The Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday a new partnership created to improve wastewater sanitation in rural and historically underserved communities.

The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative is a pilot program in 11 communities throughout the United States. According to USDA, the program aims to assist the estimated 2.2 million Americans who do not have access to running water or indoor plumbing.

In a statement, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the administration recognizes "there are still people who have been going without the basics" despite a belief that rural communities "should have the infrastructure they need to be healthy and to provide for their families."

“Access to modern, reliable wastewater infrastructure is a necessity, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing everything we can to ensure every family and every child in America has access to these vital services," he said.

The program is designed to help communities gain access to funding opportunities, some of which are available through the 2021 infrastructure bill. The initiative will provide support by addressing current shortcomings in wastewater structures, giving technical engineering support, and developing community solutions.

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The partnership will work with state, local and Tribal groups in counties in Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia, and Arizona.

 “The America that we all believe in is a land of opportunity,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a release. “But, for historically marginalized communities from Alabama to Alaska, that opportunity is stolen when basic sanitation doesn’t work — exposing adults and children to backyard sewage and disease. By partnering with USDA and leveraging funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA is working to restore dignity and opportunity to rural communities here in Alabama and across the country.”

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