Heating assistance funds coming

The federal government released $131 million in emergency assistance Wednesday, which hopefully will keep some area residents from being left out in the cold.

The federal government released $131 million in emergency assistance Wednesday, which hopefully will keep some area residents from being left out in the cold.

In the first three weeks applications were taken for the Mahube Community Council heating energy assistance program, more than 1,000 people applied in Hubbard, Becker and Mahnomen counties.

Mahube heating assistance director Nancy Cummings said resources for the program were not available this season until Congress approved the funding.

A representative from the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) said the energy assistance money should make its way into local program coffers by the end of next week.

Usually, Cummings said, energy assistance money is not available until Nov. 1 - or later. "It can be as late as December, sometimes," Cummings said.


How the program works

Mahube operates the heating assistance program for low-income households within Hubbard, Becker and Mahnomen counties.

The program makes payments directly to fuel suppliers for families below 50 percent of the state's median income level.

Grants are awarded based on household size, income, energy costs and type of fuel needed.

A family of four qualifies for energy assistance in Hubbard County if they earned less than $9,674 in gross income during the last three-month period.

Mahube's Hubbard County office manager Connie Walz said last year, Mahube provided fuel assistance for homes heated with fuel oil, propane, electricity, wood and, in one case, coal.

The energy assistance program also assists families with furnace repair and weatherization costs, as needed.

Last year, more than 3,000 households participated in the energy assistance program in the three-county area, said Cummings.


Applications for heating assistance this year were mailed out to last year's participants Sept. 7.

According to Walz, last week, 126 households turned in applications in Hubbard County alone.

Few options available

Walz said Mahube encourages households to make year-round payments to energy providers in order to cover initial costs of heating.

Some households also have good enough credit to receive advance fuel from their supplier. But few other subsidized sources of fuel are available, Walz added.

"Not many places have funding this time of year," she said.

The Salvation Army Heat Share program offers heating assistance in emergency situations, but currently has few resources.

"We're kind of rather low right now," admits Heat Share program director Patrick McGlone.


McGlone said the program redistributes money collected from a region back to its locale.

With few options available, some households began turning to a higher source for energy assistance.

Faith Baptist associate pastor Russ Paulson said his church received several requests for energy assistance in the past month.

"I've got four right now that I'm working on," said Paulson. Paulson added the churches sometimes work with utility companies to assist residents in jeopardy of losing power.

"Some people have real needs, and we're out there to meet that," he commented.

Help on the way

Earlier this month, US Senators wrote a letter to the Bush administration requesting the release of funds from the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program.

Since the financial year ends Sunday, unless the administration released the funds, the balance would not carry over.


Klobuchar's office said the Department of Human Services allocated $4 million to Minnesota for heating assistance.

Once the state Department of Commerce disburses funds to local agencies, area residents will be able to access the reserves. Official estimates indicate the funds will be available sometime next week.

"Record energy prices are placing a real burden on Minnesota's families, many of whom are being forced to choose between paying bills and putting food on the table," Klobuchar said in a statement. "This funding will go a long way toward helping families meet a basic necessity."

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