Photo credit: Eric Schmuttenmaer, Flickr
Governor Dayton takes executive action to help tens of thousands of families in propane crisis
As Minnesota’s propane emergency continues – with heating fuel prices now three to four times their usual level – Governor Mark Dayton has taken executive action to expand eligibility for the state’s heating assistance program. That action, which was implemented this morning by the state’s Commissioner of Commerce, means an estimated 120,000 more Minnesota households will now qualify for assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The Minnesota Department of Commerce estimates that because of this change, an additional 30,000 to 40,000 newly-eligible Minnesotans will apply for heating assistance this winter.
The executive action announced by Governor Dayton today extends eligibility for heating assistance from 50 percent of the state median income (SMI) to 60 percent of SMI. Under these new income guidelines, households of four earning less than $52,370 per year, for example, will now be eligible for heating assistance. A household of two earning less than $35,612 per year would qualify. By expanding the LIHEAP program, Governor Dayton hopes to provide needed financial assistance for tens of thousands of Minnesota families who are now struggling to pay for the rising price of propane and other heating fuels.
“Minnesotans across our state are living in fear that they will run out of the fuels they need to keep their families safe and warm,” said Governor Dayton. “This crisis requires immediate action, which I have taken today. I will continue to do everything I can to ensure the safety of our citizens during this serious emergency.”
The Minnesota Department of Commerce recently announced that LIHEAP crisis payments would increase from $500 to $1,000 for applicants who heat their homes with propane and heating oil. These increased allocations will apply to all Minnesota households now eligible for LIHEAP assistance under the executive action announced today.
How to Apply for Heating Assistance
The executive action announced today extends eligibility for heating assistance from 50 percent of the state median income (SMI) to 60 percent of SMI, or $35,612 per year for a household of two and $52,370 per year for a household of four. Qualifying households must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area. Minnesota has 32 local service providers statewide. A list of local service providers, additional information on income guidelines, and guidance for how to apply for assistance is available on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website or by calling (800) 657-3710.
Governor Dayton Calls for Additional LIHEAP Funding
Skyrocketing propane prices, and a growing demand for propane, have put additional strain on the state’s LIHEAP program. Last week, the federal government allocated an additional $15.8 million in heating assistance funds for eligible Minnesota households. Despite that new allocation, without additional funding Minnesota’s heating assistance program is projected to run out of money sometime between March 10 and March 31, 2014.
To address that shortfall, Governor Dayton will seek the assistance of the federal government and, if necessary, the state legislature to appropriate additional funding to ensure that all Minnesotans who seek and qualify for LIHEAP assistance under the new eligibility guidelines will receive help in the remaining months of winter.
Governor Dayton notified state legislative leaders today that if the federal government does not provide additional LIHEAP funding for Minnesota, he plans to include $17 million of state funds for the program in his supplemental budget proposal – which will be completed shortly after the release of the upcoming state budget forecast.
Governor Dayton’s letter to legislative leaders can be found here.
Steps Taken to Relieve the Propane
Propane Shortage Hotline – Last week, the State of Minnesota established a toll-free hotline that Minnesotans affected by the propane shortage can use to ask questions or seek assistance in this time of emergency. As of this morning, that hotline has received over 1,750 calls from Minnesota citizens in need of assistance to find and afford the propane needed to heat their homes, businesses, and farms. Minnesotans with questions about the current propane situation or who are in danger of running out of heating fuel should call (800) 657-3504 in Greater Minnesota or (651) 297-1304 in the Twin Cities. The hotline operates daily between 9:00am and 4:30pm.
Emergency Executive Order – Last week, Governor Dayton issued Emergency Executive Order 14-02, declaring a Peacetime State of Emergency in Minnesota in response to a severe shortage of propane and home heating fuels statewide. On January 31, the state’s Executive Council voted unanimously to extend that state of emergency for 30 days.
Protecting Consumers from Price Gouging – The Governor has also directed the Commissioner of Commerce to use his consumer protection authority to help guard Minnesotans from potential price gouging activities. On Wednesday, January 29, Commissioner Mike Rothman sent a letter to the propane industry concerning skyrocketing prices. It stated that he will take all necessary steps to protect consumers from potential price gouging and unlawful market manipulation. Consumers who believe they may have been the victim of price gouging are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce through the State Emergency Operations Center at (800) 657-3504 or (651) 297-1304.
Additional Financial Assistance for Consumers – Consumers who need financial assistance to pay their heating bills may also qualify for help through the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The Minnesota Department of Commerce recently announced that LIHEAP crisis payments would increase from $500 to $1,000 for applicants who heat their homes with propane and heating oil. Qualifying families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area; Minnesota has 32 local service providers. A list of local service providers and information on applying for assistance is available on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website or by calling 800-657-3710.
Working to Increase Propane Supplies – Today, Governor Dayton joined six other Midwestern governors in sending a letter to President Barack Obama, asking for the assistance of the federal government to help increase propane supplies by “every means of transport.” Last week, Governor Dayton met with propane industry officials to identify immediate steps that can be taken to help resolve the propane supply and price issues. The meeting included Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, and state legislators. The Governor also joined Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation in petitioning President Obama to knock down regulatory barriers, take additional steps to alleviate the shortage, and provide expanded relief to families and agriculture producers. Additionally, Governor Dayton asked Governor Rick Perry to extend a waiver to ease trucking restrictions in the State of Texas, increasing the follow of propane to Minnesota and other Midwestern states.
Other National and Federal Measures – The American Railway Association has asked its 175 members to prioritize propane delivery by making cars available and dropping propane shipments at necessary locations. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation has established a regional emergency declaration suspending the regulatory provisions pertaining to hours of service for drivers of commercial motor vehicles transporting propane to affected Midwestern states.