SHERIDAN — Sheridan residents who may struggle with utility bills due to low income during the winter months may be eligible for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, potentially helping people stay warm, healthy and in a better financial state.

LIEAP is a state program that provides support to senior citizens, low-income households and people who qualify for disability in paying off utility bills, such as heating and gas.

Brenda Ilg, the program manager for LIEAP, said the three most vulnerable groups to the cold winters in Wyoming are senior citizens, people with disabilities and young children. LIEAP helps those groups, as well as low-income families, from the extreme temperatures by making sure they have adequate heating during colder months.

Debra Haar, health director at Sheridan County Public Health, said families with young children and older residents — who are on a fixed income with increasing bills during the winter months and may lose the ability to pay for their heating bills — can be more susceptible to illness or disease processes because of their age. These specific groups of people have a more difficult time creating or maintaining their own heat.

Diane Marshall, the case manager for Community Connections in Sheridan County — a component of Sheridan Health Center — said LIEAP is a program in Sheridan that is highly used and needed for the community.

“My goal is to not only help people for the short term, but long term,” Marshall said.

Marshall said, in her experience that anyone, no matter their status, is welcome to ask for resources. A broad spectrum of people, including young people and middle class, use LIEAP in Sheridan. People use Community Connections to receive information and referrals on what resources may work best for them or their family.

“So many young families (use the service;) single moms, a lot of people who have lost their jobs; (Sheridan has) a lot of that right now,” Marshall said.

Applications are available at The Hub on Smith. Although Marshall cannot determine a person’s eligibility, she can refer them to the application.

For a person to be eligible for LIEAP, one must prove they annually earn 60 percent, before taxes, below the state’s median income. They must also be a Wyoming state resident and must need financial assistance for home energy costs, specifically.

In Wyoming, LIEAP only supports utility assistance in the winter months.

Ilg said federal funding has decreased over the last several years making resources, such as assistance to help pay for cooling expenses, unavailable for the summer months.

“It has decreased about 33 percent,” Ilg said. “The program no longer has state general funds, so we had to make some changes to continue to provide some level of benefits to every household that becomes eligible and turns in the application. We don’t want to turn people away.”

Ilg said last year, 655 applicants were accepted through the LIEAP program from Sheridan County. Ilg did not have financial breakdowns available at press time.

LIEAP is a helpful resource for people in low income situations, regardless of age or status. People who fill out an application for LIEAP must have proof of household income, a copy of the most recent utility bill, photocopies of identification of every household member and proof of child support, if applicable. Applications are open from October 1 to February 28, and winter months covered through the program are November to May.