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Consumers Energy rate more than doubles for low-income program member

After 13 On Your Side began investigating, her rate was returned to half the number she was told.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Daughn Phillips got a letter in the mail saying her Consumers Energy bill would be changing to a flat rate of $70 each month. Problem is, Daughn signed a 24-month contract for the CARE's program, which assists low-income Michiganders.

“I thought about it for a couple of days," she said, "and it kept bothering me, so I got out my monthly bills."

She hasn't had a usage bill come out to more than 20 dollars since January. During summer peak rates, she was given an estimate of 32 dollars each month, but with her limited energy use, she's actually gained credit from the company more than half of the months this year.

“It’s a valid contract for 24 months, and in the middle of it, I get a letter from them saying 'hey guess what,'" she said. "'this is what you’re going to get for a flat rate a month.'"

That credit is where much of her frustration comes in. When she originally called consumers, she couldn't get a straight answer to what would happen with her bill.

"When I asked them the specific question about spending 70 a month, that will put me in a credit, will I pay month by month and accumulate credit?" Phillips said. Lacking a definitive yes or no, she called 13 On Your Side.

Once 13 On Your Side reached out to Consumers about the situation, Phillips received a call from a representative saying her monthly rate would go down to $26. 

Consumers said the flat rate of the CARE program will help customers plan out a budget. This was their statement in response to questions from 13 On Your Side: 

"The customer referenced has a unique situation. CARE program participants have a new flat rate bill that is based on their income levels and energy consumption. While we don’t comment with specifics on individual accounts, I can say that continuing in the CARE program under the new fixed rate program may not be option that makes the most sense for every customer, as the program may not be the best for those customers who have very low energy consumption.

We found approximately 6 percent of rollover CARE customers whose energy consumption is less than what the new flat rate is. Our recommendation for these customers would be to work with their local enrolling agency who can help them identify other programs - such as one time assistance payments - that may make more sense for their unique financial situation."

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