House coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs
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.
“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 Rush (D-Ill.) and Paul Tonko (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 McEachin (D-Va.) and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.).