Heating Bill Help in Minnesota increases
In Minnesota, a record number of households and families (over 140,000 in all) have asked for heating bill help this winter. That’s up around 10 percent from last year.
In the Northland, heating bill assistance requests are running even a bit higher. as just one example, the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency has received over ten percent more applications for heating bill help than it did at this point last year, said Val Strukel, who is the basic needs program manager. In addition, the agency has paid out more in heating bill assistance last year than ever before.
The Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency serves households in St. Louis, Cook, and Lake counties. To date, the organization has handled almost 9000 applications for aid. Over 90 percent of those applications were approved.
All agencies and charities have said that they are seeing more and more families trying to balance their utility bills and house payments. Sadly, may homeowners are facing the very real possibility of foreclosure.
In addition, rising unemployment and an extremely tight job market have put more individuals and families in financial peril this year. What’s more, many families entered this current heating season still owing on utility bills from last year, when fuel prices skyrocketed.
Some good news is that heating oil, natural gas, and propane prices have come down greatly this winter.
Some of the funds are running low. The Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency has spent over $6 million of its $7 million heating bill assistance budget. But Strukel remains very optimistic that the state assistance program that funds heating assistance will receive additional federal government support if needed, perhaps as part of the economic stimulus package.
Even last year, when the need wasn’t as great, Minnesota’s heating bill assistance resources were exhausted by Feb. 19.
Strukel went on to say that applications for heating bill assistance usually begin to slow in February, but this year she has seen no discernible drop in requests for help or activity. About 300 new applications for aid remain in the pipeline at the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency.