(January 7, 2021) – Members of Congress arrived in Washington, DC this week to begin the 117th Congress, and with Wednesday’s disturbing events on Capitol Hill as a backdrop, they officially tallied the electoral vote of the Biden/Harris Administration. With Democrats winning both Senate races in Georgia on January 5, they will now control the Senate as well as the House and the White House. This will create a very different political dynamic in Washington and will present new opportunities and challenges for the public clean water sector.
2021 started off on a high note for the water sector thanks to a big legislative win at the end of 2020, when the U.S. Congress passed a combined Fiscal Year 2021 annual spending and COVID-19 relief package that delivered $638 million in assistance for low-income water and wastewater ratepayers. This funding, which was signed into law December 27, will be delivered to the states through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) via a to-be-determined allocation formula. The states will then distribute the funds to water and wastewater utilities as grants to aid customers facing economic hardship.
The bill provides the first ever federal financial aid for low-income water ratepayers, a major step in helping public clean water utilities as they work to continue providing essential services to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic rages on – and in recognizing significant water affordability challenges that exist even in stronger economic times. Unlike previous Congressional attempts to place prohibitions on water utility shutoffs, the package delivered the funding without these restrictions.
Securing this funding took months of work by the water sector, as well as individual utilities and other stakeholders, to communicate the growing arrearages many utilities are dealing with and the growing water affordability challenges customers are facing as a result of the pandemic.
Member utilities are eager for more information on this program and how to access funds, and NACWA is requesting patience as we begin to work out details and provide recommendations to HHS on how to structure the program. NACWA will be aggressively working on implementation issues with HHS and the states and will provide regular updates to the membership on developments and when and with whom to weigh in.
The full year-end spending and COVID-19 package also contained several other important clean water provisions and modest increases to several EPA water programs. Additional information can be found here.
As the 117th Congress gets underway, committee assignments and key leadership positions are still being worked out. NACWA has begun outreach to congressional offices outlining top priorities, including increased infrastructure funding and greater focus on affordability concerns. With Democrats now controlling both chambers, it is also likely the sector will need to play defense on legislative efforts that could lead to unnecessarily stringent regulatory controls around issues like PFAS.
NACWA’s Board and committee leadership will be meeting in the coming weeks to further chart the Association’s advocacy priorities and needs for the coming year.
If you would like to discuss any of NACWA’s legislative issues further, please contact Kristina Surfus, NACWA’s Managing Director of Government Affairs.