DETROIT, MI—Today, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Debbie Dingell (MI-12) introduced the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act, which would prohibit water shutoffs and ensure water affordability protections for low-income households during the COVID-19 national emergency. According to the CDC, one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wash one’s hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Prior to this crisis, though, an estimated 15 million people in the United States had experienced a water shutoff, especially in communities with higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and people of color. The bill would also require providers to reconnect water services for those millions of Americans.
While many municipalities and states have issued moratoriums on water shut offs in the last few weeks, Tlaib and Dingell believe it is vital that Congress ensure a comprehensive federal response that protects all households across the United States by passing this bill. That the congresswomen were able to rally a total of 63 co-sponsors in support of this legislation speaks to the issue’s disturbing prevalence across the country.
“At the onset of the COVID—19 crisis, around 2,800 families in Detroit had no running water. Now they and many more across my district and Michigan are being forced to face it without the ability to wash their hands and help safeguard themselves and their loved ones from this virus,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “Water has become more and more unaffordable, inaccessible and contaminated because we are not prioritizing the critical importance of water being a human right. The barriers and continued lack of investment are components of increased poverty and structural racism that many in our community have been facing their whole lives. This crisis provides renewed urgency for dismantling these broken systems and ensuring that water is a human right.”
“Access to clean water is a human right,” Congresswoman Dingell said. “At a time when people need to stay home and keep up washing their hands and cleaning, every family must have access to running water in their homes. Many communities and states have stepped up to not turn off water, but we must ensure a comprehensive federal ban on water shutoffs.”
The legislation would also ensure robust water affordability protections for households with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty guidelines by authorizing $1.5 billion in grants to assist low-income households paying a high proportion of household income for drinking water and wastewater service, using Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to administer low-income household drinking water and wastewater assistance, and more. In addition to requiring service providers to reconnect water services, the bill also requires the reconnection of disconnected home energy and electric services and prohibits home energy and electric shutoffs during the COVID-19 emergency period.