For Immediate Release: March 31, 2021
Advocates Urge Immediate Signature by Governor to Prevent Lapse in Protections
Albany, NY – On Tuesday, March 30, the New York State Senate passed S.1453-B/A.6225-A, which extends the statewide moratorium on utility shut-offs, including electric, gas, telephone, water, and cable and broadband services. The New York State Assembly passed the legislation today, March 31. The Legislature’s action comes just a few hours before the current moratorium is set to expire. Governor Cuomo must sign the bill today to ensure economically struggling New Yorkers continue to be protected from losing water and other essential services.
Environmental, legal aid, consumer protection, and social justice organizations applauded Senator Kevin Parker, Assemblymember Diana Richardson and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes for championing the legislation. Studies by the National Bureau of Economic Research as well as Food and Water Watch have concluded that water shut-off moratoria likely prevented COVID-19 infections and saved lives. Research has also shown that water shut-offs disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color in New York.
Recent news stories have documented the growing number of New Yorkers who can’t pay their bills during the COVID-19 crisis and need continued protections to get back on their feet financially. Nearly 33,000 customers served by Suffolk County Water Authority and nearly 7,000 customers served by the Monroe County Water Authority are behind on water payments. Together, these customers owe more than $10 million in unpaid bills. Similarly, research by the Public Utility Law Project has uncovered that more than 1.14 million households statewide collectively owe more than $1 billion in unpaid gas and electric bills.
“We applaud the Legislature’s vote to safeguard the health of New Yorkers during the enduring pandemic,” said Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Eric Weltman. “With March 31 right around the corner and research showing us the criticality of a utility shutoff moratorium during the enduring pandemic, we urge Governor Cuomo to act immediately. He must act quickly to sign this bill into law so that no families go without life-saving clean drinking water, heat, and other essential utilities.”
Dharma Santos-Santiago, Clean Water Associate at Environmental Advocates NY said, “EANY is grateful to the State Legislature for extending New York’s utility shut-off moratorium and to the wide range of organizations that made this victory possible. We now look to Governor Cuomo to sign this bill immediately and ensure water and other essential services stay on for thousands of struggling New Yorkers.This pandemic has brought to light a water affordability crisis not only in New York, but across the country. Once this bill is enacted, we must continue the fight to secure clean, affordable water for all New Yorkers.”
“The Legislature has taken a very important step in ensuring the safety of New Yorkers by extending and strengthening the utility shutoff moratorium,” said Kevin M. Quinn, Esq. of the Center for Elder Law & Justice. “In a time where people are encouraged to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic, having access to essential utilities like water, heat, and electricity is imperative to maintain health and safety. We commend the Legislature for taking this action and urge Governor Cuomo to act immediately to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers.”
Joseph Keleman, Executive Director of The Western New York Law Center said, “The Western New York Law Center, which serves a community in which there has been thousands of water shut offs in recent years, applauds the State Legislature for this much-needed, pathbreaking legislation ensuring New Yorkers’ continued access to water. We urge the Governor to sign the bill into law immediately.”
Larry Levine, Director of Urban Water Infrastructure & Senior Attorney at NRDC said, “Nothing could be more important than ensuring people have access to clean water, especially Black, Brown, and low-income communities most at risk of having their taps run dry. The Legislature took necessary action to extend and strengthen the state’s ban on utility shutoffs, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and millions are behind on their bills. The state can also build on this nation-leading protection to create a permanent water affordability program that ensures safe water is always accessible to everyone, regardless of income.”
“We commend the state legislature for ensuring that New Yorkers do not lose access to water and other essential services during this current public health crisis. We call upon the Governor to sign this bill into law immediately,” said Karen Mejia, Newburgh City Councilmember, and Co-Chair of Local Progress NY. “Local elected officials are on the frontlines of New York’s concurrent crises. Our constituents have lost jobs and wages, we see the struggle that they go through every day. These working families need the state to intervene.”
Christine Appah, Senior Staff Attorney, Environmental Justice Program, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said, “As communities across the state continue to struggle through COVID-19 related hardships, we must assist those in greatest need, particularly those who lack access to vital resources. Water and essential utilities are life sustaining and are required to maintain health and safety. We thank the legislature for taking decisive action on this critical issue.”
Liz Moran, Environmental Policy Director for NYPIRG said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how important it is that all New Yorkers, regardless of race, creed, or class, must have access to safe and clean drinking water. We applaud the Legislature for passing this critical piece of legislation to ensure New Yorkers do not lose access to water during the pandemic and urge the Governor to sign this bill into law immediately. The next step the State must take is to ensure that water is made affordable, long-term for all New Yorkers.”
“Even in the face of $1.2 billion in overdue energy bills, New Yorkers did not need to worry about how to keep the lights on, stay warm, or keep the taps flowing because the State Legislature acted to protect them,” said Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York (“PULP”).“We thank Senator Kevin Parker and Assemblymember Diana Richardson for sponsoring and the State Legislature for passing this critical piece of legislation that will ensure those lifelines remain in place. We urge Governor Cuomo to sign this bill without delay.”
Details on the legislation:
The bill prohibits utility shut-offs during the COVID-19 state of emergency or until December 31, 2021, whichever is earlier. For New Yorkers who suffer financial harm due to the COVID-19 crisis, the legislation also bans shut-offs for 180 days after the end of the blanket shut-off moratorium and guarantees customers the right to negotiate extended or deferred repayment plans without late fees, penalties, or down payments. Finally, the bill adopts Governor Cuomo’s proposals to establish new protections for small businesses and prohibit shut-offs of broadband and cable service. Many households with school-age children may have had their internet service terminated during the COVID-19 pandemic; this bill provides the first protections for children attending school remotely.
Brian Keegan (EANY) 518-441-8339; [email protected]
Phoebe Galt (Food & Water Watch) 207-400-1275; [email protected]
Margie Kelly (NRDC) 541-222-9699; [email protected]
Ian Donaldson (PULP) 845 481-3689; [email protected]