When Deborah Jackson opened her electric bill in February, she had no idea it would be a life-changing event.
She and her husband, Patrick, who live in a three-bedroom brick house in East St. Louis, Ill., owed Ameren aee $600.82, up from $172 in January. In March, the tab floated into the stratosphere: $1,024.31.
Since the couple’s budget billing plan lets them pay the same amount each month, the charges were eventually set at $538.
To keep the lights on, Deborah has returned her engagement ring to the jeweler until the Jacksons can afford the ring’s $125 monthly payment. Patrick, a warehouse employee, works an extra day each week. The Jacksons and their two kids no longer eat out or go to the movies.
“It’s frustrating because you can’t do the things you’re used to doing,” Deborah says. “You’re like, ‘I’m just working to pay a light bill.’ “
The Jacksons are among millions of U.S. residents reeling from the aftershocks of electricity deregulation in 17 states and Washington, D.C. After rate freezes in Illinois expired in January, bills soared up to 55% for Ameren customers and 26% for those of Commonwealth Edison. The Jacksons were hit with a much bigger increase because their house is among 170,000 Ameren dwellings that got big discounts for using electric heat. Those discounts also ended in January.
Read more about why energy deregulation is bad and why Florida families can’t afford it here.