June 25--Days after a coalition of welfare rights organizations appealed to the United Nations for relief with Detroit water shutoffs, U.S. Rep. John Conyers today condemned the practice by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
Conyers said he plans to develop a range of solutions to address the crisis, including requesting federal emergency relief.
"Detroit's water crisis did not happen in a vacuum," Conyers said in a statement this evening. "Over the past decade, Detroiters have seen their water rates increase by 119%. Over this same period, forces beyond city residents' control -- including a global financial crisis that left one in five local residences in foreclosure and sent local unemployment rates skyrocketing -- severely undercut Detroiters' ability to pay."
Conyers called the shutoffs inhumane and "economically short-sighted." He said he plans to introduce legislation to protect access to water during the city's bankruptcy proceedings and he will be working with members of Congress, state and federal officials in the coming days.
The department announced in March that it was resuming efforts to shut off water service to more than 150,000 delinquent customers in order to collect nearly $118 million in outstanding bills. The department said it would target customers whose bills are more than two months late and would shut off about 3,000 customers a week.
Department officials repeated their defense of the practice today, saying many customers avoided shutoffs by paying their bills, and the department is working to limit shutoffs.
A coalition of welfare rights organizations -- including the Detroit People's Water Board -- appealed to the United Nations to have service restored to customers and to prevent more shutoffs.
The coalition stated in an 8-page report issued June 18 that it heard directly from people impacted by the shutoffs, who claimed they were given no warning.
"Sick people have been left without running water and working toilets," the report states. "People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook."
The coalition is calling for services to be restored and for state and federal agencies to help prevent a transfer of the utility's financial burden onto residents who are currently paying "exorbitant rates."
In May, the department sent out 46,000 shutoff notices and of that number, only 4,531 customers had their water service shut off for any period of time.
The department, saying that there has been "significant misinformation" circulated about the shutoffs, issued a news release that said that 60% of the customers who received shutoff notices paid their accounts in full within 24 hours and had their service restored immediately. Forty percent of the remaining customers had their service restored within 48 hours.
Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Sue McCormick said her goal is to have "as few shutoffs as possible."
"Many of the properties that we shut off are actually vacant structures, not occupied homes," McCormick said. The average monthly water bill in Detroit is about $75 and customers can avoid a shutoff by entering into a payment plan."
The department said more than 17,000 of its 323,900 Detroit customers are already enrolled in its payment plan program, and next month it plans to start a new financial assistance program for the remainder of the city's population.
Contact Katrease Stafford: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Original headline: U.S. Rep. John Conyers calls Detroit water shutoffs inhumane
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