Water sector applauds proposed permanent low-income customer assistance program

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) are applauding the introduction of H.R. 3293, the Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act of 2021. The bipartisan legislation, led by Reps. Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) would create a permanent program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help financially struggling households maintain access to affordable drinking water and wastewater services, by providing grants through public utilities and states, in partnerships with small systems, for customer assistance.

This legislation recognizes the increasing strain that the costs of water services place on households and the challenges the nation’s public clean and drinking water systems face in addressing aging infrastructure, meeting growing water quality and quantity challenges, address regulatory requirements and more while trying to keep costs for these essential services manageable for water customers.

H.R. 3292 builds on legislation introduced in the 116th Congress by Rep. Katko and former Rep. Fudge (D-OH), and provisions included in S. 914, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, which passed the Senate 89-2 on April 29. Critically, Congress also provided funding for water customer assistance for the first time ever as part of COVID-19 relief, as the pandemic exasperated balances of unpaid water bills around the country. 

The legislation advances key funding priorities advocated by NACWA and AMWA through the Affordable Water, Resilient Communities campaign. 

“Creating a permanent, reliable low-income water customer assistance program is critically important. NACWA strongly commends Reps. Blunt Rochester and Katko for working together to advance the Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act,” said Adam Krantz, CEO of NACWA. “This legislation acknowledges that a gap exists between the costs of providing essential public clean water services and investing in reliable, resilient infrastructure and the ability of households to pay for them. The costs of clean water have grown significantly and while programs exist for helping Americans afford other essentials–food security and home energy–no similar program has been in place for water. We look forward to further work with Congress to help advance this legislation.”

“Just like food and home energy, public health depends on access to drinking water and wastewater services,” said Diane VanDe Hei, CEO of AMWA. “But as the cost of treating and delivering water has increased, it has left millions of low-income households vulnerable to not having enough money to pay their water bills. The Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act would supplement ongoing local-level water ratepayer aid programs with a new infusion of federal support, thus providing budget stability to water systems and reassurance to their most vulnerable customers. I commend Reps. Blunt Rochester and Katko for introducing this legislation, and AMWA looks forward to working toward its passage.”

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