Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Millions of households throughout the U.S. are vulnerable to utility shutoffs next month as state moratoriums expire. (Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Millions of households throughout the U.S. are vulnerable to utility shutoffs next month as state moratoriums expire. (Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

'National Human Disaster' Looms as Utility Shutoff Moratoriums Come to an End Across US

Millions of Americans "shouldn't have to forgo more meals just to keep the lights on so their children can attend remote classes."

Kenny Stancil

With state and local moratoriums on utility shutoffs set to expire and many American families continuing to fall behind on mounting bills, a new report estimates that millions of households in the U.S. will be at risk of losing access to electricity by October, generating renewed calls for Congress to enact a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs. 

Energy efficiency advocates at Carbon Switch analyzed data provided by public utility commissions (PUCs) as well as data on unemployment and energy spending to understand the extent to which expiring moratoriums are likely to impact U.S. households as the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis drag on. 

In the months since March, when governors and PUCs first began passing moratoriums, a growing number of states have allowed their bans on utility shut-offs to expire. According to the analysis, more than 76 million households will lack protections by October 1st.

The map below depicts the number of unemployed people in each state who are at risk of utility shutoffs on October 1, when several moratoriums expire. 


In the states where moratoriums have expired or are set to expire soon, roughly 10 million households are below the federal poverty line and another 9.5 million people are unemployed, rendering those Americans particularly vulnerable to energy insecurity, according to the report. 

Furthermore, the researchers note that in some states, up to one-third of customers can't make payments. In North Carolina, for instance, over 1.3 million households fell behind on utility bills but were spared from disconnection due to the governor's emergency order banning utility shutoffs.

If such moratoriums are allowed to expire across the U.S., "tens of millions of homes may soon go dark," as Luke Savage put it in Jacobin

The report explains the varying shutoff policies at the country's ten biggest utility companies, which are sumarized in the table below. 


The loss of power can have deadly repercussions—such as heat stroke, carbon monoxide poisoning, freezing, and fires—and the report authors point out that utility shutoffs have a disproportionate impact on nonwhite households, which are more likely to suffer from poverty and its attendant consequences

The report includes the heartbreaking story of an elderly woman in Arizona who passed away from a heat-related illness after her local utility cut her power. "She had been paying $125 per week—all she could afford on a fixed income—but it wasn't enough," the authors write. "The utility shut her power off because her balance was $176.84 in the negative."

The environmental and climate justice program of the NAACP argued that every utility-related tragedy is "preventable and we cannot, in good conscience, stand by and watch more when we have the means to ensure access for all."

The report authors conclude by arguing that the millions of Americans who lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19 "shouldn't be subjected to more pain. They shouldn't lose more of their dignity. They shouldn't have to forgo more meals just to keep the lights on so their children can attend remote classes."

Last month, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, tweeted: "The House-passed HEROES Act places a moratorium on utility shutoffs until four months after the end of this national emergency."

Pallone was echoing the calls made by more than 830 social justice groups, over 100 lawmakers, and more than 500 faith leaders who—as Common Dreams previously reported—have demanded a national moratorium on utility shutoffs for the duration of the pandemic in order to guarantee access to services essential to survival. 

As fears mount that utility companies will resume shutoffs, similar calls continue. In Jacobin, Savage argued that "as Congress gets set to negotiate the next round of stimulus and pandemic relief, a national moratorium on utility shutoffs must be front and center alongside fresh cash payments and other supports."

"The alternative," Savage wrote, "is nothing short of a national human disaster."

It's not only power that worries advocates. Water, perhaps the most basic human need, is crucial in the fight against coronavirus.

"How the hell are you supposed to wash your hands... when your water has been shut off?" Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked in April. 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.
No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark. All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.



'Horrific': 50 Migrants Found Dead in Abandoned Trailer Truck in Texas

"We need to end Title 42 and fix our broken immigration system so these unimaginable tragedies stop happening," said Rep. Chuy García. "People fleeing violence and poverty deserve a chance at a better life."

Jake Johnson ·

Harris Says White House Not 'Discussing' Use of Federal Land for Abortion Care

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are among the Democratic lawmakers who have expressed support for the idea as GOP-controlled states move to outlaw abortion.

Jake Johnson ·

Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·

Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo