February 18, 2020
Electric Bills and Financial Survival
Timing is everything for low-income people who rely on federal benefits to survive.
For example, retirees who receive their Social Security checks early in the month and spend the money before the bills come in are more prone to fill the gap with high-cost payday loans than people who get their checks a few weeks later, a 2018 study found. New research in a similar vein shows that timing also matters for individuals who receive food aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
When the electricity bill arrives on or within a day of the monthly SNAP benefit, the lowest-income customers in this study were much less likely to have a past due bill or to have their power cut off than customers whose bills arrive well after their benefits.
The timing is crucial, because SNAP supplies between 10 percent and 25 percent of household incomes up to 35 percent above the federal poverty level. When the government loads each month’s food benefit onto the card, it frees up money for high-priority bills coming due at the same time, including utilities.
This study took place in an unidentified New England state where recipients’ SNAP debit cards are refilled on the first day of every month.
After following the SNAP recipients for a full year, the researchers also found that the unpaid balances they had accumulated after 12 months were smaller if the bills coincided with the SNAP-card deposits. The advantages of a well-timed electricity bill were greatest in the poorest neighborhoods, the researchers said. …