HHS Low-Income Assistance Program Moves Forward
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has continued working to release in full the $1.138 Billion it received as part of the federal COVID-19 Relief packages for providing aid to water customers facing arrearages, potential water service shutoffs, or other hardship paying their water bills.
As previously reported, HHS is implementing that funding by closely leveraging the established procedures for its long-standing energy assistance program, LIHEAP. HHS released administrative funds for water assistance to the states, tribes, and territories in June, and has been working since to approve each state work plan.
Earlier this week, HHS provided an update highlighting key progress made. The federal agency has now approved 40 of the 49 state work plans received, with the remaining 9 pending revisions from the states. Tribes’ and territories’ work plan approval is unfortunately moving more slowly.
HHS approval of a state’s work plan triggers the release of the state’s full funding allocation. This means that over $1 Billion has now been released to the participating states by HHS. That does not mean that such funds have gone out to eligible utility customers – progress on that front will depend on each state, working in partnership with utilities and community action agencies.
NACWA has heard that many states hoped to align funding availability with the start of their winter-heating energy assistance – for example, a customer would apply once in fall for energy and water assistance through a single application process. In many cool-weather states, that eligibility period opens in October/November. State implementing agencies should be reaching out to utilities but if your utility/community is not yet aware of how this program is being implemented, now is the time to connect with your state contacts.
HHS has also released the reporting requirements that states, tribes, and territories will have to follow – as such, these requirements detail the information the states will need to gather from participating utilities. NACWA is reviewing the requirements and considering developing comments.
As NACWA continues to track program implementation, we are very interested in hearing from member utilities how their experience has been. This information will inform NACWA’s potential development of best practices for federal customer assistance and continue to guide our advocacy related to federal assistance. Contact Kristina Surfus, NACWA Managing Director of Government Affairs to discuss this program.