HELENA – As bitterly cold temperatures linger across much of Montana, organizations that help people in need pay their energy bills are expecting higher demand for their services.
Many of those services are managed through Human Resource Development Councils, community agencies that serve low-income people and others in need across the state.
Rocky Mountain Development Council administers the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, or LIEAP, in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater and Jefferson Counties. Clients who qualify based on their income and assets can receive credits or discounts on their utility bills during the fall and winter.
Diana Johnson, Rocky’s LIEAP manager, said they usually serve between 2,000 and 2,300 clients in their three-county area.
People on LIEAP can also get emergency help during the winter if their heating system breaks down. Johnson said Rocky has received dozens of calls over the last two weeks – including seven on Wednesday alone – from clients in need of emergency furnace repairs.
“We’re getting overwhelmed now,” she said.
Rocky uses a contractor to handle those repairs. If they are not able to get a system fixed immediately, they provide their clients a standalone heater temporarily.
Rocky also handles Energy Share applications in those three counties. Energy Share of Montana is a statewide nonprofit organization that serves people who may not qualify for other programs, but still need help with their energy bills.
“Our main purpose is to help Montanans who are facing loss of heat or lights in their home due to reasons beyond their control, and who have no resources to pay that bill themselves,” said Energy Share executive director Rachel Haberman.
Each year, Energy Share serves about 2,500 households across the state, including 200 to 250 in the Helena area.
Haberman said they haven’t seen a spike in requests for assistance yet, but she expects many more to come in in the next month or so. Energy Share often works with people who need help with past energy bills or disconnection notices, so the requests may come well after the initial cold weather.
“Toward the end of the winter and into early spring is when people really start coming to Energy Share, because they’ve been trying to make it all winter on their own, and they can’t,” said Haberman.
Haberman asked that anyone who needs energy assistance contact these services as soon as they can.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people do wait until the day before they’re going to be disconnected,” she said. “They think that they can’t get shut off in the wintertime, when actually they can.”
You can get more information on applying for energy assistance by contacting the Human Resource Development Council in your area. A link to those offices can be found here.
Rocky Mountain Development Council’s Energy Services Office can be reached online or at (406) 447-1625.
You can also find information by calling Energy Share of Montana’s statewide toll-free number, 1 (888) 779-7589, or at energysharemt.com.
Energy Share receives support from utility companies, as well as private donations.