Gov. Dayton expands heating aidMinnesota Gov. Mark Dayton widened the eligibility guidelines for heating assistance Tuesday, opening the way for another estimated 120,000 households heating with propane or fuel oil to qualify for aid in Minnesota.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
An executive order issued Tuesday by Gov. Mark Dayton will mean even more work for Mary Heilman and her already scrambling colleagues who oversee heating assistance for St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties from their Iron Range offices in the city of Virginia. But you won’t hear any complaints about revised eligibility guidelines from her, as energy assistance program director for the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency.
“We’re getting more than 500 calls a day from people asking for help,” Heilman said. “There have been so many we couldn’t help because they were just barely over the income limits. But now we’ll be able to do something for some of them.”
Heilman said she and her staff are going back and reviewing all the denials they’ve issued for help with propane and fuel oil bills in recent weeks to determine who might now qualify for energy assistance.
On Tuesday, Dayton widened the eligibility guidelines, opening the way for another estimated 120,000 households heating with propane or fuel oil to qualify for aid in Minnesota.
Propane prices have skyrocketed this winter, with current prices now running three to four times higher than usual.
“Even people who thought they could afford a hike can’t afford these prices,” Heilman said. She told of a friend who recently paid $1,700 for a single propane tank refill.
Under the new guidelines, households making 60 percent of the state median income or less may be able to access up to $1,000 in heating assistance. The guidelines adjust with the number of people in a home, with the income cutoff for a household of two being $35,612 or $52,370 for a household of four.
To see whether your household qualifies, report a fuel supply shortage or to learn more, contact AEOA at (218) 749-2912 or a state hotline at (800) 657-3710. People also can visit tinyurl.com/heataid.
The state propane hotline has received 1,750 calls in the first five days since its launch.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Gov. Dayton said: “Minnesotans across our state are living in fear that they will run out of the fuel they need to keep their families safe and warm. This crisis requires immediate action, which I have taken today. I will continue to do everything I can to ensure the safety of our citizens during this serious emergency.”
Dayton declared a state of emergency, which was extended by the state Executive Council for another 30 days because of surging prices and reports of propane shortages.
In a letter to state legislative leaders, the governor said that if
the federal government doesn’t come through with more heating assistance, he will ask for another $17 million in state aid.
Dayton, and six other Midwest governors, sent a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama asking for help to increase propane transportation to their states. Experts say enough propane is being produced, but it is being stored at a distance from where it’s needed.
Heilman said the propane supply issues have been exacerbated by an especially harsh winter this year in the Northland.
“It’s not just the cold we’ve had but the length of the cold,” she said. “It has just gone on and on and on.”
Don Davis of Forum News Service contributed to this report.