Aug 4, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Low-income households are struggling to pay energy bills during pandemic

Data: The Conversation; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: The Conversation; Chart: Axios Visuals

A substantial number of low-income households are having difficulty paying their energy bills during the COVID-19 pandemic — with families of color and those with young children especially hard hit, according to recent Indiana University research.

The big picture: YouGov conducted a survey of 2,381 respondents from low-income households in May (overall margin of error is about 2%) and found that 13% had been unable to pay an energy bill during the prior month.

  • Another 9% had received an electricity shutoff notice.
  • 4% had their service disconnected.

Why it matters: While many states have temporarily banned utility disconnections during the crisis, a lot of people are nonetheless losing access, according to IU professors Sanya Carley and David Konisky, who describe their research in a new(ish) post at The Conversation.

  • "[E]xtrapolating our findings to the national level suggests that approximately 800,000 low-income households may have recently had their electricity disconnected."
  • They argue Congress should impose a national moratorium on utility shut-offs and boost assistance to help families pay energy bills.

Where it stands: The pandemic response package enacted in March provided another $900 million for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, but Carley and Konisky write this just "scratches the surface" of what's needed.

  • The latest economic package before the Senate includes another $1.5 billion for LIHEAP.
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