Take Action Now: Support House Funding Levels for Health and Human Services Programs

Over the next several weeks, the House and Senate will be working on drafting a final fiscal year (FY) 2020 omnibus appropriations bill in hopes of meeting the November 21 continuing resolution deadline. As is so often the case, the House and Senate Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (Labor/H) appropriations bills differ. 

Overall, the House FY 2020 Labor/H appropriations bill – passed through the chamber as a part of the H.R. 2740 legislative minibus package – offers more favorable funding levels for the Older Americans Act (OAA) and other key health and human services programs. It would increase funding for a wide range of human services programs important to regions, especially those regions that are also designated as the Area Agency on Aging (AAA). In contrast, the draft fiscal year 2020 Senate Labor/H bill would maintain funding at current levels. 

The proposed Senate Labor/H appropriations bill would level fund Title III of the Older Americans Act (OAA). The House, in contrast, would increase overall funding by $151 million – a 10 percent increase over fiscal year 2019. The same is true for Title V programs. The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a program operated by the Department of Labor, would be level funded. By contract, SCSEP funding would increase by approximately 15 percent if the House funding proposal is adopted. 

Other HHS programs such as the Community Services Block Grant and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program would also see a funding increase if the House Labor/H appropriations bill becomes law. While none of the proposed increases are large, all represent movement away from last year’s appropriations amounts that either level funded or reduced funding to these important programs.

A current appropriations chart developed by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) is available here.

Here are some ways you can take action now:

  1. Send a letter to your Members of Congress. Use this template to send your own messages to you members of Congress about the importance of a long-term funding bill and funding increases for OAA and health and human services programs.
  2. Does Your representative or senator serve on an Appropriations Committee? Advocacy with Members on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees is especially important. If your representative or senator serves on one of these key committees, your letter should request that they share your messages with their committee leaders. At this point, many funding decisions are being made at a leadership level, and the more they hear from their committee colleagues, the more seriously they will consider these requests. You may wish to add: As a member of the {SENATE/HOUSE] Appropriations Committee, I urge you to work with your fellow committee members to ensure that the House language is adopted.
  3. Engage your grassroots. Using n4a’s toolkit or your own approach, get the word out in your networks that action is needed now! Here are some approaches you could take:
    • Ask your grantees to email or post a short note to lawmakers on social media. Members monitor their email/website/social media traffic for constituent correspondence, and personal messages resonate most. Ask your advocates to share why the OAA is important to them. 
    • Ask local advocates to call Congress. Included in the n4a toolkit’s grassroots template alert are instructions on calling lawmakers and a short sample script that constituents can use.
    • Share stories in person. Encourage your advocacy stakeholders to attend the next town hall your federal representatives have in the region to share the importance of funding for OAA. Invite your senators and member(s) of Congress to come see your agency in action and meet some of their constituents receiving OAA and other senior services.

NARC would like to thank n4a and Sandy Markwood, n4a’s Chief Executive Officer, and Autumn Campbell, n4a’s Senior Director, Public Policy and Advocacy, for their assistance and support addressing OAA, AAA, and other programs for seniors, as well as permission to use their funding documents and draft templates. 

How Regions are Supporting Recycling in an Increasingly Challenging Market

As the cost of recycling is escalating for many local governments, regional councils are working toward solutions. Regional Councils and Metropolitan Planning Agencies (MPOs) are looking at solutions that reduce waste, improve recycling efficiency, and/or educate public and private entities on better recycling practices. Some of these programs, like the Upper Arkansas Recycling Program, highlight the cost savings that collaboration provides. Others, like the Iowa Waste Exchange offer a service that connects businesses with would-be discarded materials.

Recycling pledges are another effort to increase engagement and raise awareness about the nation’s recycling challenges. The National Association of Regional Councils recently signed on to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) America Recycles Pledge in order to work toward a more resilient materials economy. Signatories promote education and outreach, pledge to enhance materials management infrastructure, strengthen secondary materials markets, and attempt to enhance the measurement of recycled materials.

