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Continued: Heating bills bring chills of worry in rural Minnesota

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 27, 2014 - 5:14 AM

In addition to a primary grant, crisis money is available for those with extra needs. As early as this week, Commerce Department officials expect they will be able to increase those crisis payments to propane and fuel oil users from $500 to $1,000.

Funds limited

In urban areas, applications for assistance typically jump after April 15, when the cold-weather rule ends and residents who are behind on their natural gas bills face a shut-off. Officials are encouraging low-income natural gas customers to apply for assistance early, since money is limited and is available first-come, first-served.

“I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen … the high balances that people will be carrying into spring. Obviously, people are going to be using a lot more heat in January with the cold weather,” said Scott Zemke, director of program operations for Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin.

In Brooklyn Park, Vicki Parchman is already having trouble covering her $150 December natural gas bill with her Social Security disability checks, she said. Though she said she budgets carefully to keep up with her bills during the summer, winter bills to heat her half of a duplex always stretch her finances. Now, hearing that her January bill could double, Parchman panicked.

“Oh, I can’t do that,” she said. “I will get evicted. I can’t pay my rent and do that.”

Parchman, 55, sighed and said she’ll have to find more assistance somehow. In the meantime, she said, she’ll continue to try to keep costs down by lowering the thermostat and layering.

“You just have to learn to dress warm,” she said, “and keep it down as low as you can stand it.”

In the North Woods town of Ely, Amy Janeksela is always aware of how much fuel oil is in her basement heating tank. Last week, it was about 25 gallons — enough for about a week, she hoped.

Last year, the waitress and single mother of one spent about $2,700 on heat, she said. This winter, with average temperatures lower, she has already spent more than $3,000 and has had to seek assistance from the Salvation Army, a local church and her dad. That’s after she’s wrapped her windows, closed off entire rooms, added extra layers of clothing and kept the thermostat in the low 60s.

“I’ve run out of fuel oil a lot,” she said. “It’s been brutal.”

 

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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