Fall peak in utility needs comes earlier, is bigger in 2020

Requests for help paying utility bills always rise in the fall. In 2020, that increase came earlier and rose higher than usual. We examined 712,608 utility assistance requests received by 2-1-1s serving 30 states, from January 5th to October 17, 2020, and compared them to 522,862 utility assistance requests received by the same 2-1-1s on the same dates in 2019. In 2019 (orange line on chart), utility requests increased by roughly 25% in the first week of September and stayed elevated through late October. This seasonal increase can be seen every year in 2-1-1 data, and has been attributed to summer cooling bills that are put off until utility companies’ grace period ends and disconnection notices are issued. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 (blue line on chart), the annual fall increase appears to begin in mid-August, three full weeks earlier than usual. Moreover, there is a late July peak in 2020 that corresponds with the expiration date of utility disconnection bans put in place in many communities. Overall, we found that after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, utility requests have been 45% higher in 2020 compared to 2019. Data come from 2-1-1 Counts. Mouse over each line to see weekly request totals.

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