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Multiple civil rights groups argue to extend moratorium on Detroit water shutoffs

Flickr user Steve Johnson

A moratorium on allowing the City of Detroit to do water shutoffs is set to expire on December 31st, but a coalition of civil rights group would like the ban to continue.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Legal Defense Fund, and Michigan Poverty Law Program have asked the US District Court to continue to suspend water shut offs.

Mark Fancher is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan. He says one of the reasons water service should continue is that the city’s new payment assistance plan has been difficult for some residents to access.

“We have been in contact with some who have attempted to enroll by using the telephone, by calling, and they're not able to get through to anyone who was able to sign them up," Fancher said.

Fancher says some residents also had difficulty downloading and uploading required documents on their smart phones. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says there are about 60,000 delinquent accounts that could be at risk of losing water service in January.

Fancher also noted the issue effects the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“The people who are impacted by this are people who are elderly and on fixed incomes and just simply can't afford to pay market rate for water," Fancher said. "There are people who are disabled either temporarily or permanently. You know, water is as essential to life as oxygen. And to say that people should be deprived of water is in many respects, no different from saying that they should be deprived of air to breathe.”

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department implemented a new payment plan for low-income people this summer.

Laura Herberg is a reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here. She won a Regional Murrow Award for best Hard News story (Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio) in 2020 and she was named the Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter for radio broadcasting in 2020, 2018 and 2017. In 2012, she was awarded a SoundCloud Fellowship for her project, “Listen to Detroit.” She also is the creator of Complete Me, a podcast with only three episodes about how she has trouble completing tasks.