Water Shutoffs in Sharp Focus Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
AppleMagazine|April 03, 2020
The advice is simple and universal: Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But for millions of people across the country, that’s not simple at all: They lack running water in their houses due to service shutoffs prompted by overdue bills.

The Rev. Roslyn Bouier remembers when children began to show up at the Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry on Detroit’s northwest side, clutching empty pitchers. It was the summer of 2014 and the kids were parched. But their thirst didn’t come from playing outside — they had no water at home.

That was the year the city of Detroit started its water shutoff campaign, turning off water to 28,500 residential accounts behind on payments. Through the end of 2019, the city has recorded about 127,500 total service cutoffs, according to the water department, though that figure includes households where the water was turned off repeatedly.

“In this pandemic, it’s the people who are living on the margins of society and the poorest of our society that’s being the most adversely impacted,” Bouier said.

Michigan has the sixth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University’s data tracking of the disease.

We the People of Detroit co-founder Monica Lewis-Patrick said her organization, which has campaigned for years to end shutoffs, has struggled to find bottled water to deliver to families without service because supplies are being hoarded.

“Water is locked down,” Lewis-Patrick said. “Many people have been texting and emailing me to say ‘What else can we do?’ The world is crying out that there must be a turning on of the water.”

Water advocates and elected officials argue that it’s impossible for families to follow the hygienic coronavirus standards outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization when they don’t have water in their homes. And members of Congress and national organizations are pushing for federal legislation and other action to protect residents facing high water bills and shutoffs amid the crisis.

House Democrats released proposed legislation that included a $1.5 billion allocation to help cover water bills for low-income families and also would ban utility shutoffs during the pandemic.

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