The title alone, grabbed my attention Millions of Americans risk losing power and water as unpaid utility bills pile up and made me cringe. What kind of world do we live in when a company shuts off one’s utility during a pandemic? I poured myself a cup of chai to relieve my annoyance and settled in to read the article. I quickly found myself echoing Room’s words “The worst economic crisis in more than a generation has thrust potentially millions of Americans across the country into a similar, sudden peril: Cash-strapped, and in some cases still unemployed, are now having to worry about this.” I recall at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many states acted quickly to ensure their residents would not lose their power or other utilities if their jobs or wages were slashed. Now, however, only 21 states and the District of Columbia still have such disconnection bans in place. That leaves roughly 179 million Americans at risk of losing service “The people who were struggling before are struggling even more.”
I was pleased to read that in some cases, utility providers have actively lobbied against the kind of robust shut-off moratoria that advocates say are essential. Even without the shut-off bans, the arrival of cold weather automatically triggers seasonal protections throughout the country, giving Americans at least some relief entering the more expensive winter months. But those bans vary widely, and in some cases, they protect only certain low-income residents from utility shut-offs – a far cry from the more robust rules put in place earlier in the pandemic. The issue then becomes that later utility companies could later try to seek permission to raise rates on everyone if they experience substantial losses. A slew of unpaid utility bills in 2020 could mean higher prices for Americans in 2021. My questions are: “How do we fix this issue? I do not think raising the price of utilities is good (why should those who pay be punished?). I know in my state when I pay my utility bills, there is always a box that says, “round up to help those in need.” I always round my bill up (example if its $62.32, I round up to $65). It’s easier on my financial spreadsheet, but as one who grew up below the poverty line, I know every cent helps. This article left me wondering “How many people round up?” and “How is this money disbursed?” I think removing late fees and interest and giving individuals a feasible timeline (like a year) to make good on their bills is a good start. What do you see as a solution to this problem?