by Alexis Blizman
In the last few weeks, all of us have seen drastic changes occur in our lives. Some of us have gotten sick, seen a loved one take ill, or been laid off from our jobs. Everyone has been affected, but while some are able to work from home or rely on savings, the most vulnerable of us in Michigan risk losing their electricity, gas, water, even their very health.
The Ecology Center, in partnership with the Michigan Energy Efficiency for All (MEEFA) coalition wrote a letter to Governor Whitmer urging her to take action to protect those most vulnerable. We urged the Governor to take action on five broad issues:
- Strong statewide utility shut-off protections and reconnection policies
- Energy efficiency and energy assistance continuity and expansion
- Safely ensuring access to clean water
- Strong eviction and foreclosure protections coupled with critical rental and mortgage payment assistance
- Increased access to internet and phone service
Access to these services is essential to containing the virus and protecting our communities. We can’t contain the virus if people are forced to cram in with family, sleep in shelters, or take to the streets. People cannot shelter in place without access to electricity to both refrigerate and cook food. People cannot maintain their health if they are vulnerable to Michigan’s extreme weather patterns, leaving them without heat or air. And it will be impossible to stop the virus if people can’t get water to wash their hands.
Governor Whitmer has already taken some significant actions, placing moratoriums on evictions, foreclosures, and water shut-offs during the state of emergency,and ordering reconnection of water services for all residents. Some utilities in Michigan have instituted critical measures voluntarily and to varying degrees. Consumers, DTE and other municipal and cooperative utilities have placed temporary moratoriums on shut-offs for electric and gas services.
But more should be done: water restoration is moving too slowly, and the current patchwork of utility responses leave many Michiganders with little to no protections during the emergency. With this in mind, we urged the Governor to implement the following recommendations via executive action:
- Implement a moratorium on all electricity, gas and water utility shut-offs, waiver on all late payment charges, temporary suspension of billing or relief funds for low-wealth customers, and no-cost reinstitution of any services that have already been cut off due to nonpayment.
- Require the Michigan Public Service Commission to lead a stakeholder process to create continuity plans for energy efficiency programs, energy assistance, and the energy workforce during the crisis.
- Deploy additional state resources to safely restore water service to thousands of Michiganders who are still disconnected.
- Ensure all residents with restored water have the information they need to protect their health from lead and other waterborne contaminants.
- Create public water stations in Detroit, Flint and other cities with large populations of residents who are still disconnected from water service and provide cleaning supplies and disinfectants to residents free of charge.
- Strengthen the statewide moratorium on evictions and and institute a statewide moratorium on foreclosures until at least 60 days after the state of emergency has ended.
- Provide rental and mortgage payment assistance for low-income residents and to residents who have recently lost work or income due to the crisis.
- Provide operating assistance for affordable housing properties.
- Increase access to internet and phone service for all households.
We are thankful for the actions that the Governor and her administration have already taken to respond to this unprecedented health and economic emergency. We know there are hard times ahead for Michigan as a state. As the state continues to work to address the crisis, we urge the Governor to focus heavily on those most vulnerable and to ensure all Michiganders have access to the lifesaving utility services and shelter they need to protect themselves and their families.