Vulnerable Michigan households protected from utility disruptions during COVID-19 pandemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   July 1, 2020

Media Contact: Matt Helms 517-284-8300
 

LANSING, MICH. Tens of thousands of vulnerable Michigan households have benefitted from steps taken by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, energy providers and other agencies to ease financial burdens from the coronavirus pandemic. 

To address concerns about customers facing utility service shutoffs, the MPSC worked with investor-owned utilities the Commission regulates, along with municipal electric companies and rural electric cooperatives, on a commitment to prevent shutoffs of senior and low-income households, including those suffering sudden job or income losses because of the pandemic. 

Utilities across the state agreed to suspend shutoffs, provide flexible payment plans, waive late fees and allow a 30-day medical hold for customers exposed to, quarantined, or infected by COVID-19. 

The Commission also ordered utilities to report the number of senior, low-income and non-low-income households that were still disconnected from service despite the protections enacted. Utilities reported reconnecting 1,445 such meters between April 30 and June 26. 

“During this historic crisis, Michiganders have pulled together to get through the worst of the pandemic,” Gov. Whitmer said. “I’m grateful that state utility regulators and leaders from utility companies statewide worked quickly and cooperatively to help ease the burden on vulnerable Michigan households.” 

“Having reliable, affordable energy is essential to the health and well-being of Michiganders, which is why we put in place additional protections and assistance for families struggling with utility bills during this pandemic,” MPSC Chairman Sally Talberg said.  “Assistance is still available, and the MPSC is reminding customers to contact their utility, 211, or other organizations if they need help managing their energy bills.” 

The MPSC also worked with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and social services agencies to streamline delivery of millions of dollars in energy bill payment assistance to customers and to implement new programs to leverage federal funding through the CARES Act pandemic stimulus package. 

Each year, Michigan’s annual Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund (LIEAF) raises up to $50 million for the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) through a surcharge on every customer bill (92 cents a month last year). MEAP assisted 61,199 households in 2019. 

The state received $162 million in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds this fiscal year and was awarded an additional $35.1 million through the CARES Act.  

The MDHHS also shepherded almost $18 million of the CARES Act funding for LIHEAP to make direct payments to assist nearly 50,000 low-income Michigan households that owed past-due amounts to DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and SEMCO Energy.  In addition, these three utilities contributed another 25% on top of the CARES Act Funding to help with these customers’ past due bills.

“MDHHS staff are using innovative approaches to make it as easy as possible for Michigan residents in need to access resources that allow them to continue to be connected to utilities,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “It’s even more important during the COVID-19 public health crisis for us to do whatever we can to help Michiganders with their energy needs.” 

Help is still available for customers struggling financially and who are worried about their utility service:

  • Contact your utility company or propane supplier to ask what kind of protections, funding, flexible payment options, or energy saving tools and resources are available. 
  • Call 211 or go to mi211.org for information about getting help paying your utility bill or to learn about agencies that assist with energy bills.
  • Apply for State Emergency Relief directly through MI Bridges for bill payment assistance or call 855-275-6424. You can also get assistance with the applications process by calling 211 to be referred to a Michigan Energy Assistance Program grantee that can help. 
  • Apply for a Home Heating Credit. Visit the Michigan Department of Treasury’s website to see if you qualify. 

 

For information about the MPSC, visit www.Michigan.gov/MPSC, sign up for one of its listservs, or follow the Commission on Twitter. 

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