NYS Legislature Bans Water Shut-Offs During COVID-19

For Immediate Release: May 28, 2020

NYS Legislature Bans Water Shut-Offs During COVID-19

Advocates applaud action to expand access to water and urge Governor Cuomo to quickly sign bill into law

Albany – A bill (S.8113-A/A.10521) that prohibits service shut-offs by utilities during the COVID-19 state of emergency, including water service shut-offs, has passed both houses of the NYS Legislature. For New Yorkers who suffer financial harm due to the COVID-19 crisis, the bill, sponsored by Senator Kevin Parker and Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley, also bans shut-offs 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.

Water shut-offs are a practice that many utilities employ when households are unable to afford their water bills. For example, from 2015 through March 2019, the City of Buffalo terminated water in over 17,000 instances. In 2016, Suffolk County Water Authority disconnected water service for one percent of its customers, affecting 9,553 people.

Not included in the bill is a restoration of water service for customers whose water was shut off prior to the COVID-19 crisis and are still without service. Advocates in Buffalo estimate that hundreds of occupied homes in the city may be without running water since before the crisis, putting them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Maureen Cunningham, senior director for clean water at Environmental Advocates of New York said, “Clean water is the first line of defense for all New Yorkers against the spread of COVID-19. We are grateful to the NYS Legislature for recognizing this important connection, by banning water service shut-offs during the crisis and providing residents who are financially strapped with relief from further penalties. We urge Governor Cuomo to act quickly by signing this essential legislation into law. While this is an important first step, New Yorkers whose water was cut off before the crisis still need this basic service restored. State leaders should continue to work on making water accessible and affordable for all New Yorkers.”

Eric Weltman, a Brooklyn-based organizer with Food & Water Action said, “Water is a public health necessity during this crisis. Handwashing is key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Keeping the taps flowing in our homes is fundamental to protecting our health and safety. We applaud the Legislature for ensuring that New Yorkers have access to water in their homes.”

Rich Schrader, New York Policy Director at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) said, “This bill is a vital first step that will help alleviate much hardship and likely save countless lives. Thanks to the steady hand of leadership demonstrated by Governor Cuomo and the Legislature, thousands of New Yorkers won’t have to worry about their taps running dry or losing power. But there are still many struggling households who need their water service restored, especially in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis – the state should prioritize reconnections and make sure all New Yorkers have access to water at home.”

Stephen C. Halpern, Ph.D., Staff Attorney, The Western New York Law Center, said, “The state legislature and governor are to be commended for the crucial step they have taken to ensure that during the remainder of this pandemic there will be no further shutoffs of water. In acting as they have, they will doubtlessly alleviate hardship on hundreds of New Yorkers and save lives. Now there is a need for the State to complement this legislation with a law requiring water boards and authorities to restore water to the many people who entered the pandemic with their water already shut off.”

Kevin Quinn, Supervising Attorney, Center for Elder Law & Justice, said, “We commend leadership in New York State for taking these important steps to ensure that New Yorkers are not at risk of losing access to essential utilities. We do have grave concerns, however, for the health and safety of individuals who had water service terminated prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without service restoration for these individuals, they will continue to face extreme health risks.”

Christine Appah, Senior Staff Attorney, Environmental Justice Program, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said, “Access to clean, running water is essential to maintain overall health and prevent disease. This bill will help households that have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis to keep a reliable source of safe water. The problem of water shut-offs is particularly acute in communities that are faced with compounded issues of food and income insecurity. This bill will hopefully bring some relief to those who are most affected by this crisis.”

Liz Moran, environmental policy director for NYPIRG said, “Access to clean water is a basic right – and it’s especially important New Yorkers have this right as the state faces the COVID-19 pandemic. Hand washing is crucial to prevent spread of this deadly illness. NYPIRG applauds the Legislature for passing this bill to ensure water isn’t shut off for any New Yorker during this time. The Governor should sign this bill immediately, and the Governor and the Legislature should work to ensure that those that had their water shut off before the COVID-19 pandemic have their water restored.”

Anna Kelles, co-chair for Local Progress NY said, “Local Progress members across New York commend the Legislature on passing such important legislation to keep our members’ constituents safe during the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, this legislation still leaves some New Yorkers without access to safe, clean water – which is a cornerstone of the health of our communities, particularly during this pandemic. As a network of local elected leaders statewide, we urge the Legislature and the Governor to restore service to those households without delay.”