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Shaheen, Tillis Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Increase Emergency Funding for Rural Water Systems

**Bill would provide $1 billion in emergency funding for small and rural water systems across the country** 

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) to provide rural communities under economic strain during the COVID-19 pandemic with emergency assistance to repair, modernize and renovate failing water infrastructure. The Emergency Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act would provide $1 billion in emergency grants, low- and zero-interest loans and loan forgiveness for struggling small and rural water and wastewater systems across the nation.

Small rural water and wastewater systems lost billions of dollars last year, with over 80% of small water systems in New Hampshire reporting decreased revenues since the pandemic, according to the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP). As the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, it is estimated 30 percent of systems cannot last more than six months under current financial conditions. The Emergency 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.

Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman David Rouzer (R-NC-07) and Congressman Filemon Vela (D-TX-34).

“As we face down this public health crisis, we must ensure our communities have access to clean water, especially in hard to reach rural areas, said Shaheen. “With local governments struggling under the economic weight of COVID, we’ve seen massive budgetary shortfalls that threaten their ability to maintain crucial infrastructure like water systems. I’m proud to reintroduce legislation that increases emergency funding to our rural communities to avoid expensive damage and service disruptions. I’ll keep working to ensure Granite State families have the essential services they need to weather through the pandemic.”

“Rural water and wastewater systems in North Carolina and across the county are in dire financial situations due to COVID-19,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation to provide relief so our rural communities continue to receive clean drinking water.”

“I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation to help our rural communities maintain and update their water infrastructure systems,” said Rouzer. “The bill provides much needed flexibility of funding for our small towns to make critical improvements at a time when they face significant financial shortfalls due to the COVID pandemic.” 

“Access to safe drinking water and sanitary waste disposal play a critical role in ensuring public health as well as economic vitality in rural America,” said Vela. “I am proud to reintroduce bipartisan legislation that would provide much needed assistance to rural water and waste disposal systems affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic so that they can continue to deliver this vital service to Americans.”

“Small and rural utilities have reduced economies of scale and often have less financial resources and capacity than their urban counterparts to absorb large reductions in revenue.  Unfortunately, this pandemic has put additional financial strains on impacted utilities and their ability maintain uninterrupted affordable service for their customers during this emergency,” said Matt Holmes, National Rural Water Association CEO.  “It is also important to note that the water sector has been declared a top health priority by the federal government, with their workers designated as essential employees necessary to combat this virus. This legislation provides the U.S. Department of Agriculture additional resources and affordable financial tools to address this issue. Providing this critical assistance to sustain financially impacted rural water and wastewater utilities at this time is a welcomed recognition of the important role they play in protecting and enhancing the public health in rural America. On behalf of the small and rural water and wastewater utilities across rural America, we would like to personally thank Senator Shaheen and her staff for their leadership and efforts.”

“The Rural Community Assistance Partnership appreciates Senators Shaheen and Tillis for their reintroduction of the bipartisan Emergency Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act, establishing an emergency grant and loan program for small water and wastewater systems during this ongoing pandemic,” said RCAP CEO Nathan Ohle. “When RCAP surveyed small rural and tribal water and wastewater systems we have worked with across the country, we heard very clearly that there was a tremendous amount of assistance needed. We were able to estimate the revenue loss due to the financial impact of COVID-19 across the country for systems serving 10,000 or less in population to be at least $3.6 billion. Not only were rural and tribal water and wastewater systems losing revenue at alarming rates, there was no mechanism for them to make up that revenue loss as federal assistance is focused on new infrastructure projects, not a loss in operating and maintenance costs. This Act can mitigate some of the current and potential damages seen to rural community’s most valuable resource: water. RCAP and our national network stand ready to work with Senators Shaheen and Tillis and their colleagues in Congress to ensure this much needed relief is included in the next relief package.”

“The Granite State Rural Water Association of New Hampshire supports the passage of the Emergency Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act,” said Heidi Lauricella, Executive Director of GSRWA. “For the past eleven months, water and wastewater operators have continued working, many times under challenging conditions.  At the same time more customers have struggled to pay their bills, thus raising the concern that very soon there will not be enough revenue to support expenses.  We are thankful that water and wastewater systems have been able to maintain essential services during this public health crises.  Now these same rural utilities need our help to keep going.”

Full text of the bill is available here.