Energy Assistance can help keep the heat on

MAHUBE-OTWA provides funding for low-income households to keep their electricity connected during the cold months.

Enterprise file photo

A federally funded program administered through MAHUBE-OTWA is helping keep financially strapped households warm through the winter.

According to Janice Renner, energy assistance manager at the community action partnership, the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) “is federally funded, but we’re a sub-grantee through the state of Minnesota.”

Janice Renner (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Eligibility for LIHEAP aid is based on income and household size, but the threshold is just under 200 percent of the federal poverty line. “Our income guidelines are quite high,” Renner said, noting that a single-person household can bring in gross earnings up to $6,761 in the three-month period prior to their application and qualify for the assistance.


“Those income guidelines do go up with household numbers,” she said. For example, a family of four can earn up to $13,003 per quarter; a family of nine, up to $18,335. The numbers are in the energy program application.

This year, the five-county area served by MAHUBE-OTWA has received more than 5,800 applications for energy aid. In Hubbard County alone, the total is more than 1,000 applications.

“We process applications on a first in, first out basis,” said Renner, “but we have to triage with emergencies. So, if a household comes in and they’re in an emergency state, we have to bump them to the top.”

“Triage” situations could include a two-week disconnect notice, she said, but even higher priority goes to a family in “imminent danger,” such as being already disconnected or out of propane. LIHEAP grants range from $200 to $1,400, plus additional crisis funds up to $600. The amount of the grant depends on the household’s energy burden as well as income. Renner noted that residents in subsidized housing may qualify for energy assistance even if heat is included in their rent – but only if they pay for their own electric service.

The Energy Assistance Program also does emergency furnace repair and replacement for homeowners, and they have an on-call phone line for evenings and weekends.

“We have 18 hours to respond to a life-threatening emergency,” said Renner. “We don’t want people to be without heat, if need not. Especially seniors. ... And you don’t want pipes to freeze.”

The cutoff date to apply for energy assistance for each heating season is June 1. Renner urged applying early. “If you wait till June 1 to apply, we might be out of money. So you might not get funding,” she said.

However, she said, if you apply in September and you’re turned down because your income for the prior three months was over the limit, you can reactivate your application later in the year and still be served. This could happen, for instance, if you received three paychecks instead of two during one of those three months, or five instead of four.


“Don’t wait until you know you’re going to be income eligible, even if you’re denied,” said Renner. “Turn your application in, whether you think you’re over income or not. It’s super easy to reactivate your application.”

Applications for each year’s funding are mailed out in mid- to late August, starting with people who were income-eligible last year and are on fixed incomes. They can also be downloaded at or picked up at any of the MAHUBE offices, including the Hubbard County office at 120 N. Central Ave. in Park Rapids.

“We’re here to help people,” said Renner. “They can call us, and we’re happy to help. They can walk in, fill out an application, meet with somebody. They’ll look over their application for them. It’s a short application. It takes probably 20 minutes to fill out. I always feel like, ‘Who pays you $200 in 20 minutes?’ That’s a pretty good hourly rate! It helps people.”

Renner said she understands people wanting to be self-sufficient, but added, “If you’re eligible, you should apply for the program. What I see happening is, if people have been on our program and then don’t use it the next year because they feel they’re doing OK, the next year they’re coming in with a crisis because they have a big bill from the previous year.

“Self-sufficiency is great, and I encourage it. But I would just say, if you think you qualify, you should apply because it will help you. And it helps the State of Minnesota, because the more people apply, the more funding we get in future years; because they do look at history when they’re disbursing that money at the federal level.”

MAHUBE-OTWA also offers weatherization assistance to make homes more energy efficient. Renner noted that people can also sign up for the “cold-weather rule” to avoid having their utilities disconnected during the winter.

“What they do is, they make payment arrangements with the electric company, and then they can’t be shut off between Oct. 15 and April 15,” she said. “But they have to keep those payment arrangements.”

For more information, visit or call the agency’s Park Rapids office at 732-7204.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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