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Harder Leads Letter Urging Ongoing Support for the Water Affordability Assistance Program

WASHINGTON — Today, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) led a letter to House leadership pushing for ongoing funding of the federal water affordability assistance program in any upcoming infrastructure or economic recovery package. In California alone, more than 1.6 million households hold $1 billion in water debt, with an average debt of $500 per person.

“Water is a basic human right. Every family deserves access to safe drinking water regardless of how much money they make,” said Rep. Harder. “As we put this pandemic behind us, we can’t forget about the families in the Central Valley currently dealing with thousands of dollars in water debt. We secured help for them through the American Rescue Plan earlier this year, and I’m determined to get Valley families what they need so they can go to sleep each night knowing the faucet will continue to run when they need to drink water, take a shower, or cook for their kids.”

In addition to Rep. Harder, the letter was signed by Reps. Huffman, Napolitano, Lee, Thompson, Roybal-Allard, Khanna, Barragán, Cárdenas, Norton, Cleaver, Swalwell, Grijalva, Payne, Cohen, Ross, Costa, Blumenauer, Sires, Lynch, Espaillat, Bonamici, Hayes, Blunt Rochester, García, Doyle, Lawson, Johnson (GA), and Pocan. It also has support from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), US Water Alliance, and Community Water Center

Read the full letter below and online here.

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy,

We write to support funding for an ongoing federal water affordability assistance program. While Congress has provided a one-time allocation of federal water affordability assistance in American Rescue Plan, additional investments will be needed to ensure continued access to water services for our constituents during the pandemic and the post-pandemic recovery.

Water is the most basic form of PPE–without it, families cannot wash their hands, cook a meal, bathe themselves, or even flush a toilet. For the communities we represent to safely shelter in place and halt the spread of this virus, we must make sure that they have access to safe and affordable water and sanitation in their homes. Addressing the mounting crisis of water bill debt facing our communities will also be needed to ensure that all families are able to participate in our country’s economic recovery.

Nationally, increased drinking water bill delinquencies from COVID-19 related job losses are estimated at $4.92 billion over one year. Similarly, for clean water (sewer) service increased arrears from the pandemic are estimated at $3.8 billion. This combined $8.7 billion level of need dwarfs the entirety of both the one-time December 2020 federal allocation of $638 million for water affordability assistance nationwide and the additional $500 million allocated in March 2021. In California alone, the California State Water Resources Control Board found that 1.6 million households were shouldering a stunning $1 billion in water debt, with an average debt of $500 dollars per person. Of these affected households, 155,000 were found to already carry over $1,000 in debt. These high levels of water debt are consistent across the country and disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities of color, the same communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make no mistake, this is a national challenge that deserves our full attention and action. Over the last year, millions of households around the country have accumulated a debt burden that will dampen recovery efforts and extend the economic challenges of this pandemic. Just as water has been an essential tool to fight this virus, water affordability assistance is an essential tool in our recovery.

That is why we strongly support Congress acting to fund an ongoing federal water affordability assistance program that provides annual funding for assistance. This should be prioritized for action in 2021 and included in any infrastructure or economic recovery package. Because without ongoing access to safe and affordable water services, there can be no equitable recovery.


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