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Unpaid bills

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • Sep 9, 2021
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When the pandemic hit North America in March 2020, utilities across the country suspended shut-offs for late bill payers. Some of these suspensions were state mandated, while others were decided on by power companies. By now, almost all shut-off moratoriums have ended. Now, the question is what to do about all those outstanding bills. 

From a public health perspective, it’s likely that the moratoriums were very effective. A paper out of Duke University estimated that the shutoff moratoriums reduced COVID-19 infection by 4.4% because they kept people from moving in with family and friends to save money. That same study estimated that 15% of COVID deaths could have been prevented had moratoriums been put in place nationally. However, moratoriums came with a cost: Without a warning of a shutoff, many people forgot about their mounting debts and didn’t apply for state and federal relief programs. 

Some states have used federal aid package money to relieve utilities. Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, for example, signed a bill into law that will see $250 min go to utility debt assistance. New Jersey saw its unpaid bill debt climb from $376 million in 2019 to $709 million in 2020. 

I don’t know what the solution to utility bill debt is. Any plan will come at some cost to society. There are no free lunches in economics.


 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 9, 2021

I wonder if there's a direct corollary in any other industry that's figured out the best bet here. There have been bailouts of major industries before for very different reasons, so I suppose it's not too unprecedented. As well as student loan forgiveness, but that's also unique in that it often comes from government loans. At the very least, hopefully this will kick start some thinking on what to do if something similar happens to widespread utility bills in the future because of another unexpected emergency. 

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Sep 15, 2021

It's a good question, Matt. There have been industry bailouts, like you mentioned, and also national debt forgiveness...following ww2 and Latin America in the 80's. Not sure of a consumer precedent...although it seems like something like this might be coming for car loans. Americans have an absurd amount of money tied up in longterm (like 7 years!) car payment plans. 

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