Triangle J Council of Governments to Host Summit Series Focused on Equity

The Triangle J Council of Governments (TJCOG), which serves as the regional government for almost two million people across Chatham, Durham, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Orange, and Wake counties in North Carolina, will be hosting its first-ever virtual Regional Summit Series. The summit’s theme is “What’s Equity Have to Do with It?” and events will dive deep into the impact of government policies and practices on equity in the region.

This is not the first time TJCOG has addressed equity, however the organization is now placing a much greater emphasis on concrete actions that can be made to improve equity throughout the region. According to Alana Keegan, TJCOG Engagement Specialist, the organization’s past work has brought them to the point where they have an abundance of information and data and now it is time to do something with it. Keegan explained, “the biggest question is how our region can act on this type of information to implement equitable policies and shift the statistics in the Triangle,” noting the important work of member governments helping to lead the way.

As in many other regions and communities, conversations about equity in the Triangle J Region were put into overdrive after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black Americans. Keegan emphasized that “the summit, and our growing emphasis on equity, was a direct result of staff-wide conversations about race and equity in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black individuals.” The TJCOG team, Keegan added, are “dedicated public sector employees, passionate about improving our communities, who were unwilling to allow conversation alone to be the end result.” These discussions ultimately resulted in a collaborative statement issued by Lee Worsley, executive director at TJCOG, expressing the organization’s commitment to systemic change in the region. The statement outlines future actions the organization will be taking and emphasizes that the organization’s commitment must be “displayed through direct action, not just words.”

The summit series will start next Thursday, September 17th. Each of the sessions will provide tools and best practices. Participants can choose from five workshops, or attend all of them, and learn about the ways equity is directly linked to community engagement, supporting older adults and their health, policing, and growth. As Keegan mentioned there are so many ways local and regional governments are impacting equity in their communities, they may not even know it!

A breakdown of sessions and timeline is below:

TJCOG Regional Summit Series Outline of Events

Session 1 Local Government and Equity

September 17th, 10-11:30 am ET

In this first session TJOCOG will dive into the basics. They plan to explain and discuss how government and equity are related to one another; ideas for making policy and budgetary decisions through an equity lens; and lastly participants will hear from experts in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and from practitioners working to institutionalize foundations of equity in their government organizations.  

Session 2 Development, Growth and Equity

September 24th, 10-11:30 am ET

TJCOG staff will present numbers that seek to answer the question “are we growing in an equitable and inclusive manner?” Staff will lead discussion with local communities and partner organizations working to rethink public sector approaches to growth.

Session 3 Community Livability for All

October 1st, 10-11:30 am ET

This session will teach participants about local efforts underway to increase and sustain services to the most vulnerable populations. Communities must rethink their approach for supporting our oldest residents, especially during these difficult times.

Session 4 Equitable Community Engagement

October 8th, 10-11:30 am ET

Speakers in this session will share successful efforts of engaging with residents for feedback and discuss ongoing challenges to ensure the community is represented. Getting that input from every resident, including harder-to-reach communities, takes intentional action and strategies that find people where they are (rather than expecting them to come to the table).

Session 5 Policing Equity

October 15th, 10-11:30 am ET

As departments face ongoing requests and demands for reform, they will be tasked with community-centered policing that not only requires increased interaction with the public, but direct implementation of community-requested ideas (evidenced by newly released policy frameworks). How can departments use data to track decisions and behavior, and ensure both align with community interests?

For more information Email Alana Keegan, akeegan@tjcog.org.

Below is NARC staff’s full interview with Alana Keegan from TJCOG:

Is this the first time in TJCOG’s history such an emphasis has been placed on equity?

Much of our work at TJCOG has always focused on providing access – to housing, transit, jobs, clean water, etc. – but we are putting a much greater emphasis on the fact that good intentions do not equate to equitable access. Building transportation… helping individuals find work… there are different levels/types of supports and policies that are needed to provide equal opportunities to vulnerable or disadvantaged populations.

If not, what else has TJCOG done in the past? For example, special events, planning initiatives etc.

