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First Act of Legislative Session Invests $20 Million in Heating Assistance

2/28/2014 10:14:43 AM


Photo credit: cc Flickr user Mark Evans

ST. PAUL, MN - Governor Mark Dayton this morning signed legislation providing additional state funding to keep Minnesotans safe and warm during this winter's propane emergency. The first bill signed into law by Governor Dayton this session (HF2374/SF1961) adds $20 million to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), giving approximately 180,000 Minnesotans the financial help they need to pay their heating bills this winter.

"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. This funding crisis required immediate action - action that the legislature wisely took today," said Governor Dayton. "We are continuing to do everything possible to keep Minnesotans safe and warm during this emergency."

Soaring prices for heating fuel, caused by a severe shortage of propane in the Midwest, have led to financial hardship for families across Minnesota - placing additional strain on LIHEAP funds. Without state action, Minnesota's heating assistance funds were projected to run out shortly after March 1st of this year. But the new state funding allocation provided today will help ensure that all eligible Minnesota households seeking assistance to heat their homes this winter will get the financial help they need.

"By the end of this winter, we are projecting that nearly 180,000 qualifying Minnesota households will apply for and receive heating assistance - that is a 30 percent increase over last year," said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, whose agency manages the state's LIHEAP program. "Without the support of Governor Dayton and the Legislature, we would not have been able to provide tens of thousands of families the help they need to weather the rest of these cold winter months."

In a /governor/assets/2014_02_04_Letter_to_Legislative_Leadership_Propane_Crisis_tcm1055-99207.pdfletter to legislators earlier this month, Governor Dayton expressed his plans to shore up state funding for LIHEAP, if the federal government did not provide additional funding for Minnesota. The new heating assistance funds authorized by the legislature today will be available immediately for eligible Minnesota households.

Expanded Heating Assistance Program Will Help Thousands of Minnesotans
Knowing the financial hardships Minnesotans are facing due to the propane shortage, Governor Dayton took executive action earlier this month to expand LIHEAP assistance to another 120,000 Minnesota households. Now, Minnesotans earning less than 60 percent of the state median income (SMI) are eligible for LIHEAP.

That means a family of four earning less than $52,370 per year, or a household of two earning less than $35,612 now qualify for heating assistance this winter. The Minnesota Department of Commerce projects that roughly 30,000 to 40,000 newly-eligible households will apply for heating assistance this year.

LIHEAP recipients will also benefit from additional financial assistance this winter. In response to the propane shortage, the Dayton Administration announced that LIHEAP applicants who heat their homes with propane and heating oil will now qualify for up to $1,000 in crisis payments - an increase of $500.

How to Apply for Heating Assistance
Qualifying families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area; Minnesota has 32 local service providers. A list of local service providers and information on applying for assistance is available on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website or by calling (800) 657-3710.

Other Executive Actions Taken to Relieve the Crisis
Throughout the propane shortage, Governor Dayton has remained vigilant - doing everything possible to increase the supply of propane for Minnesota consumers, help families afford the rising cost of heating fuel, and protect people from price gouging and unlawful market manipulation. The following are some of the action the Governor has taken to relieve the propane shortage:
  • Helping Increase the Supply of Propane - Governor Dayton has taken every effort to increase the supply of propane being delivered to Minnesota. Those efforts have included easing state regulations for the transport of propane supplies, declaring a state of emergency, working with the Governor of Texas to move propane supplies north to Minnesota, working with propane suppliers to bring propane supplies to at-risk customers, and compelling the federal government to increase the flow of propane to the Midwest. These measures have helped increase supplies and drive down prices.
  • Protecting Consumers from Price Gouging - The Governor has directed the state's Commissioner of Commerce to use his consumer protection authority to help guard Minnesotans from potential price gouging activities and unlawful market manipulation. Consumers who believe they may have been the victim of price gouging are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce through the State Emergency Operations Center at (800) 657-3504 or (651) 297-1304.
  • Creating a Propane Shortage Hotline - The Administration created a hotline for Minnesotans affected by the propane shortage. Minnesota citizens who have questions or need help accessing or paying for heating fuels are encouraged to call (800) 657-3504 in Greater Minnesota or (651) 297-1304 in the Twin Cities. The hotline operates Monday through Friday, between 9:00am and 4:30pm. In the first month of operation, the hotline helped over 3,400 Minnesotans affected by the ongoing propane crisis.
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