| Five National Water Associations Advise Congress to Build Permanent Low-Income Water Assistance Program at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
AWWA Articles

Five National Water Associations Advise Congress to Build Permanent Low-Income Water Assistance Program at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

New water sector study compares five administrative pathways for establishing a permanent federal low-income water assistance program to support an estimated 20 million U.S water-burdened households afford the rising costs of drinking water and clean water services. 

In response to growing water affordability concerns for low-income households, five leading water associations – the American Water Works Association (AWWA), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), and Water Environment Federation (WEF) – today unveiled formal policy recommendations to Congress and the White House on establishing a permanent federal low-income water assistance program. As part of their recommendations, the groups released also released a detailed analysis, “Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program Assessment Study,” which establishes that water affordability is a significant challenge for 20 million U.S. households and puts the annual need for federal funding to address this challenge as high as $7.9 billion.

To read the full Policy Memo and Recommendations, please click here.  To read the LIWCAP Study report, please click here.

The water groups’ lead recommendation – that establishing a permanent program by building upon the existing Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is the most viable and practical option at this time – is articulated in the Policy Memo and Recommendations.  The Associations’ recommendation is supported by 15 months of research, as well as the collective judgement of water industry experts on the ground from every corner of America. To support the concept of building on top of the LIHWAP program, the Study includes an examination of existing federal low-income assistance programs, key elements that a water program should have in order to be sustainable, and best practices for structuring a new, permanent program. 

American Water Works Association Executive Director of Government Affairs Tracy Mehan said: “Energy has LIHEAP, food has SNAP and housing has Section 8 but there is no such program to assist struggling, low-income water and wastewater customers.  It is time for the federal government to step up and implement a new low-income assistance program for the water and wastewater sectors.”

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies CEO Tom Dobbins said: “Ensuring access to safe, clean, and affordable water for all Americans should be one of the nation’s top public health priorities. That’s why Congress must fund a permanent program to help vulnerable households maintain water service. AMWA stands united with our water sector partners in support of legislation to add residential water service assistance to the federal safety net.”

“The need for a federal low-income water assistance has been growing for years as the water affordability challenge has increased, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought the issue to a head,” said Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. “NACWA appreciates the efforts of Congress and the Administration to date, but more is needed.  We are pleased to join our other water sector association partners in calling for a permanent federal program, and the release today of the low-income report and our joint policy recommendations memo provides an important step forward.”

National Association of Water Companies President & CEO Robert Powelson said: “I am pleased today to stand with the other national water associations to advocate for a permanent federal low-income water assistance program.  LIHWAP has benefitted thousands of customers since its creation in 2020 and this need is not going away.  It is critically important for Congress to permanently fund an assistance program for water to help ensure that everyone in this country has access to safe and reliable water service.”

Water Environment Federation Executive Director Walter Marlowe said: “The Low-Income Water Assistance Program is an important component of sustainably solving water challenges for all. It helps families in our most vulnerable communities afford essential services like water and wastewater.”

The LIWCAP Study was conducted between November 2021 and April 2023. It outlines five different potential administrative pathways for structuring a permanent federal low-income water assistance program and the relative advantages and disadvantages of these alternatives. 

The Study also includes a water affordability needs assessment, including granular detail on the growing prevalence and massive scope of the low-income water affordability challenge nationwide, estimating the current number of water-burdened U.S. households could be as high as 21.3 million. It represents the first detailed analysis to preview the composition, cost, efficacy, and effectiveness of a permanent federal low-income assistance program.

To read the full Policy Memo and Recommendations, please click here.  To read the LIWCAP Study report, please click here.

Despite their policy recommendation for a permanent LIWCAP program to be housed at HHS and to build off the existing LIHWAP foundation, the water groups noted that Congress has demonstrated interest in the possibility of a low-income program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Congress authorized the establishment of a pilot low-income water assistance program at EPA and has appropriated $3 million to the Agency to assess the scale of national low-income water needs.  However, because Congress has not appropriated any funds to date for program implementation, the water sector associations conclude that housing a permanent program at HHS is currently the most viable option to establish a program at this time. 

WATER SECTOR ASSOCIATIONS
Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most vital resource. With approximately 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) has been the unified and definitive voice on legislative, regulatory, security, sustainability, and utility management issues for the nation’s largest publicly owned drinking water systems for over 40 years. Our membership serves more than 160 million people with safe drinking water. 

For over 50 years, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) has been the nation’s recognized leader in legislative, regulatory, legal and communications advocacy on the full spectrum of clean water issues. NACWA represents public wastewater and stormwater agencies of all sizes nationwide. Our unique and growing network strengthens the advocacy voice for the public clean water sector and helps advance policies to provide affordable and sustainable clean water for all.  Our vision is to advance sustainable and responsible policy initiatives that help to shape a strong and sustainable clean water future. For more information, visit us at www.nacwa.org.

The National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) represents regulated water and wastewater utilities that provide safe and reliable service to millions of Americans.  NAWC was founded in 1895 by a handful of small water companies and today has members throughout the nation.  Our members range in size from large companies owning hundreds of utilities in multiple states to individual utilities serving a few hundred customers.  NAWC’s priorities are to provide safe and reliable service to customers through a commitment to water equity, sound infrastructure investment, cybersecurity, and environmental stewardship.  Through the NAWC, our members collaborate, share best practices, and leverage their strengths to benefit the communities we serve.

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization of more than 30,000 individual members and 75 affiliated Member Associations representing water quality professionals around the world. Established in 1928, WEF’s mission is to inspire the water community in pursuit of human and environmental well-being. WEF’s goals are to attract and develop a passionate workforce, cultivate a purpose-driven community to sustainably solve water challenges for all, and lead the transformation to the circular water economy.

LIWCAP STUDY AUTHORS
The Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program (LIWCAP) Assessment Study was authored by IB Environmental, One Water Econ, Raftelis, Raucher LLC, Galardi Rothstein Group, LLC, and EJ Metrics, LLC in response to federal legislative initiatives designed to help customers afford essential water and wastewater services during the economic turmoil of the pandemic. These measures constituted the first steps toward establishing a sustained federal funding program for low-income water and wastewater bill assistance, but there remained little concrete information on how to best implement a permanent program. 

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement