Congress Gets to Work on Next COVID-19 Relief Bill

(July 22, 2020) – Formal deliberations on the next COVID-19 relief bill began in earnest this week. As talks kicked off on Monday, NACWA sent another letter to Senate leadership urging inclusion of direct clean water utility and ratepayer assistance in the next package.

To date Congress has passed into law several phases of COVID-19 relief featuring historic spending levels of several trillion dollars. The focus of these previous packages have been direct payments to households; enhanced unemployment benefits; private sector Paycheck Protection Program loans to maintain jobs; aid to local governments for direct COVID-19-related expenditures—although explicitly not for lost revenues; support for hospitals, health care and testing; and various other programs including relief for the transportation sector.

A large array of impacted sectors’ crucial needs remain frustratingly unmet – including clean water. NACWA continues to work aggressively with Congressional champions and key committees to advocate for direct relief for impacted clean water agencies and water ratepayer assistance.  Collaborative efforts of associations in the water and wastewater sector and beyond  have helped move the ball forward in important ways, including passage by the U.S. House of a $1.5 billion trillion emergency water ratepayer assistance fund – making this the first time legislation has passed the House providing federal water ratepayer assistance.

NACWA also continues to advocate for financial provisions that would benefit clean water agencies including providing federal assistance for hazard pay, enhanced sick and family leave assistance, facilitating stability in the municipal bond market, and restoring the option to advance refund municipal bonds. We are collaborating on this front with other associations in the local and state government and infrastructure sectors.

Senate leadership meanwhile is actively debating what it is willing to include in the next COVID-19 package. The Senate’s Republican Leadership, which is working to reach agreement on core priorities with the White House, is focused on funding to help schools reopen, increased COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, additional Paycheck Protection Program funding for businesses and incentives for employers, and another round of direct payments to low-to-moderate income households. The total estimated price tag Republicans are targeting is around $1 Trillion.

The Senate’s Democratic Leadership is negotiating for a broader suite of provisions, including core asks such as hazard pay for workers and extended unemployment benefits. Broadly, Senate Democrats support the comprehensive $3 Trillion relief package passed by the U.S. House – the HEROES Act – back in May. However, they are facing the reality that to pass anything into law Democrats will need to negotiate with Republicans looking for a narrower package. Democrats also anticipate that future rounds of federal assistance – relief and stimulus – will still be needed going forward.

While NACWA believes the groundwork is laid for clean water to be part of a future recovery and infrastructure package, we continue to stress that clean water agencies are providing essential services helping to control the spread of COVID-19 and many are working to address significant revenue shortfalls – justifying immediate COVID-19 federal funding relief for the sector. As Congress works to negotiate an agreement over the next couple weeks, we urge all utilities to communicate with their Members of Congress the importance of this relief.

While this is a long-term advocacy campaign that will likely extend beyond the fall election season and into subsequent “infrastructure” discussions, we will keep advocating on behalf of the sector in the meantime. Contact Kristina Surfus on NACWA staff to discuss COVID-19 advocacy further.