August 20, 2014—The propane crisis during the last heating season caused the price for the deliverable fuel to reach over $6 per gallon in some areas of the country. In states impacted by the crisis, LIHEAPs frequently changed their benefit levels to help low-income households deal with the price surge. One of those states was Minnesota, whose legislature not only appropriated public funds to supplement energy assistance but also passed legislation to regulate the propane industry.
Because of the propane crisis, the Minnesota Legislature took action and passed legislation giving regulatory oversight to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the LIHEAP grantee. Signed into law in May, HF 2834 requires propane dealers to list their current price per gallon, along with any fees and charges, to new customers and, if requested, to the general public. The new law also requires propane distributors that offer budget payment plans to make such offerings available to all customers, including those receiving LIHEAP. Finally, the law makes it illegal for a propane vendor to refuse to sell fuel to a LIHEAP recipient.
With the new law, Minnesota becomes one of the few states with any regulations governing propane and other delivered fuels. Others states with such provisions include Maine and Vermont.
In the midst of the crisis, the Minnesota LHEAP increased its eligibility guidelines from 50 percent to 60 percent of state median income, allowing more households to receive assistance. The program also increased its crisis benefit maximum from $500 to $1,000. Additionally, low-income households were able to request help with fuel delivery when their tanks reached 30 percent, instead of the previous practice of 20 percent. The Minnesota Legislature also passed a bill providing $20 million of state money for low-income energy assistance.
Source: Minnesota Department of Commerce, Minnesota Legislature