Energy assistance 'totally underutilized'
More Minnesotans are eligible for energy assistance this year. For the first time, energy assistance funds can also cover water and sewer bills through a new program created through one-time federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Kendra Lund is energy assistance program manager at MAHUBE-OTWA and oversees these programs in a five-county area that includes Hubbard County.
“I think the energy assistance program is totally underutilized,” she said. “The more people we can get signed up the better. There are thousands of people who would qualify who don’t even apply. Our grants range from $300 to $2,000, plus the ability to access crisis funds of $1,200.”
The income eligibility limit was raised to 60% of Minnesota’s median income levels ($67,765 per year for a family of four) and is significantly increasing benefit amounts to reduce energy burdens, including up to $1,600 for energy bills, plus up to $1,200 for past-due energy bills.
With these changes, over 600,000 Minnesota households are now income-eligible for Energy Assistance, significantly expanding who can receive this essential help. During the previous program year (October 2020-September 2021), about 116,000 Minnesota households applied and qualified for energy assistance.
Those who qualify are also eligible for the weatherization program that helps reduce long-term energy costs.
“Things like weather stripping, adding insulation,” she said. “We have someone come out and do an energy audit to determine what your house needs.”
In addition, funds are available for emergency replacement and repair furnaces or other heating equipment.
Lund said, during the last heating season (October 2019-September 2020), there were 1,178 Hubbard County applicants. As of Nov. 8, there have been 638 applications submitted this year.
How the program works
Applications for energy assistance are processed in the order they are received. “In the fall we get an influx, so processing time can take six to eight weeks,” Lund said. “There are some circumstances where applications are prioritized, such as when an individual is in an energy crisis or disconnected state with the power company or another utility, or if they are at less than 20 percent of delivered fuel oil and propane.”
Benefits are paid directly to the vendor, including wood vendors paid to deliver firewood to those using it as a heat source who qualify for energy assistance.
“It’s a formula based on energy costs and income,” she said. “The closer you are to the top of the income guidelines the less funding you get. Those at the lowest income get more funding. It’s supplemental funding to fill the gap. Those lowest in income have more of a gap.”
Income is based on the past three months.
“Once you qualify for the program, you do have access to $1,200 of crisis funds to use if there is a crisis such as being low on delivered fuel or getting a disconnect notice.”
With the cost of food and gas continuing to rise, funds from energy assistance programs can free up more income for those needs.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce, which operates the Energy Assistance Program, received over $130 million in federal funding to help Minnesota households pay current and past-due bills for electricity, gas, oil, biofuel and propane, emergency fuel delivery as well as repair and replacement of broken heating systems.
How to apply
Request an application from Mahube Ottwa or fill out an application online.
More information is also available at mn.gov/energyassistance or by calling 800-657-3710 and pressing 1.
The application considers previous three months income and does not include federal stimulus or unemployment payments. Payments are sent directly to the household’s utility company.