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Governor Dayton Seeks Additional Federal Funds for Heating Assistance

February 05, 2014
A day after expanding eligibility for the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – an executive action that will help tens of thousands more Minnesota households affected by the ongoing propane emergency – Governor Mark Dayton today asked President Obama and members of Congress for additional federal funding to help Minnesotans in this time of crisis.

In letters to President Barack Obama and Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation, Governor Dayton has urged the federal government to provide additional LIHEAP funding to help Minnesota meet the growing demand for financial assistance. The ongoing propane shortage affecting states throughout the Midwest has caused increased strain on the program, as heating fuel prices continue to skyrocket and more Minnesotans seek assistance to pay their heating bills. Without supplemental funding, the program is expected to run out of funds shortly after March 10.

“The bitterly cold winter has caused a critical shortage of propane, which in turn has caused prices to become unaffordable for thousands of Minnesotans,” Governor Dayton wrote today in a letter to President Obama. “Therefore, I ask you again to please provide additional LIHEAP funding for this winter. In this time of emergency, it is more important than ever to continue our commitment to our citizens most in need.”

Yesterday, Governor Dayton notified state legislative leaders that he would seek additional federal funding to shore up the state’s heating assistance program. If the federal government does not provide additional LIHEAP funding for Minnesota, the Governor 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. 

How to Apply for Heating Assistance
Governor Dayton encourages all Minnesotans who need and qualify for heating assistance to apply for help right away. Following the executive action taken yesterday by the Governor, Minnesota households earning less than 60 percent of the state median income (SMI) are eligible for assistance. For example, a household of two earning less than $35,612, or a household of four earning less than $52,370, would qualify for assistance under the state program.

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.

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 in Minnesota.
 
Steps Taken to Relieve the Propane Shortage

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.