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Heating assistance program wraps up for winter season

Kelly Marquardt with the District 7 Human Resources Development Council at her desk in Billings
Kayla Desroches
/
Yellowstone Public Radio
Kelly Marquardt with the District 7 Human Resources Development Council at her desk in Billings

Preliminary data for Montana’s home heating assistance program show the number of approved funding applications statewide rose only 3 percent this year over last - a number that could change after the program wraps up this month.

Program director Kelly Marquardt with the District 7 Human Resources Development Council in Billings said clients are having to balance their budgets by prioritizing more immediate needs like food or shelter over heating costs.

“I’m hearing that essentially they would rather pay rent than their utility bills, so many of them are simply past due,” said Marquardt.

Marquardt said she believes there are more people eligible and in need of assistance in Big Horn, Carbon, Stillwater, Sweet Grass and Yellowstone counties than the region’s 5 percent year-over-year increase in applications represents .

District 6 LIHEAP program manager Kim Kucera in Lewistown reports a nearly 14 percent year-over-year bump in processed applications for Basin, Fergus, Golden Valley, Judith, Musselshell, Petroleum and Wheatland counties.

“We’re seeing that increased need, we’re seeing the higher bills, and we’re seeing that more people are struggling with - especially those on fixed incomes, to meet those needs,” said Kucera.

The LIHEAP heating assistance application period ends Sunday, April 30. Kelly Marquardt with HRDC District 7 recommends interested residents get their applications in over the weekend for processing.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.