Tallahassee, FL -- Today, U.S. Representative Ted Deutch chimed in alongside public health and environmental advocacy groups to call on Governor Ron DeSantis to quickly enact a moratorium on water shutoffs. This demand culminated in the release of a sign-on letter on which more than 30 Florida groups have put their signatures. The letter demands DeSantis stop water shutoffs for reasons of nonpayment, restore water service to those who do not have it, and waive all late fees for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With handwashing as the first line of defense when it comes to stopping the spread of coronavirus, to leave people without access to water is inhumane and amounts to a public health crisis. Mounting unemployment due to the outbreak puts Americans at further risk of not being able to afford their water bills. Nationally, 13 governors have already issued executive orders stopping water shutoffs for the time being.
Food & Water Action is tracking the water utilities across the nation that are halting shutoffs. Currently 66 utilities in Florida have halted shutoffs for nonpayment, protecting just over 12 million Floridians. That still leaves around 9 million Floridians at risk of losing their water utility service. Most of the local utilities halting shutoffs did not include whether they also restored service to those previously disconnected nor whether they are halting late fees.
While we see many Florida utilities stepping up, the reality is that utilities can reverse their decision at any moment, which may become increasingly likely as the crisis continues and their income dwindles. U.S. Representative Ted Deutch (FL-22) recently signed a letter calling for a national moratorium on water shutoffs, which had signatures from 80 Congresspeople. The letter calls for the next federal stimulus package to include 12.5 billion dollars in immediate water assistance. Such a measure would be invaluable in enabling utilities to maintain moratoria.
“Water is an essential necessity, and no one in our community should fear losing access during this public health emergency,” says Congressman Ted Deutch. “For the safety and well-being of all Floridians, the state must prevent any water shutoffs and guarantee access during the pandemic.”
“Water is a basic human right and a public health necessity,” says Dr. Howard Kessler, M.D., Director of the Florida Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, one of the groups that signed onto the letter. “It is unconscionable to shut off the water supply in the midst of this pandemic - not only will it cause undue stress on families but it will certainly result in spreading the virus further. We implore Governor DeSantis to stand up for Floridians and ensure no one is without this basic human necessity.”
“In this time of unprecedented crisis, no family should have to choose between water and groceries,” says Michelle Allen, Florida State Director for Food & Water Action. “Governor DeSantis needs to give Floridians a fighting chance, and honor the sacrifices of those working on the frontlines to keep us safe and healthy, by making sure we all have access to water. Coming out on the other side of this outbreak will require a lot of collaboration and hard work -- but it’s going to be even more difficult if people are cut off from their water.”