Help is now available for the near 18,000 customers with delinquent utility accounts across the state. Photo via Shutterstock.
Help is now available for the near 18,000 customers with delinquent utility accounts across the state. Photo via Shutterstock.

DTE has frozen rates and local organizations are helping Michigan families pay essential bills during the pandemic.

MICHIGAN — Michigander Riley Ann has seen crisis before. 

At 50 years old, the Bay City native thought she’d left tough times behind her when she lost her home during the last economic downturn in 2008.

Now she lives in a one-bedroom apartment on the border between West Bloomfield and Waterford. And with the coronavirus crippling her finances, she’s struggling to make ends meet in ways she’s never experienced before. 

“All my side hustles are gone,” Ann told The ’Gander, saying that her lack of income has made it impossible to keep up with all of her essential bills each month. “This is really scary.”

Ann now primarily makes money as a gig worker throughout the year, changing up her services seasonally. Most of her home organization clients are currently working from home and are wary of interacting with people outside of their households. 

Ann has also worked as a nanny for several area families but said she, too, is nervous about interacting with lots of people. 

“My retirement got trashed in the Bush years,” she told The ’Gander. “And I’m too old for this.”

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How Michigan Is Handling Families’ Budget Woes 

Michiganders were poised to see a spike in their electricity bills, even in the midst of a pandemic. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved a $188 million increase for DTE Energy’s customers on May 8.

MPSC Chairwoman SallyTalberg acknowledged the financial hardships many Michiganders faced at the time, but said that “there are pressing needs to upgrade aging infrastructure to ensure safe, reliable electric service.”   

Since then, DTE — the state’s largest provider of electricity — announced a freeze in rates through 2022. That was a lifesaver for Michiganders like Julie Karasin, 31, who is also experiencing financial hardship during the crisis that makes each bill a new battle. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the single mother was able to pay her bills and stash a small savings from her earnings at a local family-owned restaurant. 

“I went through my savings in the eight-and-a-half weeks it took to get unemployment, and there’s been a lot of issues with Michigan’s unemployment since then,” she told The ’Gander. “They [the unemployment office] froze my checks five weeks ago because of fraudulent claims in the state.”

Finding a new job and accessible, affordable childcare is easier for friends and family to suggest than it is for the Port Huron resident to do.

For many families, bills for electricity have gone unpaid during the pandemic. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer responded to the problem plaguing so many Michigan households by paying more than $7 million for nearly 18,000 delinquent customer accounts. The payments will be made directly to utility companies for households that have past-due accounts.

“No Michigander should worry about how to pay their energy bills during a global pandemic,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Our partners across state government are working around the clock to ensure support for those who are struggling to make ends meet. And we will continue to work with everyone who wants to ensure every Michigan family can keep the lights on and put food on the table as we combat this virus.”

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Here’s Who Else Is Helping Michiganders Pay Bills

Looking for resources to help you pay essential bills strapping down middle class families?

These resources are helping Michiganders make ends meet:

United Way is helping Michiganders who need utility payment assistance. Dial 211 from any mobile phone or 844-211-4994 from any device. Online applications are available at uwsem.smapply.org.

SEMCO said it is suspending customer disconnections and waiving late fees for anyone unable to pay their monthly natural gas bill. Call 1-800-624-2019 for more information.

UPPCO is temporarily suspending shutoffs for non-payment for income-eligible customers. Call 906-449-2013 for eligibility information.

AT&T is offering free internet access to new customers for two months and low-income households can continue to subscribe for $10/month. All of the company’s public WiFi hotspots are open to anyone. AT&T will not terminate service of any customer due to an inability to pay, and all late payment fees will be waived. Click here to learn more.

Xfinity (formerly Comcast) and Spectrum (formerly Charter Communications) will offer free internet access to low-income families. Internet and cable will not be suspended due to late and nonpayments. Click here for guidelines.

Essential workers in need of child care can click here for resources. The state’s top leadership said it’s up to all Michiganders to “do our part.”

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