low income heating assistance program

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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.

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Wolf hunting licenses may be delayed

Michigan wolf hunting licenses are expected to go on sale Saturday. But Ed Golder, Michigan's Department of Natural Resources public information officer, says that date may not work out because of high demand. When the wolf hunting licenses do go on sale, the state will sell up to twelve-hundred of them. The hunt is limited to six counties in the Upper Peninsula. Only 43 wolves will be allowed to be killed.

Energy assistance will help low-income families

State regulators have approved a 99-cent monthly fee to help low-income Michigan residents pay their energy bills and avoid losing electricity, natural gas, or propane. The charge applies to all customers, starting in September, unless a utility opts out of the program. The Michigan Public Service Commission says only a few so far have declined to participate.

According to the Associated Press, if a utility opts out of the program, it can't cut off power between November and April 15th. Michigan's largest utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, plan to participate.

MI State Police cracking down on human trafficking

Michigan State Police say 10 teenage girls forced into prostitution have been rescued as part of a national crackdown. Detroit Sergeant Ed Price says the girls were removed from motels and other locations last week in Wayne, Genesee, Oakland and Macomb counties. According to the Associated Press, eighteen suspected pimps were arrested, although only one in Flint has been charged so far. The investigation is ongoing.

Michigan lawmakers are debating this week how to help low-income families pay their heating bills. It’s turned into an urgent problem because of federal budget cuts... and a court decision that has tied up millions of dollars. Here’s how it works: there’s a program called the Low-Income Energy Efficiency Fund. If you get your power from DTE or Consumers Energy, you pay into that fund when you pay your energy bills... somewhere between one and two dollars a month. There’s been about $90 million dollars in that fund annually.

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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A state program that used to provide heating assistance to 95,000 low-income Michigan residents remains in limbo, but a temporary solution may be worked out this week to help more people stay warm.

Rep. Ken Horn says he's hoping a Wednesday meeting between state officials and Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy staff will lead to a fix until another way to fund the program can be found. He'd like to see the two utilities agree to turn on indigent customers' heat and keep it on through winter, then roll the unpaid bills into their next rate increase.

Michigan law forbids utility companies from shutting off heat between November 1 and March 30 to customers aged 65 and older. But others could face being disconnected if they can't pay their bills.

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.