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A Congressional Push to Ensure Localities Don't Shut Off Utilities During Pandemic

Congress is now considering the next round of economic relief prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. And, it might have a provision aimed at helping restore water to dozens of homes in Petersburg.

Back in January, before the pandemic hit Virginia, the city of Petersburg was trying to collect on some unpaid water bills. So they shut off water to thousands of homes. Then the governor issued his stay-at-home order, and now families in Petersburg are living without running water during a pandemic.

Water was shut restored to some homes, but Delegate Lashrecse Aird says she’s concerned about the dozens of households that still don’t have running water.

“Although this began before a public health emergency was declared, COVID-19 has revealed a broken system here in the city of Petersburg, and it is now leaving citizens in eminent danger,” she says.

Enter Congressman Donald McEachin, who represents Petersburg and the Richmond area in Congress. He’s pressing House leadership to include a provision in the next round of economic relief that makes money available to cities if they don’t shut off people’s water. It also includes an incentive to restore water to families that have been disconnected.

“And so what we’re saying to localities is look, we’re not trying to get into your local politics," McEachin explains. "What we’re doing is we’re offering you some money. We know you’re going to have budget shortfalls. So help us help you and help us all beat this virus by making sure folks have water to wash their hands with.”

McEachin says he’s hopeful that provision will be included in the text of the next round of economic relief, which is expected to be before members of Congress in the next week or two.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.