About 89,000 Minnesota households are expected to get federal help to pay their heating bills this winter, up from 85,000 last heating season.
The Minnesota Department of Economic Security and the state's utilities are reporting greater-than-normal demand for energy assistance, energy audits and weatherization services after a colder November.
The average amount of state heating assistance is expected to increase about 14 percent, from $415 to $475 per household.
Minnesota's allocation from the federally-funded program is $58.7 million for the 2000-2001 heating season. That's a big increase over the previous heating season, when Minnesota received $42.5 million.
The allocation was not expected to change this year, but Congress added $16.2 million to cover higher energy costs.
More people will need help paying their bills because natural gas prices are higher and temperatures are anticipated to be lower than last winter, said Carol Rabe, state energy assistance coordinator.
Natural gas prices are almost 50 percent higher than they were last year at this time, and they could go higher.
Low temperatures across the nation increased demand for natural gas and recently drove the price of gas futures to record highs on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Residential customers are getting gas bills that are 30 to 40 percent higher than last year. In addition to the cost of the natural gas itself, customers pay for distribution and handling costs that account for 20 to 25 percent of their bill.
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