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The possibility of Congress agreeing on a new round of legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be dwindling last week as the Senate rejected a slimmed down response bill offered by Republican leaders.

Unveiled by top Senate Republicans last week, the “Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools, and Small Businesses Act” proposed no provisions relating to water service disconnections or aid for water utilities or low-income customers. Instead the
measure largely focused on liability protections for businesses, extending extra unemployment assistance and the Paycheck Protection Program, and extending until September 2021 the deadline for states and communities to spend dollars received through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Opposition from Senate Democrats who said the proposal was inadequate prevented the measure from garnering the 60 votes necessary to advance.

For their part, Congressional Democrats continue to rally around the HEROES Act as the basis for the next COVID-19 response bill. The legislation, which the House
approved in May, would generally bar community water systems from suspending a customers’ service for nonpayment and would authorize $1.5 billion for a new program to help low-income households pay their water and sewer bills. The White House and congressional Republicans have balked at the bill’s multi-trillion-dollar price tag, but for the past several months negotiators have tried to find a middle ground that both parties could support. However, as more time goes by without an agreement, the chances of reaching one before Election Day grow more remote.

Members of Congress are expected to depart Washington for the campaign trail by early October and must first agree on a stopgap continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating into the new fiscal year. That task will be Congress’ priority in the coming weeks, diverting attention from the COVID-19 legislation which carries no firm deadline for action. As a result, chances are increasing that the next round of COVID-19 stimulus will not be agreed to until after voters go to the polls in November.