I know that agencies have had to implement plenty of new programs during the pandemic: rent assistance; mortgage assistance; utility bill assistance from nontraditional funding mechanisms. Now a brand new program is inching its way to implementation. Let’s give a big welcome to the Low Income Household Drinking Water and Wastewater Emergency Assistance Program (LIHWAP).

Many agencies have been paying for water bills using CSBG and the various COVID-19 funding streams. However, the second pandemic response bill passed on December 27, 2020, and it includes authorization for the new LIHEAP. The legislation was somewhat murky in defining the program, though most advocates felt the intent was to establish a program to parallel LIHEAP and operate in much the same fashion.

It appears that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has come to a similar conclusion. HHS has released a transmittal that the LIHEAP infrastructure will be used to deliver the new water and sewage benefits. States have been asked to designate a representative to work on the program and submit information to HHS.

The overall funding level is $638 million, and another $500 million is included in the $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 relief package just passed by the House. Ohio should receive around $30 million from the first bill and another $25 million in the second round.

Most agencies have been working with local water and sewage systems because of the benefits provided in association with rental and mortgage assistance. You can let those partners know that more funding is on the way. There is no reason a water and sewage utility should be turning anyone off for nonpayment. The funding is available and should be coming to your agency in the next three to four months.