As Congress Develops COVID-19 Stimulus Packages, NACWA Weighs In

(March 20, 2020) – As the economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic further reverberate throughout the entire U.S. economy, NACWA staff have been in continual engagement with Congress to advocate that any legislative stimulus package must include assistance for hard-hit public clean water utilities.

Earlier this month, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, an $8.3 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill focused on resources for treating and preventing the spread of COVID-19.  Building on that, this week further legislation was passed into law, H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, to bolster the federal government’s response by expanding access to free testing, providing food aid, and extending new significant sick and family medical leave requirements for all government employers as well as certain private companies impacted by COVID-19. 

NACWA has strong concerns (see related article) that while H.R. 6201 provides tax credits to private entities to offset the costs of providing such leave, it includes provisions expressly denying state and local government entities from receiving those credits or being otherwise made whole regarding these requirements. NACWA has joined a broad coalition of state and local government groups in working with Congress to correct this critical oversight. 

Given the pandemic’s rapidly expanding impacts on the U.S. economy, Congress and the White House are now working on a much larger and comprehensive “Phase Three” legislative stimulus package of potentially over $1 trillion to provide relief for families and a wide range of affected sectors.

With Congress moving at a rapid pace on crafting the draft stimulus package, NACWA has been in daily communication with House and Senate authorizers and appropriators to share ongoing information, impacts, and ideas relayed to NACWA from our members as we work to ensure any final stimulus package includes assistance to help the public clean water sector mitigate current and potential future impacts from the ongoing epidemic. 

This includes federal support to offset lost revenue from the economic slowdown, infrastructure funding to ensure much-needed projects that put people to work can be expedited, and federal dollars to help mitigate losses to water agencies that are ceasing water shut-offs to collect outstanding bills in the interest of ensuring public health.

Last night, the Senate Republican Majority released their draft proposal for Phase Three that focuses heavily on assistance for individuals, small businesses, and the airline industry. NACWA will continue to further analyze the draft legislation.  Based on initial review, one positive element is that the bill does include a provision allowing eligible recipients of small business stimulus loans to use them for utility payments until December 31, 2020.  However, more needs to be done to address the financial concerns of clean water utilities.

Senate Republicans will now move to negotiate the draft bill with their Senate Democrat Minority counterparts, as well as with the House that is currently drafting its version of a Phase Three stimulus package. Things remain very fluid and the path forward remains unclear on how this bill and/or additional stimulus legislation may come together, especially in light of the growing pandemic and how members of the House will return to DC to vote on any further legislation.

NACWA will continue engaging with Congress and will keep members updated as further details emerge. In the meantime, NACWA urges every member to contact your respective Members of Congress to encourage them to include assistance for the clean water sector in all phases of stimulus package development. 

Please contact Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus, NACWA’s legislative staff, with any questions or to discuss further.