By EDITH ZHOU
Special to the Record-Eagle
LANSING — A new state funding source will temporarily replace a decade-old state program to help low-income residents heat their homes this winter.
The Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund in the Department of Human Services will provide $58 million to help consumers pay their gas and electric bills.
That's less than the $87 million available last year and $89 million in 2010 when the program was under the public service commission, according to its reports.
"With the cuts to the fund, many seniors and low-income residents will be paying more to keep their homes warm in the months ahead," said Judy Putnam, spokeswoman for the Michigan League for Human Services, an advocacy group. "The new fund's total of $58 million is significantly less than the old fund. Many families are struggling with unemployment and underemployment and Michigan has reduced help to these families in many other ways," she said.
David Akerly, Department of Human Services spokesman, said the home heating credit program "is not at risk of exhausting funds."
Residents qualify if they own or rent a homestead and their income is below the income limit. Families have to apply by the end of September.
The fund is a temporary plan only for 2011-12.
A proposed new low-income energy assistance fund may be in operation by next winter under legislation that has already passed the Senate but is awaiting action by members of the state House.
"We hope the bill can take off before the end of the year. Obviously, we just want something in place for the next heating season," said Greg Moore, legislative director for Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek. Nofs is the primary sponsor of the new proposal.
"The money is appropriated out there, but right now there is not a new program," Moore said.
"So it is really a question of what you are going to do with the money. (I)s the amount of money going to change? Is the money going to be used in green projects or not? So all we are doing is providing the options to make the low-income energy assistance program continue," he said.
EDITH ZHOU writes for Michigan State University's Capital News Service.