Sen. Merkley: Time for federal government to maintain water, power, heat and internet….until pandemic is over…
|A word to Oregonians:
We have made massive strides when it comes to tackling this pandemic, and it’s great that life is returning closer to normal. But as we embrace the things we missed, we cannot forget that we still have a ways to go before all Oregonians are back on their feet. Thousands of Oregonians need our help and one of the most important things we can be doing right now is to ensure that everyone in our communities has access to the utilities they need to stay healthy, go to school, get a job, go to work, and thrive.
In the 21st century, the foundation for prosperity includes access to water, power, heat, and internet. Most people thankfully avoided having these essentials shut off during the pandemic thanks to shut-off moratoria. But between the tolls of this difficult chapter and the fact that low-income Americans were already more likely to pay higher rates for basic utilities before the coronavirus crisis, so many families have huge unpaid bills hanging over them that threaten to cut their access to these utilities. That’s a real public emergency that must immediately be met with a national plan.
That’s why this week, I introduced the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act of 2021 — legislation that would create a temporary program to protect all Americans’ access to power, heat, water, and internet service as we recover from the coronavirus crisis. This program would make low-interest loans to utility companies to help cover Americans’ unpaid bills, in order to ensure that no American is at risk of losing essential utility services in their homes. Those loans would be eligible to be forgiven — but only if utility companies don’t charge fees or cut service for customers who got beyond on their payments during the pandemic.
Having access to vital utilities means keeping the lights on, being able to search for a job, or get a callback when one is offered, easy access to drinking water, and being able to easily book a vaccine appointment. No one — regardless of the color of their skin, their zip code, or their income — should have to worry about losing these services. I’m going to keep working to turn that principle into a reality for all Oregonians.
All my best,