Improving low-income households’ access to energy and internet needs to be a priority for federal, state and local programs

January 5, 2022 - Karessa Weir

Energy poverty and lack of internet access need to be addressed by federal and state programs, and the programs need to include several factors including communication, social and behavioral factors, according to a new paper published by Dr. Tom Dietz, MSU University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and founding director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program.

Tom DietzFamilies who are energy insecure suffer greatly in times of extreme weather or events such as a global pandemic. In these times, policymakers and welfare programs need to help such households reduce their physical and mental health risks. In the U.S., this could mean extending existing assistance programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or extending moratoria on shutting of power for non-payment during a pandemic.

Not only do relief programs for those in energy insecure areas need substantially increased funding, more efforts need to be made to ensure consistent and effective delivery of the programs. Both energy and internet availability need to be priorities for future assistance programs, the researchers found.

“State governments should investigate their legal and ethical obligations to support internet and utility accessibility and affordability during disasters, especially in vulnerable communities,” the researchers wrote in the article “Extreme events, energy security and equality through micro-and macro levels: Concepts, challenges and methods” published in Energy Research & Social Science.

Additionally, more effort needs to be made to promote the available programs, including reaching out to communities of color with sources who are “demographically similar to the message recipients” such as the same ethnicity, gender, or social status.

“To achieve effective programs to serve low-income and BIPOC communities, it is imperative not to rely solely on online or big data but to engage those communities in processes that link analysis and deliveration with local voices,” the researchers wrote.

Finally, Dr. Dietz and the other authors call on researchers to consider the social, psychological and behavioral dimensions of low-income households when working in the area of energy insecurity.

“The potential of inter-and transdisciplinary analyses to understand (energy insecurity and inequality) is clear, but requires social scientists and engineers to incorporate social vulnerability measures into the broader measurement and modeling of community resilience including health, education, economic, policy, communication, and demographic factors.”

Lead author for the article is Dr. Chien-fei Chen, Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electrical Energy Transmission Networks at the University of Tennessee. In addition to Dr. Dietz, MSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Kristen Cetin contributed to the article. The full text can be found at

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