On February 22, the Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF) issued a notification and action request to states for the FY 2021 Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). Congress established the LIHWAP as an emergency program to help states respond to the coronavirus pandemic under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The legislation directs ACF to disburse $638 million to states and territories to assist low-income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes, that pay a high proportion of household income for drinking water and wastewater services.
Notably for counties, the ACF guidance instructs states to coordinate with current administrators of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income households pay for heating and cooling costs, in structuring this new program. In 13 states, county governments either fully administer the LIHEAP program or share that responsibility with local community-based agencies.
LIHEAP has a flexible structure and can support household heating and cooling expenses, weatherization assistance, crisis assistance, and services such as counseling. Typically, a utility company will directly bill the local program administrator for a household’s LIHEAP benefit, leaving the recipient to pay off the remaining amount of their bill.
The LIHWAP program will differ slightly, as it will offer funds to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages of and rates charged to low-income households burdened by wastewater and drinking water payments.
Because ACF is directing states to model LIHWAP after LIHEAP, it is possible that county governments functioning as a local LIHEAP agency will be responsible for administering this new program as well. NACo will continue to monitor implementation of the program and implications it may have for county governments as well as county residents.