Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, lower-income families are struggling to pay their energy bills. That’s a big concern during extreme events like summer heat waves, which can be deadly – especially for elderly people, young children, people of color and the poor.
We ran a nationally representative survey in May 2020 of U.S. low-income households to measure energy insecurity. We found that 13% of respondents had been unable to pay an energy bill during the prior month, 9% had received an electricity utility shutoff notice and 4% had had their electric utility service disconnected.
More than half of the states temporarily barred utilities from disconnecting customers who were unable to pay their bills due to financial hardship in the early months of the economic downturn. Still, extrapolating our findings to the national level suggests that approximately 800,000 low-income households may have recently had their electricity disconnected.
And the problem could get worse as the economy continues to struggle. As scholars who study energy policy, the environment and energy justice, we believe energy assistance should be a central part of ongoing state and federal relief efforts.
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Additional coverage from the Houston Chronicle.