On May 12th, the House unveiled a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, H.R. 6800, called the HEROES Act. The new legislation would be the biggest federal response so far to the health and economic emergency.

The bill focuses a significant portion of the funding towards assistance to state and local governments.  The bill includes $375 billion for small and medium sized local governments, including units of local government such as water utilities.  Also included is a provision to provide $1.5 billion is assistance to low-income and unemployed water ratepayers.  WEF and other water associations asked for the low-income and unemployed ratepayer assistance to be included, but due to the high unemployment rate and disproportionate economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis on low-income households, $1.5 billion is not enough to offer substantial assistance.  Additionally, the legislation is likely not specific enough on aid to water utilities for lost revenues. Although water utilities will likely be eligible as “units of local government” for the $375 billion fund – the water sector is seeking approximately $26 billion directly to water utilities for lost revenues due to steep reductions in revenues from commercial and industrial ratepayers.

The bill would also bar water utilities from cutting off drinking water and wastewater service, require restoration of service as long as doing so is safe and practical for the utility to do, and restricts late fees on delinquent bills  during the coronavirus pandemic.   House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats said they pushed for these provisions, which would require states and utilities to adopt these policies in order to receive federal emergency funds.

Also included was language to extend federal sick and family leave benefits to employees of  local public agencies. These benefits were provided to employees of private entities in an earlier federal coronavirus package, but public entities were unintentionally excluded.  Language in H.R. 6800 will fix this problem.

The bill also would provide $50 million for an Environmental Protection Agency study of environmental justice issues on the links between pollution, and the transmission and health outcomes related to coronavirus exposure. The studies would focus on disadvantaged communities.   

WEF is still urging Congress to provide assistance in three specific areas for the amount listed:

  • $4 billion to help low-income and unemployed ratepayers during the coronavirus crisis;
  • $26 billion in aid to drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities for steep revenue losses from commercial and industrial clients, and;
  • At least $73 billion in assistance for water infrastructure construction to help stimulate the economy as the nation recovers from the crisis.

The House plans to vote on the bill on Friday, but some in the Senate say the overall spending in the bill is excessive and unlikely to advance or be scaled back significantly.

WEF will continue to urge Congress to support the water sector in this package and future packages, but the Federation also strongly urges all members to write your Members of Congress so they also hear from their constituents about the needs of the water sector.  To reach out to your Members of Congress on the HEROES Act, click here.

(Bloomberg BNA 5/13/20)

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This Week in Washington is an online news portal from the Water Environment Federation that provides updates on the latest legislative and regulatory developments that affect the water and wastewater communities. It provides concise reports of related bills, regulations, legal decisions, congressional hearings, and other federal government actions, following key issues from introduction to final determination.

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This Week in Washington is compiled by the WEF Government Affairs department. Please contact us with any questions or comments.

Claudio Ternieden
Senior Director of Government Affairs & Strategic Partnerships

Steve Dye
Legislative Director

Amy Kathman
Government Affairs Specialist