Granholm signs new utility shutoff protections

Governor Granholm has signed a package of laws that protect people against having their heat shut off in cold weather by municipal utility companies. The new laws require utilities to report to the Public Service Commission when a customer dies or suffers an injury after they lose heat. The commission could refer cases to the state attorney general for prosecution.

Utilities will also have to send lists of customers facing shutoff to the state, which the state will match that against people receiving public assistance.

Joan Lamoreaux is in charge of the emergency relief program in the state Department of Human Services. She says the state will automatically process emergency home heating payments to utilities.

"The intent is that they send us a file of all their customers that are going into shutoff status, and then we would identify which ones are ours," she says. "And so then we would make a payment directly, it would go directly to the provider. They would not receive a shutoff notice in the mail, but they would receive a notice that a payment was made on their behalf."

The money would come from a federal emergency grant program. The program will not be ready this winter. So households facing a heating crisis still have to apply for assistance.