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Applications growing for heating assistance

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HAMILTON, Mont. - Montana is well into its winter deep freeze, so an agency that helps low to moderate income people with their utility bills is busy.

The District 11 Human Resource Council's Low Income Energy Assistance Program serves people in Missoula, Mineral and Ravalli counties.

So far this season LIEAP has received 3,100 applications for energy assistance in those counties.

That compares to about 3,800 applications processed for the entire heating season last year.

Hamilton resident Levi Syvertson relies on LIEAP for heating.

"It helps us so we have extra money left over," he said, "to pay for things we need like household items and paying bills."

LIEAP's application season extends from Oct. 31 through April 30.

In the entire season last year there were little more than 1,000 applications in Ravalli County.

Already this year, with four more months to go in the agency's application season, there have been 718 applications in the Bitterroot.

Shera Carlascio, with Human Resource Council, in Hamilton said she thinks that number is going to increase.

"I wouldn't be surprised," she said, "if it doubled before LIEAP season is up."

Carlascio sees the need every day.

"It's a sign of the times with winter layoffs right now," she said. "And there are people who just need that little bit of extra help to get them through the winter months."

Rich Merkel is an example of the people needing a little extra help.

"I'm a construction worker," said Merkel. "This is winter and things drop off."

Merkel expects construction jobs won't pick up for at least a couple months for him.

He had hoped that he would have enough money to last in the off season, but there are always unexpected bills.

"I had some reserve money saved up," he said. "But I've pretty well gone through it."

He's insulated his windows and keeps his thermostat as low as possible.  He said it's comfortable.

Merkel said LIEAP has helped him before with weather stripping, fans and pressure testing his house. He said the assistance allows him to rest easier this winter. 

It's only January and we have a long way to go before spring.

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