From 2-1-1, tips to stay warm this winter

Shaun Taft

With chilly nights already arriving, the Coalition to Keep Michigan Warm is working to make sure Michiganians know where they can get help with their utility bills this winter.

If you think you’ll need help, the first place to start is by calling your utility provider. Many providers such as Consumers Energy and DTE have payment plans and programs that can help if you fall behind.

If you’re already behind on your energy bill, two other programs are in place to help you pay off your past-due balance: the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) and the Michigan Department of Human Services’ (MDHS) State Emergency Relief program.

You can apply for assistance if your income is at or below 150 percent of the poverty level ($35,775 for a family of four). MEAP starts accepting applications on Oct. 1 and is available year round. Thirteen organizations administer the program in different parts of the state. You can find more information about MEAP at www.michigan.gov/energygrants.

DHS’s State Emergency Relief program starts Nov. 1 and runs through May 31 each year, with applications being accepted starting Nov. 1. You can apply online at www.mibridges.michigan.gov. Numerous community organizations and agencies are trained to help you complete the online application for emergency relief.

It’s not too early to start taking steps to keep your heating bills from getting out of hand. For example, if you heat your home with propane, consider filling up as soon as possible to get the best prices — they tend to go up as the weather gets colder. Many utility providers also have programs to help make homes more energy efficient, enabling you to lower your energy bills.

State law protects senior citizen customers of many utility providers from having their heat disconnected between Nov. 1 and March 31, but it’s important to pay what you can and get assistance when needed to avoid larger bills later on. You can find out more by contacting your utility provider.

A great place to find out more about energy assistance programs is by calling Michigan 2-1-1. Michigan 2-1-1 is a free, confidential service that connects you with local community-based organizations across the state offering thousands of different programs and services for people seeking answers. Last year more than half a million Michigan residents dialed 2-1-1 to get health and human service information and referrals.

Plan ahead and make sure you have the support you need to get by this winter.

Call 2-1-1 today to explore your options.

Shaun Taft is chair of the Coalition to Keep Michigan Warm.