In the wake of massive water service shut-offs in recent years affecting residents of Detroit and other communities, members of the Michigan Legislature are offering bills to make water rates affordable for all citizens.
“We are the Great Lakes State, surrounded by fresh water, but many Michiganders do not have the same access to water due to their financial situation,” said one of the bill sponsors, Senator Stephanie Chang of Detroit. “It should not matter how much money you have — every human being needs water to live.”
Chang noted that according to Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) data, over 317,000 Michiganders were behind on their water bills during the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2022 study by the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan found that average inflation-adjusted water costs have roughly doubled for the state as a whole since 1980. Large urban areas such as Detroit and Flint have seen a much greater increase.
“The People’s Water Board Coalition overwhelmingly supports the monumental package of water affordability bills championed by Michigan State Senators Chang and Bayer,” said Sylvia Orduño of the Coalition, which consists of three dozen grassroots groups, NGOs, faith-based, social justice, and community-based organizations. “For many years our grassroots groups have labored to bring visibility and advocacy to the need for statewide water affordability that protects households and community water systems. These bills offer new support and safeguards for vulnerable residents who experience water insecurity in all corners of the state.”
The key bills include:
- An affordability program. Senate Bill 549 and House Bill 5088 create a low-income water residential affordability program within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that water bills for low-income households do not exceed 3% of that household’s income, with tiers developed for lower thresholds based on percentage of the federal poverty limit. Water providers can opt to use the program developed by DHHS or administer their own program.
- An affordability fund. Senate Bill 550 and House Bill 5089 create a statewide Low-Income Water Affordability Fund. The primary funding source would be a $2/meter monthly funding factor on water bills, and the fund would be allowed to take philanthropic donations.
- Shut-off protections. Senate Bill 551 and House Bill 5090 provide protection from water shut-offs for Michiganders whose health conditions require access to water. It requires that a water provider notify a customer who is facing shut-off at least four times through a mailing, door knock, phone call, and/or text message. It also protects a customer who is attempting to enroll in a water affordability plan or who makes a minimum good faith payment.
- The Human Right to Water Act. Senate Bill 25 establishes that each individual has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes. It requires all state agencies and departments to carry out all reasonable means to review, revise, adopt and establish policies and regulations, plus grant criteria for establishing water affordability as appropriate, and to the extent that such actions do not affect federal funding eligibility.