States halt new water shutoffs, leaves previously disconnected households without water amidst coronavirus pandemic

"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."

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More than 113 municipal water systems along with regulated utilities in eight states announced their commitment to not shut off water service for nonpayment during the coronavirus pandemic. While this protects more than 75 million Americans from water shutoffs, it has no affect on residents whose water service was already disconnected.

According to the Food & Water Watch, eight states—Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin— and some private water companies have suspended shutoffs. Of these, only 17 percent of municipal water shut off moratoria include plans to reconnect previously disconnected households, Food & Water Watch reported.

That leaves thousands of residents across the country without water for proper hygiene, which is crucial to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, medical experts said.

“It is of the utmost importance for residents across this country to have running water to wash their hands to protect their health, the health of their families, and the health of their communities,” Mary Grant, campaign director for Food & Water Action and Water-For-All, said. “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.”

While local leaders are doing their part to protect water access, “just one in five water departments have explicitly agreed to reconnect households currently without running water, the rest have only committed to halting new shutoffs,” The Guardian reported.

“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,” Grant said. “They must go further and adopt aggressive plans to restore water service for those who were cut off prior to the moratorium.”

A survey conducted by Food & Water Watch in 2018 confirmed, on average, a 5 percent utility disconnect of customers, which left about 15 million Americans without access to water.

“We need an immediate outright nationwide ban on shutoffs, and must make sure that every household has running water in order to protect human health and our communities,” Grant said.

Local/State Water Shutoff Moratia Amidst Coronavirus, tracked by Food & Water Action:

  • Eight state regulatory agencies have ordered water shutoff moratoria: Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin has ordered restoration of service, as well, and the order applies to all major water systems in the state.
  • 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 new moratoria include plans to restore service to people previously disconnected. That’s only 17%
  • Data collected in 2018 revealed Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida as states with the highest shutoff rates. 
  • Oklahoma City, the city with the highest shutoff rate in our study, has announced a plan to temporarily suspend all water shutoffs for residents, in response to pressure from Rep. Craig Horn. There is no plan included to restore service.
  • New Orleans and regulated utilities in Louisiana are under a shutoff moratorium, protecting more than 2 million people from disconnections. While there is no statewide plan to restore service to previously shutoff residents, New Orleans is proactively working to restore water service to those customers who have been disconnected.
  • Jacksonville, Florida had one of the highest city-level shutoff rates affecting an estimated 107,409 people. JEA, the eighth-largest utility company in the US which serves 739,834 customers including residents of Jacksonville, has also enacted a moratorium. No plan to restore service to those previously shutoff has been included there.
  • Ohio is the state with the most local action: 13 localities are suspending shutoffs, and 5 are restoring service as well.
  • North Carolina has the second greatest number of local moratoria: 11 localities have suspended shutoffs, with 4 including service restoration.

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