$2 Trillion COVID-19 Stimulus Package Passes; What’s Next?

Last week, President Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package that will provide aid to individuals, businesses, and states, among others, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Highlights of the bill include:

  • $500 billion for loans and assistance to companies and state and local governments, including $29 billion for loans to U.S. airlines and related businesses.
  • $349 billion in low-interest small business loans
  • Payments of $1,200 for individual taxpayers, and $500 per child, for those with incomes below $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples filing jointly. An additional $600 per week for those receiving unemployment benefits.
  • $150 billion for aid to state, local, and tribal governments in COVID-19 response expenditures.

The water sector was conspicuously left out of the third coronavirus economic stimulus bill, leading water industry associations to push hard for the expected fourth coronavirus aid bill to include funding to support the water industry. While water and wastewater services are essential, especially as the nation faces a public health crisis, many water utilities are expecting dramatically lower revenues as large commercial buildings and industrial facilities adapt to low or no water use. Federal assistance is needed to support utility operations and to help low-income customers pay for their services. Several states and water systems have banned or halted water shut-offs due to non-payment during the pandemic in an effort to provide an essential service to all customers, especially with stay-at-home restrictions in place.

A March 23rd letter from 11 water industry associations to U.S. House and Senate Leadership asks for federal funding for all utility providers, regardless of ownership, through existing water infrastructure funding programs such as the State Revolving Funds and WIFIA as well as USDA’s rural development program and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Water Reclamation and Reuse Program.

Another option to address low-income customers’ ability to pay for water service is to expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides federally funded assistance to manage costs associated with home energy bills.

However, with the House on indefinite recess and the Senate on extended recess until April 20th due to growing concern around coronavirus, it is unclear when future rounds of legislation to address the wide-reaching affects of the pandemic, including support for the water sector, would be passed.