The NAACP is offering up to $300 for African American residents struggling to pay their energy bills due to COVID-19. This comes about a week after the state allowed utilities to resume disconnections for unpaid bills.
According to a study by Indiana University, a lot of the people who have lost jobs during the pandemic are the same ones who had trouble paying their bills before the crisis — low-income, elderly, African American, and Latino residents.
La'Tonya Troutman is the environmental climate justice chair for the LaPorte County branch of the NAACP. She said, at the same time, people are spending more time at home and it’s hot outside — which is driving those energy bills up even further.
Many people are having to make tough choices between paying for housing, food, and energy.
“What do you prioritize when the governor’s saying, 'Hey, the moratorium’s ended and we're kind of back to normal' — but there is no normal because you're behind?” Troutman said.
Sanya Carley and David Konisky are professors at Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs — which conducted the study. Konisky said things like late fees can add up and make the problem harder to deal with. He said people may feel forced to make decisions that could put them even deeper in debt.
“They may seek out, you know, things like payday loans, right? Or other sort of risky loans or high-interest loans to get through in the short term," Konisky said.
Carley said one way the state and federal government can help would be to consider — or reconsider — ways to protect people from shutoffs.
“Another is to think about the debt that they accumulate during the time that they are protected and finding ways to help relieve some of that debt or forgive that debt after the fact,” she said.
The Indiana NAACP is also working to establish job opportunities, energy-efficient housing, and solar power to help decrease energy insecurity in the state.
To receive utility assistance through the NAACP, you must be African American or of African descent, referred by a local NAACP branch, and show that you’ve faced hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis. To apply, contact your local branch or La'Tonya Troutman at the LaPorte County NAACP.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.