COVID-19

Stop utility shut-offs during COVID-19 crisis, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president says

David Brancaccio, Rose Conlon, and Alex Schroeder Mar 27, 2020
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Some states have worked to stop utility shut-offs, including Maryland, Kansas and Kentucky. Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Stop utility shut-offs during COVID-19 crisis, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president says

David Brancaccio, Rose Conlon, and Alex Schroeder Mar 27, 2020
Some states have worked to stop utility shut-offs, including Maryland, Kansas and Kentucky. Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images
Share Now on:
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There’s been a lot of conversation about letting some people put off mortgage payments or, in some cases, rent during the COVID-19 emergency. But what about the water and electricity payments?

Some states have worked to stop utility shut-offs, including Maryland, Kansas and Kentucky. Some cities, too: Atlanta and Phoenix among them.

But shut-offs are still happening in many parts of the country. And that makes homes ⁠— where more and more governors are telling people to stay ⁠— unsafe.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told Marketplace’s David Brancaccio “there has not been ⁠— consistently, across the country ⁠— a recognition that we’re sending children to homes where the water may be turned off, or where electricity or other utilities may be shut off.”

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Sherrilyn Ifill: This is a very serious public health issue. A number of jurisdictions have been doing a terrific job. But there are other jurisdictions that have completely overlooked the need to suspend utility shut-off. And what this now requires is governors and mayors to recognize that this should not be on the list of worries that people who are struggling financially have along with keeping themselves safe from this pandemic. They should not worry about whether or not their children will be able to take a bath and drink water in the home.

David Brancaccio: You’re clearly working this issue at the local, county and state level. This isn’t something that just needs to be done with a line in some legislation out of Washington.

Ifill: We would love to have a nationwide moratorium on all utility shut-offs, but every day, turn offs are happening. The wheels of Congress, as we have seen over the last few weeks, grind slowly. And so you know, we can’t wait.

Brancaccio: We’re also talking about a much bigger issue. People were struggling before this virus ever hit.

Ifill: One of the things this crisis has revealed is really the very precarious situation of so many Americans, as it relates to health care, as it relates to their jobs, as it relates to their wages and hours. People are living hand to mouth, they’re relying on their paychecks, and this crisis, and the need for us to stay at home, and the layoffs that have happened, have revealed to us the very precarious situation in which many Americans live. And we’ve got to, when we have a moment to breathe from this pandemic, turn our attention to dealing with those structural issues. We are uniquely ill-equipped to take on the challenge that a pandemic like this presents to a country. It’s one of the reasons, I think, we are doing so badly. That’s because of existing deficits that have existed. And this is an opportunity for us, when we have a moment, to begin to address what are the fundamental weaknesses in American society that have largely resulted from our failure to ensure that Americans are not living at the financial margin.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Which businesses are allowed to reopen right now? And which businesses are actually doing so?

As a patchwork of states start to reopen, businesses that fall into a gray area are wondering when they can reopen. In many places, salons are still shuttered. Bars are mostly closed, too, although restaurants may be allowed to ramp up, depending on the state. “It’s kind of all over the place,” said Elizabeth Milito of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Will you be able to go on vacation this summer?

There’s no chance that this summer will be a normal season for vacations either in the U.S. or internationally. But that doesn’t mean a trip will be impossible. People will just have to be smart about it. That could mean vacations closer to home, especially with gas prices so low. Air travel will be possible this summer, even if it is a very different experience than usual.

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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