Need for energy assistance increases
Mahube Community Council has seen an increased need for energy assistance over the last two years so notification that additional federal funding is filtering into the state is good news for the agency.
"The last two years have been really busy years," said Nancy Cummings, energy director for Mahube.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Office of Energy Security (OES) announced this week Minnesota will receive an additional $56.3 million in federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds for the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program.
When added to the $86.4 million in federal funds already received by the state, this allocation will bring the total for the current heating season to approximately $142.7 million.
Mahube, which serves Mahnomen, Hubbard and Becker counties, has received just over 3,000 applications for energy assistance, Cummings said.
"This is up 800 from two years ago," she said.
OES reports at the state level it has already received more than 146,000 applications from households requesting assistance. OES allocates these funds to 36 local service providers who work with households to distribute the funds.
"This release of additional funds will help more low-income Minnesotans," said Mike Rothman, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce. "Many families struggle economically with heating costs in the winter and the LIHEAP funds provide valuable assistance at a critical time."
At the state level, EAP applications have increased 6 percent this year compared to the same time last year, and have increased 16 percent compared to the same time two years ago.
The program helps low-income customers pay their heating bills through grant money paid directly to the utility company on behalf of the customer. Eligibility is based on gross income for the last three months.
Last year, Minnesota served 164,783 households with $160 million in federal funds. This year, the average grant per household is about $500. Customers with 50 percent or less of the state median income ($43,500 for a family of four) may qualify. Households with seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children are especially encouraged to apply.
Funding is limited and is administered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
"We've definitely been waiting for this additional money to come through," Cummings said. "We should be able to get through March, which is the coldest period."