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Politics & Government

ACLU asks Whitmer to declare water shutoffs a “health emergency”

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai
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Creative Commons

Civil rights groups are calling on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to declare a “health emergency” in Detroit that would block water service shutoffs for unpaid bills.

They’ve asked the governor to use that power to declare a moratorium while the situation is sorted out.

The groups include the ACLU and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. Both groups have been litigating the issue for years.

One proposed solution is indexing water bills to a household’s ability to pay.

Mark Fancher is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. He says water service shutoffs are no different than a natural disaster.
               
“The shutoffs, hundreds of thousands of them, that occur in Detroit, amount to a very quiet disaster—one that causes the people who live in these homes without water to suffer in silence,” he says. “It’s not as dramatic as when there’s a hurricane or a tornado, but the effect is, many times, no less serious.”
               
One of the group’s proposed solutions is making ability-to-pay an element of determing water bills.

Whitmer says her administration takes the request and the problem seriously.

“We’re examining what our authority is and what the nature of the situation is, and I think, beyond that, I’m not in a position to shed a lot more light at this juncture,” she says.

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