More than 600 environmental, rights and religious groups to present draft order amid widespread shutoffs despite pandemic

A broad coalition of organizations is urging Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to mandate a national moratorium on water and other utility shutoffs on day one in the White House, in order to curtail the spread of Covid-19 and ease the financial burden on struggling Americans.

More than 600 environmental, rights and religious groups will on Wednesday present the incoming Democratic administration with a draft executive order that would impose an immediate nationwide ban on disconnecting essential utilities like water, gas and electricity until at least 12 months after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

Related: Revealed: millions of Americans can’t afford water as bills rise 80% in a decade

In Virginia, more than half a million households are behind on water bills, with municipal utilities owed at least $88m in arrears as of mid-December. The latest state budget, lauded by rights groups, restricts evictions and prohibits utilities from cutting off power, water and gas until the state of emergency is over.

In Pennsylvania, just 14 private utilities were owed $50m by November 2020 – a 40% rise in arrears compared to the previous year. The number of households indebted to these companies increased by 240% to 183,000, according to analysis by the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project (Pulp). There is a partial moratorium in place for regulated private utilities until the end of March, but most people are connected to public water systems, which are not included.

According to state filings, American Water, the country’s largest private utility, disconnected more than 12,600 home in Illinois, Tennessee and Missouri between September and November last year.

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