The Michigan Senate voted to extend an electric bill surcharge of up to $1 per month among a list of other fee extensions. The measure was sponsored by Sen. John Bizon (R–Battle Creek) and extends the original sunset date four years to September 30, 2023.
Ratepayers are currently assessed 91 cents per month for a total of $50 million dollars used to subsidize low-income resident electricity bills. If the sunset were not deferred, the state would no longer have the authority to administer the Michigan Energy Assistance Act (MEAP) according to Senate Fiscal Agency analysis.
Sen. Jim Runestad (R–White Lake) questioned the process used to verify MEAP applicant eligibility during the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing before the floor vote.
A MEAP employee who lived in his district tried to verify financial qualifications as part of her job, Runestad said. She was told by supervisors, “Hey, don’t worry about that.”
“A lot of people were getting [the subsidy] that should not have,” Runestad said.
“They were qualifying, just coming in and saying they meet the threshold. She was told, ‘Process them,'” Runestad related.
“They didn’t want her to be going through [applicants’] financials to make sure that they were eligible for it. That was five years ago, I was told it’s been cleaned up since then.”
John Maxwell of the Senate Fiscal Agency stated that there was an audit done on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program in the Fall of 2017.
“Part of the compliance plans that the department had was to restrict the eligibility on some of these programs,” he said.
LIHEAP is a federal program that helps low-income households pay for heating or cooling their homes.
Maxwell clarified that Michigan’s surcharge is separate from the federal program funds. “This is the collection on the bills that are paid in residential and industrial customers.”
Maxwell deferred the question of how MEAP applicants are verified to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). “They would have a better understanding of the exact changes relative to the policies that have changed.”
Emily Schwarzkopf, Director of Legislative, Appropriations, and Constituent Services at MDHHS, said she would look into it and follow up with Sen. Runestad’s office.
Lobbies supporting the subsidy extension at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing included the Keep Warmth Fund, Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, MI League for Public Policy, MI Community Action, True North Community Services, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
The committee voted 17-0 to extend the surcharge, and recommended immediate effect without objection.
The Senate floor vote was also unanimous.
– – –
Abigail Nobel is a reporter for The Michigan Star.