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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Jeff Dotseth (R)

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Legislative update

Friday, November 17, 2023

Dear Neighbor,

Happy Friday! I hope all is well as our unseasonably warm weather fades away and cooler temperatures settle in. The change in weather makes it a good time to share information about the Energy Assistance Program, the Cold Weather Rule and the Weatherization Assistance Program for 2023.

The Energy Assistance Program helps Minnesota households pay for current and past-due bills for electricity, gas, oil, biofuel and propane, emergency fuel delivery, and repair/replacement of homeowners’ broken heating systems, and could also cover water and sewer bills. Both renters and homeowners can qualify. Eligibility is based on income and household size. For example, state officials indicate a family of four could earn up to $62,822 annually and qualify to receive financial assistance with energy bills. More information is available at this website.

One side note about this program for people who have been asking about processing time: The state does have to wait to make benefit payments until after it receives its initial annual federal award. I am told the state did receive its federal award on Oct. 24 and started having local service providers issue benefit payments on Oct. 31. So, as of today, if a household applied and has been determined eligible, Lakes & Pines, for example, should be able to make payments. There is a backlog of applications that service providers need to work though, which could explain delays some people are experiencing. If there is an energy emergency, please notify Lakes & Pines and/or your local service provider. 

In addition, Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule is now in place, protecting residential utility customers from having electric or natural gas service shut off between Oct. 1 and April 30. Both homeowners and renters are eligible for CWR protection. You and your utility must agree to a payment plan that is reasonable for your household. For more information or assistance, see the PUC “Shutoff Protection” website.

And, finally, the Weatherization Assistance Program provides free home energy upgrades to income-eligible homeowners and renters to help save energy and make sure your home is a healthy and safe place to live. Weatherization Assistance is a nationwide, federally funded program of the U.S. Department of Energy. Each state administers its weatherization program to meet the unique needs of its low-income residents. Visit this link for more.

Taxpayers on hook for $730 million office renovation

Minnesota Management and Budget recently revealed in a letter that the total cost of a loan for renovating and expanding the State Office Building in St. Paul will be $730 million. Minnesota taxpayers will be charged $275 million in interest alone.

The SOB, as it is known, is notably home to offices of state representatives. It is 90 years old and certainly is in need of security upgrades, improvements to the HVAC system, and better public accessibility. But $730 million is an absurd cost to taxpayers after Democrats put the project’s wheels in motion on a party-line vote late last year. Democrats formally introduced and approved the project in just one day, without the public debate, scrutiny or transparency a $730 million proposal warrants.

For comparison with this cost:

  • The massive state Capitol renovation completed in 2017 was about $310 million, less than half of the SOB project's cost.
  • Construction of an entirely new Minnesota Senate Building within the last decade was $90 million, one-eighth of the SOB price tag.
  • The cost for the SOB project equals $5.4 million per House member.

It did not have to be this way. Alternatives were available to adequately renovate the SOB at a lower cost to respect Minnesota taxpayers. Instead, Democrats refused to consider reasonable options to contain costs and plowed ahead with their extravagant plan. This is especially shameful given that it comes at a time when so many Minnesotans are struggling to pay for even the basic essentials in this economy.

A copy of the letter from state officials outlining costs can be found here.

Lax oversight/compliance issues with program for seniors

Minnesotans are more than willing to provide a helping hand to those who need one. The problem is when our government fails to ensure these dollars are being used as intended. We saw it with millions of dollars in Feeding our Future fraud. And earlier this year a report showed “pervasive noncompliance” with other state agencies' grants management processes. Now it's come up again with a new report showing our state is not adequately ensuring compliance with Minnesota's Senior Nutrition Program.

Whether it's programs to help those in need, or construction costs for a building renovation, we owe it to our state's taxpayers to be careful stewards of their money. Instead, Minnesota continues allowing fraud, waste and abuse/misuse of funds to continue with grant money distributed under the Walz administration. The bottom line is we need to restore balance (and sanity) in St. Paul.

Until next time, please have a great weekend and let me know how I can help!