GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV)-Consumers Energy is providing $7.25 million to help customers pay heating bills, providing a lifeline to thousands of families just before the start of another cold Michigan winter. The new contributions are going to eight Michigan nonprofit organizations that will help people directly with Consumers Energy bills.

“Consumers Energy understands many Michiganders are facing challenging times, and no one wants to see rising energy bills ― especially our most vulnerable customers. We recognize our responsibility to help our customers who count on us every day,” said Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy’s president and CEO. “Natural gas prices have climbed across the Midwest and nation, and we are committed to helping customers manage their bills and help those in need immediately.”

The money is being distributed through The Salvation Army, TrueNorth Community Services, United Way of South Central Michigan, Roscommon County United Way, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Superior Watershed Partnership and Michigan Veterans Trust Fund.

Customers should call 2-1-1 if they are facing hardship or are trying to access the new funding. The 2-1-1 service is a free resource that connects Michiganders with nonprofits to find help with basic needs, from energy bills to food and shelter. Consumers Energy customers also should call 800-477-5050 if they are facing challenges with their bill.

Consumers Energy and its foundation provided over $12 million in energy bill and basic needs assistance this year. That includes $4.5 million announced in January and another $500,000 last month from the Consumers Energy Foundation for food banks and United Ways in Michigan.

Consumers Energy is helping customers as natural gas costs have climbed this year. Many homes and businesses will see double-digit percent increases in their heating bills this winter, which is spurring Consumers Energy to help customers reduce their bills and provide direct assistance to those in need.

“The Salvation Army is so grateful to Consumers Energy for this incredible, timely gift. We will join forces with them, as well as the other partnering organizations, to distribute these funds to those in need this winter season,” said Maj. Lisa Mueller, general secretary of The Salvation Army Great Lakes Division. “This gift helps us to continue to serve and meet needs in the community.”

“We want to keep the people we serve safe and comfortable in their own homes, and want everyone to know Consumers Energy is doing all we can to help,” Rochow said. “Whether you need assistance or know someone who does, please spread the word that help is available and just a phone call away. Let’s care for each other this holiday season by looking out for each other.”

Many people can manage their winter bills by starting with simple tips at home or work. Learn more at ConsumersEnergy.com/coldweather.

  • Have your heating system tuned and inspected by a service professional. Heat losses from a poorly maintained system can range between 1-2 percent a year.
  • Clean or replace your furnace filter often during the heating season. If your furnace can “breathe” more easily, it will use less energy.
  • Dial your thermostat down at night and add an extra blanket for warmth.
  • Make sure your attic, basement, garage and exterior doors are closed to prevent cold drafts from getting in and heat from getting out.
  • Turn on your ceiling fan. Ceiling fans set at a slow speed push warm air away from the ceiling and move it around the room without creating a chilling breeze.