Water sector commends Congress for relief in appropriations package

Congress recently released the Fiscal Year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations bill. The legislation contains a provision to create the first ever Low-Income Household Drinking Water and Wastewater Emergency Assistance Program with $638 million in appropriations – an historic win for water accessibility and the first appropriation of its kind for water assistance.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Water Environment Federation, American Water Works Association, National Rural Water Association, and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies released the following joint statement:

 “The water community and its customers are grateful to Congress for including $638 million in assistance to low-income water customers in the final Fiscal Year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations bill. This funding – the first of its kind – recognizes the critical role of drinking water and wastewater services and the increased strain many households are facing in paying their water bills. While communities and utilities work to offer customer assistance and flexibility to those in need, the scope of the public health and economic crisis requires a federal hand. We look forward to working with the 117th Congress and incoming Biden Administration to further assist customers in need and local utilities that are suffering under the effects of these crises.”

Also contained in the bill were several other provisions that will greatly benefit the public clean water sector’s efforts to provide affordable and accessible clean water services to all, including:

  • $25 billion in COVID-19 rental assistance which are specifically allowed to be used towards paying utility bill costs and arrearages.
  • The deadline for spending CARES Act funds extended through December 2021 instead of December 2020.
  • Increased funding for water workforce grants from $1 million in FY20 now up to $3 million for FY21.
  • Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), stormwater and wet weather grants program funding increased to $40 million for FY21, up from $28 million in FY20.
  • Language supporting continued funding for EPA’s ongoing activity related to Integrated Planning (IP).
  • Language encouraging CDC to leverage existing partnerships to build greater capacity and coordination in COVID-19 wastewater surveillance.

“The passage of [this] omnibus appropriations package marks an important step for congressional investment in clean water infrastructure and an overdue recognition of the courageous work done every day by America’s public clean water utilities,” said Nathan Gardner-Andrews, NACWA’s General Counsel and Chief Advocacy Officer. “By lending a stronger federal hand to the public clean water sector’s efforts to recruit and retain a talented workforce necessary to protect the public health and the environment and by encouraging greater coordination among federal agencies when conducting COVID-19 wastewater surveillance in order to detect and control the spread of the virus, Congress has made it clear they have heard our concerns.

“NACWA is heartened to hear that the incoming Biden administration considers this relief package a down payment on things to come in 2021 for the public clean water sector. We look forward to working with both the Biden administration and the 117th Congress to deliver even greater assistance to America’s public clean water utilities.”

Source: National Association of Clean Water Agencies, American Water Works Association

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