Lansing, MI - With the COVID-19 pandemic surging during the holiday season, the State of Michigan reminds residents that there are resources available for households worried about paying their energy bills.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services join 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.”
“Michigan utilities offer payment plans for customers who’ve lost jobs or income because of the pandemic, and those struggling should contact their utility see what help is available,” MPSC Chair Dan Scripps said. “In addition, federal and state financial assistance for low-income households has been expanded to include those who’ve become newly unemployed or underemployed. Please don’t hesitate to seek help.”
Utility customers in need should contact their utility to ask about flexible payment options and assistance. They may also apply for or find out more about State Emergency Relief and the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) through MI Bridges at www.michigan.gov/mibridges. If you need help applying, call 211 and ask for a MEAP grantee near you for help. You also can find a local MEAP grantee at the MPSC’s MEAP information page.
“No one should be without heat or electricity — especially during a pandemic,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “MDHHS wants to make sure that Michiganders experiencing financial difficulties can check out the forms of assistance available right now and reach out for help.”
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. 1 and March 31.
- The MPSC and state law require all regulated gas and electric companies, and municipal electric utilities, to provide shutoff protection for seniors 65 and older during the heating season, Nov. 1 through March 31. Seniors worried about their energy service should contact their utility.
- Through medical emergency shutoff protection, customers may receive a medical hold preventing service from being disconnected for nonpayment on natural gas and/or electric bills for 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.
- Through critical care shutoff protection, a customer 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.
- Active duty military customers or the spouses of those called to full-time active military duty during a time of declared national or state emergency or war may apply for shutoff protection for 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Research options before signing up with a propane provider. Locking in a contract can mean lower prices.
- Tackle home improvements that reduce 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.
- 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.