One of the more interesting issues in Congress the past years is the Farm Bill which did not pass the House. The issue was too many food stamp recipients. The program has doubled in the past 10 years and now 1 in 7 families depend on supplemental assistance. But here is an interesting question – wouldn’t you assume that the states with the greatest percentage of people getting food stamps would be those states that voted for the Farm Bill. That would be those Democratic states like California, Colorado, the New England States, Pennsylvania and New York? Well interestingly enough, you would be wrong. The state with the highest percentage of people receiving food stamps is Alabama, followed by New Mexico and Tennessee, which are red states. In fact all of the southeastern states are in the upper two third, all exceeding 15% of households. Yet their representatives voted against their constituents! This should not be a surprise. All of the “blue” states, except Washington and Oregon were below 15%. Some were below 10%.
So how does this affect water and sewer systems? There is an ongoing effort at the EFC at UNC Chapel Hill and other areas regarding the concept of affordability of water and sewer services. The concept is that costs in excess of 3.5 or 4.5 % of income may be burdensome on residents. Effort is trying to come up with ideas to address low income ratepayers. The loss of food stamps actually exacerbates this problem since most of these same ratepayers are the ones receiving food stamps. The conflict between paying for food and water/sewer service increases, putting more low income residents at risk. Congress is doing utilities no favors by disrupting embedded programs that people depend on. We can debate whether the program, a transfer of funding from wealthier, blue states, to poorer, red states is a appropriate federal revenue transfer, but the reality is that the dependency has been created. Compounding the problem is that employment is not nearly back to 2007 levels, and salaries for most of us have declined with respect to buying power over the past 30 years. As a result, many residents, including many hardworking, employed residents, continue to struggle. We should be concerned about the acts of Congress and remember some of our representatives may not be voting to help their constituents.