WASHINGTON, D.C. – While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage communities across the country, worsening the economic crisis in its wake, today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, released an updated staff analysis describing how state authorities are – or, in some cases, are not – protecting residents from utility disconnections during this time of extraordinary economic hardship.
While millions of Americans now find themselves without work and in dire financial straits, many are also unable to pay utility bills. In response, states have adopted a variety of approaches to protect residential customers from being disconnected from electricity, gas and water services. However, not all states have put those protections in place, and some are set to expire soon.
Meanwhile, residents of economically disadvantaged communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color – which have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and its ensuring economic calamity – are especially at risk of electricity, gas and water service shutoffs if states do not take action to protect customers from utility disconnections.
“As the coronavirus continues to ravage communities throughout the country, the economic fallout of this pandemic continues to deepen. Cases are on the rise and jobless claims remain at staggering rates. Millions of people in this country have lost their jobs, while hundreds of thousands of others have suffered a more tragic loss,” Senator Carper said. “Some of the families in communities hardest hit by the coronavirus are now at risk of losing access to the electricity, gas or water services – especially those in economically disadvantaged communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color.”
“Electricity, gas and water services should not be luxuries for the privileged few, especially during a pandemic. I would ask my colleagues to imagine what it’s like to manage a fever without access to air conditioning on a 100-degree day. I would ask my colleagues to imagine what it’s like to go without running water at a time when we’re being encouraged to wash our hands with soap and clean water to slow the spread of this deadly virulent disease. This is not just about ensuring a fair and basic quality of life in our country, this is also a public health imperative,” Senator Carper said.
As negotiations for the next coronavirus relief package continue, Congress must consider whether or not, as a condition of receiving federal funding, to confer upon state and local governments and utilities the responsibility of ensuring that households remain connected, or are reconnected, to utility service during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Although some states have taken steps to protect residents from utility shutoffs, not all have done so. These utility services are critical for public health. This updated staff report should inform our efforts as we prioritize the health and wellbeing of the American people in the next coronavirus relief package. Congress should keep families connected to critical utility service during this crisis,” Senator Carper continued.
The updated report can be found here.