Help for Paying for Heating Bills
Winter is here and along with it high heating bills. If your budget is tight and you’re worried about paying bills on time, call your utility company NOW to ask for assistance. There are programs that can help, especially if you plan ahead.
This article summarizes the programs available throughout Michigan. There might also be programs unique to your area – call your local Area Agency on Aging (www.mi-seniors.net) or Community Action Agency (www.mcaaa.org) for more information.
Budget Billing Plan
Upon request, utilities will bill a customer an equal amount each month, allowing the customer to pay an estimated average. For example, if your heating bills last year were $1200, you can ask to be billed $100 each month, instead of having low bills in the summer and high bills in the winter. Gas and electric companies offer this option to all customers, regardless of income – contact them directly to sign up.
Winter Protection Plan
This plan protects all seniors 65+ and low-income customers from service shutoffs between November 1st and March 31st. (Some utilities offer this protection to those 62+.) Between these dates, seniors are protected from shut-offs even if they make no monthly payments. (They are encouraged to pay something, however, to avoid higher bills when the protection period ends and they are required to pay.) Low-income customers are required to pay at least 7% of their estimated annual bills between November 1st and March 31st, along with a portion of any past-due amount. Low-income customers are defined as either 1) receiving cash assistance from the Department of Human Services; 2) receiving Food Stamps or Medicaid; or 3) having an annual household income at or below 150% of the poverty level (which in 2011 is $10,890 for one person and $14,710 for two – these amounts will go up slightly for 2012). Both seniors and low-income customers must pay back any money owed between April and October, and shut-offs are allowed during this period. All gas and electric companies offer the Winter Protection Plan; be sure to contact your utility company to let them know you qualify.
This program helps low-income customers of all ages reduce their heating costs by making apartments and homes more energy efficient. Households that are weatherized can save as much as 20-30%. The program provides home inspections, and can pay for a wide variety of repairs and services such as installing insulation, and repairing or replacing furnaces, heating ducts, thermostats, and water heaters. Services are delivered on a first-come, first-served basis until funding is depleted. To be eligible, you must have a household income at or below 200% of poverty (which in 2011 is $21,780 for one person and $29,420 for two – these amounts will go up slightly for 2012). You are also eligible if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or cash assistance from the Department of Human Services. Most weatherization providers are Community Action Agencies. To find the agency that serves your area, look in the phone book’s business section under Community Action Agency, or on the Internet, go to www.mcaaa.org.
Home Heating Tax Credit
Low-income customers, including seniors, can receive a state income tax credit for last year’s heating expenses. You can apply for a Home Heating Tax Credit even if you don’t pay income tax or file an income tax return; a separate form is used. Eligibility is based on household income, the number of people in the household and actual heating costs. Applications will be available in January from the Michigan Department of Treasury by calling (517) 636-4486. Forms are also available on the Internet at www.michigan.gov/taxes. Applications can be filed between January 1 and September 30.
State Emergency Relief
Run by the Department of Human Services (DHS), this program is available to low-income individuals year-round on a first-come, first-served basis until funding is depleted. It can help with a variety of emergency expenses, including utility bills and energy-related home repairs. Assistance is provided to those with an immediate crisis, for example, receiving a shut-off notice. The monthly income limit for energy assistance is $1,909 for a one-person household and $2,496 for a two-person household. (The limit goes up with each additional person in the household.) There may also be an asset test. Payments are made directly to the utility company or repair contractor. To apply, call the DHS office located in your county for an appointment. Current DHS clients can apply online at www.michigan.gov/heatingassistance.
Propane, Heating Oil, Coal or Wood
Low-income customers running out of heating fuels may be able to get help from their local Community Action Agency, if funding is available – www.mcaaa.org.
