As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our health and livelihoods, utility shutoffs are hurting residents throughout the Tennessee Valley.
On April 8, we joined more than 30 organizations in sending a letter to the governor of Tennessee asking that he issue a “state-wide moratorium on electric, gas, water and telecommunications disconnections, as well as a prohibition on utilities from issuing late or reconnection fees, or approving rate increases on consumers, as a result of the national emergency caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.” We are also asking Gov. Lee to order utilities to immediately re-establish services to anyone who has lost them.
In a separate letter dated April 5, labor, faith and community organizations called for a halt to utility shutoffs among other policy proposals aimed at helping local governments address the coronavirus crisis.
More than 250,000 Tennesseans have already filed unemployment claims due to COVID, while others have seen their hours and incomes drop. As the pandemic ensues, more Tennesseans will also battle the disease of COVID-19 and care for ill family members. Throughout this crisis, people are counting on running water to wash their hands, on electricity to power their homes, and on telephone and internet services to stay connected with work and school and to access critical services like telehealth appointments. During these extreme times, it is unacceptable for utilities to cut off our access to these basic necessities.
As states across the region have taken steps to protect their residents from utility shutoffs and waived late fees during this vulnerable time, Tennessee has not. In the midst of this destabilizing pandemic, Tennesseans should not also have to worry about losing water, electricity, and other essential services. Governor Bill Lee should put the people of Tennessee first and order utilities to maintain services and waive late fees.
If you have a shutoff story you’d like to share, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.