Regional Recycling Programs

Region XII Council of Governments: Iowa Waste Exchange

Region XII Council of Governments runs a no-cost materials exchange program called the Iowa Waste Exchange (IWE) where the Region XII COG maintains a database of available and wanted materials and is funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The idea behind the IWE is for companies and other groups to use the confidential resources provided by Region XII to find a market for materials they would otherwise discard or warehouse. The program also offers free consultations to locate needed materials or potential buyers. The Iowa Waste Exchange offers services including online materials listings, waste management technical assistance, materials innovation service, economic development and general business assistance, and area resource specialists.

Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG): Upper Arkansas Recycling Program

The Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG) operates a collaborative low-cost recycling agreement. The Upper Arkansas Recycling Program (UAR) is a collaborative effort between the UAACOG and other regional entities. In an effort to bring additional resources to the region all partners of the UAR have signed an intergovernmental agreement. The program, which has been in operation since 1998, is funded by an annual $1.30 per capita charge and consists of drop-off recycling sites in all of the partner areas accepting newspaper, aluminum, tin, and glass. UAACOG maintains collection totals, provides community support, coordinates special collection events, and runs a specialty Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for glass.

Mid-America Regional Council (MARC): Solid Waste Management District

The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) is a Solid Waste Management District which administers a solid waste grant program for waste reduction, reuse, and recycling projects. Cities and counties, non-profit organizations, businesses, and schools throughout the region can apply for the grant. MARC also supports the collection and disposal of household hazardous waste through contracts with two permanent collection facilities and several mobile collection events. In addition to this, MARC has created public education initiatives to reduce the amount of waste the region sends to area landfills. MARC also manages the RecycleSpot.org website and a recycling hotline (816/474-TEAM), that provides residents information on recycling opportunities in the region.

Texas Council of Governments 

Texas handles solid waste and recycling a little differently than other states. This is due to the fact that Texas designates all of its COGS as planning agencies for solid waste and all Texas COGs receive state funding to distribute local and regional implementation grants for programs related to recycling and waste management.

As solid waste planning agencies, Texas COGs must also develop regional solid waste management plans outlining activities and priorities that will be initiated in the region throughout the planning period including items such as population and growth patterns, economic activity, waste generation and characteristics, waste management systems, summary of needs and problems, goals, and an action plan for the region. Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), in the metro Austin area, lists 15 intended goals under their regional solid waste plan, ranging from reduction strategies to administrative goals.

All Texas COGs receive state funding from landfill fees that allow them to support projects that further the regional solid waste management plan. In an effort to extend the life of landfills, the North Central Council of Governments (NCTCOG) is using such funding for programs such as Time to Recycle and Report DFW Dumping. Across the state, there is a serious effort to reduce landfill disposals and waste. This is especially true after the 2017 release of a report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which reported that annual landfill disposal reached approximately 33.3 million tons of waste across the state, equivalent to 6.84 pounds of waste per Texan per day.

Whether it’s a collaborative reuse material buying market, special collection events, public recycling education outreach, solid waste management plans, or efforts to extend the lifecycle of current landfills, regions are finding innovative and collaborative solutions to the nation’s recycling challenges.

The California Emissions Standards Situation and Regions

In July of this year, California and four major automakers, BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagon, reached an agreement over a framework for setting Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards through the year 2026.

The framework was announced in anticipation of a Trump administration rollback of federal emissions standards set during the Obama administration.

The Obama-era standards require an average mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon for passenger vehicles by 2025, along with a year-over-year 4.7 percent reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through 2025.

The rollback proposed by the Trump administration freezes model year 2020 CAFE and carbon dioxide emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks through the year 2026.

The framework developed by California and the four automakers eases the Obama-era standards slightly, but rejects the freeze of the proposed rollback. The framework would drop average mileage standards from 54.5 by 2025 to 51 by 2026, and loosen GHG reduction standards from 4.7 percent over four years to 3.7 percent over five years

How California Sets Its Own Standards

The Clean Air Act provides the State of California with the right to waive federal preemption regarding air pollution standards for vehicle emissions. This waiver allows California to set stricter air emissions standards than the federal government. The waiver, however, must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under Clean Air Act Section 209, the EPA is required to grant California a waiver unless they find that:

  • California was arbitrary and capricious in its finding that its standards are, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable federal standards;
  • California does not need such standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions; or
  • such standards and accompanying enforcement procedures are not consistent with Section202(a) of the Clean Air Act.

