Struggling Michiganders urged to seek assistance to keep warm during holiday season

Any Michigander struggling to pay their energy bills due to the pandemic are encouraged to seek assistance. (WICS)

MICHIGAN (WPBN/WGTU) -- State officials are reminding citizens of resources available for households struggling to pay their energy bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are joining together to emphasize the availability of flexible payment plans and financial assistance for households struggling to pay bills for electricity and home heating now and after the holidays.

“As we continue fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and head into another Michigan winter, it’s crucial that all Michiganders can access the support they need to keep themselves and their families warm and safe,” Governor Whitmer said. “As the weather gets colder, I urge everyone who needs help to reach out for it. It is also crucial that our leaders at the federal level work together to pass a bipartisan relief bill that will provide families the support they need to make it through the winter. We will get through this together.”

If you are in need of help, you should contact your utility about flexible payment options and assistance.

People can also apply for or find out more about State Emergency Relief and the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) through MI Bridges.

Additional energy assistance programs and shutoff protections may not relieve utility customers of their responsibility to pay for their energy use, but they will help customers obtain or maintain utility service, especially during winter. They include:

  • The Winter Protection Plan protects seniors and low-income customers of MPSC-regulated natural gas and electric utilities. Customers may find relief from electric or natural gas service shutoff and high utility payments between Nov. 1and March 31.
  • The MPSC and state law require all regulated gas and electric companies, and municipal electric utilities, toprovide shutoff protectionfor seniors 65 and older during the heating season,Nov.1 through March 31. Seniors worried abouttheirenergy service should contact their utility.
  • Throughmedical emergency shutoff protection, customers may receive a medical hold preventing service from being disconnected for nonpayment on natural gas and/or electric billsfor up to 21 days, with the option to reapply for extensions up to 126 days per household, if a customer or a member of the customer’s household has an existing medical condition that would be aggravated by the lack of utility service.
  • Throughcritical care shutoff protection, acustomer or household can receive protection from disconnection or have services restored due to inability to pay if there is an identified critical care customer in the home and interruption of service would be immediately life threatening.
  • Activeduty military customersor thespousesof thosecalled to full-time active military duty during a time of declared national or state emergency or war mayapply for shutoff protectionfor electric or natural gas service for up to 90 days,with the option to reapply for extensions.Additionally, families of veterans and active duty military personnel can receive emergency financial assistance to pay electric, oil, gas, and other heating fuels. For information, contact the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

In addition, there are a number of ways for Michiganders to lower their home energy costs by reducing energy waste:

  1. Contact a certified professional and schedule a furnace tune-up so it runs more efficiently. Replace filters regularly because clogged filters make a furnace work harder. If replacing a furnace, look for the ENERGY STAR logo, which indicates a high-efficiency product.
  2. Discuss with your utility provider programs that can help to manage costs. Ask about or sign up for demand response or time-of-use programs or a budget plan.
  3. Schedule a home energy assessment to identify ways to cut energy waste. Many utilities across the state are conducting energy assessments virtually and rebates on heating, ventilation and air conditioning, appliances, lighting, insulation and other improvements are available.
  4. Go to the MPSC’s Be Winterwise page for more information on reducing energy bills, or check out additional recommendations from the U.S. Department of Energy.
  5. Research options beforesigning up with a propane provider. Locking in a contract can mean lower prices.
  6. Tackle home improvements thatreduce energy waste. Seal cracks around windows and doors to keep heat from escaping. Check air ducts and seal openings against leaks. Insulate attics and crawl spaces. Install a programmable thermostat, which can save an estimated 10 percent a year on heating and cooling.
  7. Be sure to shop around if you’re considering purchasing your natural gas through an alternative gas supplier. The MPSC’s CompareMiGas website has information to help you compare rates of suppliers serving in your utility service area, but be sure you understand the terms and conditions before signing a contract.

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