Maybe North Dakotans and Minnesotans Spurn Heating Assistance Because They Think Self Sufficiency Is a Good Thing


“Most North Dakotans, Minnesotans who qualify for heating assistance don’t seek it,” reads a headline over a recent article by my colleague April Baumgarten.

“Of the 55,358 households eligible for heating assistance in North Dakota, only 22 percent (12,331 households) received it in 2017, according to the most recent analysis by the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC),” she writes. “In Minnesota, 393,788 households qualify for LIHEAP, and only 32 percent (126,149 households) received such assistance in 2017, according to NEUAC.”

Income qualification table for the LIHEAP program, via the North Dakota Department of Human Services

Why would people who qualify for a public assistance program not avail themselves of it? The income qualifications for the program are pretty low, as you can see from the table in this post taken from the North Dakota Department of Human Services’ website.

Pride is one explanation offered in the article. This is a conservative part of the world. Public assistance, like it or not, has something of a stigma attached.

Not knowing the assistance exists is another.

I’d offer a third, which is that communities tend to be pretty close knit in our part of the world, and a lot of people who need help will probably seek it and get it from friends and family before turning to the government.

And a fourth, kind of related to pride, which is that North Dakotans and Minnesotans value self sufficiency. If you can get by without resorting to assistance from the taxpayers you should try to.

That’s not such a bad thing, is it?

If you need help, please get help. Don’t let yourself or your family freeze. We are a prosperous society, and that prosperity affords us social safety net programs like LIHEAP so that people needn’t starve or freeze. Lots of good, responsible people who have gone on to great success and prosperity have needed a little help from an assistance program.

It happens. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Still, we should strive to avoid that. Self sufficiency is a good thing to aspire to, and it seems (at least based on these numbers) a lot of people in North Dakota and Minnesota feel the same way.

Here, via Baumgarten’s article, are the trends for LIHEAP program enrollment in North Dakota and Minnesota for recent years: