Even with the recession officially in the rearview mirror, a record number of Minnesotans needed help paying their energy bills in the year that ends May 31.

The Minnesota's Energy Assistance Program has served more than 165,000 households so far with a few more weeks to go. Last year the program, administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce's Division of Energy Resources, served a record 164,783 households. The Division of Energy Resources expects they'll exceed 170,000 this year.

Minnesota has received $152 million federal funding to pay for the energy assistance so far this year. Last year it received $160 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Qualified applicants can still apply before the May 31 deadline and will be served on a first-come-first-served basis while funds last. Customers with incomes below 50 percent of the state median income ($43,500 for a family of four) may qualify. Seniors, people with disabilities, and children are especially encouraged to apply. The average grant per household is about $500.

Households must apply for the Minnesota EAP through a service provider in their area. A list of the 36 local service providers and more information on the program can be found at www.staywarm.mn.gov or by calling 651-296-5175 or toll free in Minnesota 1-800-657-3710.

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926