As the partial government shutdown drags on, we are hearing from more individuals from around Montana who have no idea where to start. Government employees around the state, usually experiencing local food pantries through their donations and volunteer work, have begun to reach out for help. No additional programs have been opened up to meet these needs. So we here at MFBN are preparing for full blown disaster relief efforts as our Network Partners and supporters alike are reaching out.
In the meantime, beyond food needs, here are some pre-existing services and programs available.
Free or Reduced-Price School Meals
Families can apply for free or reduced-price school meals at any point during the school year. This is a long-standing rule to reflect the many changes in families’ economic circumstances that can occur. This practice applies to households with furloughed employees. To apply, families should contact their school nutrition department. School districts also have the flexibility to date the eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals as of the date of the application (rather than the later date on which they approve the application) to provide more immediate support to families. If a school district has questions, they should contact their state child nutrition agency.
SNAP- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
February SNAP benefits will go out the 17th of January, which is over two weeks early. This is not an extra payment, it is an early payment of February benefits and recipients should stretch it as long as they can.
To date there has been no Disaster or special Emergency SNAP issued for affected federal employees. Individuals or families can apply for SNAP by visiting https://apply.mt.gov/ or by calling the Montana Food Bank Network’s SNAP Application Hotline 1-406-239-6475.
LIEAP- Low income Energy Assistance
The Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) pays part of winter energy bills for eligible people. Most utilities offer LIEAP recipients discounts on their bills. The Low-Income Energy Assistance (LIEAP) application is available during the heating season, which is October 1 through April 30 of each year, by contacting the energy assistance LIEAP eligibility office or tribal LIHEAP office serving your community.
*NOTE: eligibility will be based on a household’s income over the previous year.
The Weatherization Program helps participants to improve the heating efficiency of their homes and thus reduce their energy consumption.
Additionally, national organizations including cell phone providers, credit card companies, and student loan providers have released statements that they are ready to work with those affected by the government shutdown. We highly recommend reaching out to any service or credit providers to notify them if you are struggling to meet your payment due dates.