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Low-Income Minnesotans Slammed with High Heat Bills Get Aid

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Natural-gas providers warn that, because they paid higher costs during the recent arctic blast, customer bills are likely to see increases, although they'll be spread out over the next several months. (Adobe Stock)
Natural-gas providers warn that, because they paid higher costs during the recent arctic blast, customer bills are likely to see increases, although they'll be spread out over the next several months. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN - Producer, Contact
March 3, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS - Last month's deep freeze in Minnesota required more than extra layers of clothing; people cranked up the heat to stay warm, likely resulting in higher energy bills. New financial assistance now is available for low-income households to cover the extra heating expense.

The Minnesota Commerce Department, through its Energy Assistance Program, is boosting the maximum annual crisis benefit for qualifying households from $600 to $1,200. Officials stress it's a one-time increase.

Bill Grant, executive director of the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, said it will help soften the blow for folks who might get a shock when opening their latest power bill.

"The projections are that anywhere from $250 to $500 for that period of time," he said. "Hopefully, and in most cases, people will not have to pay that in a lump sum, but yes, people will be seeing that showing up on their bills."

People who qualify but haven't yet signed up are being encouraged to do so before funding runs out. The deadline to apply is May 31. The program helps cover past-due bills, utility reconnections and emergency fuel deliveries. February's run of sub-zero days also prompted the state to begin investigating natural-gas purchases made by providers, who insist the price impact to customers will be spread out.

The extra assistance isn't only for new applicants. Households already getting energy-assistance benefits could receive additional aid. Either way, Grant said, it's important to take immediate steps. He noted that your local community action agency can help with the process, and said contacting your energy provider is another good move.

"The other thing people should do if they have fallen behind on their bills," he said, "is to reach out to their utility company and make an arrangement for a payment plan."

He said that initial contact lets the company know you're making a good-faith effort to work through the situation. Meanwhile, online at MinnCAP.org, you can find a list of community action agencies.

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