A broad coalition of pressure groups delivered a letter to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris a week before their inauguration urging them to use their executive powers to implement a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs on day one of their administration.
The No Shutoffs Coalition of more than 600 utility-justice, environmental, racial-justice, labour and faith groups has been calling for action since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to the public health implications of access to water and other utilities during the crisis.
Although 20 states implemented full or partial moratoria last year, many of those have since expired, leaving many already vulnerable families at risk of being shut off from running water as cases of COVID-19 continue to soar across large parts of the USA.
When she was a senator, vice president-elect Harris cosponsored the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act introduced last April by Michigan congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell. The bill was included in the HEROES Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives, but was not included in the COVID relief bill ultimately passed by the Republican-controlled Senate in December.
Said Tlaib: “We know that water and other utility shutoffs disproportionately hurt our neighbors of color, and that it’s no coincidence these disparately impacted groups are also facing the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic … the Biden Administration must use its power to enact a nationwide utility shutoff moratorium and immediate water service line reconnection as soon as possible.”
The US does not have a nationwide system for gathering data on utility shutoffs, which is hampering definitive assessment of the situation. However, in a statement, the coalition said: ““Last year, more than 600,000 customers were officially at risk of service termination or behind on their water bills in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina. Between September and November, the country’s largest private water utility, American Water, disconnected over 12,000 households, affecting an estimated 32,000 people, in just three states.”