‘The winter that never ended’: Semcac deluged with heating assistance requests
Between the frigid winter temperatures and the skyrocketing price of propane this year, it has been a busy season for staff in the Semcac Energy Assistance program.
So far this year, the program has received more than 5,500 applications for Winona County, with 600 more still pending, and 450 denied due to being incomplete or over the income guidelines for the program. And program director Susan Thompson said about 175 applications per week are still coming into her office for the seven counties she oversees.
“It is the winter that never ended,” Thompson said. “Semcac has felt the pressure.”
Semcac is the local administrator of the state and federal government’s low-income heating and energy assistance programs. The program is open to residents whose last three months of household income are below 60 percent of the state median.
Grants are based on income level and a state-calculated formula based on heating prices, running from $100 to $1,400, with an average grant of $500 per household. Eligible applicants could also receive crisis funding, which has been increased this year from $500 to $1,000 for those who use propane heat due to the shortage this winter.
This year, unlike some previous years where funding wasn’t as timely or was cut, funding has kept up with demand and the increased assistance payouts due to several state and federal appropriations this winter to deal with the propane crisis.
After propane prices skyrocketed to more than $4.50 per gallon in the region, both Minnesota and federal legislators increased funding to the program to the tune of $35 million, $15 million from Congress, and a more recent $20 million appropriation passed during the first week of this year’s state legislative session.
Despite the welcome funding boost, it’s still been a draining winter on Semcac staff, Thompson said. Many times people who reach out to Semcac are scared or are in an emergency situation, which can have a big emotional toll.
“We’ve seen a lot more people applying this year, and it’s increased stress and pressure in the office,” Thompson said. “We recommend homeowners don’t let things get into an emergency situation and set up a plan.”
The Cold Weather Rule