The amount of unpaid utility debts in the United States is expected to hit $24.3 billion by the end of this year, up from $9.8 billion at the end of July, according to data released by the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which is causing problems for millions of Americans who are facing debt collectors and shut-off notices as pandemic-related moratoriums are expiring.
Some utilities are reporting that as many as 20% of their customers are falling behind on their payments, according to the NEADA, while the cost of natural gas, oil, and other products used to keep homes warm is rising, which will likely lead to higher bills for everyone this winter.
“The upcoming winter is of serious concern,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the NEADA, in a published report. “Natural gas, heating oil and propane prices have become very expensive and will put pressure on families this winter. If additional funding is not provided then I expect that arrearages will spike again, unless Congress provides additional funding for energy assistance programs.”
About 1 million households have had their power shut off during the pandemic, according to data released in June by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Higher energy prices means more debt for individuals, and less money available to pay them. Collectors, regardless of the type of debt they are collecting, should be mindful that consumers may have less funds available with which to repay their bills, especially if they are facing having their heat or electricity shut off.
Only 21 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have shut-off moratoriums in place, with nine of those states — Connecticut, Virginia, Colorado, Indiana, Arkansas, Washington, Vermont, New Hampshire and New Mexico — ending their moratoriums this month.