Previously (2013), TJCOG staff partnered with our neighboring COG Kerr Tar to work with the national organization PolicyLink on an Equitable Growth Profile for our combined region, highlighting an immense amount of data on demographics, growth, differing levels of access to prosperity, and much more. Linked here. The unspoken tagline of the summit should really be: “We have this information. Now what?” The biggest question is how our region can act on this type of information to implement equitable policies and shift the statistics in the Triangle. Luckily, many of our member governments are trailblazers in this work and are helping to lead the way.

How did the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor shape the internal discussions about race and equity at TJCOG? Did these discussions have any influence on the summit sessions?

The summit, and our growing emphasis on equity, was a direct result of staff-wide conversations about race and equity in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black individuals. Staff were understandably upset and concerned, and we all had the chance to talk through our feelings in small group settings. That said, our team is a group of dedicated public sector employees, passionate about improving our communities, who were unwilling to allow conversation alone to be the end result. Ultimately, a statement on TJCOG’s commitment to systemic change in our region was produced collaboratively with ED Lee Worsley that outlined what action will look like… to start. 

The summit series asks participants to learn about the ways equity is directly linked to community engagement, supporting older adults and their health, policing, and growth. Do you think there is still a lack of understand and acknowledgement of how these important issues are linked?

I think like any complex issue, we all make assumptions about what we do or do not understand or only learn bits of the whole concept. Especially with equity, a topic that is deeply important but can be sensitive, people may choose to stay silent instead of asking key introductory questions. The Summit will provide a space to answer those questions and build upon them.

Additionally, our focus is specific to equity and its relationship to local government. There are a lot of ways that governments already impact equity in their community but may not know it. One of our workshop leaders, Sharon Williams who is the Racial Equity and Inclusion Manager for the City of Durham, used the example of “ban the box” in a recent conversation we had. This initiative removes the question about previous felonies from job descriptions, improving access to jobs for those reintegrating into a community. Some governments already do this and may not even realize that is an equitable policy. Acknowledging why they are important and then actively analyzing and implementing other policies is the next step.

In what ways do you plan to show that the link between equity and the issues raised above is not only necessary but critical?

The structure of the summit is broken out into five sessions, with the first session as a workshop on local government and equity. Through this workshop, our hope is to lay a foundation of knowledge, outline the ways policy impacts equity, and discuss some tools to reanalyze or reexamine existing policies through an equity lens. The following sessions will highlight the ways that equitable practices improve engagement, older adult livability, economic development, and policies; some will also highlight the impact of current gaps and how improving equity benefits us all.

What does the team at TJCOG hope to gain through the summit and various sessions?

Selfishly, we are all just excited to participate and hear from the speakers. There are some incredibly knowledgeable individuals talking to attendees and all of us can learn more about the topic. Additionally, we hope to gain some tools that can be used in a lot of regional projects, such as our Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy underway, and for our own internal strategic plan for TJCOG. 

What do you hope participants will gain from the summit?

A network of individuals to connect with and continue conversations with after the event.

An understanding of what equity means and how it can be accomplished through their daily work. Most of our participants work in or with local government. Their jobs and programs are intricately linked to equity in the community.

Lastly, do you have any remarks or comments you would like to share on behalf of TJCOG about not only the process and work that went into organizing this event but about the organizations work on and around the issue of equity.

We are learning as we go, being intentional, and pulling in the expertise of individuals and organizations who have been dedicated to improving equity for some time, of which there are many. This could be said for a lot of different topics, but there is no reason to recreate the wheel. Learning from others’ best practices or mistakes (lessons learned) is key.

2020 Census Data Collection May Come to a Halt a Month Early

Earlier this week, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham issued a statement that 2020 census operations will be accelerated and field data collection completed by September 30, 2020.

NARC and other census advocates are concerned that wrapping up door knocking efforts and self-response options a month earlier than previously planned will lead to a significant undercount of our most vulnerable populations.

Given the many important ways that the census impacts regional, rural, and metropolitan planning, the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), along with the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) and the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO), has developed a letter (NARC-NADO-AMPO Census Letter) to Congressional leaders which includes the following requests:

  • Request the administration reconsider its decision to complete field data collection by September 30 and provide additional time to ensure as comprehensive a

survey as possible is performed.

