Washing your hands for 20 seconds (two rounds of the Happy Birthday song) is part of the holy trinity of keeping your self healthy as the novel Coronavirus makes its way across the country. It’s hard to wash your hands without water in your home, but many who can’t afford to pay their water bills find themselves in that dilemma due to lack of payment.
Recognizing the dilemma, many utilities, state governors and regulatory agencies have suspended the practice of water shut offs and eliminated late fees for those who struggle to pay their utility bills. After the emergency period is over – when is that again? – the bills will still be due, further adding to the financial burden many face. And what of future water shutoffs? Since the pandemic is far from over, utilities will have to find some means of recovering funds or eating the costs, otherwise they will be faced with making some heartless decisions for people who are, in many cases, just trying to survive.
In the recently passed Heroes Act, House Democrats added a $1.5 billion provision (although some water groups say that closer to $4 billion is what’s actually needed) to assist people who are unable to pay their water bills. The money would be funneled to utilities via states and tribes. The act was quickly dismissed by Senate Republicans who expressed concern that they should only appropriate what is really needed, almost in defiance of CDC guidance for frequent hand washing.
Utilities are consistently ignored in infrastructure spending. As a country, we are water-rich compared to many other countries, and many of us are privileged to have clean water running from a tap 24 hours a day. But much of that infrastructure is in disrepair. That the country doesn’t prioritize clean water as a necessity and the need for everyone to have at least a minimum amount to meet health and hygiene requirements is a continual source of frustration for those who work in water protection. Here’s hoping future administrations will find the will to make water and wastewater funding a priority and that future Congressional sessions will support that priority.