WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act, a $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill, that included not only nearly $20 million in infrastructure projects secured by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), but also numerous water rights provisions and two critical amendments the Congresswoman has fought for that will expand and ensure water as a human right for millions of Americans. The first Tlaib amendment explicitly requires water reconnections for residential customers regardless of whether their entire debt is paid off by relief programs, a vital provision that ensures those currently struggling without water access can get, and stay, reconnected. The second amendment adds a study of and data collection on the prevalence of lack of water access for low-income households in the United States, a crucial step toward fully grasping the magnitude of our nation’s water affordability crisis and responding with bold policy solutions that meet the scale of the problem.
In addition to these two critical amendments, the INVEST in America Act includes additional provisions and highlights other water-related priorities that Congresswoman Tlaib has been fighting for since she arrived in Congress, including a five-year water shutoff moratorium, low-income water debt relief and payment assistance programs, and lead pipe and school drinking water fountain replacement. Many of these provisions, in part, draw from legislation and amendments Congresswoman Tlaib has previously introduced, bringing us closer to enshrining water as a human right in federal law.
According to a January 2021 Food and Water Watch report, 56 percent of Americans—or 183 million people—live in states without any shutoff protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, only 20 states banned disconnections. An investigation by the Guardian last year found that water bills in U.S. cities have risen by as much as 80% in a decade, leaving millions of Americans struggling to afford clean running water even before the pandemic. Evidence also suggests that communities of color were already disproportionately affected by punitive measures such as shutoffs and foreclosures linked to water debt. For Congresswoman Tlaib, representative of the third poorest, majority-Black Congressional District, the issue is a personal one that requires urgency and prioritization.
“After over two years of fighting to uplift the cause and ensure water is a human right, I am proud to see so many water access-related provisions like a water shutoff moratorium, water debt relief, and lead service line replacement passed by my House colleagues in the INVEST in America Act—but we have a lot more work to do to ensure water is a human right for everyone,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “My first priority right now is to get the water on and keep it on—nobody in the richest country in the world should be too poor for water—and the reconnection mandate and shutoff moratorium in this bill will do just that. The importance of even bolder, transformational investment into ensuring water infrastructure and relief aid is as abundant as the need has been, especially amid a global pandemic, cannot be overstated. I look forward to partnering with my colleagues on future pieces of legislation, especially after the reporting and data generated by one of my amendments gives us an even fuller picture of the magnitude of this crisis.”
The INVEST in America Act now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The full text of the water reconnection amendment can be found here.
The full text of the water access study and data collection amendment can be found here.