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In Bid to Beat 'Public Health and Economic Crises,' Senate Dems Urge Utilities to Suspend Shutoffs During Pandemic

"Minority and low-income families who have disproportionately borne the brunt of the current economic crisis are particularly at risk."

Sens. Sherrod Brown (L) (D-Ohio) and Jeff Berkley (D-Ore.) chat while walking in the U.S. Capitol on August 5, 2020. (Photo: Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Sens. Sherrod Brown (L) (D-Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) walk through the Senate subway at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on August 5, 2020. (Photo: Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images) 

Voicing support for "legislation that would impose a federal moratorium on all utility shutoffs" during the coronavirus pandemic, a group of Senate Democrats on Friday sent a letter to 21 of the nation's largest utility and telecommunications companies urging them to voluntarily stop terminating services for the duration of the crisis. 

"Because of the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic, millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet and are at risk for having their electricity, water, and broadband services terminated," the letter (pdf)—which was led by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)—said.

"In order to effectively address the concurrent public health and economic crises, the families you serve must have uninterrupted access to these essential public services." 
—Democratic senators

"In order to effectively address the concurrent public health and economic crises, the families you serve must have uninterrupted access to these essential public services," the senators asserted.

The lawmakers noted that nearly 179 million Americans—"a staggering number of people"—are at risk of electricity shutoffs, and that "minority and low-income families who have disproportionately borne the brunt of the current economic crisis are particularly at risk" for service cancellation or interruption. 

Furthermore, "shutoff moratoriums have expired (or were never implemented) in 33 states, and seven more states have moratoriums that will expire next month."

"Every day more people in our communities become at risk for losing access to the water they need to wash their hands or the electricity they need to keep the lights on," the senators wrote. 

The letter also called the internet "an essential public service"—especially "as millions of children are forced to learn remotely" during the pandemic—and warned that "without a moratorium on electricity and broadband disconnections, many more children, in particular those in minority, low-income, and rural communities, are at risk of falling behind." 

In addition to Brown and Merkley, the letter was signed by six other Democratic senators: Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Edward Markey (Mass.), Tina Smith (Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Chris Van Hollen (Md.). Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, is also a signatory. 

Earlier this week, over 120 advocacy organizations sent a letter to Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging him to declare a national moratorium on water shutoffs—echoing a similar message from Reps. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) earlier this month.

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