New data indicates a staggering number of American households are currently behind on making utility payments due mainly to soaring energy costs, sparking fears that mass power shutoffs are on the horizon.
The National Energy Assistance Directors Association says more than 20 million U.S. families are behind on their utility bills, numbers NEADA executive director Mark Wolfe believes are "historic."
The NEADA chief told FOX Business what is even more alarming is the surge in the collective amount owed, which sat at roughly $8.1 billion at the end of 2019 and has now skyrocketed to around $16 billion. The average delinquent bill climbed from $403 to $792.
A primary driver behind the utility debt is a surge in energy prices. The cost of natural gas – used to power homes so folks can keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter – was up 30.5% year-over-year in July, according to the Labor Department.
While energy is in high demand in the summer, experts say heating bills this winter will bring more pain.
Andrew Lipow, president of energy consulting firm Lipow Oil Associates wrote this week that "the consumer is going to pay more for their heating bills this winter," adding that "whether they use natural gas or home heating oil, most will have sticker shock."
He went on to note that "natural gas futures prices are now more than double what they were a year ago."
The latest consumer price index shows inflation across the board remains near a 40-year high. While wages are also rising, the gains are not keeping up with price hikes eating away at Americans' paychecks – forcing more consumers to make tradeoffs and prioritize spending on necessities like groceries.
Now, an unprecedented number of Americans could face having their power shut off because they cannot pay the overdue home energy bills.
With pandemic-era moratoriums on utility shutoffs expired and the price of natural gas set to continue its upward climb, Wolfe says that "looking ahead – all signs point to continued growth in arrearages."