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Muskegon family hit with $20,000 power bill

Medical exemptions and pandemic no-shut-off protocols lead to the charges stacking up.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Tammy Hutson and her family slept in the cold Wednesday and Thursday night. In November, they received a letter stating their power bill had eclipsed $20,000. After filing a medical extension, they still couldn't pay, and Consumers Energy shut their power off.

"I lost all my food in my refrigerator," Hutson said. "They’re not supposed to be able to shut you off if you have health problems."

Hutson suffers from Emphysema, COPD and congestive heart failure. She relies on an Oxygen machine to breathe, but when the power went out, she had to switch to a tank. 

We reached out to Consumers to find out how their bill got so high. The family says they have not received a true bill in more than a year, and that they were told their mothers health conditions were medical exemptions to their power bill.

"She didn’t get one so she figured it was all taken care of," said Tammy's son, Robert. "Apparently that was not the case, she's now behind. This says the total due to reconnect is $22,161.50."

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In a statement to 13 ON YOUR SIDE, a representative from Consumers Energy clarified. Tammy had filed for Medical Emergency Holds, which serve as 21 day stopgaps for people in medical need. They don't alleviate a power bill, but instead delay billing for three weeks.

"Consumers Energy considers shutting off electric service a last resort and we work hard to provide options for customers finding it difficult to pay energy bills." The statement said. "We work to help customers from accruing large account balances. However, a 12-month critical care hold, long periods in 2020 where we did not perform customer shut offs due to COVID-19 protocols, along with grace periods to allow Ms. Hutson to seek assistance contributed to her large balance."

While we were interviewing the Hutson's, they got a call form Consumers saying their power would be restored thanks to a new, expedited medical hold.

They aren't off the hook fully for the money they owe, but representatives from Consumers say they'll work with the family to connect them with resources or community programs, helping them pay off or waive their debt. 

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