Gov. Mark Dayton signed off of $20 million in emergency state aid for low-income heating assistance.
A bitterly cold winter, combined with a propane shortage, has nearly depleted the state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. When legislators returned to work this week, they rushed to shift the money out of the general fund before the program could run out of money in early March. The measure passed both houses unanimously and moved to the governor's desk on Thursday.
“The amount of propane needed to heat Minnesota homes, farms, and businesses during this exceptionally cold winter and the skyrocketing cost of propane threatened to exhaust our state’s LIHEAP funding and put our citizens out in the cold," Dayton said in a statement, after signing the emergency relief bill into law Friday morning. “We are continuing to do everything possible to keep Minnesotans safe and warm during this emergency.”
Some 180,000 Minnesotans depend on the program pay their heating bills this winter. For many, those bills have been even more burdensome this year as a Midwest propane shortage sent fuel prices skyrocketing. More people applied to the program, needing help with larger and larger home heating bills, and the assistance fund struggled to help them all.
In a statement, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, whose agency oversees the low-income heating assistance program, estimated that nearly 180,000 Minnesota households will receive heating assistance by the end of this winter -- "a 30 percent increase over last year."
The state expanded LIHEAP assistance this year to Minnesotans who earn less than 60 percent of the state median income.That opens the program to a family of four earning less than $52,370 per year, or a household of two earning less than $35,612. The Minnesota Department of Commerce projects that roughly 30,000 to 40,000 newly-eligible households will apply for heating assistance this year.
LIHEAP applicants who heat their homes with propane and heating oil also qualify for up to $1,000 in crisis payments – an increase of $500.
For information about how to apply for heating assistance, contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce website or by calling 800-657-3710. The state also operates a propane hotline for residents who are having trouble obtaining or paying for the fuel: 800-657-3504 in greater Minnesota or 651-297-1304 in the Twin Cities.