Guest Blog: Carrie Schneider, Consumers Energy Community Programs Manager, Urges Michiganders to Participate in Walks for Warmth
Anne Frank once said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” The history of Community Action Agencies is embedded in this philosophy and the humanitarian principles that say we all have a responsibility for helping people overcome the obstacles that would prevent them from sharing in the benefits of living in the United States of America.
In 1964, the U.S. Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA). This Act was meant to guarantee equal opportunity for everyone and for all practical purposes; this Act commenced the “War on Poverty”. More than 1,000 community-based organizations called Community Action Agencies (CAAs) were created across the country to:
- Coordinate federal funds and other resources
- Engage citizens to educate and train impoverished residents
- Help residents achieve economic stability and prosperity
The 29 Community Action Agencies that serve 83 Michigan counties have been successful at what they were originally charged to do. They have:
- Brought diverse resources and talents together
- Leveraged public and private supporters like Consumers Energy
- Enlisted volunteers
- Involved clients and non-service users alike in problem solving initiatives
The Bitter Truth in Michigan
One of the many challenges that CAA offices confront is the face of poverty in this country, and likewise Michigan, has changed quite a bit from the “Appalachian poor” to the “working poor”. And the face of poverty in each community is unique, which compounds the issue. Today:
- Nearly one out of every three families in the United States is considered to be “low income”
- Almost half of U.S. households live one crisis away from the breadline
- Of the 17 percent of Michigan residents who experience poverty in Michigan, over 23 percent of them are children.
I had an opportunity last year to spend some time at the Jackson CAA office. While I didn’t know what to expect, it didn’t take me long to realize that my understanding of those in need was skewed. The line was clear out the door and nearly every person standing in line had at least one child with him or her.
This was not an atypical day for the staff. The hours ticked by but the line remained steadfast. I witnessed middle class families having to ask for help for the first time. The fear and embarrassment that they relayed brought me to tears. One could never imagine having to literally scrape change together, walk many blocks to a bus stop (children in tow), wait for hours in line at the CAA office, only to be told that their services for the day have concluded before you ever get to the front of the line. And, sadly they had to get back on a bus with the realization that they had to do it all over again the next day. The despair these households face day in and day out is heart wrenching, but their courage and fortitude is inspiring.
Make a Difference with Consumers Energy
What the CAA staff members do on a daily basis is nothing short of heroic. It is through similar compassion and the guilt of having to turn people away due to lack of funds that an annual fundraiser was born. The CAAs developed the Walk for Warmth more than 25 years ago. It was organized to promote public awareness concerning low-income individuals and families experiencing home heat-related utility emergencies.
This is Consumers Energy’s fourth year participating in Walks for Warmth. Our employees will be supporting 34 Walks covering 35 counties. Last year, we collectively raised over $300,000 to support the cause.
The need for help this year is just as high as it was last year, even without the polar vortex. The needs of Michigan residents have become far greater than service agencies and churches can handle without additional financial resources such as the Walks for Warmth.
At Consumers Energy we continue to work towards leaving it better than we found it and caring for the Michigan communities we serve. I can’t think of a more impactful, or gratifying way than to move our feet to give others heat. I hope that you and your family and friends will decide to participate in at least one of the Walks throughout the state. I promise that you will instantly understand the “why” we do the Walks and you will leave feeling blessed for what you have.
I am thankful to work for a company that believes the same as Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
Carrie Schneider is the Community Programs Manager at Consumers Energy in Jackson, Mich. She has worked for Consumers Energy for almost 18 years. She volunteers for many organizations in her community including Women’s Leadership Council, Junior Achievement, United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is a graduate of Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology. Both she and her husband Steve are proud Jacksonians and are raising their three children (ages 17, 14 and 11) there. Carrie is passionate about servant leadership and is grateful to work for a company that supports her volunteerism.