  • Ensure that Census Bureau efforts to protect respondent confidentiality via differential privacy (the process by which the Census Bureau is attempting to ensure the confidentiality of individual respondents) do not incorporate systematic biases that undermine the usability and reliability of census-derived data.
  • Work to ensure an accurate count in each community that houses a college, university, or other educational institution impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Establish a Census Bureau working group with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as a way to mitigate the concerns outlined in this letter once counts are completed.

The stakes are too high not to give the Census Bureau – whose census count operations have been seriously impacted by the coronavirus pandemic – additional time to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 census.

Moving up the date on which the Complete Count effort will end, from October 31 to September 30, will sacrifice data comprehensiveness and accuracy in the interest of speed. The shortened data collection period will result in a more significant undercount of so-called “hard to count” populations, including minority populations, young children, and those with no or poor internet access.

It is no exaggeration that the 2020 census count will significantly impact every city, county, and region in America for the next decade. For this reason, NARC opposes the condensed census operations timeline and asks Congress to extend the 2020 census statutory reporting deadlines by an additional 120 calendar days.

We invite you to add your organization as a signatory to this important letter. If you would like to do so, please fill out this Google Form to indicate how you’d like your organization’s name to appear.

Additionally we encourage you to reach out to your congressional delegations and urge them to support an extension of the 2020 census statutory reporting deadlines by an additional 120 calendar days.

We have drafted this template letter to assist you in your federal outreach. Even if you cannot do direct advocacy, we hope that you will help spread the word among your membership and community partners that are active in 2020 census outreach efforts.

If you have any questions or comments regarding these letters and NARC’s advocacy regarding the census, please send them to erich@narc.org.

Regions Addressing the National Broadband Gap

The broadband access gap is no new issue. In fact, research has proven the issue may be worse than what current federal data suggests. Research from both Microsoft and Pew Research indicates that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has vastly overestimated how many Americans have access to broadband. While FCC data suggests that 25 million Americans lack access to a broadband connection, Microsoft found that 162.8 million people do not use internet at broadband speeds. This comparison is displayed in the graph below:

Why is there such stark contrast between the maps? This is due in large part to the way census blocks map coverage. For example, if 1 out of 14 households in a given census block has coverage, the entire block will be marked as “covered.” This underserved census block would be denied federal funding from sources such as USDA ReConnect due to carve-outs meant to prevent over-building. This would deny the census block many of the federal financial resources that could be utilized to build out the infrastructure needed to cover the other 13 households.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have seen that basic access to internet is a necessity and not a privilege. Access to broadband is more important now than ever as our dining rooms turn into school classrooms and our home offices become our regular 9 to 5 location. Ensuring equitable access to broadband for all – including teachers, students, rural healthcare workers, and professionals attempting to work remotely – makes finding a way to pay for and build out broadband infrastructure in all our communities a top priority.

Regional councils are doing important work to better understand the broadband access gap within their regions and tackle the barriers head on:

Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission 

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), which serves the Central Ohio region, created a Smart Region Task Force to develop a shared vision for what it means to be a smart region, collaborating across communities to leverage emerging technologies and data to provide services more effectively. The task force is comprised of stakeholders including local government officials, university representatives, business leaders, transportation professionals, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and BroadbandUSA. Included in the task force’s vision is finding ways to connect currently disconnected communities. Connected Nation Ohio, a critical member of the task force, is working closely with broadband providers from across the state to develop a variety of broadband inventory maps for public use. MORPC has conducted additional mapping as part of the Smart Region Task Force which displays the percent of households with no internet access.

Houston-Galveston Area Council

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) in partnership with the Gulf Coast Economic Development District (GCEDD) recently published a Regional High-Speed Internet Strategy. The Strategy provides a roadmap for local governments looking to expand access to high-speed internet in the Houston-Galveston region. The strategy begins with general goals and recommendations for local governments and an explanation of high-speed internet technologies. The regional strategy shares seven steps that a community should take to expand their internet infrastructure: gaining leadership support, building community momentum, establishing goals, determining existing conditions, redefining policies, examining options for connectivity, and financing. The strategy also provides a compilation of potential federal financial resources.

