U.S. sends aid to Minnesota to help with propane emergency

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The federal government is sending $15.8 million to Minnesota to help families struggling with the short supply and high cost of propane.

The Star Tribune reports the emergency funds from the Department of Health and Human Services will replenish the state's heating assistance program. Wisconsin is getting $14.2 million, with more than $450 released nationwide, the newspaper says.

Earlier this week U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urging the release of emergency funds to help families that heat their homes with propane.

Minnesota has now established a hotline people can call if they are in danger of running out of fuel or if they have questions about the propane shortage. The number is (800) 657-3504. As the Duluth News Tribune reports, a state Emergency Operations Center has been activated to coordinate the efforts of various agencies.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who declared an emergency order on Monday, plans to meet Friday with the state's Executive Council and with propane suppliers.

The Winona Daily News says numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show propane prices have doubled in a week and are 277 percent higher than they were in October.

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Why the price hike?

There seems to be no simple answer. The letter from the Senators makes reference to transportation bottlenecks and the high demand during this particularly cold winter.

But critics of energy exports say the U.S. may be sending too much of its propane overseas. Reuters reports restrictions on exports of crude oil and natural gas do not apply to propane. A spokesman for Senate Energy Committee chairman Ron Wyden tells Reuters the propane crunch shows that energy exports put U.S. consumers at risk.

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