NRWA Supports the Bipartisan Bill to Increase Emergency Funding for Rural Water Systems
This past Friday, February 5, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to provide rural communities under economic strain during the COVID-19 pandemic with direct emergency assistance to sustain critical water and wastewater services. The Emergency Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act would provide $1 billion in emergency grants, zero and one percent interest loans, loan forgiveness, and direct operating assistance for struggling small and rural water and wastewater systems across the nation.
“It is important to recognize that small water utilities and their employees are on the frontline and have been since the beginning of the pandemic, with many putting themselves and their families in harm’s way. They understand their expertise is required to protect the health of their communities and get through this health emergency. The financial tools and program flexibility provided by this legislation will ensure they can continue this mission now and into the future,” said Matthew Holmes, National Rural Water Association CEO.
National and State Rural Water Associations have supported this important legislation for more than a year. Small and rural utilities have reduced economies of scale and often have fewer financial resources and capacity than their urban counterparts to absorb large reductions in revenue. Most of the country’s drinking water and wastewater utilities are small. More than 90 percent of the country’s approximate 50,000 community water systems serve populations less than 10,000 persons. And roughly 80 percent of the country’s approximate 17,000 wastewater utilities serve populations less than 10,000 persons.
State Rural Water Associations provide boots-on-the-ground expert assistance to these small communities, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Early in the pandemic, NRWA assembled a volunteer emergency workforce, with licensed experienced operators from around the nation. State Associations have used expert staff and these volunteers when necessary to maintain daily operations when critical utility staff are unable to perform their duties because they were affected or quarantined from COVID-19.
“The Granite State Rural Water Association of New Hampshire supports the passage of the Emergency Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act,” said Heidi Lauricella, GSRWA Executive Director. “For the past eleven months, water and wastewater operators have continued working, many times under challenging conditions. At the same time, more customers have struggled to pay their bills, thus raising the concern that very soon there will not be enough revenue to support expenses. We are thankful that water and wastewater systems have been able to maintain essential services during this public health crises. Now these same rural utilities need our help to keep going.”
“The water sector has been declared a top health priority by the federal government, with workers designated as essential employees necessary to combat this virus,” Holmes said. “This legislation provides the U.S. Department of Agriculture additional resources and affordable financial tools to address this issue. Providing this critical assistance to sustain financially impacted rural water and wastewater utilities is a welcomed recognition of the important role they play in protecting and enhancing the public health in rural America. On behalf of the small and rural water and wastewater utilities across rural America, we would like to personally thank Senator Shaheen and Senator Tillis and their staff for their leadership and efforts.”
This announcement comes at the perfect time as NRWA kicks off its 22nd Annual Rural Water Rally. Though this year’s event may look a little different, the mission is still the same as previous years. Advocacy for our grassroots efforts, and this bipartisan bill is just one example of how the hard work of our members can pay off. Your concerns and voice have been heard in the Halls of Congress. Please continue to participate, we need your voice once again. Thank you.
To read the full announcement from Senator Shaheen’s Office click here.