LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Lansing Board of Water and Light customers who do not pay their bills could find their electricity and heat shut off regardless of the season. The move is not sitting well for city leaders in Lansing.
BWL officials say they have made policy changes that will provide more state and federal assistance to eligible customers but that also means restarting winter heating season shut-offs. The move has Lansing city council member Ryan Kost along with member Patricia Spitzley concerned.
“There are neighborhoods where folks have to choose between medication and bring food on the table for their families or paying the electric bill or heat bill a little late,” said Kost.
With the policy change comes a new surcharge of .88 cents for all BWL customers. It started in September and feeds into the state’s low-income energy assistance fund. The aim is to help at-risk customers with their bills.
In a statement, a BWL spokesperson says the changes were to keep customers from finding themselves buried under months worth of unpaid bills amounting to hundreds of dollars.
“This is very difficult to catch up and many customers were unable to restore service. We created an internal workgroup to research and recommend policy, which was also approved by the Board of Commissioners,” they said in part.
While more state and federal funds will be available for energy assistance,
Rebecca Kasen with the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing says
that safety net might not work for everyone. She says victims of domestic violence with children have struggled to get help from the Department of Health and Human Services. Filling out required forms at times requires adding both the child’s parents which Kasen says is a worry for people leaving violent relationships.
“If they don’t notify DHHS of who the father is, it’s considered non-compliance and that creates another set of problems,” she said.
The utility company says if customers find themselves ineligible for federal or state aid, they recommend contacting other agencies or 211.
BWL officials say seniors 65 and older along with active military members and their families are protected from shut-offs during the winter.
They add the program’s effectiveness will be reviewed after the first year. The added recommendations will be brought up to the utility’s board of commissioners.