Study details impact of COVID-19 pandemic on energy bills 

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Capital News Service 

LANSING – Energy bills rose in households across the United States after the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study shows. 

That, in turn, created energy insecurity in many households, which led to looking for techniques for coping with finances and behavior, the researchers said.

Financial and behavioral coping techniques include cutting other expenses such as food or medical care, taking out loans and even reducing temperatures in the home to an unsafe level, according to researchers at Indiana State University and Cleveland State University. It appeared in the journal PNAS, or Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Utilities and government agencies are cooperating in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and other Great Lakes states to ease the burden and risks of energy uncertainty for low-income households.  

In Michigan,  DTE Energy, the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Public Service Commission have designed a process to provide energy efficiency education and assistance to those struggling to keep up with utility bills. 

Tamara Johnson, the director of energy assistance at DTE Energy, stressed the importance of the cooperation. 

Due to the fact that the balance owed is so high, some aren’t eligible for assistance, but “we’ve gotten to a place where we don’t see those high balances,” Johnson said. 

The study by Indiana University professor Sanya Carley and her team centers around the increase in energy costs, especially for families. It found that one-third of American homes are consistently unable to pay their energy bills. 

“When they struggle to pay their bills, it can affect their mental and physical health,” Carley said.

When households can’t afford utility payments, it hurts their ability to power appliances and other electronic devices and forces them to make tough decisions, according to Carley, an energy justice expert.

For some, that means deciding to unplug their refrigerator or not charging vital medical devices. 

Carley says there are government programs designed to help those struggling to keep up with energy bills.

The low-income home energy assistance program called the Weatherization Assistance Program is one of them. It aims to reduce energy costs for households by making energy use in homes more efficient. 

Low-income households that benefit from this program on average save $327 every year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. 

Borjana Alia reports for Great Lakes Echo

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