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Heating Assistance Can Bring Some Relief During Crisis

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In addition to helping with heating bills, Minnesota offers a program for low-income residents that provides assistance with weatherizing their homes to save on energy costs. (Adobe Stock)
In addition to helping with heating bills, Minnesota offers a program for low-income residents that provides assistance with weatherizing their homes to save on energy costs. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN - Producer, Contact
December 7, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- New COVID-19 stimulus packages are still being hashed out at both the state and federal level.

But for immediate help, a longstanding program serves as a lifeline for Minnesotans who've seen their income reduced by the crisis and can't afford heating bills.

This fall, the state Commerce Department announced it received $106 million dollars in federal funding to cover the energy assistance program over the winter.

Bill Grant, executive director for the Minnesota Community Action Partnership (MinnCAP), said it helps both renters and homeowners and can be especially helpful to those who might not have sought aid in the past, but suddenly find themselves struggling.

"We're seeing that across the state," Grant explained. "People losing their jobs through no fault of their own, through closures of restaurants, or gyms, or other facilities."

At the same time, he noted, pandemic restrictions mean people are staying inside more often, pushing their utility bills higher.

That's why his group and state officials encourage people who can't cover these costs to sign up for energy assistance, which also covers heating repairs.

Local community action agencies can help with the process. A list of those agencies can be found on MinnCAP's website.

The state's cold weather rule, which shields customers who seek payment arrangements from having their heat disconnected during the winter, is now in effect. And the governor has established various protections during the pandemic.

But Grant said that shouldn't stop you from seeking help.

"If customers stay out of touch, or don't keep current with payment arrangements, then they are at risk of being shut off," Grant warned. "And most utility companies during the Governor's emergency orders have been fairly agreeable about not doing that, but there may come a time when that won't be the case."

Grant added even if your heat isn't disconnected, allowing your balance to keep climbing means you might have an insurmountable debt by the time winter ends.

The cold weather rule doesn't apply to those who use propane, fuel oil or wood to heat their home.

But they can still apply for energy assistance. The program's income qualifications are 50% of the state's median income level.

Disclosure: Minnesota Community Action Association Resource Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Early Childhood Education, Health Issues, Housing/Homelessness, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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