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When life happens, it’s good to have an action plan. September is National Preparedness Month, a time to reflect on the “what ifs” and anything that may come your way in the future. Consumers Energy supports many assistance programs and resources to help Michigan residents during times of need.
Expect the Unexpected
National Preparedness Month is the perfect opportunity to prepare your family for the unexpected. Check out a few resources below to get started:
This free, confidential service is available 24/7 to 8.1 million Michigan residents. The service connects you with local organizations that offer a variety of different sources of help for food, housing, employment, healthcare, counseling, transportation and more.
How It Works: Call 2-1-1 to automatically reach a professional, certified specialist to answer your questions.
The Ready Campaign is used to educate and empower Americans to prepare for natural or man-made emergencies. Supported by FEMA, it specifically focuses on preparedness for homes, communities and businesses and encourages the importance of having a communications plan:
Consumers Energy employees researched the top safety apps to download on Android and Apple devices. Keep your family prepared with:
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Fall is almost upon us. As the leaves start to change, the crisp temperatures will soon follow. Before we know it, our winter clothes will need to come out and so will our heavy blankets. During this time of year, it is especially important to Consumers Energy to take care of senior citizens.
Top 10 Ways to Protect Senior Citizens During Cold Months
We have many payment assistance options and services to prepare seniors for unexpected weather conditions or life changes. If you’re 65 or older and the head of the household, you may qualify for:
This service provides protection from shut-off for seniors during the harshest months, Nov. 1-March 31. The plan requires
- Initial down payment of 10 percent of your total bill
- Participation in a Budget Plan that spreads out your annual energy costs into equal payments plus equal monthly payments on your past-due balance
- TO ENROLL: (800) 477-5050
Third Party Notification
With your written authorization, Consumers Energy can send a copy of any shut-off notice you receive to a third party like a consenting friend, relative or agency. While the third party contact is not responsible for paying your bill, they may act as a liaison between you and Consumers Energy.
Winter Protection Plan (WPP)
Participation in this plan prevents service shut-off and high payments during the winter (Nov. 1 to March 31). The plan requires:
- An initial down payment of 1/12 of any past due bills
- From November through March, you’ll pay 7 percent of your estimated annual bill plus a portion of any past-due amount
- When WPP ends March 31, you must pay your full monthly bill, plus part of the amount you owe from the winter months when you did not pay in full
- At the end of the WPP period, you must make arrangements to pay any money owed before the start of the next protection period
- Enrollment begins Nov. 1. TO ENROLL: (800) 477-5050
This program involves charitable giving to The Salvation Army from Consumers Energy customers, employees and retirees. The donations help people and families with emergency needs like food, clothing, transportation, shelter, home heating and medicine.
If you need more time to pay your bill, visit eServices to make Payment Arrangements or call (800) 477-5050.
External sources of assistance for senior citizens in Michigan:
This is a free phone service available to 99 percent of Michigan. The service links people with information or agencies that helps with utility assistance and other needs. Visit uwmich.org/2-1-1 for more information.
The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW)
This service provides emergency help to low-income families and individuals in Michigan who are in danger of losing heat or electricity during winter. Learn more about THAW at (800) 866-THAW (8429).
Home Heating Credit (HHC)
To apply for a Home Heating Credit, you must meet the income guidelines and own or rent the home where you live (excludes rented apartments and mobile homes). Forms are available wherever other tax forms are provided. The annual deadline to apply is Sept. 30.
Elder Law of Michigan
Senior Citizens and people with disabilities can get help paying for the cost of important basic needs like food, medicine, healthcare, utilities, housing and taxes. For more information, call (800) 347-5297 or visit www.elderlawofmi.org/benefits.
Other Energy Assistance Programs
Learn more about heating assistance programs provided by the state of Michigan for income-qualified households.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( Comments Off )
Consumers Energy Working with Fifth Third Bank to Offer Free Energy, Financial Assistance in Michigan
Did you know your Consumers Energy bill features a 13-month energy use graph with the energy use and cost per day?