Their report outlines the specific challenges the 13-county Houston-Galveston region faces in closing current gaps in broadband service, as well as potential solutions. The appendix shares the latest broadband mapping of the region. Two maps, one showing the broadband speeds of at least 25Mbps download/3Mbps upload and the other showing broadband speeds of at least 100Mbps download/10Mbps upload, are provided for each country in the Houston Galveston region. For example, snapshots for Austin county, TX are shown below displaying the decrease in broadband access for faster speeds:

Buckeye Hills Regional Council

In 2019, Buckeye Hills Regional Council conducted an eight-county study funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission in collaboration with Ohio University Voinovich School and The Athens County Economic Development Council. The study found that between 80% and 90% of households in the rural expanse, defined as areas with 20 or fewer households per square mile, had no access to broadband services. They found 75% of the study area lacks availability of broadband at the current FCC minimum of 25Mbps download/3Mbps upload. Mobile data and voice services are also largely absent from the rural expanse, and degradation of basic telephone services due to beyond end-of-life copper cables is leaving affected areas without crucial life and safety communications. The figure below from the study showcases the large digital deserts that exist within the region:

Buckeye Hills Regional Council revisited this important issue in the wake of COVID-19 alongside OhioSE Economic Development in the presentation “Cracking the Rural Broadband Puzzle.” Funding from OhioSE allowed both organizations to extend the original eight-county study to 37 counties. The organizations are advocating for a $2.3 billion fiber-to-the-premise project in Appalachia Ohio constructing 45,000 miles, creating 9,000 jobs, and generating $1 billion increase in GDP.

Brazos Valley Council of Governments

The Brazos Valley Council of Governments (BVCOG) successfully coordinated the development of a health care consortium to address the lack of connectivity in the region. Through this group BVCOG has been able to bring affordable, high-speed broadband to rural Brazos Valley healthcare providers. This was accomplished through the establishment of BVCOGNET. Healthcare facilities, schools, and businesses in rural areas are limited in their potential to provide public and economic services without high-speed, reliable internet access. BVCOGNET encompasses two fiber-optic rings, 11 regeneration sites built to Category 3 hurricane standards, self-contained air conditioning and heating units, Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) systems, generators, and complete environment and security monitoring. Now, connection to BVCOGNET is available not only to healthcare providers, but governments, nonprofits, and commercial businesses within its seven-county service area.

Small and Mid-Sized Communities Left Out of the Coronavirus Relief Fund

On March 27th, the president signed into law the third federal COVID-19 aid package: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748). This legislation is the most substantial coronavirus relief package released so far, providing the country with $2.3 trillion of aid to counter the physical and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. One snag in this massive piece of legislation is a rule which leaves small and mid-sized communities across the country without direct access to funding.

The CARES Act created a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund to provide payments to states and local governments with populations over 500,000. Each state is guaranteed a payment of at least $1.25 billion from the fund, with money provided to local governments within their borders subtracted from the total that is allocated to them. The amount made available to each state will vary based on their population, and states are not obligated to disperse these funds to localities that are not eligible under the 500,000 population minimum. The Treasury Department has provided a full breakdown of each state’s allocation.

The legislation’s language concerning the 500,000 population threshold has led to a lack of consensus on which counties, cities, localities, and “other unit[s] of general government” are eligible to receive these funds and the Treasury Department has only recently provided further clarification. Both the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the National League of Cities (NLC) have submitted separate letters to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking for more direct funding to local governments and clarification regarding the 500,000 rule.

Recent Clarification from the Treasury Regarding the 500,000 Rule.

Eligibility of Local Governments

According to the Treasury Department, a unit of local government eligible for receipt of direct payment includes a county, municipality, town, township, village, parish, borough, or other unit of general government below the State level with a population that exceeds 500,000. A local government must have a population in excess of 500,000 to provide a certification for payment. There is no further explicit clarification of what is and is not an “other unit of general government.”

Overlapping Jurisdictions

Some local governments, such as cities, may be entirely within the boundaries of a larger local government such as a county. The larger local government may include, for purposes of determining whether it meets the 500,000 threshold for eligibility, the population of the smaller, constituent local government.

