WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Debbie Dingell (MI-12) reintroduced the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act, which would prohibit water shutoffs and ensure water affordability protections for low-income households during the COVID-19 national emergency. According to the CDC, one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wash one’s hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Prior to this crisis, though, an estimated 15 million people in the United States had experienced a water shutoff, especially in communities with higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and people of color. The bill would also require providers to reconnect water services for those millions of Americans.
While a handful municipalities and states have issued moratoriums on water shut offs since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many have expired and 183 million Americans currently live in jurisdictions without shutoff protections. Tlaib and Dingell believe it is vital that Congress—and the Biden Administration—ensure a comprehensive federal response that protects all households across the United States by passing this bill. This is especially true given the emergence of a new, far more contagious strain of the virus since the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act was first introduced last April. With the country far from out of the woods, unhindered access to water is an issue the congresswomen are urging vigilance on as drafts of new relief executive orders and legislation begin.
“At the onset of the COVID—19 crisis, around 2,800 families in Detroit had no running water. No one should be left without the ability to wash their hands in order to help safeguard themselves and their loved ones from the far more contagious, threatening strain of this virus,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “Water has become more and more unaffordable, inaccessible and contaminated because we are not prioritizing the critical importance of water being a human right. The barriers and continued lack of investment are components of increased poverty and structural racism that many in our community have been facing their whole lives. This new Congress and Administration should address this issue with a renewed urgency for dismantling these broken systems and ensuring that water is a human right no one is denied.”
“Long before this pandemic began, the lack of access to water had deadly consequences for people and families around this country,” Congresswoman Dingell said. “Denying any of our neighbors the ability to wash their hands or drink safe, clean water is unconscionable and immoral. If someone cannot afford their water bill, federal and local government should work together to help them, not punish their families by cutting off their access to water. Congress must immediately enshrine water as an undeniable human right afforded to all people who call this nation home.”
In addition to 73 members of the House of Representatives co-sponsoring the legislation, 88 organizations have endorsed the bill. A full list of co-sponsors and endorsing advocacy groups and organizations can be found here.
“Millions of people are struggling with their water bills and are falling deeper into water debt with every passing month,” Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Campaign Director Mary Grant said. “Less than half of the country is protected from water shutoffs right now in the middle of the pandemic. We thank Representatives Tlaib and Dingell for introducing this critical legislation. We urgently need Congress to pass it into law to keep the water on and help protect water as a human right for every person in the country.”
“We applaud Congresswomen Tlaib and Dingell for reintroducing the emergency Water is a Human Right Act, which would prohibit water shutoffs and ensure water affordability protections for low-income households during the COVID-19 national emergency,” Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in Detroit Justin Onwenu said. “Far too many families have had to go without running water during the pandemic, but utility shut-offs are not new. The pandemic has simply highlighted an injustice that has persisted for years. Access to clean water is a human right, and it is more important than ever that we protect that right, as the health of hundreds of millions of U.S. residents depends on hygiene and handwashing.”
“We applaud Congresswomen Tlaib and Dingell for reintroducing the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act. As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, all Americans must have access to this life sustaining resource. Additionally, we must be looking at permanent solutions to the water affordability problem,” We the People of Detroit (WPD) Community Research Collective Member Nadia Gaber, PhD said. “The areas of highest water insecurity are also those hit hardest by COVID-19, from majority-Black cities to Native American reservations, underscoring the urgency of securing safe and affordable water for all. As community-led research has shown, unaffordable water has ripple effects on families and cities: it increases stress, isolation and depression, erodes trust in our institutions, and ultimately gives governments fewer resources to rebuild our most vital infrastructures.”
The legislation would also ensure robust water affordability protections for households with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty guidelines by authorizing $1.5 billion in grants to assist low-income households paying a high proportion of household income for drinking water and wastewater service, using Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to administer low-income household drinking water and wastewater assistance, and more. In addition to requiring service providers to reconnect water services, the bill also requires the reconnection of disconnected home energy and electric services and prohibits home energy and electric shutoffs during the COVID-19 emergency period.
A full text of the bill can be found here.