New House Water Affordability Bill Would Provide $1.5 Billion for State and Tribal Assistance Programs

House Democrats have introduced new legislation, entitled, “Emergency Water is a Human Right Act,” with the objective “To prohibit water shutoffs during the COVID–19 emergency period, provide drinking and waste water assistance to households, and for other purposes.” If enacted, this bill would provide an additional $1.5 billion for state and tribal grants to help low-income households pay water and sewer bills, based on allocations determined by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

This bill is similar to, but different from the December COVID relief package (see Sec. 533 excerpt) that provides $638 million for state and tribal grants to carry out a Low-Income Household Drinking Water and Wastewater Emergency Assistance Program, for “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.” While the December bill was directed at paying off unpaid homeowner water debt, the new bill includes a requirement that water service cannot be shutoff to homes during the COVID-19 health emergency and that water service must be reconnected where it was previously disconnected for non-payment.