As extreme heat lingers, millions of U.S. households face a utility shutoff crisis
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Americans are preparing for more extreme heat just a few days after the hottest day ever recorded. As they try to stay cool, new research from the University of Pennsylvania and Indiana University finds the U.S. is in the middle of a utility disconnection crisis.
That’s left some people without the electricity they need to power a fan or an air conditioner.
Researchers say utilities cut power to at least 3 million customers who missed payments last year and shutoffs happen most often in the summer.
Penn’s Sanya Carley said many households end up in a spiral.
“If they’re disconnected, the chances of them becoming disconnected again in the future go way up,” said Carley. “So about half of all households that we worked with had been disconnected on a recurring basis.”
She said disconnection and reconnection fees imposed by energy companies can add up.
“And so it just becomes this perpetual cycle of constantly accruing more debt,” Carley said.
Low-income customers often cut back on other crucial expenses so they can pay the power bill, said Jacqueline Patterson of The Chisholm Legacy Project.
“People make choices between food or the medicines that they need because keeping the electricity on is a top priority,” she said.
Researchers found the disconnection crisis is especially hard on households of color. They’re up to four times more likely to lose service than white households.
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