With no end in sight to the economic downturn in our nation\u2019s economy, many Michigan residents are unsure how they will afford the increased cost of maintaining heat and energy during the upcoming winter months. Thanks to the Northwest Michigan Rural Service Partnership (NMRSP) area low-income households will have access to additional financial assistance this cold-weather season. This unique, multi-county partnership will assist eligible residents living in the counties of Benzie, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola, and Wexford. The $2.5 million of funds were awarded by the Michigan Public Service Commission to TrueNorth Community Services (TrueNorth), a Newaygo County based private nonprofit agency, who serves as the project coordinator. The funding was made available through the Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund. NMRSP funds are distributed to the counties based on economic need and utilized to serve area residents who are ineligible for state assistance or cannot be assisted within the time frame necessary to avert a crisis. Within the 11 counties, the local Department of Human Services (DHS) has designated a community-based, non-profit organization to be a partner and serve clients who meet the eligibility criteria. Each DHS and partner agency will work closely to develop specific referral protocols that address local county conditions and service delivery realities. Those who are unable to heat their home properly face safety risks. Some resort to unsafe methods to keep their homes warm. These include the use of fireplaces, stoves, improperly vented portable heaters, barbeque grills or overloading of electrical circuits. These methods are not only fire hazards, but also create the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. \u201cThe funds provided through the NMRSP will make a significant difference to those living within the eleven counties, especially in our current economy,\u201d commented Bev Cassidy, TrueNorth Executive Director. \u201cEven if a resident is unable to receive assistance through their local DHS office, they can work with a partnering agency to receive the help they need to keep their home heated, especially since many of these households have young children,\u201d Cassidy continued. Funds through the partnership became available in January, 2012. If you have any questions concerning the Northwest Michigan Rural Service Partnership, contact your local Department of Human Services or county agency partner. Consumers are also encouraged to visit www.michigan.gov\/bewinterwise to find out more information on additional energy assistance opportunities available.