Nearly 20 million households are behind on their utility bills

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Millions of Americans may have to think twice about turning on their air conditioners this summer.

The high prices of essential goods, particularly food and housing, has made it tough for many folks to afford the soaring cost of their energy bills. That has helped drive up the number of households behind on their utility payments to nearly 20 million as of March, up from 17.6 million a year earlier, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. The households owe a total of $19.5 billion, up from $15.7 billion in March 2022. “You have to buy food. You have to pay your rent,” said Mark Wolfe, the association’s executive director. “What’s one bill you can delay? Your utility bill, right?” In recent years, Americans have contended with season after season of high natural gas, home heating oil and electricity prices, coupled with colder winters and hotter summers in many parts of the country. Although natural gas prices were lower than originally forecast for the winter, many folks haven’t been able to catch up on their past-due bills. “Prices stayed high. People fell behind. They stayed behind,” Wolfe said, noting that pandemic aid programs, such as stimulus checks and the enhanced child tax credit, have ended. Summer electric bills remain elevated Household electricity bills this summer are expected to be similar or higher than last year’s elevated level. The cost is forecast to be $529, on average, up from $517 last year and $445 two years ago, according to the US Energy Information Administration. It will vary by region, with customers in New England paying about $13 more than the national average, while those in parts of the South paying about $8 less because of changes in electricity prices. However, Wolfe predicts the tab will be closer to $575 since this summer is expected to be warmer than last year’s. Less federal help available The spike in arrears comes at a time when there is less federal funding for energy assistance available. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, has about $6 billion in funds for fiscal 2023, which runs through September. That’s down from the beefed-up allocation of $8 billion that Congress provided for the year before, though it’s more than the typical provision of nearly $4 billion. Plus, the pandemic rental assistance money that states could use for energy arrears has also dried up. Utility companies offer repayment plans, but the system is not set up to deal with this level of debt, Wolfe said. He expects a significant increase in utility shutoffs in coming months, now that winter moratoriums have ended. Some states are trying to help their residents deal with their arrears. New York, for instance, is providing $672 million in aid to help 478,000 residential customers and 56,000 small businesses settle their past due utility bills. Last fall, California helped 1.4 million residents wipe out $647 million in overdue energy bills. It eliminated all the debt accrued by residential customers between March 2020 and the end of 2021..Ash from Popocatépetl volcano, which is in a central part of the country, has delayed flights in Mexico City and led authorities to close schools in dozens of municipalities. Some 25 million people live in a 60-mile radius of the volcano, which is about 45 miles southeast of Mexico City and located between the states of Morelos, Puebla and state of Mexico. On Sunday, the National Civil Protection Coordination (CNPC) increased its volcanic threat level to “yellow phase 3,” which calls on some 3 million people who live in towns and villages adjacent to the volcano to stay alert and prepare for a possible evacuation. The CNPC also warned of greater volcanic activity and the dispersion of ash into several nearby towns at high speed. It also recommended that residents nearby avoid outdoor activities. “In the case of Mexico City, the risk is ash fall. We are prepared for that scenario and we know what to do. Let’s stay alert,” Mexico city’s mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said in a tweet on Sunday. Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport (AICM) was temporarily closed on Saturday and some flights were delayed on Monday due to the presence of volcanic ash, according to airport authorities. “Air travelers may continue to experience additional flight delays, cancellations, or temporary airport closures with little or no warning,” the US embassy in Mexico said, with the airport also issuing a similar alert. State authorities have also suspended in-person classes in schools across 40 municipalities in Puebla, five municipalities in the state of Mexico and seven in Tlaxcala and said the classes will be held remotely. The US embassy in Mexico issued a warning on Saturday saying the Popocatépetl volcano “has exhibited increased activity since May 15, registering hundreds of tremors and smoke and ash exhalations.” The embassy also recommended people to not travel within a 7.5 mile radius of the volcano, citing warnings from local authorities. The volcano had been dormant for decades until it erupted in 1994. Since then, its rumblings have become a part of daily life for residents..Democratic lawmaker spars with CNN host after question about heckling George Santos: ‘CNN, y’all trippin’.The European Data Protection Board announced the fine in a statement Monday and said it followed an inquiry into Facebookn n (FB) by the Irish Data Protection Commission, the chief privacy regulator overseeing Meta’s operations in Europe. The fine is the largest ever levied under Europe’s signature data privacy law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Meta’s infringement is “very serious since it concerns transfers that are systematic, repetitive and continuous,” said Andrea Jelinek, chair of the European Data Protection Board. “Facebook has millions of users in Europe, so the volume of personal data transferred is massive. The unprecedented fine is a strong signal to organizations that serious infringements have far-reaching consequences,” she added. Meta, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, said it would appeal the ruling, including the fine. There would be no immediate disruption to Facebook in Europe, it added. “The ability for data to be transferred across borders is fundamental to how the global open internet works,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, and Jennifer Newstead, the company’s chief legal officer, said in a statement. “Thousands of businesses and other organizations rely on the ability to transfer data between the EU and the US in order to operate and provide services that people use every day.” — This is a developing story and will be updated..


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