Monday, April 06, 2020

Washing their Hands

Around two-fifths of the USA rely on water utilities which have not suspended the policy of shutoffs for non-payment, despite public health warnings that good hygiene – specifically frequent hand washing – is crucial to preventing spread of the highly contagious virus.

That means millions of Americans risk losing running water if they fall behind with bill payments in coming months, as mass lay-offs triggered by the coronavirus pandemic force families to make impossible compromises on paying household expenses. Despite the evolving economic and health crises, less than 60% of the population have so far been protected from water shutoffs. And just 11% of these utilities have explicitly pledged to reconnect households currently without running water due to unpaid bills.

“This is an emergency and the priority is to stop the spread so this is a no brainer, everyone must have access to water…” said congresswoman Brenda Lawrence.“Access to water has not been a priority in this country because it’s been a poor person’s issue ... now it’s a national concern and we have to transform our mindset.”

With close to 10 millon people filing for unemployment benefits during the second half of March and an unprecedented spike in demand for emergency aid at food banks.  Almost 28 million people could lose their jobs by May, according to forecasting firm Oxford Economics. One in two American adults have either no emergency savings or not enough to cover three months of living expenses.

As unemployment reaches record highs, millions of Americans are going to have to choose between paying for food, rent and bills… water is not something people should have to trade-off,” said Mary Grant, director of water at  Food and Water Watch (FWW). “It’s a package of related factors – institutional racism, environmental injustice, and poverty – which means communities most vulnerable to Covid-19 are the same communities most vulnerable to water shutoffs,” said Grant.

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