Michigan Department of Health and Human Services expands online assistance applications
Low-income households can access energy-related State Emergency Relief online

Contact: Edward Woods III, Office of Communications director, (517) 373-7394

June 10, 2010

REDFORD, Mich. - Need doesn't only strike in the winter. Low-income residents also face utility shut-off notices in the summer - situations that put them and their families at risk when the thermometer rises. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is hoping to reach those in need with its new online application for energy-related State Emergency Relief (SER), Director Ismael Ahmed said today at an event with DTE Energy that launched the effort.

"This initiative is imperative because it increases access for many low-income Michigan residents who are in need year-round," Ahmed said. "We are dedicated to helping as many eligible Michigan residents as possible."

The SER program provides immediate help to individuals and families facing conditions of extreme hardship or for emergencies that threaten health and safety. It's designed to maintain low-income households normally able to meet their needs, but that occasionally need help when unexpected emergencies arise, he said.

In April, the MDHHS handled more than 29,000 energy-related SER cases statewide, totaling more than $12.8 million in payments.

The online application, available at www.michigan.gov/mibridges, is a convenient way for people who cannot visit a local office to apply for assistance because they had their utilities shut off, are facing a shut off, or are low on fuel.

Nearly 200 community partners statewide have computers people can use to access the application, which adds to the 60 computer stations MDHHS has in about 30 offices.

The online application is part of the department's efforts to increase access to energy assistance, especially since a record number of people are seeking help due to the state's troubling economy.

"DTE Energy, particularly in Detroit, is dealing with an unprecedented amount of low-income customers in our service territory, more than anywhere else in the country," said Fred Shell, DTE Energy vice president for corporate and government affairs. "But, this is not solely a DTE Energy problem, it's a community problem, and we are grateful for our partnership with MDHHS to put SER online so more low-income customers will have easier access to apply for needed energy assistance."

MDHHS officials anticipate the online energy assistance applications will be as successful as its online food assistance application, which has garnered more than 106,000 applicants since the option was launched in August 2009. The effort has successfully increased access to food and created an economic impact through client's buying power.

Already, almost 1.8 million people in Michigan receive food assistance - a figure that's growing by about 30,000 people per month. The additional direct food benefits put into communities have a local economic impact because every $5 in food benefits generates about $9.20 in economic activity in communities, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

To raise awareness about the new online application, the department and energy companies will run radio spots and newspaper ads this summer.

The message? "If you're having trouble paying your energy bills, don't sweat it," Ahmed said. "You may qualify for emergency energy assistance."

"And remember," he added, "you may also qualify for the home heating credit if you file by Sept. 30."

Home heating credit forms and instructions are available at Department of Treasury offices and at most public libraries, northern Michigan post offices, Michigan Secretary of State branch offices, and MDHHS offices.

Through April, about 423,900 credits have been processed, totaling $73.5 million. The average credit is $173.29.

For more information, please visit the MDHHS website at www.michigan.gov/mdhhs. Follow MDHHS on Twitter @MichiganDHS or become a fan at www.facebook.com/MichiganDHS.