Gov. Mark Dayton is asking President Barack Obama and members of Congress to release additional funds to Minnesota one day after extending heat assistance amid the ongoing propane shortage.
On Wednesday, Dayton sent letters to the president and members of the state's congressional delegation ask for more than the $15.8 million released just lack week in order to meet residents' growing need for help with home heating costs.
"In the past five days, our state's Emergency Operations Hotline has received over 1,700 calls from citizens, who are desperate for financial assistance," Dayton wrote in his letter to the president. "Minnesota's winter has, thus far, been the coldest in 30 years. Current long-range weather forecasts predict that we will continue to experience below-normal temperatures through March."
On Tuesday, Dayton took an executive action to extend eligibility for the state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program so that an additional 120,000 households in the state could receive emergency assistance.
"Minnesotans across our state are living in fear that they will run out of the fuels they need to keep their families safe and warm," Dayton said of the decision. "This crisis requires immediate action."
The immediate action means that residents who make 60 percent of the median state income -- less than $52,370 a year for a family of 4 -- will be able to apply for crisis payments of up to $1,000.
Applications for assistance must be sent to one of 32 local service providers in the state. Guidance on how to apply can be found online or by calling 1-800-657-3710.
The majority of callers using the state hotline have been seeking information on how to qualify for assistance and share information and concerns regarding the propane supply.
Nearly 650 calls were fielded on Monday alone, with 250 more coming in by midday on Tuesday.
PROPANE HOTLINE NUMBERS
Twin Cities metro: 651-297-1304
Greater Minnesota: 1-800-657-3504
Yet, Dayton's Wednesday letters acknowledged said the emergency expansion is putting increased strain on a program that is already experiencing high demand. The call center will be adding additional lines to accommodate the volume, and Dayton plans to allocate $17 million in state funds to the program in his supplemental budget proposal if the federal government will not release additional money to LIHEAP.
An estimated 250,000 households rely on propane for heat, and consumers have reported prices as high as $6.67 per gallon in the state. The current average is $4.67 a gallon, which is nearly triple the October average of $1.67 a gallon.
Price gouging remains a significant concern, and the Mike Rothman, commissioner of commerce, has been using the power of his office to put pressure on providers. Additionally, state officials are now urging anyone who has an immediate need for housing due to a lack of heating fuel to call 911.
Members of the propane industry have told state officials the tight supply could last throughout the home heating season; however, at least one analyst told Fox 9 News the steps taken to ease the shortage are working and could yield results by the end of the month.
FARMERS ASKED TO SELL OFF EXTRA PROPANE
On Tuesday, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson joined the Minnesota Propane Association in urging farmers who have a surplus inventory of propane to consider selling it back to suppliers.
According to Frederickson, propane is running critically short for many Minnesotans, and a voluntary effort to return fuel that is currently in storage to providers could provide local relief while state officials continue to increase transportation efficiency by temporarily waiving some local and federal transportation regulations.
"Many [farmers] have stored propane available for resale," Roger Leider, executive director of the Minnesota Propane Association, said. "I understand some pumping of on-farm storage tanks has already begun."
Any farmer with propane they would be willing to sell is urged to contact their supplier, Frederickson said.