CBS8: Proposed bill would continue federal assistance to help pay water bill

By Jenny Day

Extra money set aside by the government to help people cover their water bill during the pandemic officially expires at the end of March. However, a new bill was just introduced in the Senate that aims to make that assistance permanent, nationwide.

The first-ever national water assistance program went into effect at the height of COVID. Congress approved around a billion dollars and it helped more than a million families keep the water on. That’s why Senator Alex Padilla is suggesting the federal government continue to help.

“Access to clean drinking water is a fundamental human right. We need it to bathe, need it to cook, we need it to hydrate our bodies,” Senator Padilla said.

Good, safe – clean drinking water may be considered a fundamental right, but not all can afford it. CBS 8 spoke with Senator Padilla from Capitol Hill. He says one in three Americans struggle to pay their water bill.

“We know the cost of water has been going up for a number of reasons – from the need to modernize infrastructure, to make sure the water running through the pipe is clean,” Senator Padilla added.

The Low Income Household Water Assistance Program prevented the water from being turned off for 753,000 homes and reduced 679,000 water bills. It now needs Congressional approval to continue. The Democratic Senator backing the bill, compared it to home energy and nutrition assistance – saying water rate assistance is crucial for public health and economic prosperity.

“There are resources for people to help pay their gas bill. You shouldn’t have to freeze in the winter, just because you’re low-income,” The California Senator said.

Padilla said household water and sewer bills have risen more than 50 percent, over the past decade. The average San Diegan is set to pay $100 dollars a month by this time next year due to recent rate hikes.

“People should not be put in a position to afford the water bill, or pay rent,” Senator Padilla said.

The proposed bill suggests having the same income eligibility requirements as other programs like LIHEAP, SNAP and TANF – as well as SSI, the Supplemental Security Income and Means Tested Veterans Programs. So if you already qualify for one of those programs, you’d be eligible for this program if the bill passes.

“Sometimes there are significant costs to maintain infrastructure and not as many people willing to absorb big spikes in their water bill, so just from fairness and equity standpoint – we know that this program is needed,” Senator Padilla said.

There’s no specific timeline for when this bill could be voted on. Senator Padilla said the main focus this week, is avoiding a government shutdown.

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