New Orleans, Louisiana—Today, groups representing the largest-ever number of residents, businesses, and organizations in Louisiana released a letter to Governor John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Resilient Commissions demanding action on water amidst the current pandemic.
The letter was signed by the Water Collaborative in partnership with the Alliance for Affordable Energy and Food & Water Action, and requested:
- A 180-day water shut-off moratorium on all water utilities including those municipally owned and operated across the entire state;
- Immediate restoration of water service to all homes previously disconnected for nonpayment;
- Waiving of all late fees, penalties, service restoration fees, and water rate increases;
- A comprehensive affordability program to alleviate cost burdens for low-income residents and assist water utilities; and
- Support for federal low-income aid.
The full letter with detailed explanations for each request can be found here.
Despite being the state 4th most impacted by COVID-19 with 32,662 reported cases and 2,315 deaths, Governor Edwards has lagged behind other governors who have taken action to ensure universal access to running water during the pandemic. While the Louisiana Public Service Commission issued an order prohibiting utility disconnections, its jurisdiction only extends to privately owned water utilities and does not include municipal utilities. In Louisiana, approximately 77% of residential water customers receive service from a municipal utility.
"Public health agencies agree that washing your hands and disinfecting your home is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. Without water, the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing conditions are more vulnerable to increased infection rates. We are gratified to see Governor Edwards and city leadership statewide take swift action on a water shut-off moratorium, but more must be done,” said Jessica Dandridge, the Executive Director of the Water Collaborative and local organizer of this letter. “Water access is a life-saving protocol that must be protected as we fight to stem the spread of the virus. Resilience is in the blood of Louisiana residents but we cannot fight an invisible enemy just with determination; it requires political prudence and brave policy. Together we have taken great steps to flatten the curve, let's not regress by not protecting our best and most accessible tool to fight COVID19. To save lives, water access must be protected."
Water shutoffs disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color and Louisiana has the highest poverty rate in the United States. African American communities also make up 32% of the state’s population. Even worse, the Governor himself has noted that chronic health conditions are extremely high in the state, which makes water shutoffs during coronavirus much deadlier.
“With so many of COVID-19 cases and deaths, extremely high unemployment rates, and the highest poverty rate in the country, Louisiana is looking at a fatal water crisis without immediate action. Governor Edwards and the Louisiana Resilient Commissions must use their authority to guarantee access to water for every single person in the state during this crisis,” said Rianna Eckel, Food & Water Action Senior Organizer. “Louisiana residents who are staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19 must have access to water, and workers who have lost jobs and benefits cannot be further burdened by the threat of late fees and penalties. As more lives are lost every day, elected officials must act immediately to guarantee access to water for all.”
In New Orleans, residents pay some of the highest utility bills in the country. In 2016, Food & Water Action found that 1 out of every 5 households experienced a water shutoff, accounting for 17% of households in Orleans parish. Water bills often consume 9% of most household incomes, averaging $1000 in cost a year per household. Now, Orleans parish is also the hardest hit parish in Louisiana with COVID-19 cases. The voluntary order to stop shutoffs in New Orleans, along with the voluntary orders in Baker, Baton Rouge, Jefferson Parish, Marksville, Monroe, and Shreveport, at best still leave 1.9 million people in Louisiana unprotected from shutoffs. Now those orders are even starting to expire. The state must take action to ensure that all 4.65 million people living in Louisiana are protected from the threat of water shutoffs for the duration of the pandemic.