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Area counties' use of low income heating funds detailed

Minnesota’s two U.S. senators Monday released a report detailing the use by area counties of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Crow Wing County led the way in use of heating assistance funds among area counties with $3,080,267.15 in Fiscal Year 2013.

Judy Steinke, senior program manager for Lutheran Social Service, which administers the energy assistance program in Crow Wing County, said she’s seen a 25 percent increase in the number of new applicants for the program.

Factors that may contribute to the increase include the recent cold snap that kept furnaces working overtime, the loss of jobs and the $1.01 per gallon increase in the price of propane gas that’s taken place since October.

“Our program is an emergency-based program that does not pay all the utility costs,” she said.

The application period to the supplemental program extends through the end of May, she said. Some people are eligible for repairs or replacement of furnaces.

“There’s a lot of winter left,” Steinke said. “We still have a lot of cold weather to see.”

Steinke said in Crow Wing County LSS has served between 3,500-4,000 households a year for the past three or four years.

Here are the amounts area counties used in Fiscal Year 2012; requested in Fiscal Year 2013; and the poverty rate for each county:

• Crow Wing County — $3,080,267.15; $2,496,878.59, 14.3 percent.

• Aitkin — $1,114,649.38; $903,539.87; 15 percent.

• Cass — $2,540,921.24; 2,059,682.34; 14 percent.

• Mille Lacs — $1,150,605.48; $932,686.05; 13.4 percent.

• Morrison — $1,474,214.05; $1,195,004.63; 13.7 percent.

• Wadena — $527,361.27; $427,481.45; 16 percent.

• Todd — $1,653,995.29; $1,340,736.13; 14.7 percent.

LIHEAP is funded by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is an income-based program and eligibility criteria can be requested from our office at 829-5000.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said in a news release they’re working to increase support for the heating program, which helped more than 160,000 Minnesota households pay for heat for their homes in 2012. The senators said the funding for heating assistance has been cut by more than 30 percent in recent years.

“No one should have to choose between putting their families at risk and putting food on the table, and LIHEAP is critical to ensuring that they can keep the heat on and their homes safe,” Klobuchar said.

“Heating assistance helps Minnesota families and seniors stay in their homes and get through the winter without having to forego things like food or prescriptions in order to keep the heat on,” Franken said.

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860