The United States was already experiencing a manufactured water affordability crisis before the pandemic and its economic impacts came along. That disastrous situation was a direct result of misguided priorities and federal tax cuts, and resulted in 15 million households losing access to water in 2016. A study predicted that a third of households in the country would be unable to afford their water bills, according to a United Nations water affordability measure. Water shutoffs are threatening public health, community wellbeing, and basic human dignity. Without running water, people cannot cook, clean, shower, wash their hands, or flush their toilets.
This crisis only became exacerbated by the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic. Families across the country have had their water shut off, or face this threat due to the inability to pay their bills. As the economic impacts of this pandemic amplify, water shutoffs could be a rising threat — especially when hand washing is a key step to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Illinois' Incomplete Moratorium On Water Shutoffs Leaves Residents Vulnerable
Illinois has an incomplete moratorium on water shutoffs. As a result of an agreement between Governor Pritzker and investor-owned utilities, low-income households serviced by those utilities are prevented from losing access to water service. However, this agreement does not mandate that households who have lost water access before or during the pandemic be reconnected to water service, nor does it call for waiving fees, fines, penalties, service restoration fees, and water rate increases for 180 days after the end of the state of emergency.
Moreover, households not served by investor-owned water companies are typically served by municipal or public utilities. These utilities have not been mandated to implement a moratorium on water shutoffs, restoration of water service, and waiving fines, fees, and penalties. As a result, households in places such as Chicago, Maywood, Galesburg, and others have experienced water service shut-offs.
Many municipalities implemented moratoriums on water shutoffs at various points through the pandemic, but many have expired. To ensure coverage for all, the Governor must take action to protect every resident from losing access to water service.
It is morally wrong to leave any household without water service, especially during a global pandemic when people are told to wash their hands to prevent the spread of the virus. Under the emergency order prompted by the pandemic, the Governor has the power to extend these protections to public utilities, and he has not yet acted despite the legal authority.
We have three demands for Governor Pritzker:
Enact moratoriums on the practice of water shutoffs for all public and private systems;
Require immediate restoration of water service to all homes that had been disconnected before or during the pandemic;
Waive all late fees, penalties, service restoration fees, and water rate increases for 180 days after the end of the state of emergency.
Water Access is an Economic & Racial Justice Issue
The dangers of the financial burdens of water service are not borne equally and disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, especially Black communities. Water bills are typically not tailored to income. That makes lower-income households particularly vulnerable to water shut-offs because water bills consume a higher share of their income. In fact, a census found that low-income families were nearly five times as likely as non-low-income households to experience disconnections to their utility services. High water bills and water shutoffs can trap households in cycles of debt, exacerbating their financial challenges during an already existing financial crisis. Finally, high water bills and water shutoffs can be the reason that parents and other guardians lose custody of children and can lead to homelessness.
How to Support the Campaign for Water Access
We created a toolkit that can be used for planning and executing tactics that will put pressure on the Governor to implement water access for all. Anyone can be a part of this campaign — just follow the steps below!