Water Shutoff Moratoriums During COVID-19: Which States and Cities?

October 13, 2020

Amber Kim

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of access to clean water for public health as it is essential to maintain personal hygiene and sanitation. As the pandemic hit the US in March 2020, states and cities started to impose moratoriums on water shutoffs. This meant that people who were unable to pay their monthly water bills were not at risk of having their water shutoff. Warner et al. (2020) conducted a study to understand what characteristics differentiate the states and cites that imposed shutoff moratoriums from those that did not as of April 30, 2020. A total of 35 states and 483 cities imposed shutoff moratoriums by April 30, 2020. Half of the state moratoriums were issued within a week after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Five states (LA, WI, PA, NY, and CT) were the fastest to act imposing a moratorium on March 13. In the 15 states that did not impose a shutoff moratorium, 135 cities issued their own water shutoff moratoriums.

Warner et al. (2020) used statistical techniques to understand what types of states and cities issued a moratorium and to analyze how long it took states to impose a moratorium. Their results show that states that regulate utility finances and prices, have a higher rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and are not controlled by Republicans are more likely to impose water shutoff moratoriums. States with a higher rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases also imposed moratoriums faster while states with unified Republican control took longer to take action.

For cities in states without a statewide moratorium, cities with higher per capita income, greater minority populations, and greater income inequality were more likely to impose moratoriums. When accounting for county-level characteristics, cities in counties with higher COVID-19 case rates and a higher percentage of people that voted from Trump in 2016 were less likely to impose moratoriums.

Warner et al. (2020) results show that cities need to muster the political will to impose moratoriums. They also demonstrate how state and city decisions to impose shutoff moratoriums reflect the politicized views of the pandemic, where Republicans tend to view the pandemic as less concerning. States and cities with greater Republican control are less likely to protect public health by imposing water shutoff moratoriums.

Since this study has been published, according to the Food & Water Watch shutoff moratorium database (the same source used in the article), hundreds more cities have issued moratoriums. However, many of these moratoriums are temporary with many having already expired. In fact, 18 state moratoriums have expired including Connecticut and Louisiana, two of the earliest acting states.

Image Credit: Photo by Unitarian Universalist Service Committee CC BY-NC-ND 2.0