For Immediate Release
While the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee voted to approve SB 2526, a bill designed to preserve access to water service during the COVID-19 crisis, a coalition of groups explained in a letter to Senate leaders that the measure must be strengthened in order to fully protect public health.
The groups, led by Food & Water Action, are calling for the Senate to make several essential amendments to the bill:
-mandate a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs for nonpayment for all publicly owned and privately-owned water providers, during and for 180 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency;
-require safe and immediate restoration of water service to homes previously disconnected for nonpayment;
-waive all late fees, penalties, collection activities, service restoration fees, and water rate increases until at least 180 days following the end of the emergency.
The current legislation authorizes individual utilities to adopt local protections for customers unable to afford water service, which falls short of the comprehensive measures that would ensure access to affordable, clean water during the pandemic.
In response to the vote, Food & Water Action State Director Matt Smith released the following statement:
“Equitable access to safe, affordable water is a necessity for our health and safety during normal times, and is even more critical during the COVID-19 emergency. The pandemic and ensuing economic crisis are putting a squeeze on low-income and working people in New Jersey, who should not be forced to skip on essentials in order to pay their water bills. This is not just a matter of public safety; it is about economic justice for our most vulnerable residents. Co-sponsors Linda Greenstein and Nilsa Cruz-Perez should work with Senate President Sweeney to amend this bill before it goes to the Senate floor to mandate the important provisions within it. The bill must also eliminate the unfair carve-out for private water utilities, who are responsible for providing service to nearly 40 percent of all New Jersey residents, and should be held to the same standards as public water systems.”
The Senate letter was signed by dozens of groups across the state, including BlueWaveNJ, Clean Water Action, Ironbound Community Corporation, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey Tenants Organization, New Jersey Working Families Alliance, NJ Sierra Club and the NJ State Industrial Union Council.