June 24, 2008

Unpaid Bills and Utility Cutoffs Increase

Utility companies across the United States are more often turning power off to customers who cannot pay bills, industry figures show.

With gas prices rising and the unemployment rate at 5.5 percent, the shutoffs have begun to affect moderately well-off customers, USA Today reported Tuesday.

Eight percent of households with incomes between $33,500 and $55,000 have had their electricity shut off this year due to non-payment, the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association said.

It's hitting people in the suburbs with two cars and two kids, NEADA Executive Director Mark Wolfe told USA Today.

Utilities also say their cutoff rates have risen.

PPL Electric Utilities in Pennsylvania shut off power to 7,054 customers from January through April a cutoff rate 168 percent higher than in the same months of 2007, the newspaper reported.

Utility companies frequently restore power after a few days, when customers agree to a payment plan.

A federal program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is supposed to help, but is out of funds, having provided $2.5 billion in assistance in fiscal 2008, the report said.