Washington (March 29, 2021) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today released a joint statement after the U.S. Census Bureau agreed to the senators’ request to continue its Household Pulse Survey and collect much-needed data regarding Americans’ experiences paying utility and delivered fuels bills during the COVID-19 pandemic in the survey in late June or early July 2021. Last month, Senator Markey led his colleagues in a letter to the Census Bureau in response to the lack of comprehensive, nationwide data regarding Americans’ access to electric, gas, delivered fuels, and water service and ongoing utility debt burdens.
The Census Bureau announced in a letter to lawmakers last week that it is committed to working with the U.S. Energy Information Administration to incorporate questions regarding American households’ use of and ability to pay for utilities into its Household Pulse Survey.
“As utility shutoff moratoria across the country expire, there could be severe consequences for the millions of American families who will be unable to pay their missed bills,” the senators said in a joint statement. “The inclusion of these questions in the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey will provide the critical data needed to help the federal government deliver sufficient relief to families that have fallen behind on payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. The more we know about Americans’ access to electric, gas, delivered fuels, and water – and their ability to pay for these utilities – the better we can help meet their needs and forestall economic disaster for consumers.”
The Census Bureau response letter can be found HERE.
Existing estimates regarding utility debt burdens indicate a serious and widespread problem. Electric and natural gas arrearages were estimated to reach $32 billion nationwide by the end of 2020, with 15 to 20 percent of residential customers at least 60 days behind on their utility bills. In Massachusetts, more than 300,000 customers will be at least 90 days in arrears and will be first in line for termination after the moratorium is lifted, according to the National Consumer Law Center. From June to August 2020, low-income Black households were twice as likely to get utility disconnection notices as low-income white households, and five times more likely to have their electricity disconnected.

On March 30, 2020, Senator Markey introduced a bill that set the sense of Congress that states and utilities should issue a moratorium on gas and electric service disconnections, late fees, reconnection fees, rate hikes, and other penalties for all consumers as a result of the ongoing national emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Senator Markey sent a letter with 15 of his Senate colleagues in March 2020 and joined another letter in April 2020, both of which called for a national moratorium on all utility shutoffs. This past October, Senator Markey joined several of his Senate colleagues in sending letters to the nation’s largest utility companies, urging the companies to suspend all utility shutoffs for the duration of the pandemic.