Across Michigan, several news organizations reported late last month that heating prices are expected to rise dramatically this winter–perhaps by as much as 25%. An Associated Press article that was reprinted in The Grand Rapids Press on the price increase was titled “Bundle up or pay up this winter – average heating prices to hit nearly $200 a month.” While the article gave some attention to utility shut-offs in Michigan, its rather flippant headline largely ignored the fact that for many in the state it isn’t necessarily a choice between paying a higher bill or putting on an extra sweatshirt, rising costs might simply mean no heat.
A recent review by the Associated Press found that utility shut-offs in Michigan are up 22% this year. To illustrate the problem, the article writes:
“…a social worker found a 90-year-old woman and her 63-year-old daughter wrapped in coats and blankets on the floor of their Kalamazoo-area home four days after their electricity was shut off. The older woman later died after suffering what a relative called exposure, frostbite and pneumonia.”
Utility shut-offs are a problem that have been building both nationally and in Michigan for years as heating prices rise and the economy declines. Electricity shut-offs in Michigan are up 39% (73,733) while natural gas shutoffs are up 7% (67,406).
However, government aid has been fairly minimal–even recent increases from the US Congress for heating assistance are just $5.1 billion–and nonprofit and charitable organizations are struggling to provide assistance. The Salvation Army in Monroe County has already been forced to institute a waiting list for assistance, with requests up 50% this year. Statewide, the charity has had to deny 6,000 people assistance with heating and electric bills because of a lack of funding. The Michigan Public Service Commission has launched a “BeWinterWise” website to aid customers facing shut-offs. It is also urging people to switch to Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) to lessen their electricity consumption.