Some utilities have created their own programs to help with utility bills. For example, Consumers Energy, in partnership with the Salvation Army, operates the “People Care Plus” program for their service areas. Another program, known as THAW (The Heat and Warmth Fund) is available in 53 of Michigan’s 83 counties, including the Upper Peninsula. Help from THAW is provided to households already shut-off or completely out of fuel, as well as some in danger of being shut-off. Customers must have a household income at or below 200% of poverty (which in 2011 is $21,780 for one person and $29,420 for two) and are required to apply for all other assistance first. Payments are made directly to utility companies or vendors. Applications can be submitted at the Salvation Army and some other organizations. For more information, call THAW at (800) 866-8429 or visit their website at www.thawfund.org.
If you have a complaint about your gas or electric company and the company hasn’t resolved it to your satisfaction, call the Michigan Public Service Commission at 1-800-292-9555.
(This article taken from the November, 2011 issue of Aging Alert, a publication of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan. Click here for more information on this publication)
Snowflakes, Seniors and Scams
Around the winter months, like all of us, seniors may be more susceptible to scams that prey on persons needing to stay warm or to protect their health during frigid weather. However, during this time older adults can increase their knowledge about how to avoid being taken advantage of and ensure a safe and warm winter season.
Tips for seniors to avoid scams:
- Always ask for information in writing and read documents carefully before signing. When asked to sign a contract, consider taking the document home and read it without stress. If comfortable with the terms and conditions, return the next day with it signed.
- If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. During the winter months many places offer great bargains on items to keep warm and healthy. Unless it is a reputable, familiar business, stay away from deals that are “too good to pass up” and always read the fine print.
- Protect yourself and your medical and financial information. Do not disclose this information over the phone. This has long been a popular tool used by con artists to gain access to personal information. Financial and medical institutions do not ask for this information over the phone.
- Do your research before working with a new organization or individual. Many community resources exist to help seniors advocate for themselves. Contact your local Agency on Aging, the Better Business Bureau, legal assistance programs or family and friends you trust for more information on an organization. If something makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it.
For other ways to combat fraud and abuse, visit the Senior Advocacy in Action Alert and contact your state Representative about pending legislation.
Senior Advocacy in Action Alert
Your action is needed to help prevent elder abuse!
Five years ago, a Governor-appointed Task Force of aging experts released a set of recommendations on addressing the growing, and mostly hidden, problem of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. Since then, many bills have been introduced, but have died due to inaction by one or both houses. Similar bills have been introduced in 2011. We want legislators to get the job done this year to prevent abuse and get justice for victims.
The Senate passed a package of 18 bills in early November. Here are a few examples:
- Senate Bill 461 would prevent an abuser from inheriting his/her victim’s assets.
- Senate Bill 454 would allow vulnerable adults to provide videotaped testimony similar to laws protecting children from having to face their abusers.
- Senate Bill 466 would require law enforcement to publicize a missing elder similar to the Amber Alerts used for missing children
Fourteen (14) of these bills are now in the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee, chaired by Rep. Ken Kurtz, and the other four bills are in the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Marty Knollenberg. The bills have to be reported out of these committees, and then be approved by the entire House before they can go to Governor Snyder for his signature. Advocates are pushing for the bills to become law by Christmas as a present for older Michiganians.
Whate You Can Do:
Contact the Chairmen of these two committees along with the Speaker of the House and ask that the bills be reported out of these committees as soon as possible! Also contact your own Representative and ask him/her to advocate with Kurtz, Knollenberg and Bolger.
- Representative Ken Kurtz (866) 362-8812 email@example.com
- Representative Marty Knollenberg (877) 248-0001 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Speaker Jase Bolger (877) 265-4371 email@example.com
Here are some talking points:
- About 80,000 Michigan elders fall victim to some form of abuse each year.
- Last year, Adult Protective Services received 19,000 calls reporting abuse, up from 12,000 calls in 2000.
- 70% of abusers are ‘trusted ones,’ including spouses, children, grandchildren and friends. Victims come from all walks of life and income classes, as witnessed by Mickey Rooney’s testimony before the Congress.
- Michigan’s high rate of unemployment is fueling the financial exploitation of the elderly.
Senior Odyssey of the Mind teams are now forming and they need you! Click here for more details on how to get involved and join in the fun!
Author to Speak to Caregivers
“Caregivers: Who’s Caring For You” will be entertaining as Michigan author, Lynn Alexander, teaches caregivers how to take care of yourself, reduce stress and find strategies to get you through, even if you are in the “Sandwich Generation.”
The event will take place on Thursday, November 10, 2011 at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Ryerson Auditorium, Level 3 (111 Library Street) from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Registration is encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org (616) 456-5664
Click here for more information.
This event is sponsored by the Caregiver Resource Network, Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan and the Grand Rapids Public Library.
Seeking Letters of Intent
The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) is seeking Letters of Intent to provide Long Term Care Ombudsman and Elder Abuse Prevention Education services funded under the Older Americans Act in Region 8.
Region 8 includes the nine counties of Allegan, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo and Osceola. This Letter of Intent is for one year, Fiscal Year 2012. The funding awarded will be for October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012.
Click here for service definitions.
Funding levels available are:
- Long Term Care Ombudsman $80.902
- Elder Abuse Prevention Education $14,027
The Letter of Intent is Due Friday September 23, 2011 at 12:00 p.m. noon to the Area Agency on Aging of Western MI, 1279 Cedar NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 or to email@example.com. Click here for the Letter of Intent.
Letters of Intent will be reviewed and appropriate agencies will be selected to continue in the proposal process.
Questions can be directed to Jackie O’Connor, AAAWM Assistant Director at 616.222.7002 or Jackie@aaawm.org.
Learn Safe Medical Transfers
Many caregivers also help their loved ones get out of the bathtub, get into chairs or walk throughout the home. On Thursday September 22, 2011, Easter Seals will teach the proper techniques to make medical transfers a safer and easier process. The training will take place from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Easter Seals (4065 Saladin Drive SE, Grand Rapids), lunch will be provided.
Registration is required and complimentary respite is available upon request. To qualify for this training, either the caregiver or the care recipient must be age 60 or older.
Email your name and the class title (Safe Medical Transfers) to firstname.lastname@example.org call the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan at (616 ) 456-5664. Registration is not complete until you receive confirmation.
Hunger Action Week
Hunger Action Week, September 13-17 is part of a national campaign led by Feeding America to raise awareness and encourage action against hunger. AAAWM and the Senior Meals Program is encouraging individuals to check on senior neighbors, family and friends to make sure they have access to proper nutrition. For more information, including other events taking place during Hunger Action Week, and other ways to get involved, visit HunGRy? Local participants include: Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, Kids' Food Basket, YMCA Farmers Market, United Church Outreach Ministries (UCOM), Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, Senior Meals Program, Access of West Michigan and the Food & Nutrition Coalition (formerly the Kent County ENTF Food Subcommittee)
Senior Advocacy in Action Alert
Older Americans have a lot at stake as Congress launches its twelve member committee charged with developing a plan to reduce the federal deficit.
Michigan is the only state with two members on the special committee – Congressman Dave Camp (R-Midland), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, and Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) who chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee. This means that advocates in our state can have a bigger impact on the recommendations coming out of the committee.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Contact your U.S. Representative, along with Senators Stabenow and Levin, and urge that a balanced approach be used to reduce the federal deficit, meaning an approach that includes new revenues. Two bipartisan committees that have studied this issue both concluded that cuts alone cannot balance the federal budget without devastating programs that aid seniors, children, veterans or other vulnerable people - revenue increases must be part of the solution.
Congress’ website at www.congress.orgwill help in identifying your U.S. Representative and allow you to send messages directly to him/her, as well as Senators Stabenow and Levin. Or use the list below for contact information - messages can be sent through the websites.
U.S. Representatives from Michigan (Washington D.C. area code is 202):
- Justin Amash 225-3831 www.amash.house.gov
- Dan Benishek 225-4735 www.benishek.house.gov
- Dave Camp 225-3561 www.camp.house.gov
- Hansen Clarke 225-2261 www.hansenclarke.house.gov
- John Conyers 225-5126 www.conyers.house.gov
- John Dingell 225-4071 www.dingell.house.gov
- Bill Huizenga 225-4401 www.huizenga.house.gov
- Dale Kildee 225-3611 www.kildee.house.gov
- Sander Levin 225-4961 www.house.gov/levin
- Thaddeus McCotter 225-8171 www.mccotter.house.gov
- Candice Miller 225-2106 www.candicemiller.house.gov
- Gary Peters 225-5802 www.peters.house.gov
- Mike Rogers 225-4872 www.mikerogers.house.gov
- Fred Upton 225-3761 www.upton.house.gov
- Tim Walberg 225-6276 www.walberg.house.gov
U.S. Senators from Michigan:
Older Americans have a lot at stake as Congress launches its twelve member committee charged with developing a plan to reduce the federal deficit. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act and other federal programs are a social safety net for the growing population of older Americans. They are frequently identified as ‘bankrupting’ the federal budget and being unsustainable in the long-term. However, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (www.cbpp.org), tax cuts are the primary reason the federal budget is now out-of-balance.
The committee is charged with developing a plan by November 23, 2011 to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 - $1.5 trillion. Everything is on the table for the committee to consider: tax increases; closing tax loopholes; cuts in entitlement programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; and cuts in discretionary programs like the Older Americans Act. More than half of the committee must approve the plan for it to proceed to the U.S. House and Senate for votes. The plan must be voted up-or-down with no amendments. Congress has until December 23, 2011 to approve the plan.
If the committee can’t agree on a plan, or the plan isn’t approved by Congress, automatic cuts will take place in 2013. Half of the cuts would come from defense & homeland security programs and the other half from discretionary programs. The cuts would not affect Social Security, Medicaid or a few other low-income programs. They would not cut Medicare benefits either, but they would cut payments to Medicare providers by up to 2%. This could affect access to physicians and other providers for people on Medicare. If the committee passes a plan that falls below the minimum $1.2 trillion, automatic cuts would be made to bring total savings to the $1.2 trillion level.
- The deficit should be addressed through shared sacrifice by those able to contribute. The budget should not be balanced on the backs of frail and low-income older Americans who are least able to afford cuts.
- The committee should follow the lead of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Debt Commission, which embraced the principle of protecting the truly disadvantaged, providing a robust, affordable, fair and sustainable safety net.1
- Any changes to Social Security or Medicare should not hurt the disadvantaged. Even with these programs, over one-third (37%) of older Michiganians do not have enough income to cover the basics like housing, food and health care.2
- The Committee should reject proposals that undermine or weaken the current structure of Medicaid, which provides health care for low income individuals and families. Medicaid is the primary funding source for long term care including nursing homes and home and community-based services. Proposals to block grant Medicaid or freeze Medicaid spending should be rejected. There are other cost-saving approaches that should be pursued, however, such as reducing institutionalization by expanding home and community-based services. Baby Boomers are a demographic tidal wave, and will place significant financial demands on Medicaid if changes aren’t made in the way we provide long term care.
- The Committee should reject proposals to cut the Older Americans Act. Investments in meals-on-wheels, home care, caregiver supports and other services will help our aging population live independently in their own homes, stay out of nursing homes and off the Medicaid program.
1 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. (December, 2010). The Moment of Truth: Report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Retrieved August 15, 2011 from National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform web site: www.FiscalCommission.gov.
2Jankowski, T.B. et. al. (July 20, 2011). Invisible Poverty: New Measure Unveils Financial Hardship in Michigan’s Older Adult Population (Working Paper Series, No. 3). Retrieved August 15, 2011 from Seniors Count web site: http://www.seniorscount.org.
Information provided by the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan
Technology Help for Caregivers
The next summer caregiver class will help individuals with their specific technology questions. Teenagers in the WSC Reverse Mentoring program will work one-on-one with caregivers to help with technology concerns. Class will be held Thursday August 25, 2011 from 10:00 until 11:30 at the Wyoming Senior Center (WSC), 2380 DeHoop Ave SW, Wyoming, MI 49509.
Registration is required. Email your name and title of class to email@example.com or call the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan at (616) 456-5664.
Either the caregiver or the care recipient must be age 60 or older. Complimentary Respite is available upon request.