Thousands of people will likely die in the coming weeks because President Joe Biden's administration has failed to act on pleas by nonprofits and others to help keep water service on to help people avoid Covid infections.
Michigan, where Covid cases have increased about 77% since mid-February, is scheduled to end its moratorium on water shutoffs tomorrow (March 31). Other states where bans on water shutoffs enacted because of the pandemic are scheduled to end include Hawaii, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
"Anybody who lives in this country has the right to clean water," said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)
Groups are urging the Biden administration to halt water shutoffs during the pandemic and support a law that would forgive unpaid water bills that accumulated during the pandemic.
In January, a coalition of 636 groups led by Food & Water Watch sent the Biden White House a draft executive order that would prohibit utility shutoffs. They didn't get a response.
The nonprofit and other groups are urging the Biden administration to halt water shutoffs during the pandemic and support a law that would forgive unpaid water bills that accumulated during the pandemic.
Households with water have greater protection against Covid through handwashing and improved sanitation.
Cornell University Prof. Mildred Warner and post-doctoral associate Xue Zhang analyzed COVID cases and deaths in 2020 and found that states that prevented utilities from shutting water off during the pandemic had significantly lower growth rates of infections and deaths.
More than 9,000 Covid deaths in our nation last year might have been prevented if utilities hadn't shut off water because of unpaid bills.
"The pain and suffering caused by [the] Covid pandemic were exacerbated by political leaders who failed to take action to keep the water flowing for struggling families," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, which helped produce the Cornell study.
Dingell and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) introduced a bill, H.R. 616, that would prohibit residential water shutoffs during the pandemic and create a $1.5 billion fund to help people pay water bills.
The Cornell researchers found that a nationwide ban on water shutoffs might have prevented nearly half a million people from being infected with Covid last year. Keeping the water on could have reduced Covid cases by almost 4% and Covid deaths by 5.5% in the 41 states without complete bans from April 17, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020.
The American Water Works Association, which represents more than 4,300 public water and wastewater utilities, recommended that utilities postpone water shutoffs during the pandemic.
Unaffordable water bills are a growing problem. A 2017 study found that water bills were unaffordable for about 12% of households. Federal funding for water and sewer systems fell by 77% in real dollars from 1977 to 2017.
Households have an estimated nearly $9 billion in water and sewer debt that has built up during the pandemic.