May 12, 2020

Harris, Murray Push for Water Affordability in Next Coronavirus Relief Package

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) on Tuesday sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy demanding a comprehensive investment in water affordability in the next coronavirus relief package. Last year, Senator Harris introduced the Water Justice Act, landmark legislation that would invest $250 billion in water safety, affordability, and sustainability. The water affordability program envisioned in the Water Justice Act is similar to the proposal in the recently announced HEROES Act in the House of Representatives.  

“Before the COVID-19 crisis, our nation was already facing a water affordability crisis. An estimated 15,000,000 people in the United States experienced a water shutoff in 2016. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that approximately 15 percent of residential water customers nationally are constantly at risk of being unable to pay their water bills. Cities all across the United States are experiencing severe rate increases in their water and wastewater utility bills in recent years, including Lubbock, TX, Oak Ridge, TN, Seattle, WA, and Oakland, CA. These jarring numbers have no doubt increased during the COVID-19 crisis, as unemployment rises and families struggle to pay their bills,” the senators wrote.

They continued, “Especially during this pandemic, when we leave communities without access to the basic resource of water, we put them and the rest of the nation in danger. No one should be kept from practicing the public health guidance that will help protect them from COVID-19 because they can’t afford their water bill. Congress must put forward a solution to the water affordability crisis to keep all Americans, from urban cities to rural communities, safe and secure in this unprecedented time.”

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

May 12, 2020

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Charles E. Schumer

Minority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

 

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy

Minority Leader

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20511

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy:

From the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials put out guidance for everyone to frequently and thoroughly wash their hands. We know that sanitation and hygiene are critical to addressing this pandemic, and that adhering to public health guidance requires basic water needs for every person in the United States. Yet, the cost of water is burdensome for millions of Americans, especially in our current economic crisis. It is therefore imperative that the next COVID-19 relief package include a comprehensive investment in helping those most in need afford the cost of water.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, our nation was already facing a water affordability crisis. An estimated 15,000,000 people in the United States experienced a water shutoff in 2016. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that approximately 15 percent of residential water customers nationally are constantly at risk of being unable to pay their water bills. Cities all across the United States are experiencing severe rate increases in their water and wastewater utility bills in recent years, including Lubbock, TX, Oak Ridge, TN, Seattle, WA, and Oakland, CA. These jarring numbers have no doubt increased during the COVID-19 crisis, as unemployment rises and families struggle to pay their bills.

While some localities and states have mandated moratoriums on disconnecting water supply, the rest of the country is still at risk of water supply shut offs. Most at risk are low-income households, who were already 3 times more likely than other households to have their utility service disconnected for unpaid or overdue bills. The existing data on racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths indicates that low-income communities of color and Native communities will be at even greater risk if their water is shutoff.

Especially during this pandemic, when we leave communities without access to the basic resource of water, we put them and the rest of the nation in danger. No one should be kept from practicing the public health guidance that will help protect them from COVID-19 because they can’t afford their water bill. Congress must put forward a solution to the water affordability crisis to keep all Americans, from urban cities to rural communities, safe and secure in this unprecedented time.

We urge you to include a low-income rate-payer water affordability solution in the next relief package in order to successfully protect the American people from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are encouraged by the inclusion of such a program in the recently announced HEROES Act in the House of Representatives and look forward to working with you to help those most in need. 

Sincerely,

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