FACT CHECK: Nikki Haley Claims 1 In 6 American Families Can’t Afford Their Utility Bill

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

In a recent interview with Trinity Broadcasting Network, 2024 presidential hopeful and former South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley claimed one in six American families can’t afford their utility bill.

Verdict: True

Data from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA) and multiple experts indicate Haley’s claim is correct.

Fact Check:

Haley has emerged as the “top alternative” to former President Donald Trump in New Hampshire, coming in at 29%, CBS News reported, referencing a recent poll it conducted with YouGov. Trump remains the Republican frontrunner at 44%, according to the same poll, the outlet indicated.

During her conversation with Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Scott Brown, Haley claimed one in six American families can’t afford their utility bill. “Let’s first start with the economy. I mean you’ve got 60% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. You know, one in six American families can’t afford their utility bill,” Haley said.

The claim is true. In August 2022, Bloomberg reported one in six households, or 20 million Americans, were behind on their utility bills, according to data from NEADA. Rising prices, including rising energy prices and the cost of natural gas (which was impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), rising temperatures as a result of climate change, and an end to pandemic moratoriums on utilities all impacted Americans’ ability to pay their utility bills on time, the outlet reported.

Data from New Jersey’s Public Service Enterprise Group and California’s PG&E Group showed a 30% increase in households who were at least 90 days late on their utility bills in the former and a 40% increase in households who were behind on their payments since February 2020 in the latter, also according to the outlet. The outlet also noted a 15% increase in the average price consumers paid for electricity in July 2022, one month prior to the article’s publication.

Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows residential customers paid an average of 15.31 cents per kilowatthour in July 2022 versus an average of 13.83 cents per kilowatthour in July 2021, while there was a 9.1 percent increase in consumer prices from the 12-month span of June 2021 to June 2022, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jean Su, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Bloomberg in August 2022 that she expected a “tsunami of shutoffs” in the aftermath of increasing prices and the ending of COVID-era pandemic moratoriums on utilities at the time. In addition, NEADA labeled the crisis the “worst crisis” it has ever documented, according to the outlet.

A spokesperson for Haley directed Check Your Fact to the article.

Mark Wolfe, the executive director of NEADA, told Check Your Fact Haley’s claim is “correct” in an email.

“[The claim is] correct,” Wolfe said. In addition, Wolfe directed Check Your Fact to an April 2023 press release from NEADA detailing Americans’ struggles in paying their utility bills. According to the release, 20.5 million Americans (or one in six) were behind on their electric bills in January 2023 in comparison to 19.0 million in 2022. At the same time, 13 million Americans were behind on their natural gas bills in comparison to a previous 12.5 million. The amount of money Americans owed on their utilities increased from $15.9 billion in January 2022 to $17.8 billion in January 2023, according to the same release.

Similarly, PYMNTS cited Bloomberg’s reporting, including the data they obtained from the New Jersey Public Service Enterprise Group and California’s PG&E Group, to illustrate Americans’ struggles in paying their utility bills in an August 2022 piece. The outlet also reiterated that the crisis is the “worst crisis” to have been documented by NEADA.

Americans’ struggle to pay their bills continued into 2023, with USA Today reporting in January that 6.2 million households were receiving winter energy assistance in comparison to a previous 4.9 million. The statistic represented “the largest one-year increase since 2009,” according to NEADA, the outlet indicated. Additionally, NEADA revealed home heating prices were the highest they’d been in 10 years, with households paying 12.7% more for heat in the winter. (RELATED: Ron DeSantis Makes Claims On Nikki Haley’s Position On Retirement Age And Life Expectancy In The U.S.)

In May 2023, CNN reported almost 20 million Americans were behind on their utilities as of March 2023 in comparison to 17.6 million the year prior, according to data from NEADA. The total amount of money households owed was $19.5 billion in comparison to $15.7 billion in March 2022, the outlet indicated. Both a Haley spokesperson and the left-of-center think tank New America directed Check Your Fact to this article.

Furthermore, in an October 2023 study, Lending Tree found “32.3% of Americans say they’ve cut back or skipped necessary expenses at least once to pay for their utilities.” In addition, the study found 21.2% of Americans said they were “unable to pay all or part of their energy bill in the same period.” These numbers contrast with 33.9% of Americans who said they cut back on their expenses and 23.1% who said they couldn’t pay their energy bill the previous year.

Dr. Victor Claar, an economics expert at Florida Gulf Coast University, said Haley’s claim “is reasonable.”

“This is a reasonable claim,” Claar said. In addition, Claar directed Check Your Fact to NEADA’s April 2023 End of Winter Update, which showed 20.5 million as the estimated total number of households in arrears. The statistic translates to 15.6% percent, according to the same document. Claar said the data is what Haley was “likely referencing” when she made the claim.

Dr. Bradley Andrew, an economics expert at Juniata College, disagreed and labeled Haley’s claim as “misleading” given the fact that Americans “all pay many different bills.”

“I don’t know if it’s true. Then again, it’s a misleading statement. We all pay many different bills so it’s virtually impossible to say that anyone can’t afford their utility bill unless you know what those 1 in 6 Americans are paying for everything else and how they might alter their spending,” Andrew said.

Check Your Fact has contacted multiple think tanks and economics experts for comment and will update this piece accordingly if one is received.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter