Consumer advocates and environmentalists are applauding a bill New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed that prevents utility shutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic and in other cases.
The bill Governor Cuomo signed June 17 prevents utility companies from shutting off service during the pandemic and other states of emergency. Richard Berkley is executive director of the Public Utility Law Project.
“So we were tremendously heartened by the governor’s action in signing the bill into law, and we applaud him for being the first governor in the United States to sign into law a bill like this,” Berkley says. “While the, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia took similar action, they’re not states, and they both had special circumstances pushing them in this direction, but, for the first state and a major state like New York to do this is just, it was a great thing to see.”
The bill was sponsored by Brooklyn Democrats Walter Mosely in the Assembly and Kevin Parker in the Senate. Eric Weltman is senior organizer with Food & Water Action.
“Food & Water Action believes that water is a human right, it’s a public health necessity, particularly in a crisis like this,” Weltman says. “And while we appreciate Governor Cuomo signing this bill into law and guaranteeing people the right to water, access to water, during this public health crisis, Food & Water Action and our allies are going to continue to ensure that beyond this crisis that New Yorkers have, all New Yorkers have access to safe, affordable public drinking water.”
Weltman says the measure requires restoration of service to those who lost it during the crisis, bans shutoffs for 180 days after the end of the state of emergency, prohibits late fees and penalties, and guarantees access to extended or deferred repayment plans. He would like to see such legislation apply to water all the time.
“I live in New York City, where people don’t get their water shut off for any reason, and it’s a real blessing, and that’s the kind of policy that we would love to see implemented statewide,” says Weltman.
He says that while New York is moving to provide protections, other state and local moratoriums on water shutoffs are expiring, putting millions of people at risk of losing their water service and leading advocates to call for Congress to pass a national moratorium on utility shutoffs. The Public Utility Law Project’s Berkley says more needs to be done to protect New York’s most vulnerable residents.
“The water industry in New York is the only public industry, vital public utility, that doesn’t have some kind of an affordability program statewide or even at all the individual entities, of all of the utilities. So we’re very interested in continuing to work on affordability issues for all the public utilities, the public authorities and the municipal water systems that serve New Yorkers in the state,” says Berkley. “Our water is expensive enough that it causes problems for people who are living on the border. And now that 1 million-to-1.5 million households have become what we call newly low income, it’s become a bigger problem than it was, even before COVID.”
The Public Utility Law Project joined with AARP in praising the coronavirus utility shutoff moratorium bill.