On Thursday March 11th, President Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief stimulus bill. Much of the funding is to help offset COVID pandemic impacts to individuals and families and for other COVID response initiatives. However, the bill also includes funding to help address important infrastructure needs, including water and wastewater infrastructure.
A summary of some key provisions and the sections of the bill related to the water and wastewater industry include:
- $500 million in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Low-Income Water Program to states for grants to water and wastewater utilities. These funds are in addition to the initial $638 million provided by Congress in December 2020. Funds will continue to be available until September 30, 2021 (Section 2912).
- $350 billion in new Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which will remain available through the end of 2024. This new round of funding provides enhanced eligibility for public clean water utilities to address COVID-related expenses, recoup revenues lost because of the COVID pandemic, or to make necessary investments in water and sewer infrastructure unrelated to the COVID pandemic. This allows utilities to apply for grant funds for any infrastructure project through the following two funding sources (Section 9901):
- $220 billion Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund – $25.5 billion of these funds will be allocated equally among each state with the remainder to be distributed based on the state’s share of unemployed workers.
- $130 billion Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund – Metropolitan cities, non-entitlement units of local government (typically 50,000 population and under), and counties will receive funding based on formulas outlined in the legislation.
Municipal water and wastewater utilities should inform themselves about eligibility requirements and how their states will administer the funds and begin working with their community leaders to position themselves to compete for funds.
Other provisions of the bill that could benefit public water and wastewater utilities include:
- $10 billion for a homeowner assistance fund that can be used for utility payments, including water, and which will remain available through September 2025 (Section 3206).
- $21.5 billion in additional emergency rental assistance that can be used for utility payments, including water, and which will remain available through September 2027 (Section 3201).
While we don’t know the specific framework or how individual states will administer the funding at this time, putting people back to work as the pandemic subsides will likely allow communities to qualify for some of these funds. Much like we saw in 2009 with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, utilities prepared with projects ready to move to bidding and construction will likely be better positioned to get funding. Some ways utilities can prepare to take advantage of these funds include:
- Reviewing your CIP to identify top-candidate projects to advance through design.
- Working with local decision makers to advance and reprioritize projects.
- Advance schedules for identified projects so they can be “shovel ready” to help qualify for funds.
Identifying priority projects to advance could go a long way in addressing infrastructure needs and positioning your community for favorable funding. Please contact us if there is anything we can do to help align your community to successfully qualify for these funding sources.