Biden-Harris Administration Launches Relief Program to Improve Access to Affordable Water Services
Bolstered by American Rescue Plan, HHS Announces $166.6 Million in Initial Funding to Advance Environmental Justice in Communities Historically Marginalized and Overburdened by Underinvestment in Access to Water and Wastewater Services
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), announced the official launch of the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). This first-of-its-kind water assistance program will expand access to more affordable water and help low-income households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic pay their water and wastewater bills, avoid shutoffs, and support household water system reconnections related to non-payment. LIHWAP provides grants, issued and administered by ACF and the Office of Community Services (OCS), to states, territories, and tribes across the United States to work in partnership with private owners and operators of public water systems and treatment facilities to ensure low-income households and families have access to water and wastewater services. Today, $166.6 million, or 15 percent of allocated LIHWAP funding, is being made immediately available to LIHWAP grantees to support the establishment of the program. In total, $1.1 billion will be available through LIHWAP grants, including $500 million in American Rescue Plan funding.
"Having access to affordable, clean, and safe drinking water is essential to everybody's health and well-being. No family or child should go without access to water because of challenges paying the bills," Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services stated. "Access to a healthy environment – including drinking water – is a key determinant of health. With the launch of the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, the Biden-Harris Administration is making a historic investment in the health of millions of low-income families and individuals across the country. With these funds, we will significantly expand the help available for families and provide critical relief to people impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency."
The COVID-19 public health emergency exacerbated existing disparities in access to water and strained people's ability to pay their home drinking water and wastewater bills. Household arrearages—the amount of money that is past due with the water or wastewater provider—are at a historic high. As a result, many households are starting to be disconnected from services, or soon will be, as some consumer protections known as disconnection moratoriums expire.
With this funding launch, ACF is enabling states, territories, and tribes to set program rules that are reasonable for their communities and begin launching the program as soon as possible. ACF expects that LIHWAP grantees will engage in outreach to get the word out to people about the availability of this assistance—and, in particular, try to reach the households facing the greatest amount of water bills compared to household income and newly eligible households that typically would not qualify for assistance, including individuals who are unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic. The LIHWAP was established as a new relief program as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 with $638 million appropriated and bolstered by $500 million in additional funding included in American Rescue Plan.
"It is clear that the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it significantly more difficult for individuals and families to pay their home drinking water and wastewater bills. Water is both an essential life need and required to follow the federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advising washing hands frequently in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19," explained Dr. Lanikque Howard, Director of the Office of Community Services at HHS' ACF. "This funding is absolutely vital to ensuring those most in need have access to water and wastewater services, while reducing arrearages that are unmanageable."
For more information about the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, including the allotments to states and tribes, visit the LIHWAP webpage. You can also review our blog post about the COVID water assistance program here.