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Local families getting more heating help

Good news for 300 local families on a waiting list for home heating assistance -- Minnesota will receive an additional $56.3 million in federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds.

When added to the $86.4 million in federal funds already received by the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program, it will bring the total for the heating season to $142.7 million.

"It is definitely good news for the area and for the state," said Nancy Cummings, energy programs coordinator for Mahube Community Council.

The 300 low-income families on the Mahube waiting list applied after the original Dec. 10 cutoff date. Now when funding arrives in a week or two, they'll be able to purchase natural gas or fuel oil or propane or whatever they use to heat their home.

And it's not too late to apply for home heating assistance. There is no local budget -- applications will be funded on a first-come, first-served basis on the statewide level, until the federal allocation to Minnesota has been used up, Cummings said.

"We (at Mahube) don't get an actual share," Cummings said, "The idea is the state runs out of money -- the agencies all run out together."

People can still apply," she said. "The state expects this money will last through March."

To request an application form, call Mahube at 218-847-1385, or toll free, 1-888-458-1385.

The state reports it has already received more than 146,000 applications from households requesting assistance.

It allocates these funds to 36 local service providers (like Mahube) who work with households to distribute the funds.

The agencies process the applications and the state pays fuel vendors via electronic transfer.

"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."

Applications for the program 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.

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. Applications for the program will be accepted through May 31.

To qualify, household gross income for the last three months must be below $5,655 for a single person; $7,395 for a couple; $9,135 for a family of three; $10,875 for a family of four; $12,615 for a family of five; and $14,355 for a family of six. Even if you don't qualify for a LIHEAP grant, there may be some other emergency heating assistance programs available, such as the Salvation Army's HeatShare program, Cummings said.

HeatShare provides emergency assistance with heating and utility bills on a year-round basis. Funds are used for natural gas, oil, propane, wood, electricity and emergency furnace repairs. It is a nongovernmental program, funded through tax-deductible donations.

To learn more about LIHEAP, HeatShare, and other programs and resources available to help manage energy costs, call 1-800-657-3710 or go to