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Extra heating aid sails through legislature on unanimous votes

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Just two days after arriving in St. Paul, state lawmakers have sent Gov. Dayton a bill to help Minnesotans struggling to pay their heating bills.

Both the House and Senate voted unanimously to replenish the state's heating assistance fund with a fresh $20 million, the Star Tribune reports.

Speedy approvals and bipartisan votes are not common at the Capitol. Rep. Joe Radinovich, the Crosby DFLer who sponsored the measure in the House says in the Star Tribune: "In tough times, Minnesotans come together to help those in need. I’m glad we were able to do so once again."

The Associated Press notes that the state's heating assistance account is nearly empty. This winter's bitterly cold temperatures contributed to draining the fund. In particular, homeowners who rely on propane as their heating fuel have needed help.

Supply problems led to a price surge. A gallon of propane that sold for little more than $1.50 last fall peaked at about $6 this winter before the price fell back recently, the AP says.

Gov. Dayton has said he will sign the measure authorizing the transfer of $20 million from the state's general fund. State Rep. David Tomassoni of Chisholm tells Northland's News Center the money will provide help to people who need it. But he says it does not answer questions about the supply and cost of propane.

Propane is more commonly used as heating fuel in rural areas that are not connected to natural gas lines. The supply shortage dates back to last fall, when many farmers had trouble finding enough fuel to run a soggy corn crop through propane-powered dryers.

Earlier this month U.S. Sen. Al Franken told farmers in southern Minnesota he's on a fact-finding mission to learn whether price gouging was at work in this winter's spike.

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