More than 20 million Americans are behind on their utility bills

Katie Wedell
  • More then 20 million U.S. households are currently behind on utility bills.
  • Household electricity charges are up 15.2 percent over last summer.
  • Some utilities report a more than 40% jump in the number of customers being shut off since pre-pandemic.

More than 20 million households – about 1 in 6 American homes – are currently behind on their utility bills, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA) as reported by Bloomberg

The NEADA said those households owe a combined $16 billion in unpaid utility bills, double the pre-pandemic total. The average balance owed has climbed 97% since 2019, to $792, according to the NEADA. 

Mostly to blame, according to Bloomberg, is a surge in electricity prices, propelled by the soaring cost of natural gas.

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Household electricity charges in the U.S. were up 15.2 percent year-over-year in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index

Natural gas prices are up 30.5 percent over that same period. 

USA TODAY reached out to NEADA for comment on their numbers.

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How bad is the electricity shutoff crisis?

  • California’s PG&E Corp. has seen a more than 40% jump since February 2020 in the number of residential customers behind on payments, according to Bloomberg.
  • Due to the pandemic, some states halted electricity disconnections. But those moratoriums ended earlier this year just as inflation was rising.
  • “I expect a tsunami of shutoffs,” Jean Su, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks utility disconnections across the US, told Bloomberg. 

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What's the impact of more utility shutoffs?

  • With heatwaves hitting much of the world this summer, a loss of electricity to cool the home can be fatal. 
  • According to the National Weather Service, there were an average of 188 heat-related deaths per year in the U.S. from 2017 through 2021, up from an average of 81 in the five years before that. 
  • Experts expect shutoffs due to non-payment to get worse as climate change and rising prices collide in the coming years and decades. “It’s higher prices. It's heat waves and increasing needs for energy,” David Konisky, co-director of the Energy Justice Lab told Bloomberg.

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