Huffman, Harder Pen Letter to Congressional Leaders to Secure Ongoing Water Debt Assistance

1.6 million Californians face average water debt of $500, low-income communities of color hardest hit

March 09, 2021

WASHINGTON — Today, Congressmen Jared Huffman (CA-02), Josh Harder (CA-10), and their colleagues sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy on behalf of the 1.6 million California households struggling with water debt. Rep. Huffman and his colleagues have secured a one-time federal allocation for water assistance in the American Rescue Plan and are now pushing for continued support for the program. This year, a study found that California households hold a stunning $1 billion in water debt and low-income communities of color shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden. Continued support for the program would ensure no family has their water – the most basic form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - turned off during the pandemic.

“Over the past year water has proven to be a critical resource during the pandemic -- it’s needed to wash hands, cook meals, and countless other day-to-day necessities. With more families staying home and an increase in personal water usage, households in California and across the country are getting buried in debt,” said Rep. Huffman. “Congress must provide funding for water affordability assistance nationwide. In order to have an equitable recovery from this pandemic, we have to ensure everyone has equal access to clean, affordable water.” 

“No family should live without running water. It’s just that simple,” said Rep. Harder. “From having water to drink to needing it to wash your hands, cook your meals, and clean your home, water is a basic human right and could be the difference between sickness and health during this pandemic. It’s time the government ensures that every Central Valley family can afford their water.”

The full letter is available below and online here


Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy, 

We write to support funding for an ongoing federal water affordability assistance program. While Congress has provided a one-time allocation of federal water affordability assistance in American Rescue Plan, additional investments will be needed to ensure continued access to water for our constituents during the pandemic and the post-pandemic recovery. 

Water is the most basic form of PPE--without it, families cannot wash their hands, cook a meal, bathe themselves, or even flush a toilet. For the communities we represent to safely shelter in place and halt the spread of this virus, we must make sure that they have access to safe and affordable water in their homes. Addressing the mounting crisis of water bill debt facing our communities will also be needed to ensure that all families are able to participate in our country’s economic recovery. 

In January 2021, the California State Water Resources Control Board found that 1.6 million California households were shouldering a stunning $1 billion in water debt, with an average debt of $500 dollars per person. Of these affected households, 155,000 were found to already carry over $1,000 in debt. These high levels of water debt are disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities of color, the same communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. This level of need dwarfs the entirety of the one-time December 2020 federal allocation of $638 million for water affordability assistance nationwide, of which California is likely to receive only $70 million.  

Make no mistake, this is more than just a California issue – it is a national challenge that deserves our full attention and action. Over the last year, millions of households around the country have accumulated a debt burden that will dampen recovery efforts and extend the economic challenges of this pandemic. Just as water has been an essential tool to fight this virus, water affordability assistance is an essential tool in our recovery. 

That is why we strongly support Congress acting to fund an ongoing federal water affordability assistance program that provides annual funding for assistance. This should be prioritized for action in 2021 and included in any infrastructure or economic recovery package. Because without ongoing access to safe and affordable water, there can be no equitable recovery.