Washington, DC - Today, Representative Brenda Lawrence released a letter signed by 80 Members of Congress urging Congressional leaders to prioritize $47.5 billion in water funding as part of Phase 4 of the COVID-19 stimulus package. Food & Water Action released a sister letter echoing her demands signed by 233 environmental, social justice, labor, and religious organizations from across the country representing millions of Americans.
The letters include three major requests. First, the next federal coronavirus stimulus package must contain $12.5 billion in immediate assistance to cover the cost of nationwide low-income water billing assistance, service restorations, shutoff moratoriums, and household water bill debt forgiveness. Second, all states, localities, and utilities receiving those funds must be required to stop all water shutoffs and to restore service to previously disconnected customers.
Finally, Congress must pass the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act (HR 1417, S 611) to allocate $35 billion in annual federal funding for public clean water and drinking water providers to improve our water infrastructure, make service more affordable, stimulate the economy and create up to nearly 1 million jobs across the country.
“Handwashing is our first line of defense against the spread of COVID-19,” said Representative Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14). “Until every single person, family and community in this country is guaranteed access to safe, clean, affordable running water, this crisis will severely worsen. In the city of Detroit, even prior to the pandemic, over 140,000 households had been disconnected from their water service since 2014; that is simply unacceptable. That’s why I, and so many of my colleagues in Congress, am urging Congressional Leadership to finally invest in fixing our long-neglected water system. We must act now and provide Americans with access to safe, clean running water during this pandemic, and hopefully long thereafter.”
Congress members from 33 states have joined Rep. Lawrence in her call for Congressional leaders to make water a priority in the next aid package. According to data from Food & Water Action, only three-fifths of the country are currently protected from water shutoffs for nonpayment. Even less of the country is covered by state or local measures to restore water service or to forgive water billing debt. In 2016, one in every 20 households experienced a water shutoff.
“Water affordability is a deepening national crisis, especially as we face the pandemic’s economic fallout and record-high job losses,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Action. “No one should have to make tradeoffs between paying for water or housing, groceries or medicine. With immediate assistance and long-term federal investment, we can ensure safe water for all, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create up to 1 million jobs to give our economy a much-needed boost.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to compound water access across the country, communities of color, low-income communities, rural communities, and indigenous communities will be the most vulnerable to water shutoffs or unaffordable water service rates.
“The global health crisis – COVID-19 – highlights the ongoing danger to public health caused by depriving access to the basic human need for clean water. We know that washing our hands and proper sanitation is always a primary method in preventing communicable illness,” said Monica Lewis-Patrick, President and CEO We The People of Detroit. “So even after the Coronavirus pandemic has passed, our local and national leaders must ensure that all American citizens have access to clean, safe and affordable water for all of our safety.”
According to the Clean Water Council, every $1 billion in water infrastructure investment creates an estimated 20,003 to 26,669 jobs and can have far-reaching economic benefits, tripling in size with total demand for goods and services reaching an estimated $2.87 to $3.46 billion.
These demands are supported in a letter from nearly 50 national organizations, including American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO; Center for Biological Diversity; Food & Water Action; Human Rights Watch; Local Progress; the NAACP; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; National Drinking Water Alliance; Rural Community Assistance Partnership; Sierra Club; Sisters of Charity Federation; and others, as well as local and statewide organizations from 30 states.
"We need our Congressional leaders to fully fund our water systems now,” said Ricarra Jones, Political Director for 1199 SEIU Maryland/DC. "Working families across our country should not be facing water shutoffs because failed leadership has been staving off providing additional funding for water infrastructure."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated support for water assistance in the next stimulus package but has suggested that infrastructure funding may be pushed to the Phase 5 response package. Today’s letters showcase overwhelming support from Congress members and organizations across the country for prioritizing water action.
Food & Water Action is the political advocacy arm of Food & Water Watch. We mobilize people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time.