- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The federal government has released more money for a program that helps low-income people around the country heat their homes, but the leader of an American Indian reservation in the Dakotas said it might not be enough to deal with a local propane crisis.

About 5,000 homes on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border rely on propane, which has more than doubled in price because of a nationwide shortage exacerbated by recent cold weather. Many reservation families are on fixed incomes and can’t afford to pay more for the gas, putting them in danger of running out, according to Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II.

“The high cost only allows you to go on an amount of fuel for two to three weeks when normally it would take you through a month, a month and a half,” he said.

Tribal officials have declared an emergency. They are looking internally to find more money for propane and also are asking for aid from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday released another $439 million nationwide for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, better known as LIHEAP. North Dakota is getting $3.4 million in the latest allocation and South Dakota $2.8 million. Of that amount, $1.3 million is earmarked for tribes in the two states.

Archambault said Friday that he did not immediately know how much the Standing Rock tribe was to get from the tribal allocation. He said the money will be welcome but likely won’t be enough to bring Standing Rock’s program up to normal funding. The tribe’s LIHEAP program has only $1.5 million available this winter, down from $2.5 million last winter because of federal budget cuts.

“We’re asking the federal government just to get us back up to our normal funding,” Archambault said. “This will help, but it’s not enough.”

The tribe has set up shelters in two communities - one on each side of the border - that are getting help from the American Red Cross. They have not yet been widely used, Archambault said, but he fears what could happen in coming weeks.

“It doesn’t help when there are Arctic blasts coming through, requiring furnaces to run nonstop,” he said.

Wind chills early Friday in the region were in the minus teens and 20s.

Archambault said the tribe might open as many as six more shelters around the reservation if needed.

“Right now we’re maintaining,” he said. “The alarm will really go off when more and more people start making requests for propane.”

Two Red Cross volunteers helping with meals, cots and blankets at the shelters were to return home Saturday, along with an emergency response vehicle, said Dan Kuecker, the agency’s disaster program manager for western South Dakota.

However, “if the need becomes great, we’ll have people right back on the ground,” he said.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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