Despite pauses on shut-offs in many states, low-income households and people of color in particular are struggling to pay their energy bills during the pandemic, according to preliminary results from a recent nationwide survey by the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. The survey, conducted by professors Sanya Carley and David Konisky, found that 13 percent of respondents couldn't pay an energy bill during the previous month, and 22 percent had to trim or give up expenses for basic needs such as medicine and food, just to pay for their utilities.
There is a large data gap when it comes to energy insecurity, both researchers said, which they hope to diminish by administering the survey three more times in the coming months.
"If we think these state moratorium policies delayed really bad outcomes or that government assistance helped people through the economic stress, I think there's reason to believe that energy insecurity is going to become worse in the coming months," said Konisky, who fears an uptick in utility debt once shut-off moratoriums lift and additional pandemic unemployment funds wane.
"The period of our survey was also the period of time when people were receiving unemployment insurance benefits, and presumably stimulus checks from the federal government," Konisky said. "So there should have been a bit of a buffer in place to help people get through this time."