Millions available to ease burden of Michigan winter heating costs

click to enlarge Millions available to ease burden of Michigan winter heating costs
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Winter may no longer have a grip on Michigan, but some folks might be feeling a chill just by opening their next home heating bill.

Furnaces were working overtime last month because of a cold snap, and Lauren Youngdahl Snyder, vice president for customer experience at Consumers Energy, said utility customers could find their bills are 25% higher or more.

"February was actually one of the five coldest Februarys on record, and so we know customers might see a little bit of sticker shock," she said, "and we also know that there are tremendous amounts of dollars and resources available that have been untapped."

No matter the circumstance, Snyder said there are programs to help every type of utility customer. Consumers Energy and other utilities offer payment arrangements. People also can call 211 to be connected with nonprofit agencies that can assist with applications for a Home Heating Credit or State Emergency Relief.

A year into the pandemic, an estimated 38% of Michigan households are living above the federal poverty level, and yet don't earn enough to afford their basic daily living expenses. Snyder said Consumers Energy already has provided $15 million in assistance to get energy bills paid since last fall.

"This could be the very first time that they're experiencing a situation where they don't know how they're going to pay their energy bill. That's happening to many people right now, and we are here to help you figure out a solution," she said. "The other thing to do is to call 211 or go to MI211.org."

According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, U.S. households owe more than $27 billion in utility energy debt this year, compared with $11 billion at the end of 2019.

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