Congressional COVID-19 Negotiations Stall, Water Access Remains Key Concern

(August 12, 2020) – This past week, Congressional negotiations on the next phase of COVID-19 relief stalled without compromise. In response, with protections such as enhanced federal unemployment benefits and an eviction moratorium expiring, President Trump signed Executive Orders over the weekend aimed at providing temporary stability.

As widely reported in the national media, it is not clear whether the President has the authority to take those actions and negotiations between Congress and the White House remain on hold. While the Senate and House are both teed-up to return for votes should any leadership breakthrough emerge, it is not clear that any further Congressional action will be taken until after Labor Day.

In the meantime, Congressional staff continue working on several fronts to push proposals for potential future COVID-19 response. NACWA has been extremely active in advocating for water funding to be included in any future relief bill.

The issue of maintaining access to vital utility services – including water – continues to be a priority for some Members of Congress. Sen. Merkley (D-OR) and several Democratic cosponsors recently introduced legislation, S. 4362, aimed at preventing shutoffs of water and energy services and providing aid to water ratepayers. This legislation hews closely to language and assistance included in the House’s latest COVID-19 relief package, the HEROES Act. NACWA is closely engaged with the Senate on the proposal in S. 4362 to urge clarifications to the language and more robust funding. With Congressional negotiations largely on hold it is unlikely this provision will move in the near term but NACWA is readying for potential future movement.

NACWA also continues emphasizing, including through a recent letter and media hits, that local utilities have already prioritized maintaining service to struggling households. To help households maintain access, NACWA is stressing that Congress needs to focus first on providing financial assistance; it is not as simple as preventing shutoffs for all. While public clean water agencies strive to provide affordable services to all, the costs of providing service cannot be undervalued.

NACWA will continue engaging on these conversations in the coming months and urges utilities to continue engaging with their congressional delegation about local efforts and COVID-19 challenges. Contact Kristina Surfus with questions or to discuss NACWA’s efforts further.