WASHINGTON, April 13, 2020 — More than 830 utility-justice, environmental, faith, civil-rights and labor groups sent a letter to Congress today calling for the next stimulus package responding to the coronavirus to include a moratorium on electricity, water and broadband utility shutoffs.
The letter also calls for stimulus funds for distributed solar, percentage-of-income water affordability programs and improved broadband connectivity to address the systemic issues leading to shutoffs.
The coronavirus crisis has triggered unemployment levels unprecedented in modern American history, disproportionately hurting low-wealth households, communities of color and Native American communities. These families are facing disconnection and unaffordable rates for utility services essential for survival in this crisis, including electricity, broadband and water, the first lines of defense against the coronavirus.
Congress failed to include any utility-service protections in the third coronavirus rescue package, despite vast public support. Today’s letter calls for a nationwide moratorium on all utility disconnections, reconnections for lost services, and forgiveness of late fees and bill payments for low-wealth people. The groups urge that these protections last for six months after the emergency ends to allow people to recover economically and not be overwhelmed by debt.
“It’s unconscionable that Senate Republicans chose to protect corporate America over families in the last rescue package,” said Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program. “Families are facing impossible choices between paying for food or electricity, water or healthcare. Congress should ensure all utilities are kept on and invest in long-term solutions like community solar that aren’t dependent on dirty corporate utility power that can be cut off in a crisis.”
“Our nation is in crisis and we are once again woefully underprepared to address the systemic injustices exacerbated by this pandemic head on. Low-income households, particularly Black and Latino households, that already spend a larger portion of their income on home energy costs need a national moratorium on utility shutoffs now,” said Chandra Farley, just energy director at the Partnership for Southern Equity. “As bills continue to rise due to utility rate hikes and expensive, dirty energy infrastructure, Congress should invest in the economic engine of energy efficiency and pollution-free, clean energy that we know can lower utility bills and improve the overall health of historically marginalized communities.”
“There is absolutely no excuse left for Congress to exclude basic human needs from the next coronavirus stimulus package, or in general,” said Rianna Eckel, senior national water organizer at Food & Water Action. “People are facing the reality of living through a summer without running water right now. We need national action to protect every single person in this country from inhumane utility shutoffs, nothing less.”
“Right now, an affordable broadband connection can mean the difference between being employed or unemployed, healthy or sick, connected with the outside world or trapped in isolation,” said Dana Floberg, policy manager at Free Press Action. “As the pandemic forces people out of work, millions more people, especially low-income families and communities of color, will find themselves unable to pay for broadband. No one should lose access to lifesaving and necessary communications tools during this crisis. Congress must act swiftly. We must end the shutoffs that leave vulnerable families digitally stranded and fund the emergency broadband connectivity programs to get and keep impacted communities online.”
“COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequities in our already unjust water systems, and the pandemic makes the need for equitable access to clean water all the more urgent,” said Alissa Weinman, Corporate Accountability senior water organizer. “Shamefully, the United States government has not only failed to formally recognize the human right to water internationally but has also failed to adequately invest in water infrastructure here for decades, deepening its legacy of structural racism and inequity. Right now, Congress can change course and bring us closer to realizing water justice by stopping water and other utility shutoffs, investing in public water infrastructure, and prioritizing people, not corporations.”
“Now more than ever it is clear that access to core services like water, electricity, and broadband is a human right,” said Johanna Bozuwa, climate and energy co-manager at the Democracy Collaborative. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was confronted with a utility shutoff crisis, particularly in communities of color. Congress needs to step up and secure access for all, as well as make long-term commitments to affordable, more resilient systems by investing in renewable energy, cleaning up our water systems, and expanding broadband access.”
Just over half of all states have imposed moratoria on shutoffs of various utilities. According to the Energy and Policy Institute and Food & Water Action, some electricity and water providers have also voluntarily enacted moratoria on shutoffs. But the moratoria vary significantly in protections and none give accumulated bill relief once the emergency ends.
Shutoff numbers are difficult to obtain because utilities aren’t required to report them, but reports have emerged of shutoffs in places like Tennessee and New Mexico.
Several Congress members have echoed the call for a national moratorium and bill relief on electricity, water, and other utilities to be included in the next coronavirus package.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org
Corporate Accountability is a 40-year-old membership organization that stops transnational corporations from undermining public health, human rights, democracy, and the environment. www.CorporateAccountability.org
Free Press Action is a nonpartisan organization fighting for people’s rights to connect and communicate. Free Press Action does not support or oppose any candidate for public office.www.freepress.net
Food & Water Action is the political advocacy arm of the research and education organization Food & Water Watch. We mobilize people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. https://www.foodandwateraction.org
The Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE) is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that advances policies and institutional actions that promote racial equity and shared prosperity for all in the growth of metropolitan Atlanta and the American South through an ecosystem-based model for multi-demographic engagement. www.psequity.org
The Democracy Collaborative is a research and development lab for the democratic economy. Its mission is to help catalyze a moral and political transformation of the US political economy into a next system that is inclusive, just, and ecologically sustainable. https://democracycollaborative.org