Thousands Seek Help for High Heating and Electric Bills

By: Rachel Thomas Email
By: Rachel Thomas Email

With temperatures dropping outside, many Michiganders are sweating over the idea of paying their utility bills.

"I lost my job and the bills are adding up. I can't afford it anymore," said Consumer's Energy customer Penny Tellier.

Penny Tellier realized she needs help and visited the Michigan Department of Human Services.

"It's humbling. I like to think that I am a humble person. They were very kind. There is a little wait, but the help is worth it," said Tellier.

Penny is one of thousands in Michigan seeking help. Twenty-five thousand more people than last year have qualified for Consumer's Energy protection programs to guarantee their heat won't be shut-off. 400 thousand other Michiganders have signed up for a payment program to pay one fixed rate every month.

"With the poor economy, We have seen more people coming in for assistance for the first time," said director Terry Dedoes of Consumer's Energy.

On average, heating bills have decreased five dollars this year. But with days getting colder and rising electricity bills, people still need help.

In the Tri-County area there has been a significant increase in people finding help by dialing 211. The United Way call centers have received 400 more calls this winter from October to December than it did last year.

Gas and electric providers say they offer several programs to help customers through the winter, but they need to know when there is a problem.

"The big problem is people waiting too long to ask for help," said Mark Nixon of the Board of Water and Light.

Customers who do call for assistance may find more than they were looking for.

"I went in there for help with my utility bill. But then they asked if I needed help with food or healthcare. They just gave me the paperwork to fill out," said Tellier.

The Customer Choice and Electricity Reliability Act requires all state-regulated utility companies in Michigan to provide winter protection for low-income and senior citizens. Call 2-1-1, or your gas or electric service provider to find out if you qualify for help.


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