Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

November 13, 2013

Editorial: Aid slowdowns hit those most in need

It gets cold in Michigan, even when it should still feel like summer. Who hasn’t heard the furnace kick on in the middle of a chilly September night? And who hasn’t shivered when they opened their February heating bill?

Michigan has some of the highest electric and heating rates in the Midwest, and we all feel it.

So the idea of offering heating aid to the poor has always struck a chord here. And until 2009, that wasn’t a problem. That’s when wording to authorize the release of state heating aid funds through the Public Service Commission was inadvertently left out of an energy policy restructuring bill. When the issue hit the courts, a state Court of Appeals panel decided the omission actually represented legislative intent.

So despite the fact that $60 million already collected from state utilities was sitting in the heating fund in 2011 just waiting to be released, the Republican-controlled state House refused to free up the money - and pretty much refused to say why. State utility companies, which had contributed to the fund for decades, said it wasn’t their idea. In retrospect, it looks like an early tea party effort to get government out of citizens’ lives, even if that meant a few thousands went cold.

While aid has since then come more regularly, Lansing appears to be at it again.

The state Department of Human Services recently adjusted the period during which people are eligible for heating assistance from state sources to start Nov. 1, a full month later than the Oct. 1 start in past years.

The later date meant those in need of financial help to pay for heat were forced to turn elsewhere, usually to private service agencies like the Salvation Army, the Father Fred Foundation, TrueNorth Community Services or the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency.

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