water treatment facility aeration tank
WEF Legislative Director Steve Dye says aid for low-income ratepayers will “help slow the bleeding.”

The $1.9 trillion stimulus package dubbed the American Rescue Plan has been approved by both houses of Congress, creating what some legislators have said will be welcome relief from hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Steve Dye, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) legislative director, said the stimulus package is likely to bring some help to the water sector, but it will be a two-track process. The first, which was just approved, is the immediate coronavirus recovery assistance. This will include an additional $500 million in help for low-income utility ratepayers, which will in turn help utilities that have suffered from fewer payments being made over the last year. 

But the water sector will see further assistance in months to come when it comes to infrastructure funding.

“So, it will help bring some money into utilities, but it’s a small portion for people who are in arears and that does impact budgets of a lot of utilities and then they’re not able to make improvements to their infrastructure,” Dye said.

“Utilities haven’t begun making cuts to their system but if this continues, this will impact decisions they have to make for capital investments,” Dye continued, adding that the “funding for low-income ratepayers could slow the bleeding.”

The just-approved stimulus package also includes $130.2 billion in direct aid to county and municipal governments to be used for any governmental purposes, which could include water infrastructure funding, but most likely will be directed toward other governmental activities that have suffered from budget cuts due to lost local tax revenues.

The bill also saved 11.4 million workers from losing unemployment benefits in mid-March and mid-April, according to a study by The Century Foundation. The bill extends two unemployment programs through Aug. 29.

Forbes recently reported that close to 40 percent of all unemployed workers now include the long-term jobless—people who have been out of work for more than six months.

Of course some jobs lost in 2020 were in the pump industry or its related industries, such as oil and gas which lost approximately 107,000 positions, Fortune.com reported.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in February that 561,000 jobs have been lost in manufacturing the past year. Manufacturing employment rose in February by 21,000, after a January decrease of 14,000.

Dye said Congress is starting to work on the 2022 budget, which combined with an infrastructure package that could come later this year, would include more funding for water. 

“We assume it will and are pushing for it to,” he said.

“It’s been a long process, there’s been a lot of talk over the last couple years,” Dye said about infrastructure spending. “Biden is squarely behind it; they want to do something.”

Now that Democrats have control of the House and the Senate, and both align with the president, “they could push forward more aggressively,” Dye said.

Still, Dye said he sees more promise coming than in the last couple of years.

“If we’re going to get some dollars from Congress, it’s worth the long hard fight,” Dye said. “Every community, every town and city needs it—it’s not a partisan issue.”