State Out of Energy Assistance Funds

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Michigan has run out of money to help low-income residents having trouble paying their energy bills, a state official said Friday.

Marianne Udow, state Department of Human Services director, said the state will stop accepting applications for assistance next Friday.

The funds have run out earlier than usual because of fewer federal dollars and more people needing assistance, Udow said. President Bush and Congress have cut funding this year for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, and Bush has proposed another cut in the budget year that starts Oct. 1.

"We've never run out this early," Udow said.

Although the winter heating season is nearly over, low-income residents still need help paying their bills in the months ahead, Udow said, citing cooling and lighting costs.

"Senior citizens are very vulnerable to heat" in the summer, she said. When energy assistance for low-income people stopped in the 1980s, some seniors died from heat exhaustion, according to Udow.

She urged Bush to release federal emergency energy assistance funding. In February, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and 34 other governors wrote a letter asking Congress to restore an overall $1 billion cut in the current budget year.

Udow is hopeful the state Legislature will approve $14 million in supplemental funding to provide energy assistance through June 19. About half of last year's funding came from the federal government while the other half came from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

In the fiscal year that ended last September, about 109,000 households got an average payment of $488 for emergency payments for heat and energy costs.

About 389,000 Michigan households qualify each year for home heating tax credits. Those credits remain in place for this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.

About $1.9 million in assistance goes to Michigan families each week through the emergency payments and home heating tax credits.

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