Consumers Energy Announces $12M Relief Fund for Residential & Small Business Customers
It should go without saying that most Americans have grown at least a little weary of the disruption and uncertainty that’s come about due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last six months of restrictions, social distancing, and the on-again, off-again changes to the same in many localities have taken a mental and emotional toll on all of us.
Add to that the uncertainty around things like schools getting up and running this Fall and the ongoing economic woes some have endured, and most people would be happy to settle into highly-anticipated “New Normal”—if they had any idea what that was going to look like.
For some, it’s the ongoing economic uncertainty that plagues them, due to layoffs, cutbacks, and the attendant cash flow problems that came about when so many businesses had to shut down or modify operations and schedules. Right after housing concerns (rent and mortgages) and food come utilities—keeping the lights on and keeping the home liveable.
While many utilities and energy providers across the country enacted a temporary hiatus on late fees and shutoffs during the first weeks of the pandemic, many of these expired two months ago, leaving customers scrambling to make ends meet again. Naturally, for those whose employment situations still hang in the balance, this is even more worrisome, especially considering the cooler months ahead.
Responding to Real Community Needs
Last week, however, Consumers Energy, a Jackson, Michigan-based public utility, pledged $12 million in COVID-19 relief funds to support residential and small business customers who’ve fallen behind in paying their electric and gas bills. In a news conference last Tuesday, Patti Poppe, Consumers Energy’s president, and CEO announced the program, asserting that the $12 million is the largest relief package Consumers have ever pledged, and the first time they’ve included small businesses as well as residential customers.
“We stand with Michigan and are working around the clock to help our friends and neighbors through a time like no other,” Poppe said. “We can’t stop the pandemic, but we can help our customers weather the storm and provide a lifeline for small businesses and families to help them stay on their feet until this is over.”
No “Falling Through the Cracks”
According to Poppe, the company’s goal is “to help at least 25,000 households with up to $500 in bill credits for overdue residential energy bills and 1,000 small businesses with up to $5,000 in bill credits.” Poppe said that the funding will go directly to customers in need and to Michigan nonprofit organizations.
According to Brian Rich, Consumers’ chief customer officer, of the $12 million pledged, “$1 million will go to the nonprofit Heat and Warmth Fund program, $3 million to expand Consumers’ existing Care program and $8 million to other customers, including small businesses that had to shut down or that have unique needs.”
Consumers Energy currently has more than 40,000 customers who are overdue in their monthly bills. Since March, they’ve assisted at least 18,000 customers with late bills and its charitable foundation has provided more than $16 million to help Michigan residents.
Rich said that consumers who are uncertain regarding what types of aid are available in their area can call 2-1-1, a free service that connects people with nonprofit agencies in their communities. Consumers Energy customers who are struggling with payments can also call 800-477-5050.