Utilities Touting Assistance Programs

January 8, 2016—With most of the country experiencing winter-type weather, many utilities are reminding low-income customers that they have assistance programs available.

Consumers Energy of Michigan recently announced that its Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy (CARE) program has nearly 1,000 spots available for low-income customers who may be struggling to pay their energy bill. The program provides qualified households, those with incomes at or below 150% of Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG), with monthly credits toward energy charges, as well as efficiency opportunities through their weatherization program.

During the winter months, November through March, CARE customers receive 50% off their utility bill. During all other months, they receive 30% off. If program participants make full payments in a timely manner, they can also benefit from a reduction of their outstanding balances. However, if they fail to make full on-time payments, they may be dropped from the program. CARE is administered through United Way of Jackson County and received $5 million from the state last February during the Keep Michigan Warm Month.

In Washington State, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has also announced that funds are available to assist its low-income customers in paying their energy bills. These funds are divided among several programs. Qualifications for the programs are based on LIHEAP eligibility in the state. PSE's Warm Home Fund, administered by the Salvation Army, provides utility bill assistance and is comprised of voluntary contributions from PSE, its customers, and its employees.

PSE also works with local community action agencies to administer its Home Energy Lifeline Program (HELP), which assists customers with additional bill-payment benefits beyond what LIHEAP provides. In addition, PSE also provides additional funding for the state's weatherization assistance program, which provides free upgrades to homes. These upgrades include putting in new insulation, sealing air leaks, and replacing lighting and refrigerators.

Duke Energy recently announced that the Public Service Commission of South Carolina has approved its proposed rate increase to help recover the costs of implementing its energy efficiency and demand side management programs, including assistance for low-income households. Starting at the beginning of this year, customers who use 1,000 kWh per month will see an increase of $3.57 on their energy bills. These EE/DSM rates have increased, according to Duke Energy, because of "the reduction in the recovery period for programs costs and the inclusion of additional costs and incentives related to the implementation of new programs."

Duke Energy also announced that its Share the Warmth project in the Carolinas raised $1.284 million in bill assistance funds last year through donations from the company's employees and customers. Duke Energy annually matches these donations up to $500,000. All bill assistance funds are administered through local chapters of the Salvation Army, community action agencies, and church and civic groups in the area.

Sources: Press releases, Consumers Energy of Michigan, Puget Sound Energy, Duke Energy