More than one in four SoCal families are unable to pay energy bills, and heatwaves can make it worse

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — With temperatures rising again this week, it’s not just the power grid that’s strained.

According to an ABC7 analysis of the latest data from the US Census Bureau Household Pulse SurveyMore than a third of families in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties had to forgo basic needs like groceries or medicines to pay a utility bill.

More than a quarter have been unable to pay their full energy bill at least once in the past year, and 24% kept their home at what they felt was an unhealthy or unsafe temperature.

Omar Lara, a nursing student at Los Angeles Community College, is one of those people who struggles to pay utility bills.

“We always pay a little bit and you know, just try to survive,” Lara said.

The classroom is his cool center, but getting there and back is anything but cool.

“You just get on the first bus you can find and just try to get out of the heat,” he said.

People who need help have resources. United Way from Greater Los Angeles partners with SoCalGas and Southern California Edison to help those in need. That Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy also has financial aid programs.

Historically, low-income households and Black and Hispanic families have been hardest hit.

For example, about 39% of families earning less than $50,000 have not been able to fully pay their utility bills at least once in the past year, compared to just 5% of families earning $150,000 or more.

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About 39% of Black families have not been able to fully pay their energy bills at least once in the past year, compared to 34% of Hispanic/Latino families. For white and Asian families, the figures were 15% and 13%, respectively.

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“We had the pandemic, people had job insecurity, job loss, home insecurity, it was just a lot of things coming together,” said Norma Rodriguez, one of the directors of United Way Greater Los Angeles.

“And so these people are the hardest hit now as they try to… come back economically. Combined with inflation and rising gas prices, it’s a perfect storm for these communities,” she said.

According to Rodriguez, the heat wave made the situation even worse.

During the last heat wave in early September, the state saw record-breaking demand.

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But prices continued to soar during this period, with peak-time average wholesale electricity prices in Southern California more than twice the weekly average of August federal data.

Click here to open this visualization in a new window.

But price was only part of the problem.

For Omar Lara, “the power outage didn’t help. The power went out a couple of times.”

LA County Public Works will not shut down or discontinue services for customers unable to pay their bills, at least by September 27, 2022. But as a pandemic-era guideline, it won’t last forever.

Late last year, the California Public Utilities Commission approved PG&E, SDG&E, SCE and SoCalGas to implement the Percentage of Income Payment Plan or PIPP Pilot Programs which allow participants to pay an affordable percentage of their income on electricity or natural gas bills.

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https://abc7.com/how-do-i-get-help-with-my-utility-bill-much-power-costs-increase-during-heat-waves-many-people-are-struggling-to-pay-their-electric-bills/12272588/ More than one in four SoCal families are unable to pay energy bills, and heatwaves can make it worse

Laura Coffey

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