Utilities: Don’t wait to seek heating help during cold winter months

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Gas prices have risen sharply over the last year, making a dent on many folks' heating bills. (SkyLine/Adobe Stock)

(Michigan News Connection) With Michigan receiving more federal funding for home heating assistance, utility companies are also chipping in to help people stay warm this winter, as gas prices rise.

Consumers Energy, the state’s largest utility, is committing $4.5 million in the next year, including $1 million for the winter and $3.5 million for a pilot program to assist their most vulnerable customers.

And Detroit-based DTE Energy is donating $5 million to agencies helping people keep up with their bills.

Brian Lewis, executive director of customer relations for Consumers Energy, said having home heating during Michigan winters is non-negotiable.

“Every winter obviously brings with it its own set of challenges,” Lewis explained. “We live in Michigan, we know that furnaces will start to run. The pandemic hasn’t done much to make that any easier.”

According to recent census surveys, more than 20% of Michiganders have been unable to pay their energy bills, or roughly 166,000 households. Nationwide, it is more than a million.

Lewis pointed out if you know you are going to struggle with your bills, calling 211 is a good place to start. He noted they can help you connect with local resources.

“Don’t wait,” Lewis urged. “If you’re in need, if you know of someone in need, reach out for assistance. Between state, federal and our own corporate funding, there are plenty of dollars available, so really don’t suffer in silence.”

Consumers can apply for state emergency assistance through the Department of Health and Human Services, a home-heating credit at the Office of the Treasury, or for emergency rental assistance through a Community Action Agency.

He said they can also call Consumers Energy to talk about possible payment plans.

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