Even though we’ve had pretty good weather for a Michigan winter so far, the pandemic has made it a very difficult winter for many, especially those who have lost income but still have to heat the house.   A multi-million-dollar commitment by Consumers Energy to help customers struggling to pay their utility bills will strengthen the slate of assistance programs available to energy users across Michigan.

United Way of Jackson County (UWJC) operates a Program Assistance Center, connecting customers in need regardless of where they reside in Michigan.  They work with Consumers Energy, DTE, SEMCO, and other utility providers as part of the statewide Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP).

“During the winter months, making sure Michigan families can keep the lights and heat on is more important than ever,” said Heather Kapustka, Program Administrator for UWJC’s Program Assistance Center. “We work hard to connect people with past-due energy bills to assistance programs that can help.”

The Jackson United Way is among the agencies partnering with Consumers Energy to help connect customers in need to the Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy (CARE) Plus assistance program. The program, which totals $12 million statewide, has a goal of serving 25,000 households and 1,000 small businesses. CARE Plus is a 12-month affordable payment plan that helps income-qualified customers stay on top of their energy bills. As a CARE member, participants have a portion of their monthly bill paid by the program, and any past-due balance is gradually forgiven as a reward for on-time payments. CARE Plus members may also be eligible for Consumers Energy’s Helping Neighbors program, which provides no-cost, in-home energy efficiency upgrades to help reduce energy costs.

For customers not served by Consumers Energy, United Way’s Program Assistance Center can connect them to programs through other utility providers and the statewide MEAP, which is funded through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The Program Assistance Center guides callers through the eligibility and application process. Callers also have the chance to learn about resources to address other needs, such as how to manage household finances.

“This partnership allows us to help those residents catch up on bills plus provide them with other resources which may also help them work towards self-sufficiency,” Kapustka said.

Assistance programs operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Kapustka urged anyone who is behind on their bills to contact the Program Assistance Center.

To apply online, go to www.helpwithutilities.com. For help with the process, or to receive an application by mail, call (517) 741-0202 or email PAC@uwjackson.org.

Also, Barry County United Way is providing utility assistance via a grant from MEAP.  They’ve put together a team of enrollment specialists that can give callers personal, step-by-step help in the application process. For information, click here. 

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