MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Consumer watchdogs and state officials are urging Minnesotans behind on their energy bills to tap into millions set aside to help.

Pandemic restrictions governing utility companies have lifted, which means big energy providers could start disconnecting households in two weeks if consumers have unpaid bills. Some municipal utilities have already started shut-offs.

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The Minnesota Department of Commerce estimates 340,000 households have past due energy and gas bills totaling $140 million.

The state says it has hundreds of millions of dollars available to help low-income people keep the air conditioning on during these hot summer months.

The state’s energy assistance program just got a surge of $167 million more from the American Rescue Plan federal stimulus.

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Applications are now open all year and households with incomes at or below 60% of the median income qualify.

“The additional money that we’ve gotten from the federal government this year has allowed us to increase the dollar value of the benefits, and we hope to serve more people,” Minnesota Department of Commerce commissioner Grace Arnold said. “We’ve tried to maximize the dollar value that you can get for each application.”

The grants can cover payment of energy bills or replacement or repair of homeowners’ broken heating systems. There’s also a separate weatherization program to help cut down energy costs for low-income Minnesotans.

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Caroline Cummings