Demand high for heating assistance

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Loralee Souter of Cutlerville was facing an issue many throughout West Michigan are also facing: A shutoff notice from DTE Energy.

“Everything costs money, money we ain’t got,” she said.

Souter owed DTE Energy $150, but wasn’t able to pay them before they shut off her heat.

“It was freezing in here,” she said. “It was freezing, we huddled up in my bedroom and put a little mattress on the floor and had the kids sleep on the mattress. We had the one little space heater.”

Souter and her family do what they can to keep costs down, like turning down the heat.

“As soon as we are all up in the morning, we turn it down,” she said. “We shut the doors in their bedrooms when they are at school. Try to keep all the heat in one little area.”

Souter came up with enough money eventually to get the heat back on, but there are programs to help others in similar situations.

Those needing assistance can get assistance by calling United Way’s 211 number.

“We’ve been extremely busy with all the snow and the bitter cold and the ice,” said Sherri Vainavicz, program manager for 211. “We have gone from one weather event to the next, and so our phones have been ringing pretty much non-stop.”

Vainavicz said demand has been high, especially for those looking for help to pay their utilities.

But getting relief doesn’t happen overnight.

“You currently don’t have to have a shut off notice, but you do have to be behind on the bill without a way to pay moving forward,” Vainavicz said.

When calls come into 211, operators help direct callers to the resources they need.

Right now, local agencies that help with heating costs are scheduling appointments one to two weeks out. And getting help through the state is should take about a week.

“The help is out there, it’s just gonna take a little longer than it normally does,” Vinavicz said. “You need to call early, not wait until the utility is going to be shut off or already has been shut off.”

Many are under the impression that utility companies can’t shut off the power or heat in the winter months; however, that’s not true.

People that meet specific requirements can apply for protection from the state, but they must be approved.




Michigan Protection Plan

Energy assistance tips

Home heating help tips

United Way’s 211

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