The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is expressing concern that the propane shortage that has prompted a peacetime emergency could threaten farming families and their livestock during this cold winter.
According to a release from the MDA, the current shortage amid the cold spell could not only jeopardize the ability of rural farmers to heat their homes but could also prevent them from providing adequate care to their livestock.
Affected families facing critical shortages are urged to call 1-800-422-0798 or 651-649-5451 to get assistance. Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman says crisis payments are increasing from $500 to $1,000, but the state's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division says no requests have been received so far.
On Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order establishing a peacetime state of emergency in order to mobilize state resources to help farm producers who need help. In part, the order allows the National Guard to be dispatched to provide help to communities in need, particularly with establishing shelters.
"There's real concern with the long-range weather forecast for February -- and even into March -- being colder than normal that this is not going away very soon," Dayton said.
An estimated 250,000 Minnesotans rely on propane for home heating.
On Tuesday, state officials held a conference call involving all 87 counties to ensure all emergency managers are prepared. Dayton also met with propane industry leaders to discuss how to bring prices back down because he says families can't afford prices tripling in the past couple of months.
Additionally, Dayton announced Tuesday that he would not attend the Super Bowl in New York City as previously planned in order to address the shortage of heating fuel across the state. Instead, the governor will attend the meeting of the state's Executive Council on Friday afternoon.
SALVATION ARMY ADDS TO HEATSHARE FUND
In response to the increasing costs of propane throughout the state and neighboring communities of Fargo and Grand Forks in North Dakota, the Salvation Army is adding an additional $100,000 to its HeatShare program that helps low-income residents, including:
- Residents with disabilities
- Families in dire circumstances
"There aren't other options for people who depend on propane to heat their homes," said Lt. Colonel Robert Thomson, Salvation Army Divisional Commander of Minnesota and North Dakota. "The facts are heating bills are going from $200 a month to $900; It would strain even a middle class family's budget."
Officials say requests for help have increased and are threatening to drain its reserves.
"We are especially concerned with seniors on fixed incomes," Thomson continued. "They are often the population that is the last to ask for help. It breaks our heats to think of our senior population struggling to stay warm in these dangerous temperatures. We pray that these weather conditions moderate or we will run out of funding well before the crisis is over."
The HeatShare program is primarily funded by individual donations made by utility customers as well as corporate gifts from various utility companies. Last year, the funds were used to pay the heating bills of more than 4,000 homes at a cost of $1.5 million -- but even then, nearly 40,000 requests could not be fulfilled.
The injection of funds is being distributed to Salvation Army Centers in the following cities:
- Brainerd, Minn.
- Cloquet, Minn.
- Duluth, Minn.
- Fargo, N.D.
- Fergus Falls, Minn.
- Grand Forks, N.D.
- Grand Rapids, Minn.
- Hibbing, Minn.
- International Falls, Minn.
- Virginia, Minn.
- Willmar, Minn.
Tax-deductible donations to the HeatShare program can be made online or by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY. Checks can also be mailed to a local Salvation Army center with HeatShare in the memo line.