United Way shows Kent County the money

A file image of the 2-1-1 office at the United Way office in Grand Rapids.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOOD) — If you worked for United Way or helped with utility assistance in 2014, your phone was ringing off the hook.

Kent County residents made over 67,000 phone calls to the United Way’s 2-1-1 health and human services hotline line this past year, a 17 percent increase from the 2013 total.

Call Volume Stats from The Heart of West Michigan United Way
Call Volume Stats from The Heart of West Michigan United Way

The hotline connects callers with services to help them meet their food, shelter and utility needs, whether in a situation of crisis or simply a scenario where they do not have the financial means to pay for these essentials. However, many assistance programs have been restructured at the state level.

The changes have made it very complicated.

For these reasons the calls have increased in 2014, and that’s why there will be an event this Saturday to help callers get a grasp of the new aspects of the program.

This Saturday, the “Show me the Money” event will give residents the chance to talk directly with the utility companies. It is scheduled for Saturday, January 31 at 11 a.m. at Alger Middle School.

Top Unmet Needs from The Heart of West Michigan United Way
Top Unmet Needs from The Heart of West Michigan United Way

Utility assistance was a bigger part of the 2-1-1 hotline than ever before. Over 13,000 of the 2014 calls were requests for help with utilities, more than double the utility-related calls in 2013.

Electric and heating services were the top two “unmet needs” homeowners called about, and electric service also ranked as the top “critical need” cited. Nearly 9,000 calls to United Way were about a “critical need” for electric service payment assistance.

A variety of factors contributed to the increased number of calls. Winter conditions are still harsh during January and February, and they started up again in November. The large tornado in June also resulted in a large number of referrals to housing and repair services.

Because of the restructuring of state utility programs, they will now provide crisis aid for utilities only during the “crisis season” from November to May.

Homeowners can find out firsthand at the “Show Me the Money” event what their options look like under the new program not just during the crisis season, but the entire year.

This Saturday’s Event:

“Show me the Money”
Saturday, January 31
11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Alger Middle School
921 Alger St. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49507

They can also learn about the new payment programs available through DTE and Consumer’s Energy, as well as participating in raffles and winning prizes.

The hotline refers most often to agencies like the Salvation Army Housing Assessment Program and the Michigan Department of Human Services.

You can visit United Way’s website and find more information about the health and human services hotline here.


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