The Administration’s Reaction

Following the announcement of the framework, the Trump administration began pushing back against California and the four automakers through several actions:

September 6, 2019: DOT and EPA Write Letter to CARB Stating that the Framework May be Illegal

On September 6, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the EPA wrote a letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state agency responsible for filing the waiver request with EPA. The letter states that the framework agreement between California and the automakers “appears to be inconsistent with Federal law.”

September 6, 2019: DOJ Opens Anti-Trust Probe Against Automakers

Also on September 6, it was reported that the Department of Justice would be opening an anti-trust probe to determine if the four automakers involved in the framework had acted lawfully.

September 19, 2019: EPA and NHTSA Announce One National Program Rule on Federal Preemption of State Fuel Economy Standards

On September 19, the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the EPA issued a final action establishing the One National Program rule that would ensure that the federal government sets one single fuel efficiency standard for the country. Along with this rule, EPA withdrew California’s Clean Air Act waiver that authorized the state to determine its own emissions standards.

September 24, 2019: EPA Threatens to Block California Highway Funding

On September 24, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler issued a letter to CARB Chair Mary Nichols warning that the state’s violation of Clean Air Act regulations could affect it’s highway funding. The letter notes that California has “failed to carry out its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act” and has a backlog of 130 State Implementation Plans (SIPs), the plans which have to be developed to increase air quality for areas failing to attain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The letter further states that if California does not work with the EPA to develop approvable SIPs, the EPA will begin a disapproval process which could result in a stoppage of DOT approvals for highway projects.[1]

California’s Response

September 20, 2019: California Files Lawsuit Along With 22 Other States

On September 20, California, along with 22 other states and the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit against the NHTSA, the DOT division which withdrew California’s Clean Air Act waiver. According to the filing, the action “exceeds NHTSA’s authority, contravenes Congressional intent, and is arbitrary and capricious.”

Significance for Regions


The repeal of California’s emissions standards waiver is federal preemption of the state’s authority to regulate vehicle emissions. Recent increases in federal preemption of state and local authority are a serious concern for local governments which need the authority to make decisions based on their region’s needs. The precedent that this exercise of preemption could set is notable and worrying.[2]

Air-Quality – Non-attainment Consequences

Many regional councils function as air-quality planners. In this role, they work to maintain NAAQS in their regions. Repealing California’s waiver and setting lower national emissions standards will result in increased emissions. This could make NAAQS more challenging for regions to attain and sustain.

NAAQS non-attainment can result in sanctions from the EPA, which affect approval of highway projects. (for an example of this, see the section titled “EPA Threatens to Block California Highway Funding” above).

Air-Quality – Public Health

Additionally, and critically, poor air quality presents a variety of direct threats to the health of a region’s residents, including serious heart and breathing problems.[3]

Climate Change

“Greenhouse gases trap heat and make the planet warmer,” according to the EPA’s Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions webpage. Furthermore, the EPA identifies the transportation sector as the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions.[4] In 2017, transportation accounted for 28.9% of overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Within the transportation sector, passenger cars and light-duty trucks comprise the largest portion of emissions.

Increased global temperatures present many threats to the health and well-being of residents of regions across the United States. Consequently, the drivers of warming, like GHG emissions, should be mitigated. The EPA identifies several methods for accomplishing this. Among the primary methods, the EPA includes “improving fuel efficiency with advanced design, materials, and technologies,” a strategy that is supported by increasingly stringent standards, such as those included in California’s framework.

[1] As ENO Transportation reports, the letter cites a section of the Clean Air Amendments of 1990 which allows for the cutoff of highway project approval, but not the cutoff of actual funding. The state or region would still be able use funds for highway safety projects of mass transit projects.

[2] In this case, it should be noted that California’s proposed standards would be more stringent than those set by the federal government.

[3] CDC Public Health Issues

[4] Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2017 (published 2019)