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Proos: Programs available to help vulnerable stay warm this winter

Published 2:19pm Friday, December 7, 2012

By Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph

Cold Michigan winters can be harsh and even deadly. So, I am reminding all struggling Southwest Michigan residents that several assistance programs are offered through the state, utility companies or charitable organizations to help with winter heating bills.

First, if you are unable to pay your bills, please contact the utility company and explain the situation before receiving a shutoff notice. Being proactive could save your life by ensuring the heat stays on.

The Winter Protection Plan safeguards seniors and low-income customers of regulated natural gas and electric companies from service shutoffs and high utility bills between Nov. 1 and March 31. The plan allows eligible seniors and low-income customers to avoid shutoffs while paying nothing or a small percentage of their annual bill during the protection period. To apply, contact your natural gas or utility company.

It is important to remember that this is a deferment plan; not a financial assistance program. It is meant to ease the burden of high utility bills in the winter. After the protection period, participants must pay off any winter balances owed between April and November.

Immediate help may be available if you are facing conditions of extreme hardship or emergency. The State Emergency Relief Program offers financial assistance for low-income residents who are normally able to make ends meet but may need help due to an unexpected emergency. For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/heatingassistance.

The site also includes details on the Michigan Home Heating Credit. The credit and many charity and community programs are available to help ensure that Southwest Michigan residents will not have to worry about how they are going to keep their families warm this winter.

For the 31st consecutive year, the Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo is coordinating its Diocesan Heating Assistance Program, funded by contributions. Families are eligible to receive heating assistance if they cannot receive aid from state or county agencies. Starting Jan. 2, volunteers will be available Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. to sign people up for the program. Contact Deacon Ed Feltes at: heatingassistance@dioceseofkalamazoo.org.

The Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency also offers emergency aid. Families in need of help with home heating or other programs may always contact my office for assistance toll-free at 1(866) 305-2121 or by email at senjproos@senate.michigan.gov.

Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, represents the 21st District, which includes Berrien and Cass counties and most of Van Buren County. 

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