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The Surest Path to End Water Shutoffs for All Michigan Families

By: Nkenge Browner, Deputy Director of Programming at Mothering Justice



As Black mothers who work with and advocate for Black mothers, Mothering Justice knows that too many of us across Michigan face grave challenges in providing for our families. We know Black mothers and families have had to get jugs of water from neighbors because of water service shutoffs due to high rates that made bills out of reach. No water in the house means challenges cooking and cleaning, compromised health and hygiene, and threats of having the children removed by Child Protective Services. The absence of access to safe, affordable water is a silent epidemic that plagues MIchigan’s most vulnerable communities. It is a glaring reminder of the injustices that persist in our society. That’s why we at Mothering Justice have joined other social justice and environmental groups in the Water Equals Life (WEL) Coalition. The WEL Coalition exists to ensure all Michiganders have equitable access to safe, affordable water service.


We are hopeful about legislation being crafted by state Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) to address unaffordable water rates, which is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and we commend her for her commitment to water justice. However, for this legislation to be truly transformative and alleviate the burdens faced by Detroit's most vulnerable, we must ensure the inclusion of vital provisions.


One of the essential components that must be integrated into the legislation is the implementation of a three-tier billing system, based on customer income level. This approach will guarantee that payments do not exceed a defined percentage of household income, with monthly payments capped at three percent of a household’s income based on the federal poverty level. By taking into account families’ financial capacity, we can protect the most vulnerable from falling deeper into poverty due to exorbitant water service costs. It is our collective duty to ensure that every family has the means to access this basic human need without compromising their economic stability, health, or family structure.


Additionally, in the state of Michigan, 28 percent of residents live in rental properties. It’s crucial that we do not let low-income families who rent fall through the cracks. While the current proposed legislation includes tenant protection, it must be expanded beyond new lease agreements to include existing tenants into the equation. Without this amendment, we risk leaving many Michigan families behind.


Further, the legislation must include comprehensive debt forgiveness. The sad reality for many families is that when bills are unaffordable, they begin to quickly pile up. Before a resident knows it, they are burdened with high water debts which they are unable to free themselves from. Arrearage forgiveness is essential to ensuring the success of low-income Michigan families and will give them the fresh start they deserve.


Shutoff protections are another element that must be integrated into this legislation. Perhaps the most heartbreaking consequence of this crisis is the constant fear that mothers live with—the fear that their children may be taken away by Child Protective Services simply due to water-related hardships. No parent should be burdened with such painful anxiety, and we must act collectively to alleviate this fear and provide a safer, more compassionate environment for families.


As we advocate for these necessary changes, we must confront the stark realities faced by Detroit households every day. With approximately 60,000 households struggling to pay their water bills and a staggering 78 percent of these homes being led by single mothers, it is evident that this silent epidemic is having a profound impact on Detroit families. These mothers are forced to make agonizing decisions between paying for water or putting food on their children's plates. Meanwhile, children are resorting to desperate measures, obtaining water from local retailers and car washes just to wash their bodies—a stark reminder of our failure to provide even the most basic human needs.


Now is the moment to take action. We extend an invitation for you to reach out to your state legislator, urging them to guarantee accessible water for every person in Michigan. Visit welcoalition.org/take-action to join us in securing water equity for all Michigan residents regardless of their economic circumstances.



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