By Bria Brown

DETROIT (AP) — The city of Detroit is extending a moratorium that stops water shutoffs for people unable to pay their water bills.

State, federal and philanthropic funds will allow the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to help residents who can’t pay to maintain service.

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Those who apply for assistance under the moratorium will be assessed for eligibility and those who qualify will have their bills deferred, Mayor Mike Duggan said. He didn’t say for how long.

“There will be no water shutoffs through 2022 because of anybody’s inability to pay,” Duggan said Tuesday.

Orders by health departments to stop water shutoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic end Dec. 31.

Duggan worked with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to launch a Coronavirus Water Restart Plan in March to help battle the spread of the COVID-19 virus by keeping water service on so Detroit residents could wash their hands at home.

The state covered the costs of service reconnection for the first 30 days of the plan and water customers then had service restored or kept their water on for $25 per month. Service was reconnected for thousands of residents under the state plan.

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State funding also allowed the Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department to investigate and fix the leaking pipes that had led to such high water bills. Duggan said crews have repaired or are repairing water connections in about 700 homes.

“The same people who are having the most trouble paying their monthly bill don’t have $1,500 to fix the pipes in their house,” Duggan said.

The People’s Water Board Coalition said by extending the moratorium, Detroit is following recommendations of water advocates, public health experts and residents to end the practice of water shutoffs.

“Universal access to safe drinking water is a matter of life and death,” said Sylvia Orduño, an organizer with Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the People’s Water Board Coalition.

Water shutoffs have been a sore issue with many residents and activists in Detroit and have spawned protests in recent years. About two dozen demonstrators were arrested in 2018 for blocking a light rail line in downtown Detroit to protest the shutoffs and treatment of poor people.

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In 2017, the Detroit water department started shutting off water service to some of nearly 18,000 residential customers with delinquent accounts.

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