Rising energy costs an issue for millions of Americans

Roughly one-quarter of Americans were already struggling to pay rising energy costs before prices at the pump hit record levels this week not seen since 2008, according to an analysis published by HelpAdvisor.

Approximately 24% of Americans, when forced to choose between spending money on food, medicine or energy bills, said they spent less on food and medicine in order to pay their energy bills over the last year, according to the analysis, which was based on a review of the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. 

“A high number of U.S. adults are having difficulty paying their energy bills and are either not paying the full amount of the bill, making financial sacrifices in other areas to pay their energy bill or keeping their home at unsafe or unhealthy temperatures in an effort to minimize their bill,” the analysis said. 

Additionally, roughly 16% of adults reported having kept their home at a temperature that felt unsafe or unhealthy due to rising energy costs, and one in six said they were unable to pay their energy bill in full at least once last year. 

The findings come at a time when the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasted last fall that U.S. households would spend more money on heating costs and consume more energy to keep their homes warm. In its Winter Fuels Outlook, EIA forecast that U.S. households would spend 54% more for propane, 43% more for heating oil, 30% more for natural gas, and 6% more for electric heating.  

Last October, gas prices hit record highs, and the stock market entered a correction. A similar pattern occurred this week after the WTI Crude hit $130 a barrel and is expected to reach over $200 in the near future.

“As we have moved beyond what we expect to be the deepest part of the pandemic-related economic downturn, growth in energy demand has generally outpaced growth in supply,” EIA Acting Administrator Steve Nalley said when the outlook was published last fall. “These dynamics are raising energy prices around the world.”

Coupled with the Russian-Ukraine conflict and the Biden administration's energy policies, supply is restricted, demand increases, and costs are skyrocketing.  

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, HelpAdvisor found that the greatest number of those who went without purchasing food or medicine in order to pay for their energy bills were living in Arkansas, New Mexico, Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Nevada, Missouri, Alabama, Hawaii and Maine. 

Those living in 28 states experienced rates that were equal to or higher than the national average of 24.8%. More than 30% of residents in Arkansas, New Mexico, Mississippi, and West Virginia, reported foregoing basic needs; residents in 25 states reported the same. 

The survey also found that more than one out of six U.S. adults – or 16.4% – were unable to pay the full amount of their energy bill at least once last year.

Residents in 22 states saw averages ranging from 16.7% who couldn’t pay their full energy bills in Illinois to 26.5% who couldn’t pay them in New Mexico. 

HelpAdvisor listed available resources to help those struggling to pay their energy bills. It also noted, “Many energy companies offer their own assistance programs to customers, so be sure to contact your provider for information about any programs they may offer.” 

Federally funded programs available include those offered through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the U.S. Department of the Treasury, local Housing and Urban Development offices, and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

The federally-funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is managed by each state and can also offer assistance with home energy costs and other expenses.  

The Dollar Energy Fund, a non-profit organization, and the Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy, a 24-month affordable payment plan, also offer assistance.

Other resources are available through state, county and community organizations by zip code. 

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