Help available as local propane need continues

ESCANABA – With a propane shortage hitting the Midwest and a particularly cold winter looming, U.P. residents who heat with propane are feeling the chill this season.

“We are swamped with people who are needing fuel assistance particularly with propane,” said Bill Dubord, executive director of the Menominee Delta Schoolcraft Community Action Agency, which helps low income residents through various assistance programs.

A propane shortage across the Midwest led Gov. Rick Snyder in mid-January to issue his first executive order of the year declaring a statewide energy emergency. The order was extended on Jan. 31 and again Tuesday. The energy emergency in the state has now been extended through March 1.

Despite the executive order relaxing regulations on motor carriers and drivers carrying propane on Michigan highways, the shortage has led to an increase in the cost of propane – and in propane heating.

“What we’re finding with propane is the price has gone up so the money we’re giving out buys less,” said Dubord.

Between mid-December and Feb. 3, Community Action assisted 359 families or individuals with heating assistance in Menominee, Delta and Schoolcraft counties, but as the extreme cold and propane shortage continues, residents are struggling.

“The unprecedented cold coupled with the shortage has made it a huge problem to budget. You just can’t budget that,” said Dubord.

As the cold drags on, some residents will be looking to heat their homes by other means.

“What we’re getting concerned about is that people will begin using electric space heaters, which are both expensive and also dangerous if not used properly,” said Dubord.

According to Dubord, many people who heat with propane have wood burning backup systems, but even the supply of available wood is dwindling.

To combat this, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has made fuelwood permits available a month and a half earlier than the traditional starting date of April 1.

“In addition to those who use firewood when hunting or camping, others rely on this resource to heat their homes at a lower cost,” said Bill O’Neill, chief of the DNR’s Forest Resources Division in a press release.

The permits are available for $20 and are valid for 90 days; they are for use on designated state forestland in the northern two-thirds of the state and allow for the collection of up to five standard cords of wood per household. A reimbursement may be available for residents who are enrolled in the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program run by the Michigan Department of Human Services.

Locally, Community Action is working to get more funding from the Department of Human Services to make available to struggling residents, and will be holding their annual Walk For Warmth fundraiser on Feb. 22. The walk has raised more $468,000 for heating assistance for Delta County Residents since 1992.

While having more funding to distribute is a major priority for Community Action, Dubord recommends residents currently in need of heating assistance call 2-1-1, which can help put residents in contact with a variety of programs with varied funding sources.

Because the propane shortage is regional and record cold temperatures have gripped cities across the nation, other states have taken up the call to get assistance for their residents.

On Feb. 4, Snyder joined with the six other governors from the Midwestern Governors Association to send a letter to President Barack Obama requesting immediate assistance to address the current propane supply shortage and price increases.

“We hope, with this request, that the federal government will join us in taking every possible action it can to help increase propane supplies and resolve this problem as soon as possible,” said Snyder in a press release following the request.

Other members of the Midwestern Governors Association who signed the letter were Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.