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John Flesher, Associated Press
In this Jan. 18, 2012 photo, Missy Marsh, left, and her parents Debra and Robert Marsh, discuss the pressures of paying for heating during winter while having breakfast at Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City, Mich. Few Americans have welcomed this yearÍs mild winter as much as low-income families, who are enjoying an unexpected break from high heating costs.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Few Americans have welcomed this year's mild winter as much as low-income families, who are enjoying an unexpected break from high heating bills.

Although there have been some cold snaps and snowstorms, the unseasonable conditions have been a blessing for people who usually devote hundreds of dollars a month to natural gas, propane or heating oil.

A Michigan utility called Consumers Energy says its natural gas customers are paying about 20 percent less than a year ago. The average residential bill for January will be $112, down from about $140.

Marc Ryan of Traverse City is living in a friend's trailer for the winter. His latest utility bill was for $90 — about $25 less than last year. Ryan says that's worth half a tank of gas for his pickup.