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With water shutoffs looming, activists push for "affordability" plan

Water faucet
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Lack of funds threaten to shut down a monitoring system for southeast Michigan's drinking water.

With water shutoffs in Detroit resuming as early as this week for some 18,000 households, activists say many officials are refusing to consider one possible solution: discounted bills for low-income residents.

Otherwise known as an affordability program, some activists say it’s a better option than the current assistance programs – which offer temporary financial help only after people are already behind on their water bills.

“We were pushing that argument at the table and saying look, you don’t have to do more of the same, especially when more of the same doesn’t work,” said Sylvia Orduno of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.

Orduno says the group had been working with the Great Lakes Water Authority, which will take over administering Detroit’s water system this summer. But she says their advocacy didn't appear to go anywhere.

“[The Great Lakes Water Authority] kept telling us, well you know what, in the memorandum of understanding that was signed between the city of Detroit, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, this isn’t something we can do. We were told to just develop an assistance program,” said Sylvia Orduno of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.

Officials with the Great Lakes Water Authority did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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