On Thursday, state and federal officials took additional steps to address the propane shortage by establishing a public hotline to answer questions and releasing additional federal funds for aid.
MINNESOTA'S PUBLIC HOTLINE FOR PROPANE HELP
The State Emergency Operations Center set up a pair of numbers that will be staffed Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to provide information to Minnesotans with propane issues or questions.
Metro area: 651-297-1304
Greater Minnesota: 1-800-657-3504
The hotline will be staffed by representatives of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, who are able to provide information about Energy Assistance Programs and direct callers to resources in their local areas.
Gov. Mark Dayton declared a State of Peacetime Emergency on Monday since the persistent cold temperatures and increased cost of home heating fuels is increasing the risk that families could run out and be unable to afford more.
In light of what could quickly become an immediate threat to public safety, the SEOC remains partially activated so that the Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management division can coordinate with agencies across the state on resource requests. So far, no requests have been made.
WHAT CAN PROPANE USERS DO?
Public safety officials say those who rely on propane for home heating can take several steps to help alleviate the burden of the shortage. Those include:
1. Conserve energy as much as possible. Turning down thermostats and bundling up will stretch fuel use. Winterizing a home by covering windows, covering cracks under doors and closing off drafty areas will help improve heat efficiency as well.
2. Closely monitor propane use. With the colder-than-average temperatures lingering for weeks this winter, many families are using fuel supplies more quickly than normal. Keeping a daily record will help propane customers budget their needs and avoid running out unexpectedly.
3. Communicate often with family members, neighbors and friends. Keeping in contact is not only one of the most basic means of ensuring the safety of loved ones, but it is also an opportunity to make sure anyone who needs help can have a local support system that can point them to heating alternatives or other resources, including those offered by the state.
4. Utilize the state hotline and other resources as needed. Calling the hotlines listed above is a good way to get additional information on the propane shortage and learn about what options are available to those requiring help with home heating bills. The Minnesota Energy Assistance Program recently received a $3.4-billion boost from Congress, and crisis payments have increased from $500 to $1,000 for households that use propane or heating oil.
The Salvation Army has also added $100,000 to its HeatShare program, which helps low-income residents on fixed incomes, particularly seniors.
LOW INCOME HEATING ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Those who need financial assistance with their heating bills can get help via the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
Money is still available for households that have not already applied. Additional information on how to qualify for assistance can be found online or by calling 1-800-657-3710.
On Wednesday, Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar joined Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin in asking for the expedited release of emergency funds. On Monday afternoon, the Obama administration confirmed it would approve the immediate release of more than $450 million -- including $15.8 million for Minnesota and $14.2 million for Wisconsin.
In Minnesota, more than 200,000 homes rely on propane as their primary source of heat. In Wisconsin, roughly 250,000 households rely on propane.
ALTERNATE HEAT SOURCES
When the mercury plummets, many people turn to supplement their home heating with energy-efficient devices or alternative heat sources. The State Fire Marshal recommends using appropriate caution, but the following options are available:
- Portable electric heaters
- Liquid fuel heaters
- Waste oil
- Solid-fuel heating
- Wood burning
- Pellet burning
Any heating appliance that involves open flame must be vented to the outside since it will give of carbon monoxide, which can build up to deadly levels inside a home.
Fire safety is also a concern when additional heating sources in a home. State officials offer the following safety tips to those who do use space heaters:
1. Keep anything flammable -- including pets and people -- at least 3 feet from heating equipment.
2. Ensure portable space heaters have an automatic shut-off.
3. Turn off portable heaters when leaving the room or going to sleep.
4. Check cords frequently to check for frays or breaks in the insulation near the wires.
5. Ensure the cord and outlet are not overheating periodically. If it feels hot to the touch, discontinue use.
6. Keep heaters on level, hard, nonflammable surfaces and not on rugs, carpets or near bedding or furniture.
7. Only use heaters that have been tested against safety standards and are certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory.