LANSING – State Representative Andy Schor (D-Lansing) introduced House Bill 5803 today, which would prohibit the Department of Human Services from enforcing a recent change that would require money from the low-income energy assistance fund to be spent only during a ‘crisis season,’ designated as Nov. 1 through May 31. The legislation would amend Public Act 615 of 2012.

“Right now, Lansing residents are being denied low-income energy assistance and are told to reapply in November. This is outrageous,” Schor said. “When an individual is turned away from assistance they desperately need, they are forced to scramble to make ends meet, sometimes choosing between paying their bills and feeding their family. We have dollars reserved in the budget for this, and my legislation ensures that these resources are available through DHS to help Michigan residents that need it.”

Darla Jackson, human services specialist in Meridian Township, has seen triple the number of households needing utility assistance.

“I have received over 200 requests for utility assistance since May 1. Throughout the summer, both public and private funding have dried up, leaving households in financial crisis, facing further hardship,” Jackson said. “Although DHS has deemed summer a ‘non-emergency season,’ it is certainly an emergency for these households, which include a senior who requires an oxygen machine and a mother who just gave birth to twins. In some circumstances, such as when a client has Section 8 housing, having no utility service is cause for eviction, so those families could end up homeless.”

Joan Jackson Johnson, director of the city of Lansing’s Human Relations and Community Services Department, echoed the need for this legislation.

“It is a well-known fact that people who cannot pay their utilities are more likely to become homeless,” Johnson said. “That’s why it is imperative that PA 615 of 2012 be amended to restore year-round operation along with previous appropriations levels to enable thousands of Michigan citizens to keep their heat, water and lights on throughout the year. To do otherwise is imposing a ‘third-world’ habitation level on seniors, people with disabilities and children of low-income families who must live without their utilities, under the radar of ‘Code Enforcement.’”

Johnson continues, “Renters who cannot pay their utilities are evicted from their homes, adding to the homelessness numbers and overcrowding homeless shelters. Despite the economic recovery, a 5 percent increase was seen in 2013 Ingham County homelessness numbers, compared to 2012. The inability to pay utilities was a primary reason cited.”