A temporary statewide ban on water shutoffs at occupied residences due to unpaid bills will last until March 31, 2021 under legislation signed Tuesday by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The legislation also requires water authorities to restore residential service that has been cut because of nonpayment unless reconnecting to damaged pipes would risk public safety. The new law would further require water authorities to identify occupied homes within their service areas that do not have water service, and to report on these efforts.
The bipartisan legislation passed by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
Alex Rossman, spokesperson for the Michigan League for Public Policy, said the water shutoff moratorium is critical as Michiganders in all parts of the state face an economic and public health crisis.
"Water is very essential to our everyday life and even more so during a health crisis when hygiene and washing your hands regularly is key to helping stave off COVID-19 exposure and transmission," said Rossman.
State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) sponsored the legislation. She said water is a human right.
"We want to make sure that the amount of money you have in your bank account doesn't determine whether or not you have that fresh water to drink and to wash your hands," said Chang. "So it's a huge public health issue, and it's obviously a big economic security issue as well. And it really is a moral issue."
Chang said residential water shutoffs are a statewide problem and so a statewide solution is called for.
"There are families struggling all across our state," said Chang. "And every single one of them needs to be protected."
Chang said the legislation does not relieve the resident of the obligation to pay water bills. It temporarily prevents the use of water shutoffs as a remedy for nonpayment.
"We will need to address water affordability issues in a more long term way," said Chang. "But in the meantime, I think it is really important that we aren't shutting people's water off during this pandemic."
"Water bills should be something that takes into account how much people's household income is so that we can have water bills that people can realistically pay and at the same time, of course, make sure that our water providers are financially stable as well," said Chang. "I think it's a really important conversation that has been ongoing for a long time now. But the COVID pandemic has really highlighted the importance of it."
Chang said she's hopeful about continuing to work with all stakeholders and about finding long term solutions in the coming year.