Low-income water assistance program formally launched

The White House last week announced the official launch of the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) housed at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). 

This program is the first of its kind designed to provide funding to help low-income households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic pay their water and wastewater bills. According to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the available federal funds, which total $1.138 billion, were secured as part of the federal COVID-19 relief spending in December 2020 and March 2021.

Since then, HHS has been working to stand up a program to get the funds out to states and tribes, which will ultimately be responsible for implementing programs that deliver the funding to water and wastewater utilities on behalf of eligible customers.

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With last week’s HHS announcement, including release of state allocations and terms and conditions, HHS is releasing the first 15 percent of funds to each state and territory, which can be used for administrative costs by the state or implementing partners including local community action agencies and utilities. The funds being released will help states as they work to develop HHS-required state implementation work plans and address strategic questions, such as how to distribute funds statewide and determine maximum benefit levels.

The funds released this week are expected to be used only to cover state and implementing partner administrative costs, not to cover utility bills. Ultimately, additional funds will be released by HHS later this year that will flow to water and wastewater utilities. These subsequent funds can be credited to eligible customer accounts and will need to be obligated by Sept. 30, 2023 and spent by Dec. 21, 2023, allowing substantial time for the funding to be implemented despite the emergency nature under which they were provided by the federal government.

Unfortunately, while this week’s announcement marks a critical step forward in the low-income water program, it will still be several more months until funds begin to be credited locally and flow directly to utilities. NACWA continues to engage with HHS and urges local utilities to engage with their state offices that will be implementing LIHWAP as well as with local third party organizations that help implement the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), on which HHS is relying as a model for this funding.

NACWA is also hosting a complimentary webinar for utilities to learn more about what to expect from this new program next Thursday, June 10th – register here.

While this program gets underway, NACWA also continues advocating as part of its Affordable Water, Resilient Communities campaign for permanent, reliable federal funding for water and wastewater customers. Congress is considering several proposals that would provide additional funding including through HHS or the U.S. EPA.

Sources: NACWA, AMWA

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