Baltimore, MD -- Today, the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition delivered a letter to Mayor Young, Council President Scott, and the members of the City Council on behalf of 43 organizations representing tens of thousands of Baltimoreans, urging them to take additional actions to ensure that Baltimore’s most vulnerable water customers continue to have access to affordable water service.
Read the full letter and list of proposed actions here.
“Water is a human right, and a basic necessity, said Rianna Eckel, Senior Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Action. “We know hand-washing is our best hope in slowing the spread of COVID-19, so we need to ensure that all Baltimoreans have access to affordable water service. Thousands of our neighbors are losing their jobs and their wages and will be experiencing extreme financial hardship in the weeks and months to come. Our City’s leaders must take proactive action now.”
The Department of Public Works enacted a longstanding moratorium on water shutoffs in 2017, and the City Council passed the Water Accountability & Equity Act in 2019. However, the economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic warrants additional action in order to uphold the human right to water. The city’s water bills are more than 3% of the average household income for over one-third of residents, and another 10% water rate increase is set to go into effect on July 1st, which will only exacerbate this affordability problem.
“We are telling the City, you have a health crisis and an economic crisis that will linger for months, now is the time to ensure affordable access to water,” said Zafar Shah, attorney at the civil legal aid organization Public Justice Center. “The steps are clear -- temporarily suspend fees and expand eligibility for discounts.”
The letter was written by members of the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, the same coalition behind the passage of the Water Accountability & Equity Act (CB 18-0307). The 43 signatories on the letter represent top unions, advocacy organizations, legal providers and religious organizations serving Baltimoreans.
“While implementing these new programs is a significant undertaking, the need for them has never been greater,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore Director for Jews United for Justice. “We hope to see both meaningful progress in DPW’s implementation of the affordability and accountability measures required by the Water Accountability and Equity Act, as well as an effort to further expand the support and protections for Baltimoreans in this health emergency.”
In addition to the proposed actions, the letter included a list of questions for Mayor Young and the Department of Public Works about the implementation of the Water Accountability & Equity Act. Council President Brandon Scott previously introduced a resolution calling for an informational hearing on the implementation of the Act, which was scheduled to take place last Thursday, March 26th, but was canceled due to the pandemic. The bill, which was passed, requires the draft regulations for the Water Accountability & Equity Act to be shared with the public by April 13th.
“Working families in our city are going to be hit hard by this pandemic,” said Glen Middleton, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 67. “Our city’s leaders need to act now to ensure water is kept affordable and accessible for all Baltimoreans. Our neighbors shouldn’t have to choose between paying for their rent, food, medicine, or water. These are basic necessities that must be protected.”