By Julia Miller, Legal Intern
Michigan is well known for its cold, snowy winters, so it is no surprise that energy and heating bills can skyrocket during this time. For low income households these high costs can put them in danger of having their utilities shut off.
In Michigan, not having heat during the winter months is incredibly unsafe, which is why the State of Michigan, through providers like Consumer’s Energy, has set up what is called the Winter Protection Plan (WPP). This plan protects seniors and low income customers from having their utilities cut off between November 1 and March 31. After March 31, customers will have to work out a payment agreement with their providers. It is important to note that this plan is not a total relief program, customers are still responsible for their utility costs. Qualified customers are given time to pay their utility bills and are protected from losing their utilities during Michigan’s coldest months. If customers are unable to pay off their balance before the start of the next protected period, they will be unable to go back on the plan unless they are 65 years of age or older.
This plan is different than the Shutoff Protection Plan. The Shutoff Protection Plan is a year-round protection from shutoff for seniors and specific other qualifying customers. In this plan, after an initial down payment, annual energy costs are broken into equal monthly payments.
There are a few ways in which a person can qualify for the Winter Protection Plan. Anyone 65 years of age or older can qualify. People who qualify for certain government assistance programs can also qualify. Such government assistance programs include Michigan Department of Human Services cash assistance, Food Stamps, or Medicaid. Low-income households, with an income not greater than 150% of the federal poverty level, are also eligible for the WPP. Customers who qualify as low-income must pay at least 7% of their estimated annual bill each month as well as half of any past due bills. Seniors, however, are not required to make specific payments, but they are encouraged to pay whatever they can during the winter to avoid large unmanageable bills at the end of the protected period.
If you would like to apply to the Winter Protection Plan, contact your natural gas or electric utility company or alternative gas supplier.