WASHINGTON—Yesterday, Rep. Harley Rouda, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Vice Chairwoman of the Subcommittee, released a video report pressing for a national moratorium on water shutoffs and immediate restoration of service for homes that have already had their water shut off.
Rep. Rouda and Rep. Tlaib issued the following joint statement:
“Water is a human right. We need it to drink, cook our food, and keep our bodies clean. Water is especially important during these unprecedented times—people cannot survive this pandemic without water. We have heard from activists and people who are currently living in homes without running water, and each person expressed the same urgency to our Subcommittee.
“Several states and the House have made clear that water is a human right by prohibiting shutoffs, but the Senate has failed to act. We urge Senators and the Trump Administration to join bipartisan efforts to save American lives and ensure every person has access to clean running water.”
The Subcommittee also sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) requesting a national moratorium on water shutoffs. In September, the CDC issued a moratorium on evictions due to the devastating impacts evictions could have on public health during the coronavirus pandemic. In the letter, Subcommittee Chairman Rouda and Vice Chairwoman Tlaib pressed the CDC to take similar action to stop water shutoffs at this critical time.
The Subcommittee’s video report highlights the following:
- More Than Half of the Country is Currently Subject to Water Shutoffs.
Despite science-based recommendations that washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water is essential to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, millions of Americans across the country are still subject to water shutoffs. Since June, at least 150 water shutoff moratoria have expired nationally, which has resulted in more than half the country without protections. This is especially concerning because the unemployment rate stands at 7.9%, meaning that over 12 million people could still have trouble paying their water bill.
- Without Action, Many People Will Not Have Their Water Restored.
Some states and cities have directed the restoration of water service amid the coronavirus pandemic. Monica Lewis-Patrick, Co-Founder and President of We the People of Detroit, raised concerns in the video report that water service is being restored at a slow pace and with a lack of accountability. For areas without a restoration order, people like Deborah O’Barr, who lives in Goodspring, Tennessee, have struggled to have their water service restored. Ms. O’Barr’s utility company has refused to restore service or agree to a payment plan. As a result, Ms. O’Barr is forced to shower at her son’s house, raising concerns that she is putting the health of her son and granddaughter at risk.
- While Americans Face Water Shutoffs for Non-Payment, Companies Across the Country Are Not Held to the Same Standard.
A recent investigation by Consumer Reports found that, although Coca-Cola and Pepsi owed “tens of thousands of dollars of past-due water bills that went unpaid for months,” the companies were never subject to a water shut-offs—while Detroit residents who owed as little as $150 had their water shut off. In the video report, Rep. Tlaib and Ms. Lewis-Patrick raise concerns regarding this inequity.
- Access to Water is an Undeniable Human Right.
In addition to the statements of Ms. Lewis Patrick, Ms. O’Barr, and Ms. Grant in the video report, a group of House and Senate Democrats, including Senator Jeff Merkley and Representatives Gerry Connolly, Brenda Lawrence, Ayanna Pressley, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alma Adams, Nannette Barragán, Debbie Dingell, and Barbara Lee joined in emphasizing that access to water is a human right and urging federal action to prevent shutoffs.