We’re working with Fifth Third Bank and other community organizations this week in Jackson, Lansing and Kalamazoo to host community resource fairs that bring financial and energy services directly into low to moderate income communities.
If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and see one of our representatives. Consumers Energy offers many rebates and special programs to help customers save energy and save money with energy efficiency. Learn more at www.ConsumersEnergy.com/myhome. We also offer several bill payment assistance programs at www.ConsumersEnergy.com/assistance.
The community events feature Fifth Third Bank’s Empowerment eBus, a 40-foot mobile meeting place, and will include:
- Housing, rental and utility information
- Foreclosure prevention
- Employment and career resources
- Credit reviews (without credit score)
- Much more
When and Where
- Jackson: Event held June 17 evening.
- Lansing: June 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the CATA Transportation Center, 420 S. Grand Avenue in Lansing
- Kalamazoo: June 20 from 11 a.m. 3 p.m. at Park Street Market, 512 N. Park Street and Saturday, June 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Town & Country Center, 1824 Portage Street
Consumers Energy’s Budget Plan Allows Michigan Residents to Manage Bills Predictably During All Seasons
As spring transitions to summer in Michigan, we’re encouraging residents and businesses to manage their energy bills for all seasons by enrolling in the monthly Budget Plan.
- The Budget Plan works by evening out bill payments over time. Instead of paying more when energy use is highest – such as during the recent extremely cold winter – residents or businesses pay a set monthly amount
- More than 300,000 Consumers Energy homes and businesses are enrolled in the Budget Plan today
- Enrollment is free and the plan fits any lifestyle
June is the ideal time for customers who use natural gas to enroll because it is the first month of the Budget Plan year. Electric-only customers will benefit most by signing up in October. Enroll today by visiting www.ConsumersEnergy.com/budgetplan or calling (800) 477-5050. Budget Plan FAQs
Residents and business owners also can streamline their bill paying by coordinating the Budget Plan with Consumers Energy’s Direct Pay or online debit and credit card payment options. Customers who choose the Direct Pay service can receive their energy bill electronically via e-mail or receive a paper bill. Learn more at www.ConsumersEnergy.com/waystopay.
We’re working hard to keep the price of natural gas and electricity low for the Michigan residents we serve. We offer many ways to pay and will work with anyone who needs assistance to pay their bill.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( Comments Off )
As we all look forward to warmer weather and getting outdoors, we remind you to dig safely and watch out for overhead wires. Look up and look out for wires, and always call 811 before starting any digging project to mark underground pipes and wires.
Now that we are thinking safety first, here’s a quick look back in our winter wrap-up.
- One of the coldest winters in a generation caused Michigan homeowners to use 20 percent more natural gas this winter compared to a year ago.
— However, the typical Consumers Energy residential customer paid just 10 percent more for natural gas
— Consumers Energy prices were down 8 percent from last winter
- We created the Severe Weather Assistance Team to help Michigan residents concerned about bills
— The team made 120,000 calls to customers in less than six weeks
— Made payment arrangements with customers, enrolled them in our Budget Plan and provided energy savings tips VIDEO: Ways to Save
“I was blown away at the response from customers!” said Randi Richards, one of our severe weather team members. “People were setting up payment arrangements, and they were telling me what was going on in their lives, how hard this winter has been, and what worked for their budget. They shared how touched they were that we were reaching out to them.”
- The majority of meters are being read. VIDEO: Meter Reading
— However, the extreme weather has created challenges in physically reaching every one of our 1.8 million natural gas meters
— We have increased the number of meter readers we have on the job. They are working extended hours, including weekends
Resources for Michigan Residents
- Concerned about your bill? Call (800) 477-5050
- Call 2-1-1 and ask about assistance programs
- Learn more about how to save at ConsumersEnergy.com/energyanswers
- Enroll in Consumers Energy’s Budget Plan, which levels out payments
Our Work Continues
- We are preparing for next winter. We will replenish our Michigan underground natural gas storage system, the nation’s fourth-largest
- Warm weather brings outdoor work – tree trimming and strengthening our gas and electric systems. We’ll be spending $60 million this year, for example, just to upgrade underground gas mains
Working to deliver the energy you need, whenever you need it. That’s our Promise to Michigan.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( Comments Off )
As we forge through the coldest winter in a generation, we’re helping Michigan residents stay warm and working with statewide nonprofits to develop tools that should let many manage their energy bills more effectively in the future.
