Extreme heat set to push home cooling costs to 10-year high, advocates warn

The average cost of keeping a US home cool from June to September is set to reach $719, nearly 8% higher than last year, according to new projections from advocates for low-income families. That level would be the highest in a decade and a big jump from the average of $573 in 2021.

Organizations that distribute federal financial support expect to be able to help approximately 1 million fewer households pay their energy bills this year. That’s partly because government funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) fell from $6.1 billion last fiscal year to $4.1 billion for the current year, the National Association of Energy Assistance Directors said. (NEADA) and the Center on Energy, Poverty and Climate. in a report published on Monday.

Its inflation in the sense that you have to spend more to cool your home, but youre using more of it, said Mark Wolfe, executive director of NEADA, which represents state directors who manage federal aid dollars for energy costs. in home. So you can’t fault the price. This is more the price of climate change.

The year 2024 is expected to rank among the five warmest years on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said, and this year has a 61% chance of being the hottest on record. Already last month, scorching heat and humidity descended on parts of Texas, the Gulf Coast and South Florida.

Last summer was also very hot. Phoenix, for example, endured a record 31 days of temperatures at or above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Electricity costs this summer will vary geographically, from an average of $581 for the season in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, to $858 in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, the report said. While bills in the latter region are forecast to rise just 1.8%, the mid-Atlantic is expected to see a 12% increase in summer electricity bills since last season.

Many households face immediate risks, the report says, from taking on debt to finance their cooling bills to suffering potentially dangerous utility shutdowns for non-payment. Only 17 states and Washington, D.C., offer residents some protection against foreclosure, the report said, and nearly 1 in 5 very low-income households have no air conditioning at all at home.

LIHEAP was originally created to help low-income residents cover their heating bills during the cold winter months. But high summer temperatures have added pressure to the schedule. This year, about 80% of its funds will cover heating costs, leaving only 20% to cover cooling bills, advocacy groups estimated.

These estimates, in fact, can underestimate ultimate home cooling costs this summer if temperatures continue to reach record highs, the report warned.

LIHEAP administrators in many states have sounded the alarm in recent years about higher seasonal temperatures, saying increased summer demand is outstripping available funds. Unlike safety net programs like Medicaid or food stamps, LIHEAP cannot guarantee support for all qualifying families. If demand is too high, funds may simply run out.

Brian Sarensen, who manages Washington state’s LIHEAP aid, previously described the Catch-22 of trying to provide everything to everyone who needs it, and simply not having enough money to do so.

We can sacrifice how much heating aid we give in the winter to save for the summer, he told NBC News last summer, when a series of heat waves spurred air conditioning use across the country. But at the same time, then you’re thinking: Am I letting someone freeze to death?

Some relief may come this year in states that are offering residents income-based subsidies on their electric bills, Wolfe said.

For example, Connecticut is a state in the Northeast where electricity generation is generally more expensive for utilities that launched a financial hardship program last December allowing customers to avoid shutdowns and receive monthly discounts of 10% or 50% on depending on their income. .

Already, however, high energy bills are squeezing the less wealthy, the report warned. The researchers found that 23.5% of households could not pay their energy bill for at least one month in the past year, up from 21.3% the year before. The biggest jump was in families with children, rising to 33.1% from 28.4% in the previous period.

To cover energy bills, many low-income families are making tough cuts elsewhere. More than 1 in 3 said they reduced or went without basic household expenses at least once in the past 12 months because of energy costs, with the biggest increase again among those with children at a rate of 41.5%.

Now we were approaching a period where people couldn’t beat it alone, Wolfe said. It’s pretty grim.

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