GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (April 4, 2014) – The calendar may say spring but it still feels like winter in West Michigan at times. Brutally cold temperatures coupled with a propane shortage means more people are looking for help when it comes to paying their heating bills. Now we are getting a look at just how many people are in need.
The Salvation Army provides energy assistance to people throughout the area. This winter workers have seen a lot of new faces, families who can’t afford skyrocketing bills.
Winter caught a lot of people off guard, even the workers at The Salvation Army in Grand Rapids who said there was no way to prepare for a 90% jump in need from families looking to keep the heat on in their home.
In order for The Salvation Army to continue its mission it will need help from the community.
Jamie Curtis is an Operations Manager for The Salvation Army. She said there was no way to prepare for the dramatic increase in client need.
“We didn’t know it was coming,” said Curtis. “Between January and February the amount jumped and then from February to March it jumped and then March to April we’ve seen almost as many (clients) as the entire month of February.”
Statewide, The Salvation Army has seen more than 5,100 people use Energy Assistance Program. The program helps families pay the heating bills up from 2,600 customers last winter.
This winter may be coming to an end but for those on Michigan’s Winter Protection Plan the problems are just starting. The plan keeps the heat on through the coldest parts of the year by putting off payments until spring.
“Now that it is after March 31st, and people can be shut off that were on the Winter Protection Plan,” said Curtis. “So if you are on a budget plan and you are paying $80 a month but your bill was actually $200 a month, you have to pay that difference in April.”
Curtis said the case workers have been working with people one-on-one to ensure they are prepared to handle the massive bills. Curtis said The Salvation Army receives federal funding but it can only be used during the winter months. A good portion of funding comes from private donations which means this is the time when The Salvation Army needs help.