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More Minnesotans Could Get Low-Income Heating Assistance

The recent cold snap in Minnesota is prompting state officials to remind low-income residents to sign up for heating assistance. The program not only can help with energy bills, but also offer repairs of home-heating systems. (Alvimann)
The recent cold snap in Minnesota is prompting state officials to remind low-income residents to sign up for heating assistance. The program not only can help with energy bills, but also offer repairs of home-heating systems. (Alvimann)
November 13, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota is emerging from the record-breaking cold snap that gripped the region this week. As the cold-weather season takes shape, state officials are urging lower-income Minnesotans to sign up for assistance with their heating bills.

During most winters, only one in four of the households eligible for heating assistance actually applies for it. Michael Schmitz, director of the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program, said there's a common reason.

"Sometimes, [it's] just the nature of poverty," he said. "People's income increases, then it decreases, and they might be eligible for a program at a given point, but not apply because they expect things are going to change."

Schmitz said this highlights the need to ramp up outreach efforts to ensure that more residents are aware of the program. Minnesota receives its funding through the federal Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. Last year, Schmitz said, they served nearly 126,000 households. In Minnesota, households at or below 50% of the state median income are eligible.

Schmitz said the timing of the federal funding the state receives for the program can be unpredictable - but this year, it was lucky to receive 90% of the money before the deep freeze set in. That means it's in good shape to help people until the second wave of funding arrives, which typically is around March of next year. He said the money is used for a variety of situations, including furnace repairs.

"Some people heat with electricity, some with natural gas, some with fuel oil or propane," he said, "and so, we can get a household re-connected if they're disconnected, prevent a disconnection, or get them a fuel delivery."

Schmitz said the program typically budgets with the federal government so as to not have a large surplus of unused funding. Any leftover money usually is set aside for the start of the next heating season in case the federal subsidy payments are late.

Information about the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program is online at mn.gov.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN