ST. PAUL — Minnesota on Thursday, Nov. 18, was among four states highlighted for its use of American Rescue Funds to help people pay rent and utility bills amid the pandemic.

Biden administration officials lauded the state along with Connecticut, Maine and Michigan for their efforts to help people afford their utilities, especially as winter weather has descended or is soon to descend on the states. And they said they would aim to do more to drive down the cost of heating and gas prices for Americans.

Gov. Tim Walz told attendees on the virtual roundtable that Minnesota began working with utility companies to help alert customers that they might be eligible for assistance and taking public awareness campaigns to various sources to get the word out about the additional money available to low-income households because of American Rescue Plan funds.

"This truly is life and death in many of these decisions and you're right, we embrace the weather in Minnesota but 40 degrees below zero kills people," Walz said. "The need is there."

The price of fuel has shot up due to supply chain disruptions and a surge in demand worldwide as the pandemic eases and the global economy picks up. In Minnesota, that has spurred an increased demand for assistance to pay utility bills.

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In the last 45 days, the Minnesota Department of Commerce has paid out $32.5 million in federal funds to more than 28,000 Minnesota households through the Energy Assistance Program. The program helps low-income Minnesotans pay their energy bills and while eligible homeowners and renters can usually get grants of between $300 and $2,000, new guidance bumped the cap up to $3,200.

Minnesota Republican lawmakers ahead of the call on Thursday urged Walz to press the White House to take steps that could bring down energy costs and relieve Americans.

"Minnesotans deserve meaningful solutions, not band-aids designed to protect falling poll numbers," state Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com