Propane shortage hits rural residents hardest

2014-02-09T16:00:00Z 2014-02-09T19:43:00Z Propane shortage hits rural residents hardestBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

Local township offices and community service agencies are seeing the effects of the propane shortage on rural residents, where the fuel is commonly used for home heating.

Northwestern Indiana Community Action is seeing an increase in applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in those areas, as residents try to keep warm despite the frigid temperatures, according to Community Services Manager Gina Gomez.

But when they go to order propane, they can find the price as much as 75 percent higher than a year ago. That means a 250 gallon tank fill-up that would have cost $442 last year can now cost more than $1,000.

Low income people appear less likely to enroll in fixed-price programs offered by dealers because those can involve up-front fees.

LIHEAP has been granting vouchers for home heating averaging $320 per household this year in the four counties served by Northwestern Community Action Inc., according to Gomez. Those are Lake, Porter, Jasper and Newton counties.

Most of the need for propane assistance is concentrated in the latter three counties, Gomez said.

"We are seeing people who never applied before that are needing the assistance," Gomez said.

In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence ordered an additional $5 million released for LIHEAP vouchers and increased its crisis benefits to $550 from the previous $400.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn ordered an increase of $1,000 in aid to each LIHEAP eligible household using propane for heating and waived the application fee.

In West Creek Township in South Lake County, office clerk Pat Mussman said she had two households using propane apply for emergency aid in December. She expects more to come in this month.

Many of those with limited financial wherewithal are only able to afford partial fill-ups, Mussman said. But dealers prefer to completely fill tanks in order to reduce costs and to assure customers don't run out.

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