Tlaib, Dingell press Biden for water shutoff ban in infrastructure package

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Congress is looking ahead to a massive infrastructure package this spring as the next big item on President Joe Biden’s agenda, and two Michigan Democrats want their policy initiative included. 

In the wake of Biden signing the the $1.9 trillion virus relief package last week, Democratic U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell wrote to the president asking him to include in the next package their bill to prohibit water shutoffs for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty colleagues joined them.

“No person living in this country, whether Democrat or Republican, should be forced to survive without access to safe and clean water, let alone during a global pandemic," the congresswomen wrote. 

"It is essential that any final agreement on an infrastructure package include robust funding to tackle America’s water affordability crisis, money to upgrade and replace dangerous outdated water infrastructure, and a water shutoff prohibition for the duration of the pandemic to help keep all of us safe from this deadly virus."

Members from various groups walk from Hart Plaza toward a press conference at the Spirit of Detroit as they carry a sign asking government officials to stop Detroit water shutoffs.

Dingell of Dearborn and Tlaib of Detroit in January reintroduced their legislation called the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act, which has 82 co-sponsors.

The legislation would bar water service providers from disconnecting a household’s water services during the COVID health emergency. It would also authorize $1.5 billion in grants for low-income households that pay a high percentage of their household income for drinking water and wastewater services.

For the last year, the Michigan Democrats have urged relief for communities struggling with high water bills to prevent shutoffs at a time when hand washing is crucial to avoiding COVID-19.

They point to Detroit as an example, noting that 112,000 households in the city had their water turned off between 2014 and 2018. When the pandemic began, Detroit estimated  there were about 2,800 occupied households with no water service.

But the lawmakers noted the highest shutoffs rates in the United States are concentrated in Southern and rural states such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and Oklahoma.

Based on his campaign, Biden's infrastructure package is expected to include spending for public transit, bridge and road upgrades and half a million charging stations for electric vehicles, among other priorities. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated Sunday on ABC’s “This Week" that water supply systems would be part of the legislation. The California Democrat has asked key House leaders to collaborate with Republicans on a “big, bold and transformational infrastructure package."

“This is about broadband. It’s about water systems. It’s about mass transit, it’s about good paying jobs all over the country,” Pelosi said.

“It’s also about schools and housing and the rest. ... So the goal is to promote good growth, creating good-paying jobs as we protect our planet and are fiscally sound.”

The Associated Press contributed.