Michigan News Connection
|July 30, 2021||Available files: mp3 wav jpg|
LANSING, Mich. - High utility costs are a major burden for Michigan's low-income residents, and a new study says they have an impact on their health, too.
For some Michiganders, one third of their household income goes to energy bills, according to research from the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Energy bills were one of the main reasons for 'Michigan 211' calls, even pre-pandemic - and since March 2020, the helpline has received more than 68,000 requests for help paying utility bills.
Julie Cassidy, senior policy analyst with the League, said investing in home improvements in areas with high energy cost burdens is necessary to ensure a better quality of life.
"By addressing some of these housing quality issues," said Cassidy, "and really trying to get back to these root causes in terms of housing discrimination, we can not only help families today lower their energy bills, but we can also help to make them healthier. And that's something that all people of Michigan deserve."
The report examines the impact of racial discrimination in housing policies, and found connections between poor housing quality and health issues.
For instance, asthma episodes are often triggered in the home. Michigan has one of the nation's highest adult asthma rates, at just over 11%.
At the Genesee County Community Action Resource Department, Executive Director Stephanie Howard said they work to lower energy bills for lower-income families, with weatherization and other programs.
But in some cases, when a home is in such poor condition or a roof needs repairs, they can't be much help. Howard said she would like to see Michigan lawmakers set aside funding to fix roofs first, so the weatherization efforts will make a difference.
"If you think about one of the key elements of shelter, it's literally having a roof over your head," said Howard. "So, without a much-needed solution as to how to have that roof in good condition, there will be many residents that will ultimately be unable to stay in their homes due to the failing roof."
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has set aside $5 million in her proposed 2022 budget for a pilot program to make the home repairs necessary for energy-efficiency improvements.