By Brad Swenson

More federal funds for low-income energy assistance was released Thursday, said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the final $19.3 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, she said. There had been earlier fears that the funding would run out sometime this month.

LIHEAP, channeled through local Community Action Programs, help Minnesotans with heating bills, especially during sub-zero temperatures and with rising heating costs.

 “Families across our state continue to struggle with the meteoric rise in home heating costs,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Even with this additional help, we must continue to push for adequate funding to help Minnesotans keep warm in frigid winter temperatures.”

Both Klobuchar and U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., have been strong supporters of LIHEAP. With Thursday’s funding, Minnesota has received $77.5 million as part of this year’s LIHEAP.

The omnibus spending bill that Congress approved at the end of December included $2.57 billion for LIHEAP this federal fiscal year, up from the administration’s request of $1.782 billion. Of the total, $250 million was dedicated to emergency assistance to families to keep pace with rising heat bills this winter.

Coleman worked with two other senators to seek an additional $1 billion in emergency funding. “With many low-income families at a financial breaking point, we have a responsibility to make sure that these folks are not forced to make the impossible choice of paying for the necessities of daily life and heating their homes,” Coleman said at the time.

The National Energy Directors Association projects that nationwide the typical household using heating oil will pay 47 percent more than fiscal year 2006, those using propane will pay 38 percent more than fiscal year 2006, those using electricity will pay 14 percent more than fiscal year 2006, and those using natural gas will pay 38 percent more than the winters of 2000-05.

Over the past four years, the number of households receiving home heating assistance increased by 26 percent. During the same period, federal support increased by only 10 percent. As a result, the average price of grants declined from $349 to $305, Coleman said.

Klobuchar said she also took action late last year pushing for increases in both regular and contingency LIHEAP funding. Klobuchar has championed the successful program and is an original co-sponsor, along with Coleman, of Sen. Bernie Sanders’, I-VT, Keeping Americans Warm Act, which would provide an additional $1 billion in emergency funding for LIHEAP in fiscal 2008.

Klobuchar worked with her colleagues to include $590.3 million in contingency funding for 2008 as part of the omnibus appropriations bill — a $409 million increase over fiscal 2007. The legislation also included $1.98 billion in regular funding for LIHEAP.

“High heating costs are a reminder of the importance of investing in the renewable fuels of the future that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lessen the burden on our hard working families,” Klobuchar said.