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Finance committee considers loan program for middle-income propane customers

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Wisconsin Public Radio

As the state continues to face a propane shortage, the Legislature’s budget writing committee will consider creating a loan program to help propane consumers who don’t qualify for grants.

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Last month, Gov. Scott Walker released $8.5 million in crisis benefits to go to low-income households that heat with propane. Now, lawmakers want to create a low-interest state-guaranteed loan program for higher-income residents to buy propane or other heating supplies.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and other Republicans are pushing a bill that caps loans at $2,500. To be eligible, household income can’t be more than 200 percent of the median county income.

“Folks in the middle, the middle class, whose heating bills have gone from $1.49 a gallon to as high as $7 a gallon — they’re struggling to keep their families warm, and we wanted to be able to find a solution,” said Nygren.

Local agencies that help people with heating assistance said the intent of the bill is good, but doubt the program will be widely used. Bob Jones, executive director of the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, said that an already-established low-income program — the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program —serves households with incomes of up to about 185 percent of the poverty level.

Jones says that means the proposed program is “probably only going to serve a sliver of people.” In addition, since it’s a loan, Jones says banks are unlikely to lend to those with bad credit.

If enacted, the bill could help some people yet this year. In the future, the loan program would require the governor to declare a state of emergency like he did this year.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and online at www.wpr.org

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