WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), both members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, have reintroduced their bipartisan legislation to help low-income families afford their water and sewer bills. The Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act of 2019 would establish 32 pilot programs nationwide for low-income residents to receive aid in paying their drinking water bills, and an equal number (32) of pilot programs designed to assist low-income residents with paying their wastewater utility bills. In the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (Ohio-11) and Congressman John Katko (N.Y.-24) have introduced companion legislation.
“We all need clean, safe water but as the costs of maintaining our aging water systems rise, not all of us can afford it,” said Cardin. “If consumers cannot pay their water bills, then utilities cannot make the needed repairs and upgrades to their drinking water and wastewater treatment plants and the whole community suffers. The Federal Government has a responsibility to make sure that our most vulnerable citizens have the water they need without being crushed by the financial burden of their basic needs.”
“Higher rates for drinking water and wastewater are especially harmful to low-income Americans,” said Wicker. “Our legislation would encourage utilities to use innovative measures to improve the affordability of their services, promoting access to water infrastructure improvements and economic opportunities in small and rural communities. I look forward to working with Senator Cardin to advance this bill.”
Nationwide, water and sewer bills have risen on average more than 30% since 2012, triple inflation. Water is already unaffordable for one of 10 U.S. households, a proportion predicted to triple to one in three within five years, according to a 2017 study from Michigan State University.
An assistance program for low-income households will help communities maintain critical infrastructure networks and meet public health standards without cost-burdening customers who cannot afford to pay more. While some utilities around the country have begun operating their own similar programs for low income rate payers, these utilities could help more people if provided with additional resources.
“Every American deserves access to clean water, regardless of location or income,” said Fudge. “Families throughout Ohio’s 11th Congressional District and across the country already struggle with high sewer and waste water rates, potentially pricing many out of access to clean water. The burdening costs of maintaining aging water systems to meet public health standards should not rest on the shoulders of our communities. Access to clean water is a necessity and a right, not a luxury. I appreciate the bipartisan and bicameral work accomplished to introduce this legislation that will ensure millions of vulnerable households never have to live without water.”
“Ensuring access to reliable and clean water sources must be a top priority for our nation,” said Congressman Katko. “Improving our nation’s water infrastructure requires action across party lines in Congress, and I am proud to work with Rep. Fudge in introducing this bipartisan and bicameral measure that will allow all families access to clean water, regardless of income.”
The Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act of 2019 is supported by the American Municipal Water Authorities (AMWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), Water Environment Foundation (WEF), and Alliance for the Great Lakes.
The legislation also directs the EPA to conduct a needs assessment to inform a future, nationwide program.