New shutoffs for non-payment of bills have been suspended in over 100 US municipal water systems and utilities in eight states in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is in response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) identification that good hygiene, especially frequent handwashing with soap, is critical to prevention of the spread of the virus.
Current shutoff moratorium announcements suggest that about 57 million Americans, in some of the largest cities, will be protected from losing water service for the time being. However, only about 20 percent of water departments have explicitly agreed to reconnect households that currently do not have running water, leaving potentially hundreds of thousands without water during this public health crisis.
Michigan congresswoman, Brenda Lawrence, commented to NGO Food & Water Action (FWW): “Suspending water shutoffs is the right thing to do, but reconnecting every household in the country is essential during this emergency in which handwashing is a primary measure to stop the spread.”
There is no national database of shutoffs but research by FWW suggests that the highest number of water supply shutoffs are concentrated in southern or rural states such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, and Oklahoma. Cities with high poverty and unemployment rates, with more people of color have been particularly hard hit by shutoffs.
Mary Grant, Food & Water Action, Water-For-All Campaign Director released the following statement:
“We applaud local and state leaders for stopping water shutoffs during this unprecedented crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth the dangers of our nation’s water affordability crisis and has made it clear: Our country needs a national ban on water shutoffs for nonpayment with immediate restoration of service to all families who have lost water for an inability to pay their water bills.
“In the absence of federal action to protect water access, our local leaders are rising to this challenge to help ensure their residents have water at home. They must go further and adopt aggressive plans to restore water service for those who were cut off prior to the moratorium.”
Key shutoff data reported by FWW include:
- Eight state regulatory agencies have ordered water shutoff moratoria
- Wisconsin has ordered restoration of service, state-wide
- 113 local water providers have stopped water shutoffs in 34 states; this is inclusive of six localities, including New York City, that never disconnect water for nonpayment and four localities that had pre-existing moratoria
- 18 out of the 103 (or 17 percent) of new moratoria include plans to restore service to people previously disconnected
- New Orleans and regulated utilities in Louisiana are under a shutoff moratorium, protecting more than 2 million people from disconnections.
- JEA, which serves 739,834 customers in the Jacksonville FL region, has also enacted a moratorium, with no current plans to restore service to those previously shutoff