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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Recent changes to the state's emergency energy assistance program are forcing some Mid-Michigan families out of their homes and into the cold.
Usually, the Department of Human Services offers home energy assistance to families in need starting October 1, but this year, that date has been pushed back a month to November 1, and it's causing some families in the Lansing area to live life without a home.
"I am puzzled, I am angry, I am hurt because of choices and decisions that have been made by the Department of Human Services, by the governor's office or whomever, to delay a program that's been operational for a number of years," says Dr. Joan Jackson-Johnson, director of Human Relations and Community Services for the City of Lansing. "I don't understand why a system that's designed to provide support isn't there to provide that help.
Jackson-Johnson says last October, the state gave emergency energy assistance to more than 1,200 households, and that many of those homes are in need of help again this year. She says the problems grow worse when gas or electric is shut off and the city tags the homes. This forces families to leave, and many of them have no place to go.
"I want DHS to step up and do what they're capable of doing," says Jackson-Johnson. "I want them to honor the terms of Public Act 615 that says during the non-emergency time period that they can utilize 30 percent of those dollars now. They fail to do that."
A spokesperson for DHS says exceptions are made, but they must be for health and or safety reasons based on concerns from Children's Protective Services or Adult Protective Services. DHS says it advises against taking this route to get an exception unless absolutely necessary, because investigations often follow these exceptions.
The department also says once energy assistance starts back up on November 1, it will be able to help clients who have past due bills and shut-off notices.
Watch the video above to see the story of a Lansing family struggling to keep a roof over their heads after their inability to pay bills forces them from their home. If you would like to help, please contact Dr. Joan Jackson-Johnson with the Lansing Department of Human Relations and Community Services at 517-483-4477.
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