Giving Compass' Take:

• Nina Lakhani explains that in many places across America people are already living without running water and more risk losing access to this necessity during the coronavirus pandemic. 

• How can funders work to ensure access to running water for all Americans? Who in your area has already lost or is at risk of losing access to water? 

• Read about the water inequality crisis

Joshua Haynes was raised to work hard and take care of his family without asking for outside help. But when the utility bills arrived last month, he knew there would be trouble.

Haynes, 34, a construction worker from Newbern, Tennessee, was left without income after the governor issued a stay-at-home order in early April. As a cash-in-hand builder, he is not eligible to claim unemployment insurance, and the stimulus check still had not arrived.

“I always pay my bills on time, but without work, I just didn’t have the money to cover everything, so I asked for an extension. They said no,” Haynes said.

Haynes, who lives with his wife and three children, managed to get the money just six days after the bill was due, but the city refused to accept the payment unless he also paid a $70 reconnection charge. He didn’t have it, and the charge didn’t make sense as they had not been disconnected. A few hours after his payment was turned down, the taps were turned off, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged people to frequently wash their hands in order to prevent the virus spreading.

For a week, the family survived on sodas and microwave meals, cleaning their hands with gel and flushing the toilet with buckets of water filled at a neighbor’s.

In the end, Haynes returned to work despite the stay-at-home order so that he could get an advance on his wages to pay the reconnection fee. “It’s wrong what they did, especially with so many people out of work. I felt angry and embarrassed. I’d never missed a bill before … I had no choice but to go back to work,” he said.

Haynes is among a rapidly growing number of working people faced with impossible economic and health tradeoffs during the coronavirus pandemic — which has so far left more than 61,000 Americans dead and 30 million unemployed.

A third of American households — about 120 million people — still risk having their water disconnected and racking up exorbitant fees, despite calls from a coalition of lawmakers and advocates to suspend all utility shutoffs until the country drags itself out of this unprecedented crisis. And while more than 600 localities and 13 states have mandated moratoriums on disconnecting residents since early March, some of these will soon expire as states reopen for business.

Read the full article about Americans living without running water by Nina Lakhani at Grist.