The New Orleans Democratic Socialists of America stands strongly opposed to the Sewerage and Water Board’s decision to resume water utility shutoffs for accounts the board considers “delinquent.” We believe every person has a right to clean water, a basic human need, and that all utility shutoffs are a violation of this right. These resumed shutoffs will do little to resolve the budget problems that the utility claims prompted this decision. Instead, they will impose needless harm and hardship on the poor and working class people of New Orleans.
The S&WB claims that over 12% of the residences and businesses in New Orleans are currently more than 60 days overdue on paying their bills and that this is causing the utility to run out of money. However, the financial difficulties at S&WB are, by the utility’s own admission, a result of its own mismanagement. The utility acknowledges that the bills people have received are wildly inaccurate due to the utility’s own mishandling of a switch to a new billing software system. In fact, shutoffs were suspended because S&WB was aware of how widespread this problem was and that it was their responsibility. The billing problems have not been resolved. If S&WB acknowledges the widespread inaccuracies of the bills, they have no authority to collect on these inaccurate and inflated bills.
Service shutoffs will not ensure payment on these massive, unpayable bills. They will only lead to people having their access to clean water cut off during the hottest part of the year. To avoid loss of service, each individual account holder is being asked to physically go to the S&WB offices and either work out a payment plan or open a formal dispute of the bill. Most delinquent account holders are either confused, intimidated or just can’t afford to pay the absurdly inflated bills. Many people lack the time or transportation necessary to travel to the S&WB offices to open up a dispute and prove their case. If S&WB has a serious need for cash, it should offer all delinquent accounts a fair deal to pay an affordable amount and cancel the rest of the debt. This would restore the flow of revenue into the utility without unfairly burdening customers. But it would also require that S&WB step up and acknowledge the gravity of their mismanagement.
There is no reason to put the impetus for solving these problems on individual account holders except to avoid accountability for this massive error. By doing this, the Sewerage & Water Board is endangering the lives of New Orleanians. New Orleanians should not be subject to this kind of harm, especially not at the hands of utilities that are our collective property and supposedly under democratic control. We demand that utility shutoffs be suspended indefinitely. We demand that all account holders be offered a fair, affordable deal for debt cancellation that does not require a formal dispute process. We demand more transparency and democratic control in the operations of the Sewerage and Water Board to ensure that the actions of the utility serve the best interests of the people of New Orleans.