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Shaheen, Tillis Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Support for Rural Water Systems

**Bill would provide the United States Department of Agriculture with new authorities to protect small and rural water systems across the country**  

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) recently reintroduced bipartisan legislation to provide rural communities under economic strain with expanded assistance to repair, modernize and renovate failing water infrastructure. The Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act would grant the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) additional authorities to provide low- and zero-interest loans, loan forgiveness and loan refinancing to help struggling rural water systems and wastewater systems across the nation. 

In recent years, small rural water and wastewater systems have lost billions of dollars with more than 80 percent of small water systems in New Hampshire reporting decreased revenues during the pandemic, according to the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP). As the financial impacts continue in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, small rural water systems continue to face enormous challenges. The Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act would allow rural communities to make necessary improvements and repairs to critical water infrastructure and ensure residents of these rural communities continue to have access to clean drinking water and wastewater treatment services. 

The legislation is supported by the National Rural Water Association and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. 

“Across New Hampshire and the country, we must ensure our communities have access to clean water, especially in our hard-to-reach rural areas,” said Shaheen. “Budgetary shortfalls have threatened local communities’ ability to maintain crucial infrastructure like water systems. I’m pleased to reintroduce legislation that improves support for our rural communities. I’ll keep working to ensure Granite State families have the essential services they need, regardless of their zip code.” 

“Rural water and wastewater systems across North Carolina often lack the financial capacity and resources to maintain affordable rates for their customers and make necessary improvements to their systems,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud to work with Senator Shaheen to introduce bipartisan legislation that will provide USDA with much-needed tools and flexibilities to ensure our rural water utilities can continue to provide safe and affordable services for rural families and businesses in North Carolina and across the country.” 

“RCAP is grateful that Sen. Shaheen and Sen. Tillis have introduced the Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act of 2023, which will ensure the financial stability of rural water and wastewater systems that are still facing severe fiscal strain in the aftermath of the pandemic and the onset of historic inflation, said RCAP CEO Olga Morales Pate. “USDA Rural Development understands the smaller economies of scale in rural communities, and this bill will enable the agency to help low-income and disadvantaged communities provide the water and wastewater services necessary for their residents to be healthy and economically competitive.” 

“This legislation will modernize the USDA Rural Development Water and Environmental Programs to provide additional affordable financing options for rural water, wastewater, and waste disposal systems. For the first time, Rural Development will also have the ability to financially stabilize existing utilities within communities that experience an economic decline in order to maintain affordable rates,” said NRWA CEO, Matt Holmes. “All of these new authorities will help lower-income communities and their utilities provide sustainable, safe and affordable water and wastewater services. The ability to offer affordable rates to lower-income communities with the financing tools contained within this Act protects and enhances the public health and environment.” 

“The proposed grants and loans within the Bill will make affordable, safe and sustainable water and wastewater services a reality for our most vulnerable coops. A community can only prosper when it has reliable and affordable water and wastewater service,” said GSRWA Executive Director Heidi Lauricella. “Inclusion of the additional affordable authorities contained within the Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act of 2023 as Congress redrafts the Farm Bill will help small-town America become a more wonderful place to live.” 

Shaheen has introduced this bill in the two previous Congresses. She was a lead negotiator of the historic bipartisan infrastructure law and specifically worked on water infrastructure provisions. Earlier this year, Shaheen led the congressional delegation in announcing over $23.1 million for clean water infrastructure upgrades, including PFAS efforts, which were  allocated through the bipartisan infrastructure law. In the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 government funding law that Shaheen helped write, she helped secure support for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address treatment solutions, conduct research and undertake regulatory actions outlined in the PFAS Strategic Roadmap. New Hampshire will also receive more than $64 million in FY2023 for drinking water infrastructure from the FY 2023 government funding law and the bipartisan infrastructure law.  

Full text of the bill is available here.