Reducing Energy Debts From COVID-19

Utility bills have piled up for American homeowners since COVID-19 began. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, over 80 million Americans struggle to pay bills due to the ongoing pandemic. Energy affordability has proved problematic for decades in the U.S., but the pandemic further exacerbated this issue. Here’s how Americans can participate in various programs to get help paying their energy bills.

How COVID-19 Impacted the Energy Sector

Many people could not afford to pay their energy bills, and in response, public utility companies and local governments passed moratoriums. Homeowners and small businesses could still access utilities, even if they fell behind on payments. However, states like Florida and Virginia ended their utility shutoff moratoria, leaving millions of working-class households to front the bill.

Homeowners and small-business owners are still responsible for making backlogged utility payments when a state moratorium expires. Additionally, their utilities are at risk of being shut off after the expiration. 

According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), home heating costs are increasing by 30% compared to costs between 2020 and 2021. This is a devastating combination of effects brought on by the pandemic.

Here are two additional factors that contribute to the growing energy debt in the country:

Lockdown Measures

The U.S. saw electricity consumption drop by 4% from 2019 to 2020. Still, the increased use of residential utilities increased by 2% because pandemic lockdowns forced people to stay home. One positive that resulted from lower energy consumption was reducing CO2 emissions, which helps combat the current climate crisis.

A Decline in Household Median Incomes

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the median household income decreased by 2.9% in 2020, the most significant drop observed since 2011. Many Americans were laid off during the pandemic and electricity demand fell, so it became more difficult to afford their monthly electricity bills.

There’s no clear solution that can help reduce the energy debt the U.S. currently faces. Many countries and their citizens adopt sustainable energy technologies, such as solar products and panels or smart thermostats, but is this enough to manage the rising energy debt?

Even small changes, such as positioning a smart thermostat in a home’s optimal location, are something more homeowners are doing to reduce their energy bills. 

There’s no clear solution that can help reduce the energy debt the U.S. currently faces. Many countries and their citizens adopt sustainable energy technologies, such as solar products and panels or smart thermostats, but is this enough to manage the rising energy debt?

Even small changes, such as positioning a smart thermostat in a home’s optimal location, are something more homeowners are doing to reduce their energy bills. 

State Programs Helping Americans Pay Their Energy Bills

Additionally, states across the nation offer relief programs for Americans drowning in energy debt. They are intended to help low-income homeowners manage energy costs.

1. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a federal program assisting low-income families struggling to pay their utility bills. Assistance with water usage is not included in the program, but it does cover electric, heating, gas and propane usage. States administer these programs using block grants. 

Utility bills have piled up for American homeowners since COVID-19 began. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, over 80 million Americans struggle to pay bills due to the ongoing pandemic.

Energy affordability has proved problematic for decades in the U.S., but the pandemic further exacerbated this issue. Here’s how Americans can participate in various programs to receive assistance to pay their utility bills.

2. Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)

The Department of Energy (DOE) offers a Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) that helps low-income families make their homes more energy-efficient. HVAC systems, insulation, lighting and refrigerators are some of the upgrades WAP can help implement for homeowners. 

WAP eligibility requirements differ in every state. Some may require households to provide their income or perform asset tests to determine if they’re eligible. Americans can contact their local WAP office for further information. 

Tips for Managing Energy Costs

Homeowners and small businesses should use these tips to maintain good financial standing and avoid drowning in energy debt. 

  • Contact the utility company: Utility companies understand that the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for homeowners. Many have programs to assist low-income families with payment assistance.
  • Make small lifestyle adjustments: Adjustments like turning off lights and faucets, sealing cracks in doors and windows, and taking shorter showers can reduce utility bills.
  • Purchase energy-efficient appliances: Using energy-efficient appliances, like dishwashers, washing machines, lightbulbs, and HVAC systems, can also help keep costs down.
  • Consider renewable energy sources: Many states offer incentives for installing solar panels. Developers like Posigen and GRID Alternatives are working on creating business models that allow low-income households to use solar power for their homes.

Reducing Energy Debt Will Take Time

Utility costs tend to be the most significant expense in the average household. Gas, fuel, water, and electricity are essential components of a home. Still, it can be challenging for homeowners to keep up with rising costs, especially if they lost their job during the pandemic

There’s no denying that reducing energy debt will take time and effort from governments and policymakers. Hopefully, the reduction will be a priority for these entities. Applicants can email the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) or make a toll-free call. LIHEAP also provides a  local office map where homeowners select their state to see if they qualify.

Bio:

Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.

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