Access to safe water must be a national priority for the Biden Administration. Across the country, people are struggling without safe water to drink, wash their hands, flush their toilets, clean, bathe, cook and stay safe during the pandemic. Water and sewer bills have grown by 80 percent since 2010, according to a Guardian analysis of 12 major US cities, and in a typical year, an estimated 15 million people experience a water shutoff because of unaffordable water bills. This is no typical year. Right now, as Covid-19 devastates all regions of the country, less than half of people are protected from water shutoff under a state or local moratorium. This is dangerous and it could be deadly.
Day 1: Keep the Water On
On day 1 of his administration, President Biden must issue an executive order to direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to impose a nationwide utility shutoff moratorium with safe restoration to all homes disconnected for nonpayment for the full duration of the Covid-19 national emergency through 12 months following its end to avoid a tidal wave of shutoffs and reemergent public health crisis. The incoming CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, can take a strong stance to ensure this public health protection is in place to prevent the further spread of the virus and allow people to stay safe at home. No person should be forced to weather this pandemic without running water in their home. This is a matter of public health and safety.
First 100 Days: Water Relief for Communities
President Biden must make a bold commitment to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic with the urgency that is needed to address our communities’ basic access to safe water. This must be reflected in an immediate Covid relief bill and in his budget priorities:
- Champion a Covid relief bill that centers the needs of people and provides additional support for water access. Our communities need real, immediate aid, including support for state and local governments and public water providers. This relief bill should include Emergency Water Is a Human Right Act (introduced by Reps. Tlaib and Dingell and Sen. Merkley), which would codify a national water shutoff moratorium and provide $1.5 billion in relief for low-income households. The late-December spending bill provides $638 million to a new low-income water assistance program. We need to build out that initiative and provide federal government support of income-based water affordability programs and debt forgiveness for low-and moderate-income households and households experiencing Covid-related lost wages and economic hardships.
- Budget at least $35 billion for water infrastructure to State Revolving Fund programs, USDA rural system grants, grants for rural household water wells and septic systems, and the school infrastructure grant program. This is the level of commitment our water needs.
As a senator, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris called for a national…