The US House of Representatives has passed a $3 trillion coronavirus aid bill that includes a moratorium on disconnecting or terminating service from a utility, including water and sewer, for nonpayment.
The latest coronavirus relief package, H.R. 6800, or the HEROES Act, includes funding for individual stimulus, assistance to state and local governments, hazard pay for some essential workers, student debt forgiveness and Medicaid and Medicare support. The bill, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, also includes funding for states and local governments and water utilities serving low-income water customers:
• $1.5 billion for Health and Human Services grants to states, territories, and American Indian tribes for public water systems or treatment works to reduce rates charged to low-income households;
• $5 billion for the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Block Grants; [CDBG Disaster Recovery Program – provides flexible grants to help cities, counties, and states recover from Presidentially-declared disasters. The grants focus on low-income areas, subject to availability of supplemental appropriations.] and
• $30 million for Native American tribes to deliver potable water to residents lacking access.
While the bill was passed by the House, the Senate is less supportive of the measure. The White House also threatened to veto the package without significant changes.
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“NACWA applauds the House for proposing legislation that better positions public clean water agencies to continue providing essential services to families and households that rely on them during this challenging time, said NACWA CEO Adam Krantz. “Clean water is critical to controlling COVID-19 and this legislation is a clear sign that Congress recognizes the essential nature of the services that clean water utilities provide.”
According to NACWA, clean water agencies are estimated to incur tens of billions of dollars in revenue losses as a result of the pandemic, particularly as many utilities have issued moratoriums on water shut-offs and restored service to delinquent accounts. At the same time, usage from businesses, industry and other large users like airports and train stations have been drastically reduced.
In late March, the organization said public clean water utilities could face revenue shortages of at least $12.5 billion and urged Congress to include that much in relief for clean water as part of a future stimulus bill. Meanwhile, a report in mid-April suggested public drinking water utilities could see revenue losses in the ballpark of $14 billion from a drop in customer payments.
NACWA said it looks forward to continuing to work with Congress to advance assistance for utilities and ratepayers into law.