Legislation introduced in the House today would offer states and tribes $1.5 billion to aid low-income households with their water bills.
There is a catch. To receive aid, states and tribes must agree not to turn off water to homes during the coronavirus public health emergency. They must also agree to reconnect water service to homes in which water was previously turned off.
Reconnecting water to these homes is a move that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered in March for utilities in her state.
Two Michigan Democrats — Reps. Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib — spearheaded the bill, which has 63 co-sponsors.
The proposal is a near replica of a provision that House Democrats added to their coronavirus relief package in March. That provision was not part of the final $2.2 trillion bill that President Trump signed on March 27. What is new in this bill is the stipulation to reconnect water service.
The bill does not cancel existing debt that households may have accrued because of late payments, and it does not prevent utilities from charging customers for water service.
To distribute money to households, the bill would use existing procedures for LIHEAP, a federal program that assists poor households with heating bills. Critics say that this is a cumbersome process that has administrative demands that could be a burden for small utilities.