A recently written paper by Steve Cicala, Tufts University, former HEEP Pre-Doctoral Fellow and current HEEP Associate Scholar, highlights the inequities in utility disconnections occurring in Illinois, resulting in executive orders signed by the governor designed to help those most affected by the disconnections. The paper, “The Incidence of Extreme Economic Stress: Evidence from Utility Disconnections” shows that electricity disconnections were double their historic averages in October 2020 and largely affected Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The number of disconnections was higher across the board in Illinois, but people living in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods were four times more likely to be disconnected than those living in neighborhoods with residents who are predominately White.
The conclusions made in Cicala’s paper were brought to the attention of the Governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, who signed legislation on April 22 creating a new Utility Disconnection Avoidance Program, aimed at reducing the rates of electricity disconnection in low-income neighborhoods across the state. The Utility Disconnection Avoidance Program will provide $80 million in assistance for households to avoid disconnections and was signed in tandem with another program prioritizing the purchase of low- and zero-emission vehicles for Illinois’ fleet of state vehicles.
The Washington Post also featured Cicala’s study in a recently published article, “Off the Grid.” The article in the Post provides a more human face to the crisis. In it, Cicala notes “The regulator’s goal was zero disconnections, the local safety net [in Peoria, Illinois] didn’t register a crisis. That would suggest that our social safety net is in grave need of repair.”
The executive order signed by Governor Pritzker, intended to halt electricity disconnections, suspends two elements of the Illinois Clean Energy Act to expand the use for emergency relief dollars for customers at risk of having their service disconnected. There had been a moratorium on disconnections during the winter due to the pandemic, but the moratorium is now ended. Cicala’s research could not have come at a better time for the residents in Illinois who would have had their electricity cut off.