As I write this, I’ve just gotten a message that the city of Flint is beginning again to issue shut-off notices to water customers. About 60 percent of city water customers are in arrears, according to one source.
Someone will wonder how many of those customers are people who didn’t see the rationale behind paying for poisoned water or quit paying in protest. Someone else will surely say they are simply opportunists, hiding behind the crisis to avoid paying for water. Others will talk about the billing confusion or still-unreasonably high water rates.
I hope someone will mention that 40 percent of Flint lives below the poverty line, then point out that the poverty line is in the wrong place – that even a 100 percent increase in what counts as “poverty wages” would barely bring a family to a sustainable economic place, much less let them pursue the American Dream.
I hope people of faith will be talking most about the reality that water is life and that there is no alternative; that the means of production and the means of happiness may be commodified, but the means of life should never be.
So, here’s what’s happening: Thursday, as you’re reading this, a bunch of people are going to Lansing to make a case for water. I know, it’s absurd that the case must be made, ridiculous that we have to state the obvious. Despicable that anyone would see otherwise.
But it is required, so we’re going to Lansing. We’re going to lobby for water. There are 8 pieces of legislation in a bundle called the “Water is a Human Right” Bill Package.
- HB5101 establishes that each individual has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water for consumption, cooking and sanitation.
- HB5097 calls for a residential water affordability plan, with rates based on household income.
- HB5095/96 decriminalizes re-connecting water service that was disconnected for inability to pay, and restructures sentencing guidelines. Re-connecting would no longer be a felony.
- HB5094 cleans up the method for testing water, ensuring that samples drawn are a true indicator of the safety of the water.
- HB5093 requires statewide reporting about water rates and shut-offs.
- HB5110 provides relief to customers who try in good faith to obtain bills but none is provided. (This seems designed to address the billing debacle in Highland Park, where customers were getting billed thousands of dollars after not receiving bills for years.)
- HB5120 changes reporting requirements when hazardous chemicals are found in the water.
- HB5122 establishes classes of folks protected from shut-offs (senior citizens, families with young kids, pregnant women, people with disabilities) and changes how notifications are done.
We think it all makes sense. Maybe someone will express concern that we’re opening the door to people who want to work the system and take advantage. Perhaps then someone else will note with a bit of sarcasm that THAT’S never happened before. Or maybe draw a parallel to folks working the system as it relates to off-shore holdings or capital gains or bonuses as deferred income. That would be great.
In the midst of all that, we will remember that we are followers of Jesus. Jesus, who called himself Living Water. I hope someone will mention Living Water. Sometimes it isn’t just a theological metaphor.
We’re heading to Lansing to make a case for water = life. If you’d like to support any or all of these provisions, you can help. Contact Rep Lee Chatfield (517-373-2629, LeeChatfield@house.mi.gov) chair of the House Committee on Local Government, under which most of these bills fall. Or talk to Jay for full details on the bills and better contact info.
Living water. And beloved community. We’ll get through this together.
With you on the journey.
-- pastor deb