Padilla Introduces Bill to Create Permanent, National Water Assistance Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, introduced the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) Establishment Act, legislation that would establish a permanent, nationwide water assistance program to help families afford their water bills.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress appropriated more than $1 billion in 2021 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families to help low-income households pay their drinking water and wastewater bills. From June 2021 through September 2023, LIHWAP served more than 1.4 million households, restored water and wastewater services 100,479 times, prevented disconnections 753,558 times, and reduced 679,030 water bills, supporting more than 16,000 water and wastewater systems in low-income, Tribal, rural, and urban communities.

While LIHWAP funding is available in California through March 2024, the program needs congressional authorization to continue. Otherwise, families in need across the country will lose access to this critical lifeline.

“Access to safe, affordable water is a basic necessity, but skyrocketing drinking water and sanitation costs have left far too many American families unable to make their water utility payments,” said Senator Padilla. “Just like home energy and nutrition assistance, water rate assistance is crucial for public health and economic prosperity. This program has proven to uplift vulnerable communities across the country, and it’s past time we make it permanent.”

The American Water Works Association, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, National Association of Water Companies, and Water Environment Federation expressed their support for the bill stating, “Communities across the country face hundreds of billions of dollars of costs in the coming decades to maintain and upgrade their water and wastewater systems. These investments will be needed to confront aging infrastructure, changing climactic conditions, and to protect consumers from emerging contaminants. The ‘Low-Income Household Water Program Establishment Act’ represents an important step toward permanently enshrining low-income water and wastewater ratepayer aid in the federal safety net.”

“There is a Human Right to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water. However, water rates continue to rise beyond what too many American families can afford. We are proud to endorse Senator Padilla’s LIHWAP Establishment Act and look forward to working together on reforming and expanding LIHWAP assistance while we develop a permanent affordability program at U.S. EPA,” said Susana De Anda, co-founder and Executive Director of the Visalia-based Community Water Center.

“Low-income water customer assistance funding provides critical support to vulnerable households, but also their entire community and the broader economy. A significant number of people in any community struggling to pay their water bills will impact the quality and reliability of water for everyone who use that system—including businesses.  The American Business Water Coalition applauds Senator Padilla for introducing this legislation, which would authorize a nationwide, permanent low-income assistance program as a bridge to a permanent program at EPA,” said Mae Stevens, CEO of the American Business Water Coalition.

“There is great need for an ongoing and permanent national low income water assistance program. Across the country, rural and urban water utilities are seeing that our most financially vulnerable customers are falling behind. Senator Padilla’s bill will ensure that our low income customers can continue to receive critical water and wastewater services,” said Tony Parrott, President of Water Agency Leaders Alliance (WALA) and Chief Executive Officer of Louisville and Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District.

Specifically, the LIHWAP Establishment Act would direct HHS, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to establish the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program to assist households with lower incomes in paying arrearages and other rates charged to such households for drinking water or wastewater services. 

The LIHWAP Establishment Act is endorsed by more than 130 organizations including water associations, environmental, low-income, and public interest advocates, business associations, and city and county leaders. A full list of endorsing organizations is available here.

Last year, Padilla was named Chair of the EPW Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, where he leads federal efforts to improve water resiliency and affordability efforts and oversees implementation of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. He convened two hearings, including one focused on how rising water rates, aging infrastructure, and extreme weather events are increasing water affordability challenges for communities across the country and another examining drinking water and wastewater infrastructure challenges in Tribal communities. Last week, Padilla announced over $500 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to California for drinking water and clean water infrastructure.

Last month, Padilla led 24 Senators in requesting continued funding for LIHWAP in any funding legislation. More than 150 organizations — including water associations, environmental and public interest organizations, consumer advocates, and labor unions — wrote a similar letter urging Congress to provide FY24 funding for LIHWAP.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

A section-by-section of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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