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Minnesota offering more energy assistance in wake of severe winter weather

By David H. Montgomery, Minnesota Public Radio News

Minnesotans can get extra help paying their energy bills, following February’s bitter cold snap that drove up energy costs around the country.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced Friday that qualifying Minnesota households can now receive up to $1,200 in emergency energy assistance this year, up from the usual $600 maximum “crisis benefit.” However, the extra money is limited and will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Eligibility for the Energy Assistance Program is based on income and family size. Individuals need to earn less than $28,266 to qualify, while families of four can earn up to $54,357.

Applications will be taken until money runs out or until May 31. Information about applying is available online, or by calling (800) 657-3710 and pressing 1.

Energy assistance can be used to pay monthly bills, and also for other energy-related costs such as fuel delivery, reconnecting utilities after a disconnection, or repairing or replacing home heating equipment.

Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program is funded by the federal government, which gave the state more than $106 million last fall for heating assistance.

Gas prices soared in February due to intense demand amid bitter cold stretching all the way south into Texas. Executives with natural gas providers Xcel Energy and Centerpoint told regulators last week that they spent about $300 per residential customer buying gas in February, up from an expectation of $50 per household. Those higher costs are likely to hit utility bills starting this fall, but are expected to be spread out over many months.