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Heating bills skyrocket, force Montana residents to rethink heat during cold temps

It is something that in the summer we take for granted – heat. With long periods of cold temperatures this winter in Montana, heat is something that many people are forced to reconsider turning on.

“It’s extremely frustrating because you’re looking for help. Help is just there but just out of reach,” said Montana resident Cheryl Wright.

Christina Wright is a mother of 4 who experienced homelessness and now lives with her children and mother, Cheryl, in Section 8 Housing.

Cheryl is the only one that brings in an income. Christina has been actively seeking Social Security disability for her injuries but hasn’t been able to get it for the past 4 years.

Energy Share is a privately funded organization that aims at helping those in emergency situations.

“They have unforeseen circumstances or unexpected things that have happened like getting laid off or, you know, their car breaks down or something like that and they just don’t have the money in the bank,” said Rachel Haberman, Energy Share of Montana executive director.

Another option for those who are struggling to turn their heat on this winter is the government-funded program, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Also known as LIHEAP.

“Eligibility for assistance is based on your income and resource limits,” Sara Loewen, Montana department of human services and resources bureau chief, told MTN News. “So for a family of four that income limit is about $52,000 a year. both homeowners and renters can apply for the programs.”

Energy Share helps about 2,500 people across the state, and LIHEAP helps as many as 18,000 people.

Haberman said that heating bills are expected to skyrocket to as much as a 50% increase this year. Making it nearly impossible for some to turn on their heat. The Wright’s housing situation depends on if they make their energy payment every month.

“That’s why it’s so frustrating and such a high fear factor is because if our electric is not paid, we lose our housing as well,” said Cheryl Wright.

Cheryl makes a little more than $800 a month to support 5 people. Their heating bill this month jumped over $130 from last month. Combining other expenses into the mix makes paying the heating bill nearly impossible, but for the Wright’s they need to in order to keep a roof over their head.