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Winter Warmth: Home Heating Help Available in Michigan

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Michigan is entering the heart of home-heating season, so it's also time for a reminder that help is available for households unable to afford their heating costs.

Anne Armstrong, director of customer assistance at the Michigan Public Service Commission, said higher energy bills are typical for this time of year, but the burden is worse right now for families who are on tight budgets.

"There's been definite financial impacts because of COVID-19," she said. "Some of our households are either unemployed or underemployed, and even though the federal government just sent out stimulus checks, they may still be facing difficulties."

Armstrong said the utility companies in the state offer flexible payment options and assistance, so she suggested calling them first. state Emergency Relief also is available, which provides cash assistance for gas and electric bills, or deliverable fuels. Another option is the Michigan Energy Assistance Program, where customers can apply for help paying energy bills. Anyone can call 211 to learn about their local programs.

In a recent survey, more than half of Michigan voters said their household finances are stretched because of the pandemic. Armstrong said federal and state financial assistance for low-income households was expanded in 2020, and some of those funds still are available.

"We are hoping that there will be extra help available in February or March if Congress passes another stimulus bill," she said, "but right now, there is assistance available for families in need. So, please don't wait to be disconnected."

She added that shut-off protection is available for certain eligible customers, including senior citizens, military personnel and low-income households.