Following the February arctic blast, the Minnesota Department of Commerce will increase the maximum annual crisis benefit for qualifying households from $600 to $1,200.

The Energy Assistance Program crisis benefits can be used for covering past-due utility bills, utility disconnections and emergency fuel deliveries, according to a Department of Commerce news release.

The program can help households pay energy bills, get reconnected or prevent energy disconnection, get fuel delivered, learn about efficiency and safety, and repair or replace homeowners’ broken heating systems.

Both renters and homeowners can qualify to get energy assistance. For households who have already received assistance, even more benefits may be available. According to the release, households with young children, people with disabilities, veterans, seniors and those experiencing unemployment or financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are especially encouraged to apply.

Local service providers and the Department may also be able to help if your household is experiencing an energy emergency, as Commerce Department temporary Commissioner Grace Arnold said.

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“No one should have to choose between heating their home and buying food or other essentials because of February’s frigid temperatures. That’s why we’re doubling the heating crisis support for families,” Arnold said in the release. “The Department of Commerce is also investigating utilities’ natural gas purchases and looking at ways to lessen the impact of unexpected natural gas cost increases.”

On Feb. 23, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and Department of Commerce jointly announced an investigation by the state of Minnesota into impacts of the natural gas price spike.

The Energy Assistance Program serves households that earn less than $54,357 for a household of four or $28,266 for a household of one, with assistance up to $1,600, as the release stated. It helps income-qualifying homeowners and renters with heating bills through grant money paid directly to utility companies or heating fuel vendors. Stimulus payments from the federal government and pandemic-related unemployment insurance payments are not counted as income when determining if a household is eligible for energy assistance.

In the 2019-20 winter season, the program served nearly 118,000 Minnesota households, most in Greater Minnesota. These households included nearly 57,000 seniors, almost 35,000 young children, more than 57,000 people with disabilities and roughly 7,500 veterans, according to the release.

How to apply for energy assistance

New applicants have until May 31 to apply, however funding is limited and administered on a first-come, first-served basis. The Commerce Department administers the program in partnership with 29 local service providers throughout the state. Local service providers are situated across Minnesota

Households can apply for assistance with the local service provider in their area. Call 800-657-3710 and press 1, or visit the Commerce Department’s Energy Assistance Program webpage.