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Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives last week would provide $1.5 billion to states to provide water rate assistance to low-income households – but only if state or local governments ensure that any home water service is not disconnected or interrupted for the duration of the pandemic and beyond.

Introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and cosponsored by more than 70 House Democrats, the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act (H.R. 616) would divide $1.5 billion among states to ensure continued water service to low-income households. Funding would only be made available to entities that implement or maintain policies to bar water service disconnections or interruptions during a public health emergency declared by the Department of Health and Human Services. But this language is so broad that it is not only limited to COVID-19. It could prohibit any water service interruption during any declared public health emergency.

H.R. 616 is based on legislation that was originally offered last year but which failed to be included in December’s COVID-19 relief package after
pushback to the disconnection moratorium from AMWA and other water sector stakeholders. Instead, the December package provided $638 million for a new low-income water and wastewater assistance program that is not conditioned on adherence to a service disconnection ban.

In a
statement, Rep. Tlaib said the bill would help ensure “that water is a human right no one is denied.” As House Democrats begin to put together their next COVID-19 response bill, this legislation will likely be discussed as a candidate for inclusion.