Associations urge Congress to prioritize affordability, build on LIHWAP program

Recommendations Include Establishment of Permanent Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program at HHS

Five water sector organizations joined forces today to release a new report on the growing water affordability concern for low-income Americans and call for a permanent program to address the challenge.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), and Water Environment Federation (WEF) released formal policy recommendations to Congress and the White House on establishing a permanent federal low-income water assistance program. In addition, the groups released a detailed analysis, “Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program Assessment Study.” The study establishes that water affordability is a significant challenge for 20 million U.S. households and puts the annual need for federal funding to address this challenge as high as $7.9 billion.

The full Policy Memo and Recommendations can be found here. To read the LIWCAP Study report, please click here.

The water associations primary recommendation is in establishing a permanent program that would build upon the existing Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The groups says it’s the most viable and practical option at this time, as articulated in the Policy Memo and Recommendations. 

The organizations’ recommendation is supported by 15 months of research, as well as the collective judgement of water industry experts on the ground from every corner of America. To support the concept of building on top of the LIHWAP program, the study includes an examination of existing federal low-income assistance programs, key elements that a water program should have in order to be sustainable, and best practices for structuring a new, permanent program. 

According to a press release from NACWA, the 15-month “LIWCAP” study was conducted between November 2021 and April 2023. It outlines five different potential administrative pathways for structuring a permanent federal low-income water assistance program and the relative advantages and disadvantages of these alternatives. 

The study establishes that water affordability is a significant challenge for 20 million U.S. households and puts the annual need for federal funding to address this challenge as high as $7.9 billion.

The study also includes a water affordability needs assessment, including granular detail on the growing prevalence and massive scope of the low-income water affordability challenge nationwide, estimating the current number of water-burdened U.S. households could be as high as 21.3 million. NACWA says the study is the first detailed analysis to preview the composition, cost, efficacy and effectiveness of a permanent federal low-income assistance program.

To read the full Policy Memo and Recommendations, please click here.  To read the LIWCAP Study report, please click here.

Despite their policy recommendation for a permanent LIWCAP program to be housed at HHS and to build off the existing LIHWAP foundation, the water organizations noted that Congress has demonstrated interest in the possibility of a low-income program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Congress authorized the establishment of a pilot low-income water assistance program at EPA and has appropriated $3 million to the Agency to assess the scale of national low-income water needs. However, because Congress has not appropriated any funds to date for program implementation, the water sector associations conclude that housing a permanent program at HHS is currently the most viable option to establish a program at this time.

In conjunction with the results of the study this week, officials at the five associations released the following statements.

“Energy has LIHEAP, food has SNAP and housing has Section 8 but there is no such program to assist struggling, low-income water and wastewater customers,” American Water Works Association Executive Director of Government Affairs Tracy Mehan said. “It is time for the federal government to step up and implement a new low-income assistance program for the water and wastewater sectors.”

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies CEO Tom Dobbins said: “Ensuring access to safe, clean, and affordable water for all Americans should be one of the nation’s top public health priorities. That’s why Congress must fund a permanent program to help vulnerable households maintain water service. AMWA stands united with our water sector partners in support of legislation to add residential water service assistance to the federal safety net.”

“The need for a federal low-income water assistance has been growing for years as the water affordability challenge has increased, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought the issue to a head,” added Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. “NACWA appreciates the efforts of Congress and the Administration to date, but more is needed.  We are pleased to join our other water sector association partners in calling for a permanent federal program, and the release today of the low-income report and our joint policy recommendations memo provides an important step forward.”

National Association of Water Companies President & CEO Robert Powelson added: “I am pleased today to stand with the other national water associations to advocate for a permanent federal low-income water assistance program. LIHWAP has benefitted thousands of customers since its creation in 2020 and this need is not going away. It is critically important for Congress to permanently fund an assistance program for water to help ensure that everyone in this country has access to safe and reliable water service.”

Water Environment Federation Executive Director Walter Marlowe said: “The Low-Income Water Assistance Program is an important component of sustainably solving water challenges for all. It helps families in our most vulnerable communities afford essential services like water and wastewater.”


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