Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 9, 2014

Requests for utility assistance heat up in Traverse City

By MICHELLE MERLIN mmerlin@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Logan Schultz couldn’t shake a burning concern about paying his heating bill.

The Kalkaska resident lives with his wife and six children and just spent $600 to fill his propane tank, a cost he said climbed exponentially in the last few years.

“It’s definitely on the back of your mind at all times, keeping your family warm,” Schultz said. “You’re always thinking about how much propane’s in the tank or how much wood do I have. You want to care for the basic needs of your family.”

Schultz applied for utility assistance through Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency in Traverse City. He was awarded 15 cords of split wood to help heat his home.

“It opens up money for emergencies, food obviously, and those types of things,” Schultz said.

High demand for heating assistance caused a backup at the action agency, which has a full schedule through the end of January; 108 people penciled in for appointments for help with heating.

A delay in state and federal funding for heating programs, coupled with early cold temperatures, prompted a rush of assistance requests. And the bitter cold that settled onto northern Michigan the past month makes the situation seem more dire.

“With this cold, cold weather, people are burning through fuel quicker and there’s a greater sense of urgency,” said Kris Brady, the action agency’s community services director.

In the five-county Grand Traverse area, 611 people had either been helped or made an assistance request to TrueNorth Community Services, a nonprofit that provides a cross-section of assistance to needy people in 61 counties across the state. The early season cold air led to an unexpectedly high number of requests.

“It’s been such an onslaught of winter that the amount of requests has just come in in great numbers instead of sporadically spread out like they normally are,” said Darci David, the communications and development senior officer for TrueNorth.

Demand at TrueNorth is so high that assistance applicants can expect to wait three or four weeks for an appointment.

“Hopefully, people will call with enough lead time so that we can get them an appointment and they don’t run out (of fuel) before that,” Brady said.

And high residential heating bills can negatively affect other aspects of household budgets.

“Because people are getting hit with utility bill expenses higher than they thought, we have people say they made that bill but need food this month,” Rosemary Hagan, the executive director for the Traverse City-based Father Fred Foundation said. “We just assume if folks are in a pinch in one area, they’re making adjustments in other parts of their budget.”