By Joe Taschler
The federal government on Thursday made an additional $14 million in energy assistance funds available for low income Wisconsin residents who are facing massive home heating costs as a result of a bitterly cold winter.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) announced the availability of the additional funding, which is part of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The funding is part of the federal budget law passed by Congress and signed into law Jan. 17 by President Barack Obama.
Baldwin on Wednesday had called on the Obama administration to release Wisconsin's share of the funds immediately.
"Rural homeowners across Wisconsin are experiencing crisis conditions due to the propane supply shortage and resulting price hikes in the Midwest," Baldwin said in a statement.
The federal money is administered through the state of Wisconsin, and there are income eligibility guidelines for the program.
Meanwhile, propane exports from the United States rose to 410,000 barrels per day in November, a four-decade high, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
A barrel is equal to 42 gallons.
The November exports eclipsed the 408,000 barrels per day exported the previous month, helping drain domestic inventories of the heating fuel ahead of the winter.
U.S. propane exports first reached 200,000 barrels per day in November 2012 and did not exceed 300,000 barrels per day until May 2013, according to the EIA data, which dates back to 1973.
Brutal cold in much of the country has sparked demand for the heating fuel, especially in the U.S. Midwest, where low stockpiles and distribution problems helped send prices to a record near $5 a gallon a week ago.
U.S. propane supplies dropped to the lowest level ever during the second week of January.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Thursday that the department is continuing to look for ways to mitigate propane shortages.
The Department of Energy has some authority under the Defense Production Act to prioritize how propane is moved, Moniz said.
Moniz said "many factors" created the shortages, starting with a jump in demand for propane to dry grain crops in the upper Midwest during a wet autumn.
He did not cite U.S. exports of propane as a factor.
Spot prices for propane in the Midwest jumped to a record of nearly $5 a gallon last week. Those price spikes have been "a major burden for a number of our citizens," Moniz said.