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DEARBORN, Mich. – Despite sending out a press release titled, “DTE Suspends Shutoffs / Extends Senior Program in Response to COVID-19,” DTE is still threatening power shutoffs and shutting off power to customers during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Several local DTE customers said they were shocked to receive shutoff notices in their most recent billing statements after reading news reports that re-published the press release sent out by DTE. Franz Knight, a DTE customer, said that he had absentmindedly forgot to pay his last bill and was quickly able to pay it off, but he’s concerned about others who are facing hardship.

“Given the pandemic now, even though I’m privileged to have enough to pay basic utilities, it takes you a moment to realize that because of a mental slip up you could be without any heat or power,” said Knight. “I had never received this kind of statement before, so to imagine that, it was a shock even with the ability to pay. [It] puts into perspective how people struggling in far worse situations would react.”

John Fossen, a senior communications strategist at DTE, said that they want customers to contact them immediately if they are facing hardship, “Please give our customer service a call. We will do our best to work with them.”

Chris Lamphear, the manager of  corporate communications at DTE, declined to guarantee that anyone who was laid off due to Covid-19 would be eligible to have their service shutoffs suspended, “I hate to speak in hypotheticals. We would want to look at each case to look at what they would qualify for. We do want to talk to each person individually who is experiencing financial hardship, whether it is the traditional definition of low income, or if they’re a senior citizen, or if their lives are impacted by COVID-19, we want to find them help that is appropriate for their specific needs…We can’t make a blanket statement, we do treat each case individually, but we do want customers who are concerned they might not be able to pay their next energy bill to contact us immediately.”

When asked if DTE had created any new programs specifically to assist those impacted by COVID-19, Lamphear said they had not. Lamphear said they were dealing with customers on a case-by-case basis, “Everyone has unique circumstances and we want to hear those unique circumstances and consider whether to move people into an individual payment program or assistance with the state that will best meet the individual’s needs.”

Lamphear also declined to say, specifically, whether those whose previous income was high, such as autoworkers, but who now face sudden hardship due to unemployment and factory shutdowns, would qualify for financial assistance. Lamphear did re-iterate his encouragement that customers who are experiencing hardship should reach out. “We treat each one on an individual basis. We encourage anyone with a sudden disruption of income to contact 800-477-4747 to talk to our representatives about the many forms of assistance and programs that we offer to find the one that is best suited to their needs.”

At the same time, Dearborn residents don’t need to worry about their water being shutoff. According to City Councilwoman Leslie Herrick, “We actually have a policy now not to shut off water for any occupied residence, whatsoever… I think it’s about being humane, to look out for the well-being of others in a situation where they have little or no control.”

Herrick said that she had some concerns for other forms of assistance, though, “We have ACCESS, the school district and Gleaners distributing food for families with children, but I’m looking for a resource that will also reach adults in need of food assistance at this time.”

Herrick said that she’s concerned about young adults, many of whom work in the restaurant industry or college students, who may not be eligible for food assistance because they don’t have children but are struggling due to unemployment. “It’s good to have a strong blanket policy, but people need to be able to get help in an individual situation if they really need it. Utilities and non-profits shouldn’t be rigid in how they approach helping others at this unprecedented time.”