LANSING (WWJ/AP) – Michigan utilities could add up to a $1 surcharge to electric bills to provide heating assistance to the poor under legislation that has passed the state House.

The bill approved 86-21 Thursday is designed to find permanent funding for a low-income heating fund that was ended by a 2011 state appeals court ruling.

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Utilities could opt out of charging the fee — but they would have an incentive to participate because they otherwise would be barred from shutting off service to delinquent accounts from November to April.

Supporters say many utility customers in Michigan paid a similar monthly surcharge before. Critics oppose raising customers’ bills.

Republican Sen. Mike Nofs, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation is designed to be a long-term solution to address the critical heating needs of vulnerable residents.

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“A lot of work has gone into designing a more fair and equitable system that will help people move to self-sufficiency and eliminate the double surcharges previously paid by many utility customers across the state,” Nofs said in a statement.

The Senate previously passed a different version of the bill, so it’s expected to win final approval soon.

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