For Immediate Release
MINNEAPOLIS, MN — With temperatures dropping into single digits across Minnesota, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is pressing new legislation to ensure that a growing number of seniors and low-income Minnesotans can afford to keep their heat on this winter.
Sen. Franken was joined by Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman Friday in announcing support to protect full funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal-state partnership which this year is projected to help more than 128,000 Minnesota households pay their energy bills, based on current funding levels. Current budget cuts threaten LIHEAP funding and could mean that about 40,000 state households could miss out on critical assistance with their energy bills.
On Friday, the two visited the home of Dana Finn in Northeast Minneapolis to discuss how important heating assistance is to helping her family make ends meet when energy bills go up in the winter.
"The current economy has thousands of Minnesota families scrambling to make ends meet,” said Sen. Franken. "Heating assistance is a last resort for Minnesotans who can't afford to heat their homes in the winter. This legislation would make sure this important program continues to make a difference for families and seniors across the state."
The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources, received $73.5 million in LIHEAP funds this year from the federal government, compared to $152.6 million last year. Despite funding cuts, the Commerce Department is working vigilantly to stretch every dollar, and help as many families as possible. More than 128,000 Minnesota households are enrolled in the program already this winter. Funding for the program is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and thousands of Minnesotans are currently on a waiting list; waiting for Congress to allocate additional funding for the program.
“We are fighting to keep thousands of families from being left out in the cold this winter,” said Commissioner Rothman. “Governor Dayton and I are working closely with Senator Franken and Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation to push for critical funding to help low-income families. This program is a critical lifeline for senior citizens and disabled Minnesotans – it helps those who need it most, when they need it most.”
Commissioner Rothman encourages Minnesotans who need help to continue applying for assistance. Customers earning 50 percent or less of the state median income ($43,050 for a family of four) may qualify. The average household enrolled in the program receives $400 in LIHEAP assistance and has an annual income of $16,000 per year. Households with seniors, disabled, and children are especially encouraged to apply. Qualifying families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area.
A list of local service providers and more information about the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program can be found on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website.
New Senate Legislation Would Maintain LIHEAP Funding
The LIHEAP Protection Act introduced Thursday in the U.S. Senate would maintain full funding for LIHEAP at last year's level of $4.7 billion. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed a new, lower allocation formula for funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in 2012. Reduced funding would mean that Minnesota could face drastic shortfalls next year.
In November, Sen. Franken urged Congressional leaders to ensure that appropriators maintain funding for 2012 at the same level as 2011. Since taking office, Sen. Franken has successfully fought to ensure that tens of millions of dollars in emergency LIHEAP funding have been available to low-income Minnesota families and seniors.