AMWA: Spending bill with WIFIA restrictions advances in House

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The U.S. EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program would receive no new funding under a package of FY21 appropriations bills approved by the House of Representatives last week. Lawmakers have adopted an amendment to the bill intended to protect projects already awaiting WIFIA loans.

The measure would provide EPA with $9.38 billion in regular funding next year, about $210 million above the agency’s current funding level. The sum includes $2.76 billion for the State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs (equal to current funding of about $1.6 billion for the Clean Water SRF and $1.1 billion for the Drinking Water SRF), and $20 million for grants to help communities and low-income homeowners replace lead service lines.

The bill would also deliver $4 million for grants under the Drinking Water Infrastructure Resilience and Sustainability Program, which would help certain community water systems make their infrastructure more resilient to climate change and extreme weather.

Notably absent from the spending bill are new FY21 appropriations for EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. Instead, the bill would provide roughly $71 million for WIFIA next year by rescinding unobligated program balances from the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, a move intended to force EPA to comply with new budgetary scoring criteria that seeks to prevent WIFIA loans to federally backed projects.

House FY21 spending bill includes no new direct WIFIA appropriations

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) and other water sector organizations have raised strong objections to the plan, arguing that it threatens to delete funding for dozens of major water infrastructure projects that sought loans in FY18 or FY19 but which have not yet closed.

Congressional staff have told AMWA they expect to eventually resolve the issue and ensure that all projects awaiting loans are funded, though the final resolution may not come until the House and Senate finalize EPA’s FY21 spending bill.

In the meantime, the House last week accepted an amendment offered by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) clarifying that WIFIA projects already in the funding pipeline should not have to restart their applications, AMWA says. AMWA and other water sector organizations expressed support for the amendment in the hopes that it will bring additional attention to the need to address the issue before EPA’s FY21 spending bill is finalized.

Other parts of the bill include an additional $13 billion for “emergency infrastructure investments” at EPA not subject to the regular budget framework. This funding would deliver more than $10 billion for the SRFs, $500 million for lead service line replacement efforts and $50 million to increase testing for lead in school drinking water. According to AMWA, Congressional Republicans and the White House have not been in favor of the extra funds, saying they will not survive in any final EPA spending bill enacted this year.

While the bill represents the first FY21 appropriations bill to move through either chamber, Senate Republicans have yet to formulate their own spending proposals. In all likelihood no individual spending bills will be enacted before the onset of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, and it is possible that the government may have to operate under a temporary funding extension beyond Election Day.

Source: Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies

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