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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Bitter cold awaits Minnesotans today

Bundle up if you have any reason to be headed outside today.  Most of Minnesota is under a wind child advisory from the National Weather Service until noon. 

With the bitter cold, the wind will make it feel like it's as frigid as 25 to 34 degrees below zero at times this morning.  The NWS warns frostbite and hypothermia are possible within 30 minutes if you're out in the elements without the right clothes.


State officials say low income heating assistance money (LIHEAP) is still available.  Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman encourages households who have not yet applied for funds, especially amid the cold weather we're having, to apply.  Rothman says so far they've received just under $99 million from the federal government and hopefully will get additional allocations.  Assistance averages about 500 dollars per household total for the heating season.


 Customers of CenterPoint Energy have until tomorrow (12/31) to offer public comment on the utility's proposed five-percent annual rate increase.  You can weigh-in via email to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.  CenterPoint's Becca Virden says rates need to go up because of new regualtions and system upgrades.  For example, Virden  says pipelines need to be updated for system reliability and safety. Virden says CenterPoint is already making infrastructure improvements in Minnesota and needs to recoup those costs.  She says the average customer would see four to five dollars added to their monthly bill. 


The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has put two more Catholic priests on leave as they investigate claims of child sexual abuse by clergy members.  The Archdiocese Sunday announced Reverend Mark Whemann and Reverend Joseph Gallatin agreed to go on leave as they're investigated.  The scandal caused Archbishop John Nienstedt to also temporarily step down from public ministry this month while St. Paul police look into allegations that he inappropriately touched the buttocks of an underage boy in 2009 during a photo session.  Nienstedt continues to deny the allegations.


The investigation into the beating and robbery of a former Minneapolis mayoral candidate continues.  Mark Andrew was minding his own business at a Starbucks in the Mall of America Thursday when a man grabbed his iphone and ran.  Andrew went after the suspect and was struck repeatedly in the head and face with a billy club by two young women outside the coffee shop.  One of the assailants, an 18-year-old Brooklyn Park woman, has already been charged in the attack.  The other woman, a 17-year-old, could be charged this week.  The man who took the phone dropped it nearby as he fled.  He was able to get away.  Investigators are still working to identify him.  Andrew, who needed nine stitches after the beating, is recovering.


Minnesotans who want health insurance through state-subsidized programs MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance by January 1st still have time to apply, but they'll have to act quickly.  Human Services Commissioner Lucinda  Jesson says most people are getting through on the website -- but a few people are having trouble, and they can still submit paper applications by the end of the day on January 31st.  Downloadable applications forms are available on the state Human Services Department's website  (Jesson adds those who want to enroll in state-subsidized insurance programs can call the Human Services Department directly -- they don't have to go through the MNsure call center.)


Stress, anxiety and lack of sun that comes every year at this time in Minnesota can drag a lot of people down, but the number who take their own lives is actually lowest in November and December.  Suicide Awareness Voices of Education executive director Dan Reidenberg says the decrease is because those suffering from depression are more apt to be around family and friends -- although as that ends, suicide rates will return to normal.  Reidenberg says the number of suicides has been rising steadily for years across the country and in Minnesota, where there are now nearly 700 per year.


The Twin Cities Salvation Army is two-million short of its $10.8 million Christmas goal.  The fundraiser ends on December, 31st.  With just two days left in the year, the organization is hoping to see a record number of supporters using on-line giving as well as mailing in year end gifts.  Major Jeff Strickler says they never quite recovered from a sluggish bell ringing season that ended $450,000 down from last years' kettle numbers.  Money raised in November and December accounts for one-third of The Salvation Army's annual budget.


The final press conference for outgoing Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is set for 3 p.m. today.  He hinted on Twitter last night that there "will be a couple of nice surprises" at the press conference.  Rybak has been in office for 12 years, and will exit on January 1st after deciding not to seek another term. Betsy Hodges will be sworn in at the start of the year as the city's new mayor.