A coalition of activist organizations is calling for a federal bailout for people who can’t pay their utility bills as well as a suspension of service cutoffs, Energy News Network reported.
The Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition says the need for federal protection for the people who can’t afford to pay their electricity bills is particularly dire in Michigan, which is among the states with the fastest-rising electricity rates. Last year, rates in Michigan registered the second-highest rise nationally last year.
Under the proposal, the federal government would provide close to $40 billion to wipe out electricity, water, and broadband debt across the United States. It also includes a moratorium on shutoffs of essential services such as electricity and water supply. Of the total sum, $13 billion will be used to wipe out electricity debt. The bill also proposes offering low-interest forgivable debt to utilities that in turn forgive customer debt and stop cutoffs.
“The impact of an unaffordable power system is that we punish people for being poor over and over again,” said the coalition’s energy democracy organizer, Bridget Vial, as quoted by Energy News Network.
The Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act of 2021 was introduced in May by Senator Jeff Merkley, who said it would “create a new program to protect all Americans’ access to power, heat, water and internet service during the coronavirus crisis and ensure that these critical home utilities are not cut off.”
Now, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan has introduced a House version of the bill this week.
“It’s nothing short of a scandal that in the richest country in the world, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, American families are having to worry about whether they’ll lose the utility access they need to survive,” Tlaib told Energy News Network.