Annapolis, MD -- On the heels of Maryland courts’ first day holding new eviction actions for failure to pay rent, the Governor’s statewide moratorium on utility shutoffs expired today, leaving many Marylanders at risk of having utilities shut off for failure to pay their bills. This latest loss of protections for Maryland residents follows Governor Hogan’s refusal to extend the eviction moratorium, in spite of how deeply impacted the state of Maryland remains by COVID-19 in the areas of public health, employment, and economic security. Marylanders may be evicted due to unaffordable water bills if water is included as a condition of rent. The Baltimore Right to Water Coalition calls on Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones to reconvene the Maryland General Assembly to pass urgent protections from evictions and utility shutoffs.
Yesterday, the state Public Service Commission took emergency action to extend the moratorium for all regulated water, gas and electricity utilities in the state. However, this extension does not apply to unregulated utilities including internet, phone, and municipal water providers. Now, it will be up to the state’s 205 local governments to implement their own moratoria -- or leave many Maryland residents vulnerable to water shutoffs. This is an especially hazardous move given that many school-age children are headed back to their classrooms. Families must have water to maintain proper hygiene, which is of the utmost importance in the pandemic. Further, those who are continuing to learn remotely must have internet access. Internet providers cutting kids off from their teachers is unacceptable.
“There is never an okay time to leave Maryland residents vulnerable to shutoffs and eviction, and right now, with the pandemic still raging, what Hogan is doing is especially egregious,” says Rianna Eckel, Senior Maryland Organizer at Food & Water Action. “With unemployment numbers at record highs, thousands of Marylanders sick with the virus, and children about to return to school, the only just thing for Hogan to do is extend the moratorium on utilities shutoffs immediately. If he refuses, President Ferguson and Speaker Jones must call for a special session to pass urgent protections for Marylanders now. ”
“This will unfortunately worsen the crisis so many Maryland residents are already facing,” says Jaime Lee, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Community Development Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law. “Our most marginalized communities are going to be hit first and worst by these upcoming evictions and shutoffs if the governor doesn’t act now to protect them. As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, Maryland needs leadership and reassurance from its public officials, not additional hardships.”
“Governor Hogan’s lack of action to extend the utility shutoff and eviction moratoria is a failure of leadership,” says Molly Amster, Baltimore Director with Jews United for Justice. “As the final protections for renters facing evictions get stripped away, the loss of protections against utility shutoffs further endangers Marylanders. President Ferguson and Speaker Jones must step in where Governor Hogan has failed and convene a special session to address the ever-growing list of emergency needs for our neighbors across the state. Housing is a human right. Water is a human right. Access to education is a human right. We need our elected leaders to meet the urgency of this moment. We can’t wait.”
“It has become clear that the pandemic and its effects are far from over, and that a one-off temporary moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs will not be sufficient in this ongoing crisis,” says Allison Harris, Director of the Home Preservation Project at the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland. “Low-income Marylanders need their leaders to take longer-term, definitive action to protect their most basic needs – roofs over their heads and water to drink, cook, and bathe with – in order to prevent compounding the unprecedented challenges they are already facing.”