WASHINGTON— Over 600 utility, environmental justice, racial justice, work and faith groups delivered a letter today President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, urging his administration to halt the closure of public services across the country to protect public health.
The No Shutoffs Coalition, which advocated a federal moratorium on the closure of public services since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, presented Biden with a executive order project this would instruct the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use her authority under the Public Health Service Act to enact a national moratorium on residential water, electricity, broadband, heating and other utility services needed for non payment.
The proposed order, which would also provide for safe restoration for previously disconnected homes, would last the entire duration of COVID’s national emergency and at least 12 months after its end.
“No American – regardless of skin color, zip code or income – should have to choose between heating their homes, keeping the lights on, the broadband they need to work or learn remotely and put food on the table. This is especially true in the midst of a global pandemic, where public health experts emphasize the importance of each of us staying at home to protect ourselves, ”said US Senator Jeff Merkley. “While many states and utilities have struggled to do the right thing, many families are still at a loss to lose essential services in the midst of this public and economic health emergency. In order for all of us to overcome this together, we need to have a national disconnect moratorium that ensures that no families are left behind in the patchwork of policies. ”
“I have been leading the struggle in Washington for months to ensure that no one runs out of water in their homes during this pandemic and afterwards, because water is life now and forever,” said US representative Rashida Tlaib. “We know that water shutdown and other public services disproportionately harm our neighbors of color, and it is no coincidence that these unevenly affected groups are also facing the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. To combat this deadly virus and deepening economic and social inequality, the Biden government must use its power to enact a national moratorium on closing public services and immediately reconnecting to water services as quickly as possible. I am also pushing for the $ 1.5 billion fund I created under the Water Emergency Law is a Human Right to be enacted, which helps low-income families make their payments for water. “
This letter follows October call from the Environment Subcommittee on Supervision of the Chamber President Harley Rouda and Vice President Tlaib to the outgoing CDC Director Robert Redfield to issue a national water shutdown moratorium. Director Redfield sent a letter to organizations to advise people suffering from water cuts to use hand sanitizer or dirty water to wash their hands.
Congressman Tlaib has been advocating for a national closure moratorium since March and was the primary sponsor of the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act to create a $ 1.5 billion low-income water assistance fund with a moratorium on water closure and energy. Senator Merkely introduced the Senate version of the legislation and last April led a letter signed by 113 members of Congress in support of a nationwide closure moratorium.
The push for executive action comes after Congress ‘failure to enact a moratorium on the COVID relief bill passed in December, despite its inclusion in the House of Representatives’ HEROES Act and broad support from Senate Democrats. Although Congress has allocated $ 6 billion in additional funding for the relief of the electricity bill, that funding does not fit the scale of the crisis. The general spending bill at the end of December included $ 638 million for a new low-income water assistance program – far short of what is needed.
Driven by COVID-19 and record unemployment, the closure of public services remains a severe crisis affecting millions of working American families. Black, indigenous and Latino families are disproportionately affected.
“There are few basic needs more important than the ability to turn on the lights,” said Patrisse Cullors, co-founder / CEO of the BLM Global Network. “The fact that families during a global pandemic do not have the peace of mind to know that their energy is not going to be cut is not good enough. We need a national moratorium on closing public services, just as we need an eviction moratorium. Now, more than ever, we need to keep people safe and protected in their homes. “
Federal action is necessary in the absence of state protections. More than half of the US population is not protected from water closures. Due to the lack of comprehensive data on closings, it is not yet known how many families lost their water service during the pandemic. Last year, more than 600,000 customers were officially at risk of closing or delaying water bills in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina.
Between September and November, the country’s largest private water company, American Water, disconnected more than 12,000 households, affecting about 32,000 people in just three states. Service providers in Florida shut down tens of thousands of families over the summer.
“The public health crisis created by this pandemic has exacerbated longstanding racial and economic injustices,” said Rianna Eckel, senior national organizer at Food & Water Watch. “A national moratorium on the closure of public services will help protect us from a deadly pandemic and provide emergency aid for families struggling with basic needs. The Biden-Harris administration must take immediate steps to help working families and protect public health. ”
Nearly 80 million people in the U.S. do not have adequate broadband at home, and poor families and communities of color are disproportionately affected by this digital divide. In addition, 30 percent of low-income people of color report missing an Internet payment in the early months of the pandemic, while about half are concerned about paying the next Internet and telephone bills.
“During this pandemic, Internet connectivity is literally a lifeline for families,” said Dana Floberg, policy manager at Free Press Action. “But countless people are having these lifelines cut in the middle of a global health crisis, because they cannot pay the bills charged by extremely profitable internet providers. Blocking disconnection from the Internet means ensuring that all families can connect to virtual learning, remote work, telehealth commitments and critical information to participate in our democracy. “
Only five states maintain a moratorium on power cuts. In November of last year alone, nearly 30,000 homes in North Carolina were turned off by electricity giants Duke Energy and Dominion Energy. Likewise, nearly 40,000 families in Georgia and 35,000 families in Indiana were disconnected immediately after the state moratorium expired.
“The crisis in the closure of public services in America is a crisis in human rights,” said Jean Su, director of the energy justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Private energy utilities are disconnecting thousands of families every month, while continuing to reward shareholders. President Biden must use his executive power to protect working America from corporate America on his first day in office. “
“For almost a year in the midst of a deadly pandemic, many in Congress blocked the cut-off protections for basic services, ignored the will of the people and endangered countless communities. On the first day, the Biden administration must bring us closer to achieving water justice, stopping the closure of public services and prioritizing people, not corporations, ”said Alissa Weinman, associate director of the Corporate Accountability water campaign.
As a senator, Harris supported a national water closure moratorium, co-sponsoring the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act and co-authored a powerful opinion piece with Dolores Huerta that called for a national water moratorium and implementation of a water accessibility program “so that no one can choose between water and other needs”.
Stopping the shutdown of public services would have clear public health benefits: The Duke study in June, it was found that the moratorium on water and utilities shutdown reduced COVID’s average growth rate by 2.6%.