GREAT FALLS — As we approach the colder winter months, Energy Share of Montana is encouraging residents who are financially struggling to reach out.
The non-profit agency works to ensure utilities are paid and families stay warm. Since the pandemic, they've seen a big increase in the number of people reaching out for help and are happy to provide the assistance.
The organization has offices across the state and is asking people to keep a close eye on their neighbors and the elderly who could be in need.
"It's difficult to ask for help and I think our senior citizen population is even more reluctant to ask for help,” said spokeswoman Rachel Haberman. “But the reason we are here is to help and that's what we want to do and there's no shame in that."
Haberman says there are many ways to help by offering to help fill out an application or make the call to the statewide number. All applications are confidential.
The statewide number is 1-888-779-7589; click here to visit the website.
Additional questions and answers from Energy Share of Montana:
1. What does Energy Share of Montana do?
a) As a private non-profit organization, Energy Share’s primary purpose is to help Montanans faced with loss of heat or lights in their home due to reasons beyond their control, and who have no resources to pay for it themselves. It is about helping with home energy emergencies.
2. Who can get help through Energy Share?
a) We try to help any Montana resident who is facing loss of heat or lights in their home due to unavoidable, unforeseen circumstances and has no resources to pay for it themselves.
b) Most likely they have a disconnect notice from their energy provider or are low on propane.
c) We help people no matter what their heat source.
3. How has COVID affected Energy Share?
a) Last year our average assistance per household in this area through this time of year was $386
b) Right now since it is $603
c) Peoples’ bills mounted up and so many people have been affected by COVID.
d) About 50% of Energy Share’s applicants have circumstances related to COVID.
4. What is the application process?
a) Ours is a relatively short application form.
b) We ask people to apply for the federally funded energy assistance program, LIEAP, first.
c) Besides the normal demographic and income information, Energy Share asks people to describe the circumstances that led them to the need to apply for Energy Share.
b) We look closely at each situation, including an applicant’s utility payment history, if there are children or seniors in the home, whether there’s a medical situation going on, etc.
c) If an application is approved, payment is made directly to the energy provider – it does not go to the applicant.
5. How do people apply for Energy Share?
a) For anywhere around Great Falls (Cascade, Chouteau, Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Toole Counties) contact Opportunities Inc. in Great Falls at 406-761-0310 or 800-326-0955.
b) You can also visit Energy Share’s website at www.energysharemt.com and find the office that serves your county.
6. What is the difference between Energy Share and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP)?
a) Energy Share is privately funded, LIEAP is federally funded
b) With LIEAP you can get it every year you qualify for it.
c) Energy Share is usually not more than once every ten years or so, and is more for the unexpected, emergency-type situations such as being laid off work or losing income, medical situations, or people facing other financial difficulties.
7. How can our community help a neighbor stay warm?
a) You’ll find a donation envelope or pledge card in your November heating bill or, if you’re a member of an electric cooperative, in the November issue of Rural Montana.
b) Donate via our website: www.energysharemt.com
c) In all cases, 100% of private donations to Energy Share are used to help people with their energy bills. Donations are used first in the area from which they come.
d) Donations are tax-deductible.
e) You can call Energy Share at 406-442-4900 or 1-888-779-7589.
8. Can people really get their heat or lights disconnected in the winter?
a) Yes they can. The first thing I tell people is to talk with your energy provider to discuss your account and see what your options are.
b) Under certain circumstances regulated utilities such as NorthWestern Energy and Energy West are allowed to proceed with non-pay disconnects during the winter moratorium period, which runs November 1 - April 1.
c) Non-regulated utilities such as propane or electric cooperatives have their own rules.
d) The Public Service Commission will not approve a disconnect in the winter if the account holder has income below the federal poverty guideline, is a recipient of a public assistance program, if a household member is 62 years or older, or if a household member is disabled.
9. Do you have other programs besides emergency bill assistance?
Yes, we also operate:
· A small cost-effective refrigerator replacement program for LIEAP-qualified people who own their homes.
· A furnace & water heater safety program and weatherization program for Energy West customers.
10. Where does Energy Share get its funding?
Energy Share enjoys broad-based support across Montana and we really appreciate it.
a) Individuals and small businesses
- 100% of contributions are tax deductible and go back to the region of origin
- NO private donations are used for administrative costs
- 15-20% of private donations are from former recipients
b) Money designated to Energy Share by large electric users, utility companies, and electric cooperatives to help their customers who are facing difficult circumstances.
c) Propane industry.
11. How are funds distributed?
a) Ten Human Resource Development Councils (HRDCs) throughout the state. Opportunities Inc. in Great Falls is the agency that serves this area.
b) Each HRDC coordinates a Local Energy Share Committee
- Volunteers made up of representatives of the utility companies, human service agencies, churches, low-income, programs, banks, senior citizens and others in the community
- Meet on a regular basis throughout the heating season
- Review applications and make decisions
c) The payment is made directly to the fuel vendor.
12. What types of events do you sponsor to raise awareness of what you’re doing?
a) First of all, we sponsor a 4th grade art contest every year.
· The winner gets $75 and we put the winning picture on the front of the thank you postcards that we send to our donors.
· The teacher of the winner also receives a $75 Walmart gift card to be used for classroom needs.
· We put the first place picture on a billboard in the community of the winner along with an advertisement for Energy Share.
· The deadline for the art contest this year is November 29.
b) We also put out Public Service Announcements every fall beginning in November