Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (AP Photo/Paul Sancya File)
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (AP Photo/Paul Sancya File)

A helping hand is on its way in the form of utility payments for those looking for cheaper billing options.

LANSING, MI—It’s getting colder in Michigan.

That could be a problem for a lot of Michiganders with tight budgets thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of Michiganders out of work is still twice what it was before the pandemic, leaving bills hard to pay for a lot of Michigan families. As a result, many households are literally left out in the cold.

Michiganders needing assistance with their energy bills are getting a bit more support thanks to Attorney General Dana Nessel. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) accepted a settlement negotiated by Nessel that’ll put $3 million in the hands of charitable organizations helping Michigan families stay warm this winter. 

That donation comes from DTE Gas and Consumers Energy Gas, both of whom will be making the donation out of funds not gained from bills paid by their customers. Additionally, the rate increase requests both companies made were slashed by the agreement. 

“As the state’s chief consumer advocate, I pushed hard for rate increase reductions as well as for donations in order to help customers struggling to pay utility bills during this pandemic crisis,” Nessel said in a statement provided to The ‘Gander. “With fall and the cold weather coming, $3 million in donations will go a long way to help customers stay warm.” 

READ MORE: Struggling to Pay Utilities in Michigan? Here’s How to Get Help

The lion’s share of that funding went to The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW), while the rest went to other nonprofits in the companies’ service areas that provide energy assistance to their customers. 

“Heat, electricity and water are basic and essential needs, especially during a pandemic. Attorney General Nessel’s work on behalf of struggling families has real impact in this regard,” Saunteel Jenkins, THAW’s CEO, said. “The donation will enable THAW to keep thousands more families healthy, safe and warm as Michigan struggles with both the cold and the pandemic. We are grateful for an Attorney General who is committed to advocating for families who too often do not have a voice.”

In addition to places like THAW, Michiganders in need of energy assistance can turn to a few state programs for help. 

Michigan’s Emergency Relief Program helps low-income families cover heating and electric costs. During the pandemic, the minimum payment families have to make has been reduced to $0, and the eligibility has increased to households with up to $15,000 in assets and bills in past due or shut off status. 

Families that qualify for that program also qualify for Michigan’s Energy Assistance Program. In addition to financial assistance, that program provides “self-sufficiency” aid like helping waterproof homes. THAW helps connect people in need with this program, and others can be found through MI 211.

While Consumers and DTE had programs earlier in the pandemic to help families in need of assistance and prevent shutoffs, those programs are now expiring, reports the Detroit Free Press

“We have not shut off a residential customer since the start of COVID-19,” Katie Carey, director of media relations for Consumers told the Free Press. “Now that summer is concluding, we have plans to resume the process, with a minimum of three but up to five customer notifications, while also looking at external factors such as weather, COVID and availability of additional federal assistance dollars.”

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