As utility assistance calls rise, new League report outlines ways policymakers can better support families, rein in energy costs

For Immediate Release
July 22, 2021

Alex Rossman


As utility assistance calls rise, new League report outlines ways policymakers can better support families, rein in energy costs

Data show millions of Michiganders struggle with energy affordability, challenges have increased in recent months

LANSING—Michigan 2-1-1 has received more than 67,000 calls from people seeking help with electric bill payments during the COVID-19 pandemic, and from April 18-July 18, 2021, electric bill assistance has been the top request from callers. Only about half of the electric assistance requests over the last three months were due to pandemic-related hardship, and the recent increase in calls underscores how thin the margin is for Michigan families to be able to keep their power on and their home temperatures safe.

A new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy, Empowering Families with Affordable Energy, shows that 33% of household income for Michigan families living below 50% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) goes to energy bills alone, leaving little room in their budget for all other basic needs. Between actual energy bills and what they can afford, Michigan households up to 200% of the FPL—around three million people—face a gap of $1,315 each year.

“All families deserve affordable, safe homes, and energy bills stand in the way of that for many Michigan residents,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “And as with many problems our state faces, energy usage and efficiency shows racial disparities and inequities that impact physical and mental health, safety and financial stability.”

Before COVID-19 emerged, help with utility bills was consistently one of the most common reasons people contacted Michigan 2-1-1. Even though energy providers suspended disconnections to vulnerable customers for the first few months of the pandemic and have worked to connect them to assistance and affordable payment plans, keeping up with the cost of essential energy needs continues to pose a significant threat to Michigan families—one that preceded this health crisis and will persist beyond it.

The League’s research also shows that utility costs burden households with low incomes and households of color especially. Without proper housing and with long-standing housing discrimination, Michigan families’ health and economic stability remains in jeopardy. Families of color in particular face higher energy cost burdens due to the historical discrimination that limits homeownership opportunities. This inequity is a driving factor of eviction and housing instability.

“Energy efficiency and utility costs pose serious health risks and contribute to racial health disparities,” Jacobs said. “These aren’t only physical burdens, but can have negative impacts on education, employment and income. Heat and electricity are critical for a safe home, and energy use is imperative for personal hygiene, household cleanliness, food preparation and more.” 

Michigan has the highest rate of asthma in the nation, causing many to miss work and school. Many structural issues that lead to energy waste and make it difficult to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home can also trigger asthma episodes.

The League’s report outlines some ways lawmakers can help Michiganders with their energy costs. Although energy service is vital to the health, growth and development of children, there are no laws to protect households with young children from utility shutoffs. Older adults with serious medical conditions have shutoff protections, so children, who face similar health risks from unhealthy temperatures in the home, should not be an exception to protection. 

Upping the investment in energy efficiency in Michigan and repairing the state’s aging housing stock will have ripple effects for overall health, healthcare costs, neighborhood stability and environmental benefits for all. The League also suggests that energy providers look at income-based utility bills to promote greater predictability and overall housing stability for households with low incomes.

Right now, Michigan law does not adequately promote household energy security and broader housing justice. As state leaders continue to look for ways to help residents get through the COVID crisis and tackle longstanding problems that the pandemic has magnified, these policy recommendations will help make utilities more affordable, keeping families safer and our communities stronger in the process.


The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on opportunity for all. Its mission is to advance economic security, racial equity, health and well-being for all people in Michigan through policy change. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

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