The statewide moratorium on water shutoffs expires at the end of the month, and some groups are concerned that many Michiganders won't be able to catch up on unpaid utilities and prevent more shutoffs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) says she plans to introduce legislation in the next few days that would extend the moratorium. She emphasized the need to act quickly, because the Legislature goes on its in-district work period, or "spring break" next week.
"I will be introducing our legislation to extend the moratorium as soon as possible, possibly tomorrow. I'm not sure if we have delivered it yet to our office to be able to introduce it, so either tomorrow or Wednesday. We really need to take action as quickly as possible."
Also on her list of priorities is more transparency regarding the water shutoff process.
"We are going to be reintroducing legislation related to transparency of those rates, of those shutoffs, of what’s going on with our water providers, to make sure that we have all of that publicly available information that we deserve to know," she says.
The city of Detroit implemented a water shutoff moratorium that is in effect until 2022. Chang says this sets a great precedent.
"Thankfully at the city level, the mayor and others have taken actions to ensure that there won’t be shutoffs for the next few years, but we know that we need to take care of every Michigander. So we’re eager to see this get done."
While the city's moratorium until 2022 is a relief for many Detroiters, many residents are also concerned that the system the city has in place is not sustainable for the long term. Nicole Hill is a Detroit resident and a member of the People's Water Board Coalition. She says the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first public health crisis that water shutoffs has impacted.
"It is known that proper handwashing is the first line of defense against most disease. There has been a public health crisis in Detroit before, such as the outbreak of Hepatitis A in 2016 and 2017, but nothing has impacted our communities and our families affected by water shutoffs like the COVID-19 pandemic," she says. "Without a permanent moratorium, and the institution of a income-based water affordability plan, our communities are doomed."
She says the current plan from the Detroit water department offers only assistance, not truly based on affordability. Hill says the people who are most vulnerable are also the people who have been on the frontlines during the pandemic.
"These people are our essential workers, they're our grocery store workers, gas station attendents, delivery drivers, restaurant workers, and transportation drivers, and many come from homes without water because it's unaffordable. They prepare many things that we come into contact with, putting all of us at risk."