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State to get $56.3 million more to help low-income families stay warm

  • Article by: KARA McGUIRE
  • Star Tribune
  • January 13, 2011 - 10:31 AM

More money is heading to Minnesota to help households struggling with heating bills. The Minnesota Department of Commerce's Office of Energy Security announced Wednesday that Minnesota will receive an additional $56.3 million from the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. That's on top of the $86.4 million in federal money received by the state so far this heating season.

This is the third distribution of money this season, bringing the total to $142.7 million in Minnesota and $3.9 billion nationwide. But it comes in a year when applications for energy assistance in Minnesota are 6 percent higher than they were at this time last year and are up 16 percent compared with January 2009.

The current total falls about $17 million short of the $160 million received last season. Advocates say that while people will still go unserved, at least they won't be turning away tens of thousands of Minnesotans -- a looming possibility had they not received additional money.

"There have never been so many Minnesotans in desperate financial need, so we're very thankful that this will help to stabilize families this winter," said Arnie Anderson, executive director of Minnesota Community Action Partnership, the statewide association of energy assistance agencies.

Last year, these funds subsidized the heating bills of 164,783 low-income households. So far this season, 146,000 applications have been received, with the average grant totaling about $500. Last year, grants were about $600. The grant is lower this year because state program administrators were unsure if the federal government would distribute higher-than-average funds for a third year in a row.

More money to come?

It's also possible the state will receive more money before winter's end. Commerce Department spokeswoman Nicole Garrison-Sprenger said money is typically delivered four to six times per year.

Minnesotans who earn 50 percent or less of the state median income may qualify and can fill out an application with one of 36 local agencies that distribute the money. For a family of four, that's $43,500.

For more information, visit www.staywarm.mn.gov or call 1-800-657-3710.

Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293

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