By Josh Moniz
PEMBERTON — Minnesota’s propane crisis has many faces and one of them is that of Natally Rodriguez, a single mother from Pemberton with three teenage children who recently faced a scare with the spiking propane costs.
Congressman Tim Walz met with Rodriguez on Friday morning to learn details about how the propane situation is impacting people in his district. He said the information he gleans will be used to guide him in hearings and potential legislation.
One woman’s struggle
Rodriguez said she lost her $12-per-hour job in September and was among those that lost unemployment benefits Dec. 28. Despite the setbacks, she said she acted quickly to control her budget and stabilize her finances.
“We were good about controlling costs. We don’t have cable. We’ve cut everything ... except water, electricity and the phone,” Rodriguez said.
She said she even accounted for the roughly $400 she spends annually on propane. However, she was shocked to find the bill had leapt to over $1,000 this winter.
Her situation is being experienced by numerous other Minnesotans who heat with propane. Homeowners have seen local propane costs rapidly rise from around $1.50 per gallon last fall to a peak of $5 per gallon this month. The situation was caused by a reduced propane supply, which was caused by increased farmer consumption and transportation issues, intersecting with increased residential consumption to combat cold temperatures.
Rodriguez’s problem was further complicated by a quirk of the propane industry: Businesses that supply to homes often require a minimum purchase of around 200 gallons before they will fill a tank. As a result, her $400 heating assistance this year was both insufficient for her annual need and to qualify her for servicing.
The problem was severe enough in Minnesota that Gov. Mark Dayton issued an emergency order last week for the state’s LIHEAP heating assistance. The order expanded the eligibility for the program and increased the crisis funding that could be provided to homeowners.