Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

December 21, 2011

Snyder signs home heating help bill

LANSING (AP) — Michigan residents struggling to pay their heating bills will be able to get some assistance under legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The new laws create a $58 million fund to replace the Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund that the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled this summer no longer was authorized to collect money. The new Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund is expected to provide heating assistance to 95,000 low-income Michigan residents, but the fix is for this winter only. A more long-term solution may have to be found when the Legislature returns in January.

After it was signed, the Michigan Public Service Commission awarded $23 million in grants to agencies.

to help those who need assistance to cover the cost of the electricity, natural gas, heating oil or propane they use to heat their homes. About $6.7 million was awarded to the Salvation Army, while $9.7 million went to the Heat and Warmth Fund, $2.6 million went to TruNorth Community Services and $2.1 million went to the Michigan Community Action Agency Association. Smaller amounts were awarded to other agencies around the state.

Many of the agencies had to turn away requests for help in recent months while the heating assistance program was in limbo. Lawmakers didn't pass legislation setting up the new fund until last week, months after people who were behind on their utility bills started calling to get money to pay those bills and get their heat turned back on.

The Michigan Department of Human Services will get $35 million from the new fund to distribute to low-income residents through its State Emergency Relief Fund.

The replacement plan calls for refunding or rebating to Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy customers about $48 million that's been collected in escrow since the ruling for the Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund, or LIEEF.

The charge on utility bills now resumes until $48 million is raised for the new Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund. An additional $10 million will come from the state's general fund to raise the total to $58 million, close to the $60 million that used to be collected for the now-defunct LIEEF.

Michigan expects to also distribute around $110 million in federal heat assistance funds, about half as much as it got last year. Residents used to be able to get as much as $800 to pay off their utility bills once they received a shut-off notice. This year, with federal funds reduced, they're likely to get only $300 to $400.

They also won't be able to get help weatherizing their homes as they have in the past. The new charge on utility bills no longer will raise about $30 million that was raised through LIEEF for that purpose.

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