More than a quarter of American households with children struggled to pay their energy bills at least once in the past year, says US Census Household Pulse Survey data released last week.
The situation is expected to get worse as colder weather and higher fuel prices send energy expenditures up. The US Energy Information Administration forecasts half of American homes will see their winter heating bills increase by 30 per cent.
“This is going to be a brutal winter,” said Sanya Carley, professor at Indiana University’s O’Neill School. “It’s going to be a winter that affects those that already live on the margins so much more.”
When it comes to energy insecurity, Americans do not equally bear the brunt. Forty per cent of black households report being unable to pay their energy bills at least once in the past year, compared with 15 per cent of white households and 30 per cent of Latino households, according to US Census data.
Low-income households and households with children are also more likely to be energy insecure. While 20 per cent of Americans report having difficulty paying their bills this year, the number was more than double for households earning less than $25,000.
Experts expect pandemic unemployment, increased energy demand, and expiring utility moratoria to have worsened the problem. A Nature study conducted by Indiana University’s Carley and other researchers found that the proportion of households disconnected from the grid after they received a notice rose from 41 to 48 per cent in the first month of the pandemic.
While many states implemented utility disconnection moratoria in the pandemic, most have expired, and households are racking up utility debt just as they’re forced to pay the highest bills for energy in nearly seven years. With winter looming, lawmakers are pushing for expanded relief funding like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.