Responding to Concerns from Local Ratepayers & Utilities, Rep. Katko Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Promote Clean Drinking Water Access for Low-Income Families

May 21, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON –  U.S. Rep. John Katko (R, NY-24) today introduced the Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure the affordability of clean drinking water and wastewater access for low-income families in Central New York and nationwide. Rep. Katko introduced this bipartisan bill alongside U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D, DE-At Large).

In Central New York, financial hardships, including those brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, have left many working families struggling to pay their water and utility bills. As a result, water authorities have seen significant reductions in revenues which may result in higher rates for customers, or delayed repairs and upgrades to local water systems. These trends continue to create real challenges for local families and water authorities, while also becoming a significant threat to access to clean and safe water.

The Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program Act would help ensure the accessibility of clean drinking water and wastewater by directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award grants to water utilities or states to assist low-income customers with paying their water bills. Drinking water and wastewater utilities may use the grants established under this bill to provide a variety of assistance services including, but not limited to, direct financial assistance for ratepayers, special hardship relief, bill discounting and water efficiency assistance.

“Ensuring access to reliable and clean water sources must be a top priority for our nation, especially in response to new challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Katko. “I’ve heard firsthand from families in Central New York who are unable to pay their utility bills and from water providers suffering from revenue shortfalls. That’s why I am proud to put forward substantive legislation that would provide real relief to both ratepayers and water utilities. By providing necessary financial assistance through EPA, the Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Program Act would help to ensure every family in our community has access to clean water and promotes significant investments in the modernization and repair of our water systems.” 

“During a time when many small water utilities are being tasked with doing more with respect to regulatory compliance, dealing with replacing aging infrastructure and facing a decline in revenue collections due to the pandemic, Congressman John Katko has introduced legislation that would aid small systems regain lost revenue and allow small systems to continue their vital work,” said Michael E. Hooker, Executive Director, Onondaga County Water Authority (OCWA). “The bill, introduced by Congressman Katko is a win-win for both small utilities and for families that may be struggling to pay the water bills.”

“Creating a permanent, reliable low-income water customer assistance program is critically important. NACWA strongly commends Reps. Blunt Rochester and Katko for working together to advance the Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act,” said Adam Krantz, Chief Executive Officer of National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). “This legislation acknowledges that a gap exists between the costs of providing essential public clean water services and investing in reliable, resilient infrastructure and the ability of households to pay for them. The costs of clean water have grown significantly and while programs exist for helping Americans afford other essentials–food security and home energy–no similar program has been in place for water. We look forward to further work with Congress to help advance this legislation.”

“Just like food and home energy, public health depends on access to drinking water and wastewater services. But as the cost of treating and delivering water has increased, it has left millions of low-income households vulnerable to not having enough money to pay their water bills,” said Diane VanDe Hei, Chief Executive Officer of Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. “The Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act would supplement ongoing local-level water ratepayer aid programs with a new infusion of federal support, thus providing budget stability to water systems and reassurance to their most vulnerable customers. I commend Reps. Blunt Rochester and Katko for introducing this legislation, and AMWA looks forward to working toward its passage.”

“Companies and communities recognize the importance of ensuring affordable access to clean, safe water for all Americans, especially in low-income communities, to protect public health and the environment, and ensure a growing economy. Keeping the water flowing is key to responding effectively to our nation’s public health challenges,” said Chuck Chaitovitz, Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauds Reps. Blunt-Rochester (D-DE-At Large), Katko (R-NY-24),  Dingell (D-MI-12), and Tlaib (D-MI-13) for introducing the bipartisan H.R. 3293 – Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act of 2021 and looks forward to working with them as consideration of water infrastructure legislation proceeds.”