Governor Gretchen Whitmer took strong steps to ensure working families in Michigan have access to clean water for handwashing and sanitation by signing Executive Order 2020-144, which extends protections for Michigan residents who have had water service shut off through December 31, 2020.
“From day one, my administration has been focused on building a stronger Michigan by investing in people, their families, their pocketbooks and the infrastructure they rely on,” said Governor Whitmer. “As Michigan families grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 on public health and our economy, our administration is taking proactive steps to ensure that no one has to worry about having access to clean drinking water or losing power during this unprecedented crisis. Extending these protections is the right thing to do, and I remain committed to working with the legislature and our partners in the federal government to develop long-term policy solutions to make water affordable for every family in Michigan.”
After the governor’s initial order on water protections was signed in late March, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) worked to create a Restart Grant Program to help cities comply and pay for the reconnection program, starting with a $500,000 grant to the City of Detroit. Under the program, 2,477 Michiganders have had their water restored during the COVID-19 pandemic, including more than 1,200 families in partnership with the City of Detroit.
Last week, Governor Whitmer secured the largest investment in water and energy assistance in Michigan history by signing the bipartisan supplemental bill, SB 690, into law. The new law includes $25 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to reimburse water utility providers for providing bill forgiveness for past due utility bills and fees incurred by residential water customers during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The legislation also provides a 25% rebate on total water bills for eligible customers while funding lasts.
“I applaud Governor Whitmer’s work to ensure that no Michigan family goes without water service during this pandemic,” said U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. “Handwashing is our first line of defense against the spread of disease, and every person in our state needs access to running water to protect themselves, their families and their communities. I will continue to champion policies in Congress that will provide communities with access to safe and affordable water throughout and beyond this pandemic.”
“For the health and safety of all, we fully understand the importance of having access to water in your home,” said Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley. “We commend Gov. Whitmer and we are fully supportive of these efforts. The City of Flint will continue to be a partner working for a healthy recovery in the State of Michigan.”
“Governor Whitmer’s action today ensures all Michiganders, especially those in our communities of color, have access to water during this incredibly challenging pandemic — which we will never contain if thousands of households don’t even have water to wash their hands,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “There is still much work to be done federally and in the Michigan Legislature to ensure we have a permanent fix for turning the water on, keeping it on and making it affordable for all.”
Moving forward, Governor Whitmer is requesting the Legislature pass legislation requiring local water utilities to report information to the State of Michigan to ensure transparency around rates and ensure the state has a clear picture of the needs of Michiganders and practices being utilized by water utilities. The governor is also working closely with the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice to review policy recommendations centered on water affordability.
Governor Whitmer continues to call on Congress to pass the Heroes Act, which would provide $1.5 billion in financial assistance to low income and other adversely affected consumers to assist with payments for drinking water and wastewater expenses. Additionally, she supports work led by the Michigan Congressional delegation to make water more accessible and affordable, including by creating a dedicated, nationwide program to provide financial assistance to help low-income families pay their water bills.