Local

Over 790,000 Mass. families were still behind on utility bills at the end of 2021, report says

Together, Massachusetts residential customers owed $674.7 million.

The number of people behind on their utility bills rose by 90,000 during the first 15 months of the pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic records. Sean Gallup

A new report indicates that hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts families are still unable to keep up with their utility bills because of the pandemic.

The report, which was compiled by the National Consumer Law Center using utility company data, says that at the end of December 2021, 794,947 residential customers were still behind on their electric or gas bills, together owing nearly $674.7 million.

This is also about $100 million more than residential customers owed utility companies in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

While the report says that Massachusetts consumers are in a better place when it comes to paying bills than they were in the summer of 2021 when the amount of money owed to utility companies hit a peak, together, they still owe hundreds of millions of dollars to utility companies.

Economy

“COVID-19 is still having a significant impact on hundreds of thousands of
customers’ ability to pay for utilities and other basic necessities,” the law center wrote in the report.

Advertisement:

This hardship becomes even more apparent when looking at residential customers who are more than 90 days behind on their bills, the report says.

About 424,260 residential customers were more than 90 days behind on their utility bills at the end of December 2021, owing about $557.8 million in total. The report said this amounts to 44% more than they owned in March 2020.

According to the report, many of these customers are likely low-income customers who would qualify for discount utility rates and other protections but are unaware of those benefits or unaware of the fact that they qualify. For these reasons, they are still on the standard rate and are unable to pay.

“It is important to keep in mind that unpaid bills, particularly those more than 90 days old, represent customers’ inability to pay, rather than a lack of desire to make payments,” the center wrote in the report.

The report added that national and comparable data indicates that non-white households disproportionately experience energy insecurity. This means that they are more likely to receive threats that they will have utilities shut off, have to forgo other basic necessities to pay for utilities, and actually have their utilities shut off.

While the law center said it does not have the data necessary to confirm that this is the case for Massachusetts, it said all indicators suggest that it is.

Advertisement:

The state moratorium on shutting off heat and power will protect discount rate customers until March 15, but that means organizations like the National Consumer Law Center are particularly worried about standard rate customers behind on their bills in the wintertime.

Come spring, all customers behind on bills are at great risk of losing utilities, the report said.

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com