More funds will be available for Pennsylvania water assistance program
Pennsylvania will again operate a water assistance program for low-income households behind in their water or wastewater bills, state officials announced last week.
The state had run a program — the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) — last year using federal pandemic-relief dollars, but it closed in October when the money ran out.
The money for the second round of aid will come from states that have not spent all their funds or not spent them quickly enough to use them before the federal government’s deadline to use the money later this year. It’s not yet clear how much money Pennsylvania would get or when people will be able to apply for aid.
“Pennsylvania is pleased that the federal government is recognizing Pennsylvania’s success in operating the first round of LIHWAP, and we are excited to distribute this assistance as soon as we are able,” Acting Department of Human Services Secretary Val Arkoosh said in a statement. “Access to clean drinking water and wastewater services is fundamental to our health and well-being, and we hope to work with local and private water services providers to further expand this program and ensure that this assistance is reaching the communities it is intended to help.”
Pennsylvania’s program spent more than $43 million last year; funds were paid directly to water and wastewater providers.
The state’s announcement that it plans to allow for additional assistance was praised by utility groups as well as consumer advocates.
More than $1.6 million from the program benefited more than 1,480 households served by The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. “With more funding available, we can build from our past success and help our customers who need it most,” said PWSA CEO Will Pickering.
“We are thrilled that the state has announced their intent to accept additional reallocated funds,” said Elizabeth Marx, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, which aids low-income customers. She noted that, in 2022, water or wastewater service from the three largest PUC-regulated utilities was involuntarily terminated to more than 30,000 Pennsylvania households. As of December 2022, water terminations across the three largest PUC-regulated water utilities were up 11%, year-over-year, Marx noted.
In a statement, The National Association of Water Companies said it is pushing Congress and the Biden Administration for LIHWAP funding to be extended into 2024 “as well as a long-term solution in the form of a permanent low-income assistance program for water consumers much like what is available to electric, gas and telephone customers.”