting a program to help Iowa residents struggling with rent or mortgage payments, called the Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program, with eligibility varying from the Iowa Residential Utility Disruption Prevention Program.

“Individuals that are struggling with their utility payment we actually also encourage them to check out our eviction and foreclosure prevention program,” Jared said. “It helps with payments so if you’re a renter, you may be eligible to help cover the rents and the payments made directly to the landlord. And then the same thing if you’re a homeowner, we would pay that mortgage servicer directly if you’re eligible of course.”