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Across The Lake

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Looking back through old clippings of stories written for The American since we moved "back home" in 2001, I wondered about some of them. What happened to those 'Oreo cookie' belted cattle Harold Priem had at his place. Never wrote about Larry Zea's Highland cattle but are they gone, too. Jeff Wiebe gave me a sample of his maple syrup, but that fellow east of Blackduck never did. And is Albert Theisen still cutting firewood -- those popple in my yard aren't getting any smaller. Albert, of course, is 85 but probably won't be calling me 'kid' much longer... I'm catching up.

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Dan Dow has been working at this for years. "This" is helping people keep the lights on when they're having trouble paying their electric bills. Minnesota has a cold weather law, and it's in effect right now -- will be until mid-April. With 22 years experience, Dan knows the law can be constructive, and it can also be confusing. Dan is the credit manager at Beltrami Electric and an acquaintance of many years

When we stopped by a few days ago, he handed me a copy of the sheet given to members of the cooperative facing possible payment problems, and another page with the dollar guidelines for getting assistance with energy bills. As usual, he had suggestions on meeting the low income assistance requirements. (Family of four, $43,050 annual income, but, he said, they go by your last three months income. Been laid off? Apply when the last three months total less than $10,762.)

We talked about LIHEAP and what's liable to happen to those funds. That's the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. President Obama's budget would scale the present $4.7 billion program back to $2.57 billion, an almost 50 percent reduction. A bill in the Senate would make the reduction just 23 percent, one in the House 28 percent.

The Obama reduction would cut 3.1 million families from energy assistance rolls. Ten times that number met the requirements in 2008, but the funding from Washington was enough for only less than six million households. Meanwhile, the latest census shows about one in six households lives in a poverty condition. More to the point, Beltrami County is one of the poorest, per capita, in the entire state of Minnesota.

Almost in unison, Dan and I brought up winter forecasts. They are all grim. Our part of the nation faces unusually cold temperatures and above normal snowfall. If that happens, in all probability there'll be a shortage of assistance funds. Dan has already heard from one customer who received $1200 last year but has been told she'll most likely get just a third of that -- about $400 this year.

The Cold Weather Law needs explaining. Yes, power can be disconnected, but not until a lot of requirements are met by the utility and a lot of means of getting help are ignored by the customer. You have to ask, you have to do what you can to arrange a payment schedule, you have to make your payments. And it doesn't hurt to tell your political office holders that it can get darn cold this far north.

There's a flip side to all this, of course. It involves people who can pay, but don't. People who run up big bills and leave the country, leaving others to share the cost of their guilt. But there are also others like a couple of ladies in another story I covered this week. People like Wanda Anderson and Mary Joy. Two ladies working to make Christmas happier for kids of families in homes where just keeping lights glowing on the Christmas tree will be a treat.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... Those ladies will be getting help from volunteers wrapping gifts for children they will never see, from fathers they'll never meet, mothers whose tears won't show. As in the writing of Charles Dickens, they sort of make every day a Tiny Tim moment.

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Pioneer staff reports
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