House coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs

House coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs
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A new coronavirus relief package unveiled Tuesday by House Democrats aims to prevent the shutoffs of water and power in households that cannot afford to pay, a move some utilities have already voluntarily undertaken.  

The legislation provides $1.5 billion for states and Native tribes to help low-income households pay for drinking water services and gives another $1.5 billion to help low-income households pay for energy. 

It also says that energy or water providers that receive federal aid should make sure that customers’ power or water is not shut off during the national emergency because they can't pay. 

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“Now more than ever, Americans need to feel confident that their access to safe water and reliable power will continue uninterrupted, and this legislation provides that peace of mind,” said a joint statement from Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Bobby RushBobby Lee RushCongress should investigate OAS actions in Bolivia Rep. Bobby Rush introduces legislation focused on addressing racism, lack of diversity in the federal government House Democrat introduces bill to replace Confederate monuments nationwide MORE (D-Ill.) and Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Trump officials finalize plan to open up protected areas of Tongass to logging | Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium | Dems question EPA's postponement of inequality training Democrats question EPA postponement of environmental inequality training Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race MORE (D-N.Y.), who play key roles on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

“Likewise, we are ensuring that the disproportionate impact this pandemic is inflicting on communities of color is investigated and addressed, and that the impacted communities will play a crucial role in that effort,” they added. “Passing this legislation is critical to protect public health and to provide much-needed economic relief for those struggling to afford the most basic of necessities.”

Some utilities, though, have already said they won’t shut off electricity amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents private, investor-owned utilities, said in March that all of its members would suspend electricity disconnections and many public utilities have made similar pledges.  

The new $3 trillion bill follows other rounds of economic relief passed amid the coronavirus pandemic. The House is expected to pass the legislation on Friday, although Republicans and the White House have suggested waiting to see the impact of already provided funds before passing additional measures. 

If the bill passes, the drinking water assistance funding will be given to public water system owners and operators, who will then be expected to reduce rates for low-income households and the energy assistance would go through the existing Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. 

The legislation also includes $50 million in grants to investigate the disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on communities facing environmental inequalities. It comes as data has shown disparate impacts on the virus on communities of color and low-income people.

Similar legislation aiming to fund such grants was recently introduced by Reps. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden pledges carbon-free power by 2035 in T environment plan | Trump administration has been underestimating costs of carbon pollution, government watchdog finds | Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 MORE (D-Va.) and Raul RuizRaul RuizHispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021 Jon Stewart urges Congress to help veterans exposed to burn pits House Democrat who's a physician calls on Trump to 'man up' and wear mask MORE (D-Calif.).