Cropped shot of a senior woman holding hands with a nurse

Pathways Program offers a helping hand

Along life’s road we all run into some rough patches from time to time. When those bumps in the road come in the form tough financial times, it’s reassuring to have someone help get you back on track.

Great Lakes Energy (GLE) offers many ways to help members who are struggling to pay their electric bill such as Budget Billing, FlexPay, and the Winter Protection Plan. Many other options are also available through state and local assistance programs.

Since 2019 GLE has also offered its members a helping hand through tough financial times with the Pathways Program, an affordable payment plan administered by True North Community Services, a GLE trusted partner.

The program allows qualifying GLE members who are struggling to pay their electric bills access to federal funds in the Michigan Energy Assistance Program that will pay for half of a qualified member’s electric bill for two years – up to a cumulative maximum of $3,500 per grant year.

What’s different about the Pathways Program, GLE Remittance Supervisor Jami Cutter explained, is it is much more comprehensive than just offering members help in paying their bills.

 

A bridge to self sufficiency

“Help paying the member’s electric bill is part of a broader effort to help the member get on more solid financial footing,” Jami said.

In addition to the bill payment assistance, the program offers enrolled members a self-sufficiency coach who will help them with:

  • Budgeting and financial planning
  • Connecting with local resources
  • Home energy efficiency and waste reduction
  • Financial literacy education
  • Long- and short-term
  • budgeting and financial advice
  • Job and education guidance

Timing matters

The registration window for the 2022-23 Pathways Program opens on Oct. 1. Jami, along with the rest of the GLE remittance and member services staff, is encouraging members who are now or may soon be facing a financial situation affecting their ability to pay their electric bill to consider applying for the Pathways Program sooner than later.

This is especially important, Jami notes, because there is a limited pool of Michigan Energy Assistance Program money available each year, and the pool is shared among multiple utilities throughout the state.

Once the money allocated for a particular year has been depleted, no more applications are accepted until the following year.

Jami said several GLE members who had been referred to the program in the past were unable to participate because funds for the year had already been depleted.

“Often this happens in March or April, right around the time winter protection programs are ending, which is especially bad timing,” Jami said.

She added that GLE has authorized the Pathways Program for up to 500 members, but last year only about 150 were able to take advantage of the program before the pool of available money for the program was exhausted at the time they applied.

Making a difference for members

When GLE members are struggling to pay their electric bills, their most common point of contact is GLE’s member services team. Call center supervisor Jami Schultz said the Pathways Program is a valuable tool in the team’s arsenal of resources to offer members facing financial hardships.

Jami explained that although employees love to hear directly from members about their success with the Pathways Program, often the best evidence of the program’s success is that the member is no longer regularly in contact with the call center because they are behind on their bill or facing a shut-off notice.

In one example of how the Pathways Program helped a GLE family, an TrueNorth staff member reports:

“We worked closely with a household to provide Self-Sufficiency Services as well as an enrollment into Pathways. This household is very grateful for Pathways and the services provided. While enrolled in Pathways they were able to keep current on their Great Lakes Energy bill as well as keep current on all other bills, which is something they had not been successful at in the past. The household has now graduated from the program and are doing well. They said that they recommend Pathways to anyone they run into that is having difficulty with their bills.”

In another example a Pathways Program participant said:

“I am an elderly lady who has struggled with finances since my husband passed away. Losing his income was very hard and I was lost. I found TrueNorth and they told me about their Pathways program through Great Lakes Energy. I just couldn't believe it! It was a light at the end of a dark tunnel. I pay ALL my bills on time now and full payments! Thank you all so much!"

Both Jami Cutter and Jami Schultz strongly encourage members who are now or may soon have trouble paying their electric bill to contact member services now, before their account is past due or they receive a shut-off notice.
“We have many options available, such as the Pathways Program, to offer our members. We want to work with members to help get them back on track,” Jami Cutter said.

“TrueNorth Community Services will walk our members through the application requirements and process. We want this program to be successful for all members who qualify.”

We're here for you

If you are you concerned about being able to pay your GLE bill, please contact GLE member services at (888) 485-2357. Team members are available Monday-Friday from 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. To speak with a Pathways Program representative at TrueNorth Community Services, call (231) 355-5880 Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Enrollment is open to all qualified GLE members, regardless of geographical location. More information about GLE’s many payment assistance programs is also available online at gtlakes.com/account-information/. More information about the Pathways Program is also available at tnempower.org/.

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