| U.S. begins funding program to help water customers with low incomes
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U.S. begins funding program to help water customers with low incomes

The first round of 2021 emergency funding approved by the U.S. Congress to help water customers with low incomes is in the pipeline.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced in June that $166.6 million – or 15% of allocated funding -- is now available through a new emergency assistance program called the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). 

Congress approved $638 million for LIHWAP within the December 2020 coronavirus relief package and earmarked an additional $500 million for water debt in the March 2021 American Rescue Plan, adding up to a total of $1.1 billion. 

Office of Community Services Low-Income Household Water Assistance ProgramThe LIHWAP funding will be distributed annually through 2023 through HHS’ Office of Community Services (OCS) as grants to U.S. states, territories, tribes and tribal organizations. The grants will assist eligible low-income households by providing funds to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages of and rates charged to such households for such services. More information is available on the OCS website. (Image at left courtesy of OCS)

“Because this is such a new program within the water sector, the administration of the program is a learning process for everyone,” said Tommy Holmes, AWWA’s legislative affairs senior manager. “Utilities may be able to help the process along for them by contacting state agencies or governors’ offices to let them know you are interested in the program.” 

LIHWAP is similar to another federal emergency assistance program established in the 1980s to help low-income households afford home heating and cooling bills. That federal program, called the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), also provides grants to states, territories, tribes and tribal organizations to help eligible low-income households afford payments to home energy providers.

“Legislation is under consideration in Congress to create either a pilot low-income assistance program under EPA or to create a permanent program,” Holmes said. “It is possible that in the long term, we will see a permanent assistance program similar to the energy program known as LIHEAP.” 

To help communities and consumers negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, AWWA and its members and partner water organizations advocated for relief for low-income water customers, as well as for assistance to water utilities that have suffered significant revenue losses.