The number of households that had their utility service disconnected for nonpayment rose 5% in fiscal 2009, despite a doubling of federal emergency-bill assistance and lower utility rates in many parts of the country.

According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, some 4.3 million U.S. households were disconnected for nonpayment in fiscal year 2009, as federal assistance more than doubled to $5.1 billion.

Keith Franklin, a driver for Cash Energy, drags a hose up a driveway for a home-heating-oil delivery in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, in September.
More than 8 million households got emergency-bill assistance in 2009, up nearly a third from the 6.1 million in 2008.

"The federal government is taking over more of the burden from utilities," said Mark Wolfe, director of the association, which includes state officials who distribute federal energy-assistance funds. He added that if the economy doesn't recover, nine million to 10 million households may seek aid in 2010.

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