Washington, DC -- Today, over 500 of America’s faith leaders sent a sign-on letter to Congressional leaders, pushing them to include a moratorium on utility shutoffs in the next coronavirus relief bill. As COVID-19 rages and an unprecedented economic crisis persists as a result, these leaders are imploring Congress to “come to the aid of struggling families and houses of worship across the country.” The letter was organized by the No Shutoffs Coalition, Food & Water Action, and Rev. Dallas Conyers from South Carolina Interfaith Power & Light. It is signed by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Rev. Liz TheoHaris of the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign, Rabbi Michael Lerner from Beyt Tikkun, the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, the National Council of Churches, and many other prominent faith leaders and organizations.
“A power, water, and broadband shutoff is not about politics; it is about children, the elderly, people needlessly suffering and dying through heat waves and a pandemic,” says Reverend Dallas Conyers, Program Coordinator with South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light. “Our Congresspeople must be bold and true to their moral values and the constituents they swore to serve by including this shutoff moratorium in the stimulus. The alternative is that they allow this preventable Environmental Justice catastrophe to happen. Even Congressional leaders cannot excuse their souls through distance from those who will die if they decide in favor of power over people.”
"Water is a human right, and now, more than ever, we need to guarantee families and communities across the country access in order to combat the spread of COVID-19," says Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Action. "As more and more Americans face sickness, unemployment, and eviction, making the decision between buying groceries and paying the utilities bill should be the last thing on anyone's mind. Congress must include a national moratorium in the next relief package.”
The letter from faith leaders of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Sufi, and other religious traditions points out that “...Residential homes, places of worship, and other non-profit centers are at the frontlines of community survival.” They note that expiring moratoria on utility shutoffs nationwide puts families and religious communities at risk of losing access to water, electricity, and broadband, all of which are necessary for keeping people safely sheltered in place and able to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We all have a fundamental right to clean water,” says Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, of the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. “As moral leaders, we join with people coming together to demand that our basic human needs are met. In our Poor People's Jubilee Platform, we call for fully funded public water and sanitation infrastructure and an end to utility shut-offs to guarantee that we all have access to water.”
The sign-on letter calls for a moratorium on water, power, and broadband shutoffs nationwide; a reinstatement of disconnected services; a defined extended grace period to pay off any debts; a waiver of late-payment fees; and a forgiveness of all bills for low-wealth households, houses of worship, and other non-profit community centers for the duration of the emergency. The faith leaders also demand that Congress invest in long-term solutions that would address the underlying issues of inequity that drive unpayable utilities bills, in order to combat the issue at its root.