Data shows one-fifth of SF metro area households are struggling to pay rising utility costs

Saturday, October 1, 2022
EMBED <>More Videos

The Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey shows that one-fifth of Bay Area households reduced or forwent basic necessities to pay an energy bill.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- With two kids attending school from home, Simonia Clifton saw her energy bill skyrocket during the pandemic.

Clifton said her bill was "Between $75 and $100 more than usual and that just kind of made it difficult to budget, especially having lost my job from COVID and being on unemployment at the same time."

She began cutting back elsewhere in order to cover her family's growing energy costs, including on running heat.

RELATED: PG&E customers could be hit with rate hike of more than $760 over 2 years

Clifton isn't alone, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey from last July through this August, which measures the pandemic's social and economic impact.

The ABC7 News data team analyzed the survey's findings for San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley and found that one-fifth of households reduced or forwent basic necessities, such as food or medicine, to pay an energy bill.

App users: For a better experience, click here to view the graph in a new window.

These struggles didn't fall equally on all residents. Race and ethnicity, education level, income, and households with children all played a factor in higher percentages.

Forty-seven percent of those who identified as Hispanic or Latino reduced or forwent basic necessities, such as food or medicine, to pay an energy bill. Thirty-seven percent of individuals surveyed who identified as Black also forwent basic necessities to pay an energy bill. More than half of those who have less than a high school education faced the same circumstances, along with almost a third of households with children under 18.

App users: For a better experience, click here to view the graph in a new window.

Dennis Osmer, the executive director of the Central Coast and San Francisco Peninsula Energy Services, said the situation could become worse with the moratorium on power shutoffs ending.

"I think it adds numbers to those numbers, this is a lot worse in its effect," he said.

Help exists. Arthur Higgins receives assistance from the low income home energy assistance program.

"The program made all of the difference in the world. It kept the power on. They made my house more energy efficient," Higgins said.

Households with a member who lost employment income in the previous month were more than three times as likely to be unable to pay their energy bills as those without income loss.

App users: For a better experience, click here to view the graph in a new window.

Gabriela Sandoval, the director of Race & Equity Policy with The Utility Reform Network (TURN) said, "We went into the pandemic with customers owing in California about $500 million and we know that right now the big four utility company customers owe about $2 billion."

The big four includes PG&E customers here in the Bay Area, making up approximately $900 million of that debt, according to Sandoval.

By email, a PG&E Spokesperson told ABC7 News customers who are having difficulty paying their bills can be put on a payment plan or possibly qualify for the CARE program which offers a monthly discount of 20% or more on gas and electricity. The Family Electric Rate Assistance Program offers a monthly discount of 18% on electricity only.

"It's stunning to look at how these costs have increased and the impact on the people who can least afford it is really heartbreaking," Osmer said.

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live