Last year nearly 600,000 people in Michigan needed help paying their utility bills, according to DTE Energy. This year, the funds to help are dwindling, unemployment is up, and winter is just around the corner.
Thousands of people are struggling in West Michigan, like Regina Debose, a Grand Rapids mother who's not looking for a hand-out, she’s just looking for a break.
“Salvation Army has money but they’re so booked up, you have to wait until they can get you in for an appointment and it’s very frustrating,” says Debose.
DTE says utility assistance programs expect to see a 25 to 30% percent budget cut this season - that's billions of dollars across the U.S. Money that used to be available to people like Regina, who even without employment, was getting by ok until...
“A truck (ran) into my front room of my house and knocked the whole roof down,” explains Debose. "My heat was going out through the roof.”
One unfortunate incident and her gas bill went through the roof – literally. As the temperature got colder, her debt snowballed, and her gas was shut off.
“It is so cold,” she sighs. “I got a hot plate in one room, I got a space heater in the other room, and where I sleep at, I got, like, 3 blankets on the couch for myself.”
And no hot water. When it’s time to do dishes, or to wash herself and her daughters, she warms up water in the microwave. Right now, electricity is all she's got to keep her family warm this winter.
“That made my electric (bill) go up sky high. I just got my bill today, $432,” she says.
“(Not having heat) puts them in danger physically,” says Sherri Vainavicz, Program Manager for United Way 211, a service steering thousands of people like Regina to resources that can help.
“Our calls have been increasing steadily since September,” she says.
And the money available is dwindling, so Regina turned to local churches. She was able to get a couple hundred dollars, but it’s not enough to cover her DTE bill that’s over $1,000.
“It helps, but I’m about to lose everything in the process,” she says. “I don't have nowhere to go.”
She’s not giving up. Tomorrow she’ll continue looking for a job, taking care of her children, and praying for help; hoping to get it before the snow falls and stays.
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