Advocates Urge Gov. Hochul to Sign Landmark Water Affordability Legislation

June 21, 2022

Bill would reveal how many New Yorkers have lost or risk losing access to clean water

Albany – Today, environmental, consumer rights, and legal aid organizations urged Governor Hochul to sign A7554-B/S5451-C, which the NYS Senate and Assembly passed at the end of the legislative session. The bill would, for the first time, require public water utilities to report data on the affordability of their utility service to the Public Service Commission (PSC). Under the bill, PSC is required to compile and publish this data, along with data from gas and electric utilities, to reveal the scale and extent of the utility unaffordability crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation would finally make public how many New Yorkers are behind on their water bills and have faced a shut-off due to non-payment, how much water debt has built up across the state, and more. In Fall 2021, several environmental and legal aid organizations attempted to secure this data from the state’s ten largest public water utilities through FOIL requests. Only four of the ten utilities responded.

The COVID-19 crisis showed how important water, heat, and electricity are to keeping New Yorkers safe and healthy. But now that New York’s moratorium on utility shut-offs has expired, many economically-struggling New Yorkers are at risk of losing access to these essential services. Inflation and rising utility rates have only exacerbated the problem.

Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water with Environmental Advocates NY, said, “We can’t fix what we don’t measure. For too long, our state government has been in the dark about how many New Yorkers are struggling to pay their water bills. This bill will finally provide lawmakers with the data they need to develop policies to guarantee affordable water to every New Yorker. We urge Governor Hochul to sign this common-sense bill into law as soon as possible.”

“This legislation is a no-brainer,” said Eric Weltman, Senior NY Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “New Yorkers are feeling the pinch of soaring inflation, as the cost of basic necessities from food to gas and electricity skyrocket. With her signature, Governor Hochul can do something about it by requiring the data necessary to find solutions to keep water, a critical resource, affordable for all. This bill is a necessary first step to achieving true water affordability statewide that will ensure New Yorkers have uninterrupted equitable access to this critical resource. Governor Hochul must waste no time in signing it into law.”

Laurie Wheelock, Deputy Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project (“PULP”) said, “We know that 1.2 million households are behind on their energy bills right now, but we are in the dark as to how many New Yorkers cannot afford their water bill. This crucial legislation will shine a light on the size and scope of our State’s water unaffordability crisis and equip lawmakers with the tools necessary to effectively respond with policies to help consumers recover. We applaud the bill’s sponsors for their tireless and principled advocacy and urge Governor Hochul to sign it into law as soon as possible.” 

“More than a million New York homes are behind on their gas and electric bills. But countless more are struggling to pay for water and other lifeline utilities,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “Our leaders in Albany need reliable data to solve the state’s utility affordability crisis. We thank the sponsors of A7554-B/S5451-C for their leadership, and we urge Governor Hochul to sign this into law so we can learn the true scope of the problem.”

“Low income New Yorkers bore the economic brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing many households to make the difficult choice between putting food on the table or paying their energy bills,” said Stephen Halpern, Staff Attorney at the Western New York Law Center.  “We thank the bill sponsors and legislative leaders for passing this timely legislation that will help us uncover the true scope of the water arrears crisis in our state.  The measure is also an important step towards informing further relief for and policy initiatives that benefit consumers.  We urge the Governor to swiftly sign this common-sense proposal into law.”  

“This legislation will reveal the full extent of New York’s water affordability challenges, a critical step toward ensuring everyone has access to safe, affordable water service,” said Larry Levine, Director of Urban Water Infrastructure and Senior Attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Though the state recently launched a low-income water assistance program, the program’s limited federal funding can’t come close to meeting the needs of the thousands of New Yorkers who are at-risk of losing essential water service because they have fallen behind on bills during the pandemic.”