Over 55 local, state, regional, and national groups and leaders urge Congress to maintain the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 12, 2023
WHITESBURG, KY – Across the United States, drinking water costs are rising. As water rates increase and demand more and more of a household’s income, low-income households are forced to decide between water or other essential services and goods, or face disconnected, dry taps and no way to flush their toilet. For the first time ever, there is a Federal water and wastewater assistance program to help. Without Congressional action, this program will disappear at the end of 2023, leaving low-income households once again facing water debt and disconnections.
The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis made clear the critical and explicit link between public health outcomes and access to water. In response, Congress created the first water and wastewater public assistance program, the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). Congress provided $1.1 billion in funds and thus far the LIHWAP program has served over 400,000 households. The program has prevented thousands of disconnections, helped households reconnect to water service, and reduced water burdens. However, without Congressional action, LIHWAP will expire at the end of this year.
In a letter sent to Senate and House Appropriations Leadership, local, state, regional, and national organizations urged Congress to maintain prior funding levels for LIHWAP, supporting $1 billion to be spent over the next two years. The President’s FY24 budget proposes combining the newly created LIHWAP program with the long-standing Low Income Household Energy Affordability Program (LIHEAP) but does so without providing a substantial budgetary increase. The letter states, “LIHWAP is currently and should remain a separate and independent program focused on guaranteeing water access and water affordability. Second, an $111 million increase, less than $2 million per state, is an insufficient allotment of funding to address the water needs of households. It amounts to only a tenth of the amount that was originally allocated to the program.”
Crystal M.C. Davis, Vice-President for Policy and Strategic Engagement, Alliance for the Great Lakes:
“The Alliance believes strongly that every person is entitled to clean, safe and affordable drinking water. Unfortunately, in the Great Lakes region too many families and citizens are at risk of losing access to safe drinking water due to water debt burden or being subject to water shutoffs. This is a public health crisis that must end and we call on Congress to continue funding the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program and to permanently enact federal legislation to guarantee every person the right to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water.”
Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center:
“Water affordability is a big problem in Eastern Kentucky. Many rural water systems are in dire need of infrastructure upgrades but already customers are struggling to pay their water bills. The LIHWAP program not only helps families, but also helps water utilities and districts maintain revenues. Ensuring that families have the means to maintain their water connection is critical for allowing water systems to invest in much-needed capital improvements.”
Alexandra Campbell-Ferrari, Executive Director, The Center for Water Security and Cooperation:
“No family should not have drinking water in their home because they cannot afford the water bill. Our Federal, state and local laws do not protect access to drinking water and sanitation, especially for low-income households without the financial means to pay. Programs like the LIHWAP program are essential to ensure that low-income households and households experiencing short-term or emergency economic hardships are able to stay connected to water and wastewater services. Without legal protections, assistance programs are their only lifeline.”
Rachel Davis, Public Policy & Justice Organizer, Waterspirit:
“Water is life. Water is a human right. Instead of shying away from this, elected officials must demonstrate their leadership through moral budgeting. Decades of disinvestment must now be met with considerable investments to right the wrongs of environmental and economic racism that continue to hurt families intergenerationally.”