On Dec. 20th, Congressional leaders announced an agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief and economic aid measure that includes payments to individuals, loans for small businesses, and funds for transportation workers and others. The deal is combined with a wide-ranging $1.4-trillion appropriations package measure to keep government agencies, including their construction programs, operating through Sept. 30, 2021, the end of the current fiscal year.
The single-biggest expenditure in the legislation is about $325 billion in business relief, including about $275 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding. The legislation also includes $45 billion for transportation needs such as state transportation departments and Amtrak, $82 billion for schools, $20 billion for vaccine distribution, and $13 billion for a major expansion in food stamps.
According to a joint statement from the main Democratic negotiators—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—the coronavirus relief measure also provides $82 billion for colleges and schools, including funds for HVAC system repairs and replacement to help reduce coronavirus transmission.
But Pelosi said Democrats found other ways to help states and localities, including the addition of a one-year extension of the deadline for states and localities to use state and local aid provided in the CARES Act.
Water utility leaders may particularly be pleased with two provisions included:
Low-Income Water Utility Bill Assistance - $638 million
Congress will provide $638 million towards a new program that will help low-income families cover the costs of their drinking water and wastewater utility bills. This program will provide grants to states and tribes, who in turn will provide funds to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages and rates to low-income households. 3% of the funds will be set aside for tribes.
$25 billion Rental Assistance Program
Congress will provide $25 billion in rental assistance for low-income Americans. The program can also be used to help offset utility payments — including water and wastewater. The funds will be distributed to states (and municipalities with populations above 200,000), to be made available to low-income renters affected by the economic crisis. Households can get rental/utility bill assistance for a maximum of 15 months.
WEF’s Water Advocates program actively reached out to Congress over the past several months, requesting that funding for water infrastructure be included in the coronavirus relief package and emphasized the point that as Congress responds to the COVID‐19 crisis, significant funding should be allocated to help offset revenue losses by water and wastewater utilities and to support the continuation of services to all users.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to harm the finances of water service ratepayers and utilities, it is appropriate and appreciated that Congress provided some relief,” said WEF Executive Director Walt Marlowe. “WEF will continue to advocate for relief for water utilities themselves, however, as they suffered difficult reductions in revenue in 2020 that impact their ability to make critical investments in infrastructure and address other pressing operational expenses.”
In addition, WEF and others in the sector put out a joint statement commending Congress for including water relief in the appropriations package.
Also, part of the bipartisan, bicameral agreement is a new Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA which will authorize $9.9 billion in federal funds for 46 US Army Corps of Engineers water projects.
In conjunction with the COVID relief package is the FY21 Omnibus Appropriations package which includes a myriad of key funding provisions including:
- Clean Water SRF -- $1,638,826,000
- Drinking Water SRF -- $1,126,088,000
- WIFIA -- $59.5M
- EPA Overflow Control & Stormwater Municipal Reuse Grant (OSG) Program -- $40M
- EPA Water Workforce Development Grant Program -- $3 million
WEF will continue to push for increased funding for water infrastructure as part of a larger infrastructure package in the new Congress as well as with the incoming Administration.