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Extreme heat drives home cooling costs to 10-year high: report

The average cost of keeping a home cool in the United States from June to September is expected to reach $719, nearly 8% more than last year, according to new projections from low-income advocates. This level would be the highest in a decade and would represent a considerable jump from the 2021 average of $573.

Organizations distributing federal financial aid expect to be able to help about one million fewer families pay their energy bills this year. This is partly because government funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) fell from $6.1 billion in the previous fiscal year to $4.1 billion dollars for the current fiscal year, the National Energy Assistance Director Association (NEADA) and the Center on Energy, Poverty and Climate said. in a report released Monday.

“It’s inflation in the sense that you have to spend more to cool your home, but you use more of it,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of NEADA, which represents state directors who manage air conditioning dollars. Federal assistance for home energy costs. “So we can’t blame the price. Rather, it is the price of climate change.

2024 is expected to be among the five hottest years on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, and this year has a 61% chance of being the hottest on record. Already last month, scorching heat and humidity gripped parts of Texas, the Gulf Coast and South Florida.

Last summer was also very hot. Phoenix, for example, endured a record 31 consecutive days of temperatures at or above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Electricity costs this summer will vary geographically, from a season average of $581 in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, to $858 in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, according to the report. While bills in the latter region are only expected to increase by 1.8%, the Mid-Atlantic region is expected to see a 12% increase in summer electricity bills since last season.

Many households face looming risks, the report said, ranging from going into debt to finance their air conditioning bills to potentially dangerous utility shutoffs for nonpayment. Only 17 states and Washington, D.C., offer residents some protections against air shutoffs, the report said, and nearly one in five “very low-income” families have no home air conditioning at all.

LIHEAP was originally designed to help low-income residents cover their heating bills during the cold winter months. But soaring summer temperatures have added pressure to the program. This year, about 80% of its funds will go to cover heating costs, leaving only 20% to supplement air conditioning bills, advocacy groups estimated.

“These estimates could, in fact, minimize the final costs of cooling homes this summer if temperatures continue to reach record levels,” the report warns.

LIHEAP administrators in many states have sounded the alarm in recent years about higher seasonal temperatures, saying growing demand in summer outstrips available funding. Unlike safety net programs like Medicaid or food stamps, LIHEAP cannot guarantee assistance to all eligible households. If demand is too high, funds may simply run out.

Brian Sarensen, who manages Washington state’s LIHEAP aid, previously described “the impasse of trying to provide everything to everyone who needs it, but not having enough money to do it.”

“We may be sacrificing the heating assistance we provide in the winter to save it for the summer,” he told NBC News last summer, when a series of scorching heat waves caused increase the use of air conditioning across the country. “But at the same time, you wonder: Am I letting someone freeze to death?”

Some relief could come this year in states that offer residents income-based subsidies on their electric bills, Wolfe said.

For example, there’s Connecticut — a Northeast state where generating electricity is generally more expensive for utilities — which last December launched a financial hardship program allowing consumers to avoid cuts and benefit from monthly reductions of 10% or 50% depending on needs. their income.

However, skyrocketing energy bills are already putting a strain on the poorest, the report warns. Researchers found that 23.5% of households were unable to pay their energy bill for at least one month in the past year, up from 21.3% the year before. The largest increase was recorded among households with children, rising to 33.1% compared to 28.4% for the previous period.

To cover their energy bills, many low-income families make difficult savings elsewhere. More than one in three people said they had reduced or abandoned basic household expenses at least once in the past 12 months due to energy costs, with the biggest increase again among those with children – for a rate of 41.5%.

“We are now approaching a period where people can no longer just sweat,” Wolfe said. “It’s pretty grim.”

News Source : www.nbcnews.com
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