Home heating aid helps those in need; money is still available to applicants
Having trouble coming up with money to heat your house this winter? You're in good company.
There has been a steady increase the past few years in local families seeking help with paying home heating bills.
The good news is there is money still available for those who qualify.
Nancy Cummings, energy programs coordinator for Mahube Community Council, which covers Hubbard, Mahnomen and Becker counties, says 2,920 applications have been completed so far this fiscal year for LIHEAP - an acronym for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal program that provides help with heating bills.
All but 172 were approved. The others were denied because their family incomes were too high.
Last year, 2,700 families were funded in Becker, Hubbard and Mahnomen counties, and the year before that, 2,400 families received the grants.
"There seems to be kind of a steady increase in numbers," she said.
On the plus side, Mahube's average assistance grant - which can vary according to need and energy bills - is averaging about $800 this year, up from about $630 last year.
The state average is about $600 this year, according to the Star Tribune newspaper, and about 125,000 households in the state have applied so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.
The program is available to families at or below 50 percent of the state's median income, or a maximum of about $10,430 over the past three months for a family of four.
The federal allocation to Minnesota this year is $144 million, about what the state got last year. The program provides about $5.1 billion nationwide.
Cummings says Mahube ; money is still availablehas three employees in Detroit Lakes, two in Park Rapids and one in Mahnomen handling energy assistance programs.
They are seeing a growing number of families dealing with unemployment or underemployment for the first time," she said.
"We are noticing more people on unemployment. There seems to be a new client base of people who have lost their jobs and are on unemployment."
Applications are accepted through May 31 and "funds sometimes run out a little before that," she said. "This year it appears funding will still be available."
To qualify, household gross income for the last three months must be below $5,423 for a single person; $7,092 for a couple; $8,761 for a family of three; $10,430 for a family of four; $12,099 for a family of five; and $13,768 for a family of six.
To request an application form, call Mahube at 218-847-1385.
To learn more about the Low Income Energy Assistance Program and other energy-saving ideas, call 1-800-657-3710 or go to www.staywarm.mn.gov.
Nathan Bowe is the editor of Detroit Lakes Newspapers, owned by Forum Communications Co.