ST. PAUL (AP) — The Minnesota House quickly passed a bill Tuesday to send emergency heating aid to people suffering through the brutal winter, setting a rapid pace on the first day of what could be a quick legislative session.
The House, which convened at noon, immediately took up a bill to pump an additional $20 million into a state fund that helps low-income residents pay heating bills. The bill passed unanimously with Democrats and Republicans alike calling it a necessary step as subzero temperatures linger and propane prices stay high.
"It's important the state do everything it can to make sure every Minnesotan can keep their homes warm, keep their families warm," said Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, who sponsored the House bill.
The state's energy assistance program got a $115 million federal infusion in recent months, but Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman told a House committee Tuesday morning that the money is due to run out by early March. Meanwhile, he said, while the propane supply has stabilized compared with earlier this month, prices remain above $6 a gallon.
"This is very important to our rural districts. I have heard from a lot of people who are very concerned," said Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston. About 250,000 Minnesota homes are heated by propane, though they will have to compete with users of other forms of energy who also are eligible for state heating assistance.
Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton expanded the state's income eligibility for heating assistance, for any fuel, from 50 percent to 60 percent of the state's median income. Rothman said that added financial pressure on the fund.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said the earliest the Senate would vote on the bill is Monday. He also said he thinks $17 million, rather than $20 million, might be all that's necessary.