For Immediate Release
The extreme public health threat posed by the spread of COVID-19 makes access to clean water a matter of life and death. But the Murphy administration has not taken clear steps to require water utilities to cease shutoffs for non-payment and restore service to all households that had previously been cut off.
On March 13, the Board of Public Utilities announced that gas and utility companies had voluntarily agreed to suspend shutoffs. Water utilities were not mentioned in the announcement; when asked about this at a press conference the same day, Governor Murphy indicated that the announcement applied to water providers as well.
But it remains unclear if that is, in fact, the case. The BPU has pointed to voluntary actions taken by private utilities like American Water. But there are hundreds of public water operators in the state, and one private corporation’s choice is no substitute for a binding policy that guarantees water to all residents.
Other states have made more aggressive moves to protect public health. In Pennsylvania, the Public Utilities Commission announced an emergency order prohibiting shutoffs on March 13. Connecticut made a similar move, while in New York the Department of Public Services, responding to a directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo, would require all utilities to take immediate action to suspend shutoffs. Wisconsin issued an order not only requiring all utilities to cease new shutoffs but also to reconnect households that were previously disconnected for nonpayment.
New Jersey’s water systems are heavily privatized, making it difficult to track how many homes have had water service shut off for non-payment. Companies have refused to provide data in response to queries from Food & Water Watch. Some cities with public systems, such as Newark, do not terminate service for families struggling to pay their bills.
The fragmented nature of the state’s water system makes it all the more necessary for the Murphy administration to issue clear guidelines. Families need access to water to wash their hands, bathe, and follow all the public health guidelines and protocols from the CDC and the state.
Food & Water Action’s Public Water for All Campaign Director Mary Grant issued the following statement:
“New Jersey residents who are staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19 must have access to water. Governor Murphy and state regulators must issue a clear policy affirming that all water utilities in the state must suspend shutoffs, and that any residents whose water was turned off due to non-payment must have their service restored immediately. It is simply not enough to rely on voluntary actions by private companies, some of which refuse to even disclose shutoff data. As we confront this global pandemic, it cannot be made clearer that our communities need universal access to safe water to protect public health. New Jersey officials should impose a permanent ban on water shutoffs for nonpayment today.”