As part of our ongoing support to help Michigan Beat the Freeze, we provided $3 million in recent grants to three statewide nonprofit organizations.
- TrueNorth Community Services, The Salvation Army (Eastern Michigan Division and Western Michigan and Northern Indiana Division), and The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) will distribute $2 million in immediate energy assistance that helps income-qualified customers stay up to date with their energy bills.
- Another $1 million will allow THAW to expand its social innovation initiatives, including building upon the Clear Control pilot program currently operating in Flint that helps income-qualified residents reduce their energy usage and better manage energy expenses.
Participants in the Clear Control program receive daily texts that detail their household energy usage costs, make smaller, more frequent payments and receive immediate financial assistance in certain circumstances. Customers remain in the program as long as they stay current on their account.
THAW’s Clear Control pilot program began in October, and there have been noticeable results with the first group of participants. Most have paid bills on time, and participants have used less energy. Lessons learned from Clear Control will be incorporated into the company’s overall energy assistance program design and development, including communities beyond Flint later this year.
“Our partnership with Consumers Energy looks to create sustainable solutions for Michigan’s low income energy consumers,” said Susan Sherer, chief executive officer of THAW. “Our unique corporate-nonprofit collaborative will help foster self-sufficiency among vulnerable households statewide.”
THE HEAT AND WARMTH FUND (THAW) is an independent nonprofit (501(c)(3) agency that provides emergency energy assistance to Michigan residents in need and advocates for long-term energy solutions. THAW was established in 1985 to improve the quality of life in Michigan and prevent human suffering by helping low-income individuals facing an energy crisis.
THE SALVATION ARMY has supported those in need for more than 130 years in the United States. For 31 years, Consumers Energy has partnered with The Salvation Army to meet emergency needs through the PeopleCare program.
TRUENORTH COMMUNITY SERVICES provides client-centered services to 61 Michigan counties by addressing rural poverty, building vibrant communities, and ensuring youth thrive. TrueNorth partners with Consumers Energy to provide vital energy assistance to rural Michigan residents.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( Comments Off )
The Home Heating Credit can be used for all types of primary heating fuel, including natural gas, propane and purchased firewood. Renters may also qualify for the credit.
Even if households do not make enough money to file income taxes, they can still apply for a Home Heating Credit. Applicants are encouraged to file early for this credit to obtain refunds sooner, though the filing deadline is Sept. 30, 2014.
Tax season is an ideal time to file the Home Heating Credit since free preparation assistance is available throughout much of the state. We want to make sure our customers know of these additional ways to receive help with heating bills, and encourage them to find the nearest free tax site by dialing 2-1-1, a free service spearheaded by the United Way.
- Home Heating Credit forms (MI-1040CR-7) are available at most public libraries, Secretary of State branch offices, Department of Human Services branch offices. Consumers Energy customers can call us at (800) 477-5050 to get last year’s total heat cost, which is required to complete the form. This information can also be found on December, January, and February Consumers Energy billing statements.
- The federal Earned Income Credit is another refundable federal income tax credit available to qualifying low-income taxpayers. It must be filed during tax season. For income guidelines, contact your employer, call the Internal Revenue Service at (800) 829-3676, or visit www.irs.gov.
In addition, we have launched the Severe Weather Assistance Team to help customers pay higher winter bills, and we’re sharing 100 ways to help save energy and Beat the Freeze.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( Comments Off )
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