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Utility companies report a record number of shutoffs

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Gas meters
Natural gas meters record the costs for homeowners and businesses to heat their buildings in the winter.
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Utility companies in Minnesota are reporting a record level of gas and electricity shutoffs this year. 

Catherine Fair, Director of the Energy Assistance Program at the nonprofit Community Action Partnership, says people are having trouble paying their utility bills, because of the growing number of foreclosures and the rising cost of energy.

"Energy prices have been steadily rising," says Fair. "Where people's wages have been decreasing. For the first time in the five years that I've been here, the median income has dropped in Minnesota, so our income guidelines this year actually have gone down."

Fair reports her program hasn't had enough money to help low-income people with their utility bills. This year, the federal government gave states only 75 percent of funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. 

Officials at the Minnesota Department of Commerce say now that President Bush has signed the budget bill, Minnesota should soon get the remaining funds. 

The money the state has received so far has already gone to energy assistance agencies and into the hands of about 100,000 households.