home heating

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

People are more worried about being able to afford fuel for their cars than heating their homes. That’s the finding of a new poll by the University of Michigan.

The U of M Energy Institute asked people about their energy costs and found that most people are twice as sensitive to increasing gasoline costs than they are to rising home energy costs.

John DeCicco is a research professor at the U of M Energy Institute. He says the reason for the higher sensitivity to gas prices may be found by looking through the car windshield.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - State officials say they are processing credits to help low-income customers with their winter energy bills.

The Michigan Public Service Commission said this week that state treasury officials have mailed instruction booklets and forms pertaining to the Michigan Home Heating Credits for the 2013 tax year.

The materials also are available online and at many libraries, post offices and Department of Human Services' branch offices.

The average credit for last year was $124.

stephani.b / Creative Commons

Michigan residents needing help with their heating bills are in for some changes this year.

Because of a new law, people seeking assistance will only have a seven-month window to apply, instead of year-round. That window opens November First.

Michigan Department of Human Services spokesman Dave Akerly says once that window opens, people will begin qualifying for help when they get a past-due notice, instead of having to wait until they face a heat shutoff.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is joining with advocacy groups to raise awareness for Michigan families living without heat this winter.

Snyder proclaimed February "Keep Michigan Warm" month to highlight "the growing and critical need for home heating assistance in Michigan." It was requested by advocacy group Coalition to Keep Michigan Warm.

Snyder says "no one should ever have to choose between heating their home and feeding their family." He says many families are forced to spend more than half of their annual income on energy costs.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Warmer weather wasn't the only factor lowering heating bills in Michigan this winter, but it sure helped.

The Michigan Public Service Commission notes that lower natural gas prices also contributed to lower heating bills in the state. Roughly 80 percent of Michigan households use natural gas for home heating

But the biggest factor probably was the weather. The state agency said Friday that temperatures were around 20 percent warmer than normal during the recently completed November through March heating season.

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Discussions continue between House and Senate Republicans on how to ensure low-income families in Michigan have help with their winter heating bills. Today is most likely the final day of official meetings of the Legislature in 2011. And lawmakers don’t want to leave for their month-long winter break without passing a plan for home-heating assistance.

“We still have some numbers to crunch," said Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth). "As the rubber hits the road, this is all becoming very real, and we’re very confident on both sides that we’re ready to combine those ideas and come up with a solution.”

Horn says the state will reduce the amount of money a household can receive in home-heating assistance to $450 for the winter months. He says that will help ensure state money for heating assistance lasts until the spring. 

Republican leaders at the state Capitol say they expect to wrap up work on a plan to ensure there’s money to help low-income families with their heating bills this winter. But, their efforts are already being criticized because they don’t encourage energy efficiency.

About 600,000 Michigan households needed heating aid last winter. House and Senate leaders say they will continue discussions to fix a problem created last summer by a court decision that forced lawmakers to find a new way to pay for the program.

Republican state Representative Ken Horn says the new program will not include money for a part of the program that pays for energy efficiency projects on public buildings.

“That is not helping low-income families. What we are doing very specifically it is very targeted, is helping the most-vulnerable families in the state of Michigan.”

Representative Jeff Irwin, a Democrat, says that’s a mistake.

“Shouldn’t we at least continue with the projects that are half-baked and not waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money?”

Republicans say that’s a discussion that can wait until next year.

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At the state Capitol, the debate continues over how to ensure there’s money available to help thousands of low-income families that need help paying their heating bills this winter. The need for a solution is becoming more urgent as temperatures start to dip below freezing, and the Legislature is a week away from starting its winter break.

Senator Mike Nofs chairs the Senate Energy and Technology Committee. He said a solution will be in place before the Legislature begins its holiday break next week.

Every winter, people in Michigan die because they can’t afford to pay their heating bills, and the utilities shut their power off.

Sometimes, they just freeze to death. Most of the time, however, they die in house fires caused by desperate attempts to get some sort of heat, such as using a portable stove.

An entire family died a few years ago when the father attempted to use fire to thaw out frozen pipes so they could get some water. Instead, he burned the house down.

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Detroit Mayor Bing says city can avert financial crisis on its own

Layoffs are coming in Detroit after an audit revealed the city could run out of money by April. Mayor Bing says he believes the city can make cuts and avoid a potential takeover from a state-appointed emergency manager.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing held fast Tuesday to his assertion that his administration can manage the city through its fiscal crisis for the next 18 months with a plan that calls for union concessions and at least 1,000 employee layoffs.

In a wide-ranging interview, the mayor said he received a list of layoff recommendations from his department heads Tuesday and expects to identify workers who will be laid off by Dec. 5. Layoff notices would follow immediately and job eliminations would be effective 90 to 120 days after notices are sent.

Herman Cain speaks at Hillsdale College

After yesterday's revelation that Republican presidential candidate hopeful Herman Cain was "reassessing" his campaign, the candidate did not mention his problems during last night's speech at Hillsdale College. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported:

Cain did not talk about the allegations of sexual harassment made by numerous women against him nor the allegation made this week that he’s been involved in a 13 year affair with a Georgia woman.    

The allegations anger supporters like Gary Shilling.  But Shilling says his anger is not directed at Cain.   

"He’s being crucified…by the press," said Shilling after listening to Cain's speech.  

Republicans unveil plan to keep heat on

With dramatic cuts in federal funding for home heating assistance coming, Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives say they want to keep the heat on this winter for low-income residents.

From the Associated Press:

Lawmakers said they want to put $62 million into the state's emergency relief fund to help keep the heat on. The money would come from federal funds that Republicans say could be used for the heating program.

"It's a budgetary and statutory fix that protects families, prioritizes spending and keeps costs down for Michigan's ratepayers," said House Speaker James Bolger of Marshall.

The plan also would formalize the end of a utility charge. An appeals court in July struck down the financing system used by Michigan's Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund.

user dominic's pics / Flickr

The federal government has proposed dramatic cuts to home-heating assistance.

Susan Sherer, CEO of the Heat and Warmth Fund, said that cut for Michigan could be as much as $120 million.

“By removing $120 million that was available last year to serve customers, most certainly people are literally going to be left out in the cold,” said Sherer.

Advocates for the poor say the state Legislature needs to make sure people in low-income households do not have their heat turned off this winter.

Scott Dzurka is with the Michigan Association of United Ways, which is part of a coalition of groups pushing for heating assistance funding.

“Our interest is making sure that the residents and families in the state of Michigan are warm this winter season,” said Dzurka.

Dzurka said the state Legislature needs to ensure home-heating assistance will be available before lawmakers leave for a winter break in December.

The state fund for home heating assistance is also caught up in a court fight and cannot be touched. State lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan.

Blue Flame Gas inc.

Consumers Energy says its natural gas customers will be paying less this winter to heat their homes.  

Dan Bishop is a Consumers spokesman.   He says more plentiful supplies are leading to a 3 percent cut in natural gas prices.   

“In recent years there’s been a large amount of new natural gas discoveries in the United States and in Canada.  And that extra increase of supply has really put downward pressure on prices," says Bishop.  

State officials and local social service groups are working together to help needy Michiganders pay their heating bills this winter.  But how much government will help pay those heating bills remains a question.  

Earlier this year, a court ruled against how Michigan raised money for the low income heating assistance program.    And state lawmakers have not yet agreed on a new funding plan. That has some social service groups concerned about the future of the program.   

More than 90 thousand Michiganders rely on the program.