With no House speaker, countless funding bills hang in the balance

A popular water assistance program for low-income Americans is at risk of disappearing, as lawmakers in Washington are unable to move forward with any legislation following the ousting of Republican Kevin McCarthy from his position as House speaker.

One of those programs is the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). Since 2020, money from LIHWAP has helped millions of residents keep their water from being shut off.

But funding for the program is about to run dry.

Tiana Starks is with the nonprofit We the People of Detroit — a group that helps residents struggling with their water bills. In Detroit, up to 10% of homes lack complete access to water, and Starks says LIHWAP helps residents who fall behind.

“Now we’re looking at scores of households having their water shut off,” Starks told Scripps News. “Maybe 60,000 households in Detroit.”

Nearly 20 million households in this country are behind on utility bills, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. Those households owe some $19.5 billion as of March.

Roslyn Ogburn is a Detroit resident who has experienced firsthand what it’s like to run out of money to pay a water bill.

“To not have water in your house — when you wake up and there is nothing at your tap, to not have water to flush, to brush your teeth or drink — it starts messing with you mentally when you can’t offer your children  the basic things,” Ogburn said.

There is some hope for people like Ogburn. Three Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives have introduced the Water Access Act which would direct $500 million to keep LIHWAP funds flowing. 

The program operates in all 50 states. But because the House hasn’t elected a new speaker, no major legislation is moving right now.

“We remain hopeful because we know we’re on the right side of this fight,” Starks said.