For Immediate Release, July 23, 2020

Contact:

Taylor Billings, Corporate Accountability, (504) 621-6487, tbillings@corporateaccountability.org
Johanna Bozuwa, The Democracy Collaborative, (202) 559-1473 x 3007, jbozuwa@democracycollaborative.org
Chandra Farley, Partnership for Southern Equity, (404) 538-6236, cfarley@psequity.org
Seth Gladstone, Food & Water Watch, (917) 363-6615, sgladstone@fwwatch.org
Dana Floberg, Free Press Action, (202) 249-6089, dfloberg@freepress.net
Greer Ryan, Center for Biological Diversity, (812) 345-8571, gryan@biologicaldiversity.org

New Data Underscores Urgent Need for Federal Moratorium on Utility Shutoffs

Expiring State Bans Leave Millions at Risk of Losing Vital Services as COVID-19, Unemployment Rates Climb

WASHINGTON— Senator Tom Carper, Democratic ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, released a report today that revealed only 10 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have statewide moratoriums on water, power and gas utility shut-offs that protect all or the vast majority of residential ratepayers in effect right now. The report provides a comprehensive state-by-state analysis of state protections against water, power and gas utility disconnections.

The Center for Biological Diversity also released a report showing that expiring state-level electricity shut-off moratoria could leave as few as five states with binding protections by September. This patchwork of protections leaves an increasing number of people at risk of losing access to vital utilities.

More than 830 organizations, 113 members of Congress and hundreds of thousands of people have called for a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs for water, electricity and broadband services. The HEROES Act, passed by the House of Representatives in May, includes a nationwide moratorium on shutoffs. The Senate is set to debate the new COVID-19 response bill in the next three weeks, and advocates are calling for it to include these same provisions.

The coronavirus crisis has triggered unemployment levels unprecedented in modern American history, disproportionately hurting low-wealth households as well as Black, Latinx and other communities of color. These communities are facing increasingly unaffordable rates for water, electricity and broadband services.

In addition to impending expirations on state-wide moratoria, people are also contending with internet service providers that are reportedly shutting off service even after taking a voluntary FCC pledge not to. An investigation revealed that nearly 500 complaints have been filed with the FCC over internet shutoffs in apparent violation of the pledge. And now that the FCC has sunset its pledge, many providers are walking back these already-shaky promises.

According to Food & Water Action’s live tracker, 10 statewide moratoriums on water shutoffs and nearly 100 local moratoriums have already expired, leaving millions of people vulnerable to losing basic water services.

“It is morally unacceptable to cut off people’s essential services like water, energy and broadband amidst the ongoing pandemic — particularly as climate-induced heat waves hit across the country. People’s lives are more important than meeting profit margins. We need a comprehensive national moratorium passed in Congress,” said Johanna Bozuwa of the Democracy Collaborative.

“If the Senate doesn’t act, millions of families face the risk of losing power and water during an unprecedented public health and economic crisis,” said Greer Ryan, energy policy analyst at the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program. “A national moratorium on utility shutoffs has to be a nonnegotiable part of the new coronavirus rescue package. Lawmakers must help unemployed people keep their lights on and their water flowing. And we need to invest in long-term solutions like community solar to create new jobs and build climate and economic resilience.”

“As coronavirus cases are once again on the rise and many states are reinstating strict social distancing measures, the need for universal broadband is plainer than ever,” said Dana Floberg, policy manager at Free Press Action. “But too many people, particularly low-income families and communities of color, are kept offline by high broadband prices that are even less affordable during this pandemic and economic disruption. New research and painful stories show that too many people are at risk of losing vital internet connectivity due to broadband shutoffs. We need a national moratorium to ensure that no one is forced into digital darkness.”

“These updated numbers underscore what people across the U.S. have known for months: We need a national moratorium on utility shut-offs,” said Alissa Weinman, associate campaign director at Corporate Accountability. “COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities in water access at a time when that access is more important than ever. Shamefully, the U.S. government has not only failed to recognize the human right to water internationally, but has also failed to adequately invest in U.S. water infrastructure for decades. Right now, Congress can bring us closer to realizing water justice by stopping utility shutoffs, investing in public water infrastructure, and prioritizing people, not corporations.”

“Water shutoffs are resuming across the country, particularly in areas being hit hardest by the pandemic,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All campaign director at Food & Water Action. “Hundreds of people are losing basic water service every single day in cities including Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida. With COVID-19 cases spiking, we must ensure that every person has access to the services that they need to protect themselves, their families and their communities. This is an emergency that demands nothing short of federal action.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.