Home heating help available

There are programs and protections in place to help low-income Michigan residents with their heating bills.

37th District Michigan State Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) on Thursday reminded residents that there may be assistance available for those struggling to keep their homes warm this winter season.

“Winters in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are notoriously harsh,” said Schmidt, R-Traverse City. “While most of the state is just starting to experience the cold and snow, we’re several weeks into that kind of weather up north.”

The Winter Protection Plan is a deferment plan that is designed to ease the burden of high winter utility bills. It helps protect seniors and low-income gas and electric customers from service shutoffs and high utility bills from Nov. 1 to March 31. Eligible customers can avoid shutoffs while paying nothing or just a small percentage of their annual bill during the protection period.

Although no payments are required during the heating season, it is recommended that program participants pay something to avoid large payments when the protection period ends.

To apply, residents should contact their natural gas or utility company.

The State Emergency Relief Program offers assistance for low-income residents who may need help due to an unforeseen emergency. For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/heatingassistance.

The site also includes details on the Weatherization Assistance Program — which helps provide free energy conservation services to low-income Michigan homeowners and renters — and the Home Heating Credit.

In addition to these programs, many nonprofit and community organizations also have programs to help families stay warm during the winter. Dialing 211 can connect residents with a 24-hour service that can put them in touch with agencies in their community who can help with things like utility bills and other emergencies. You can also click here for a list of energy assistance agencies by county.

“While there are several avenues to pursue for help this winter, the most important thing to do if you are unable to pay your bills is to contact the utility company and explore your options,” Schmidt said. “Taking a proactive approach could wind up saving you a lot of money and grief.”