Over 500 faith leaders representing different religious backgrounds on Thursday called on Congress to ensure the next legislative coronavirus aid package include a moratorium on utility shutoffs for the duration of the pandemic.
"A power, water, and broadband shutoff is not about politics; it is about children, the elderly, people needlessly suffering and dying through heat waves and a pandemic," Reverend Dallas Conyers, program coordinator with South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, said in a statement.
"Even Congressional leaders cannot excuse their souls through distance from those who will die if they decide in favor of power over people."
—Rev. Dallas Conyers, South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light
Conyers, who organized the new letter along with the No Shutoffs Coalition and Food & Water Action, urged lawmakers to "be bold and true to their moral values and the constituents they swore to serve by including this shutoff moratorium in the stimulus. The alternative is that they allow this preventable Environmental Justice catastrophe to happen."
"Even Congressional leaders cannot excuse their souls through distance from those who will die if they decide in favor of power over people," she said.
The letter points to the "unprecedented" economic crisis millions of Americans and their families are facing as as result of the coronavirus pandemic. "Access to utility services is more crucial than ever," the groups wrote.
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"To stop and survive the virus we all need water to drink, wash our clothes, and wash our hands; we need power for our refrigerators, air conditioners, medical devices, and communications devices running; and we need broadband for updates, information, education, work, and work searches," the letter explains. "These needs have doubled down in the onset of what is essentially the season of heat waves and natural disasters that have become stronger and more frequent. With cases once again on the rise, our communities need additional protections. The NEED for action is IMMEDIATE."
"In the richest country in the world, the fact that families are being shut off from electricity, water, and broadband is a moral failure and an embarrassment. It indicates a callous heart and a glaring mis-management of our abundant resources," the groups wrote, adding that to "prevent a catastrophe of multi-generational impact is not only a requirement of good governance, it's a moral imperative."
In addition to the utility moratorium, the faith leaders are asking congressional leaders to ensure: a reinstatement of services that have already been cut off; an extended grace period to pay off any existing utility bill debts; a waiver on late fees; and "a forgiveness of all bills for low-wealth households, houses of worship, and other non-profit community centers for the duration of the emergency."
"We all have a fundamental right to clean water," said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
"As moral leaders, we join with people coming together to demand that our basic human needs are met," Theoharis added. "In our Poor People's Jubilee Platform, we call for fully funded public water and sanitation infrastructure and an end to utility shut-offs to guarantee that we all have access to water."