Manager's Message: Helping Some Shouldn’t Be a Burden to the Rest
Helping the less fortunate among us is our responsibility, and our duty, as human beings.
Sadly, the Michigan Legislature tried to find a way to make it our responsibility as consumers of electricity, and in 2013 their hurried attempt at a law created a bigger mess than they were trying to fix.
After several years of discussion, the Legislature developed a funding plan to be paid by the state’s electric consumers rather than from everyone’s tax dollars. At the last moment, they added a provision to make it optional for utilities, like HomeWorks, to participate. The bill was signed into law July 1 and handed over to the Michigan Public Service Commission for implementation.
On July 11, we were notified of the MPSC’s plan, to put a surcharge of about a dollar on the monthly electric bill for each meter. We had until July 24 to decide to opt in or opt out.
Members of our staff were assured, several times by several different people, that our members would still receive low-income energy assistance this winter, whether we opted in or not. However, because we did not opt in, we are not allowed to disconnect any meter for non-payment during the winter months.
Your board of directors, at the July board meeting, looked at how much this surcharge would cost our members over a year. Considering the costs and benefits, and the fact that this was done in such a short time we had no chance to seek member input, the board chose not to participate this year, and re-evaluate for next year at an open member meeting.
Just before Christmas, the state decided that because we can’t remove the meter, our low-income members are not facing an emergency situation and therefore don’t qualify for assistance until after April 15, when funds may or may not still be available. This is a 180-degree change in the policy that we were given in July.
This means two things:
• those members will face months of worry over increasing past-due balances, and the possibility of funds not being available in the spring; and
• all of our other members will be responsible for the costs of bills that go unpaid, in the form of write-offs.
We don’t think this is fair, and we’re working with our statewide association to get some kind of policy change to make sure our members are not punished for the rushed start to this year’s assistance program.
Meanwhile, we are working with our low-income members to make the payments they can afford. And the Tri-County Electric People Fund has received a donation they will use this winter to help low-income members with their electric bills.
Our customer service representative will refer eligible members to the People Fund, as well as to the 2-1-1 service’s list of other area agencies that may be able to help.
There are no easy answers to helping our low-income neighbors, and we’re disappointed with the state’s response, starting with the Legislature’s rushed bill. We are working on solutions that will be fair to all of our members; we hope if you have suggestions, you’ll share them with us at or before the open member meeting April 28.