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Support available for MT residents facing housing insecurity

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Big Sky Connection
A state-run rental aid program is providing financial aid to Montanans facing housing insecurity this winter. The Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program launched last spring, and it's already provided more than $32 million to renters across the state. Comments from Cheryl Cohen, housing division administrator, Montana Department of Commerce.

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that energy costs across the nation rose from 2020 to 2021, resulting in higher utility fees for many families. (Adobe Stock)


By Jonah Chester

January 14, 2022

As Montana heads deeper into winter, state officials want folks to know financial support is available for those facing housing insecurity during the colder months.


The Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program has distributed more than $32 million to more than 4,800 Montanans since the program launched last April.


Cheryl Cohen, housing division administrator for the Montana Department of Commerce, said the aid is available to folks who have experienced financial hardship either directly or indirectly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


"The family also needs to have an annual gross income of less than 80% of median income," Cohen explained. "We have a really helpful income eligibility tool on our website. The family can put in their household size and county to see if they're eligible."


Applicants need to have evidence of being at risk of housing instability. In addition to rent, the program also provides aid to pay energy bills and internet services. Cohen noted her department is currently working through a backlog of about 2,000 applications, and is recruiting additional staff to support call volume and application reviews.


She pointed out the Department of Commerce is considering changing the monthly stipend for energy bills, which currently may not be enough during the harsh Montana winters and as energy costs continue to increase across the nation.


"We're certainly open and looking at that maximum $300 a month, and if we're finding that's not sufficient to help cover the needs of families during this time, we'll be looking at making an adjustment," Cohen stressed.


The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services also offers a separate low-income energy assistance program and low-income home water assistance program. Applications for those initiatives are open through the end of April.

 

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