The pandemic has hit many households hard, but perhaps none more so than those who have struggled to access and afford water. Falling behind on water bills, lower-income households and communities of color have struggled the most, not only dealing with economic pain, but also challenges protecting their health and safety. While many states and localities have prevented water shutoffs and offered to help cover these bills, they lack the economic certainty and fiscal capacity to develop lasting solutions in the months and years to come.

Struggles to pay water bills do not just hurt economically vulnerable residents and communities now. These struggles underscore a challenge to invest in reliable, affordable water infrastructure over time, which can hurt all of us. Our drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems provide essential services that require ongoing maintenance and repairs. Investing in pipes, plants, and other facilities is not a choice for state and local leaders; it’s a necessity. And it’s costly, since states and localities are responsible for 95% of the country’s total public spending on water infrastructure annually. Water utilities—the primary owners and operators of all this infrastructure—depend on consistent, predictable revenues from individual households and other ratepayers to cover these costs; yet the past year has been anything but consistent and predictable, resulting in project delays and many other concerns.

These water affordability and investment challenges have been festering for years, and COVID has tipped many people and places over the edge. However, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, signed in March, offers much needed federal funding for states and localities, including an emphasis on water infrastructure. While $500 million in the ARP will provide assistance to low-income households struggling to afford water—building off previous COVID-19 relief measures—$350 billion comes in the form of flexible state and local aid, which can include water investments that “produce high-quality infrastructure, avert disruptive and costly delays, and promote efficiency…[in addition to supporting] strong employment opportunities for workers.”

Read the full article about water infrastructure by Joseph Kane at Brookings.