July 28, 2020

Warren, Merkley, Harris, Tlaib, Dingell Continue to Lead Charge to Protect Consumers from Dangerous Utility Shut-offs

Text of Bill (PDF)

Washington, DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) today partnered with Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), to introduce bicameral legislation that would protect Americans’ access to the water and power necessary to safely maintain public health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although many utility companies voluntarily committed to protect their communities’ essential services, and some states have implemented mandates, a patchwork system that leaves many Americans vulnerable to having vital services cut off remains in place. The bicameral legislation would ensure that millions of Americans can safely shelter in place at a time when Americans are being urged to stay at home as much as possible to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Access to clean water and electricity are basic human rights in a pandemic and beyond. Utility shutoffs are devastating for families – and they hit low-income communities and communities of color especially hard,” said Senator Warren. “I'm glad to be co-leading this bill with Senator Merkley to prohibit water and power shut-offs, extend economic relief to families, and provide water assistance to low-income households during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

"Now—as millions of Americans are being urged to stay home—would be the absolute worst time for Americans to lose critical utilities like electricity and water,” said Senator Merkley. “Our communities deserve to know that as we weather the social and economic consequences of this storm together, they will still have access to these vital services. Congress must include these protections in the next coronavirus response bill.”

“People are really struggling right now. Parents are out of work, kids are hungry, and families are at risk of losing access to water and electricity. This is especially problematic during a pandemic where Americans are asked to stay at home and frequently wash their hands. The Emergency Water and Energy is a Human Right Act is a commonsense solution to this problem and should be included in Congress’ next COVID-19 relief bill,” said Senator Harris.

“When Congresswoman Dingell and I introduced our Emergency Water is a Human Right Act in April, it was with the one in 20 households who had experienced a water shutoff prior to the onset of the pandemic—and the countless others who would be forced to face it without the crucial ability to wash their hands—in mind,” said Congresswoman Tlaib. “The economic strife we have seen since has been devastating, with countless families struggling to afford their water and utility bills. It doesn’t have to be this way. That’s why I could not be more thankful to Senator Merkley for making the effort to ensure water is a human right a bicameral one. I look forward to working alongside him and my colleagues in the House and Senate to provide a key lifeline to our communities.”

“Access to clean water is a human right,” said Congresswoman Dingell.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 Emergency Water and Energy is a Human Right Act is the Senate companion to Reps. Tlaib and Dingell’s House bill and was included in the House’s Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which passed the House in May. It would protect Americans’ access to electricity, running water, and other critical utilities during the crisis by barring any utilities that receive federal support in the next round of relief funding from shutting off power or water to consumers. Additionally, the bill would require providers to reconnect households that have been disconnected during the pandemic and allocate $1.5 billion in grants to assist low-income households paying a high proportion of household income for drinking water and wastewater service.

Tens of millions of Americans have lost work since March, and millions are finding themselves unable to pay their bills. This is especially true for low-income families, who were struggling to pay rising bills even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Emergency Water and Energy is a Human Right Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

The Emergency Water and Energy is a Human Right Act is also cosponsored by 68 House Democrats including Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Andy Levin (D-MI-09), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), Eleonor Holmes Norton (D-DC-AL), Deb Haaland (D-NM-01), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA-04), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), and Katherine Clark (D-MA-05).

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Senator Warren has fought to protect Americans from dangerous utility shut-offs. Earlier this year in March 2020, Senator Warren cosponsored a bill setting the sense of Congress that states and utilities should issue a moratorium on electric service disconnections and you have publicly called for stopping water and utility shutoffs. In May 2020, Senator Warren also introduced  the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act of 2020, which authorizes $100 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance program to help families and individuals pay their rent and utility bills and remain housed during and after the COVID-19 crisis.