NACWA Testifies Before Congress During Busy Week for Clean Water on Capitol Hill
(February 24, 2021) - Clean water is at the forefront on Capitol Hill this week, as Congress works to address the growing affordability and infrastructure needs of the sector.
NACWA Board Member Oluwole “OJ” McFoy, General Manager of the Buffalo Sewer Authority, testified yesterday in a virtual hearing on behalf of NACWA before the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee on the growing infrastructure investment needs facing the public clean water sector.
McFoy’s testimony highlighted the impacts of federal underinvestment in public clean water infrastructure and the affordability challenges communities like Buffalo and others are experiencing as a result. His testimony and responses to a line of Congressional questioning also highlighted the importance of federal resources to help clean water utilities mitigate against the growing impacts of climate change, the importance of equity and diversity in the water utility workforce, and the need for flexibility under NPDES permits for long-term capital investment planning.
In her opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) discussed the importance of reauthorizing the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and helping communities address the challenges of declining rate bases, lower-income households, and other competing local needs.
In line with the hearing, the T&I Committee will soon be introducing legislation in the House, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021, that would reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and several other federal clean water programs at substantially increased funding levels.
NACWA sent the committee a letter of support for the bill, which highlights the impact increased federal funding levels can have on the public clean water sector’s ability to more affordably meet clean water regulatory obligations while ensuring low-income households do not bear a disproportionate share of the cost. This legislation is set to serve as the committee’s starting point on clean water for inclusion in the House’s comprehensive infrastructure bill later this spring. NACWA is also working with the Senate as it begins to work on a companion clean water infrastructure bill.
NACWA thanks McFoy for his time and willingness to testify on behalf of the Association regarding the growing array clean water affordability and infrastructure challenges facing the sector. NACWA also thanks the committee for the opportunity to provide testimony. A recording of the full hearing can be found here.
COVID-19 Relief Bill to Advance
Additionally, the House will be voting this week on its version of the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation under the budget reconciliation process, which includes an additional $500 million in funding for the Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
NACWA and the water sector are appreciative of this additional funding that will build upon the $638 million already provided by Congress late last year. However, it is nowhere near the level of federal assistance needed to help utilities recover the estimated $8.7 billion in revenue losses from households struggling to pay their water and sewer bills during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once the House passes its version of the bill, the focus will then shift to the Senate where initial work is already under way on advancing a similar version of the COVID-19 relief legislation. With budget reconciliation rules in play and the legislation set to be in line with the $1.9 trillion amount outlined by President Biden, and based on legislative directives provided by the Democratic Majority Congressional Leadership, the Senate package will mirror the House package in some ways but will likely also include some differences; however, there is still potential budgetary wiggle room within these legislative confines for certain programs.
NACWA and its water sector partners are continuing to work with the Senate to ensure any COVID-19 relief package that makes its way through the upper chamber and eventually into law includes increased funding for the HHS Low-Income Water Ratepayer Assistance Program.
While any potential funding increases above the House’s $500 million allocation may be limited given the restrictions of the reconciliation process, every increased dollar helps. NACWA strongly encourages all its members to weigh in with their respective Senators and Representatives about the importance of additional and increased federal low-income water and wastewater ratepayer assistance as Congress works towards finalizing the next COVID-19 relief package. NACWA has provided a template letter to use when writing to your Members of Congress on this issue.