  • If the smaller, constituent local government does not provide a certification for payment, the entire population of the larger local government (including the population of the smaller local government) will be used for purposes of calculating its payment amount.
  • If the smaller, constituent local government provides a certification for payment, the population of the smaller local government will be subtracted from the population of the larger local government for purposes of calculating its payment amount.

Listed Eligible Governments

The Treasury Department has distributed a list of 171 counties and cities/towns that have a population of more than 500,000 people according to Census data. According to the Treasury, consolidated cities and counties and city-counties may be listed twice. For example, Los Angeles County and Los Angeles city are both listed. The Treasury has not specified what happens in the event that a city and county both qualify under the 500,000 rule.  Some are concerned with double counting and its effect on the disbursement of payments. Governments eligible for payments must provide payment information and supporting documentation through the electronic form on the Treasury’s CARES Act assistance webpage. To ensure that payments are made within the 30 day period specified by the CARES Act, governments must submit completed payment materials not later than 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 17, 2020.

The Next Round of Funding Support

In response to small and medium local governments missing out on this massive funding opportunity, a group of House Democrats including U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Andy Levin (D-MI), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) have introduced the Coronavirus Community Relief Act to provide $250 billion in stabilization funds for localities with 500,000 people or less amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The congressmen pointed to the many towns, cities, and counties being left out of direct funding from the CARES Act, highlighting that some of these communities were in areas that had been hit hardest by COVID-19.

In addition to the bill they are proposing, Congressmembers Luján, Neguse, Levin, and Malinowski wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi requesting that the 500,000 population cap be removed and additional funds be authorized for cities and towns in the next stimulus package from Congress. 

NARC has also weighed in on this issue, requesting that the federal government provide more funding to local governments and allow regional councils and metropolitan planning organizations with a collective population of greater than 500,000 to apply for direct funding on behalf of their member local governments. In a letter to Secretary Mnuchin, NARC expressed that many regional planning organizations are well positioned to work with the federal government to provide accountability for the expenditure of funds and to establish an equitable distribution of funds to local governments within their regions.

As authorities across the country have ordered nonessential operations and businesses to temporarily close, unemployment is skyrocketing and government revenues are expected to drop sharply compared to projected levels. Unfortunately, the CARES Act lacks sufficient funding and flexibility for states and localities to compensate for these revenue reductions. In the next funding package, federal lawmakers should deliver “unencumbered aid” for state and local governments regardless of population to ensure they have the resources needed to address the long-term health and economic concerns of their residents.

NARC will continue to track this situation and provide members with any updates or clarification from the Treasury Department.

Additional Resources

Treasury Department: A complete breakdown of eligibility can be found here.

Treasury Department: A full list of eligible counties and cities can be found here.

NLC Action Campaign to Co-sponsor the Coronavirus Community Relief Act here.

NLC/USCM CARES Act Fact Sheet here.

NLC/USCM Infographic here.

GFOA Letter to Congressional Leadership Requesting Direct Funding to Local Governments of all sizes in the next funding Package here.

States and Regions are Exploring the Transition from Gas Taxes to Per-Mile Charges

“Every week is infrastructure week!”

That is the running joke in Washington, DC as Congress and the administration have been hard at work formulating a comprehensive infrastructure package since President Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017. The Trump Administration, House, and Senate have all released different funding priorities for a Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) reauthorization bill, which is set to expire in September.

Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan , the $760 billion House infrastructure plan, and the $287 billion Senate Highway bill (S.2302) all take different approaches to  providing funding to improve the dire transportation and infrastructure situation in the United States, but none offers a plan for how the legislation will be funded. The political near-impossibility of a gas tax increase has led some to consider new funding structures, including charging drivers for the miles they drive rather than the amount of fuel they consume. This approach, referred to as a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, a road user charge (RUC), or a mile-based user fee (MBUF), is being considered by states as a supplement or a replacement for current per-gallon fuel charges.

As the funding debate plays out at the federal level several states have already implemented pilot or voluntary programs that charge users an annual flat fee to owners of cars using alternative fuels. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has collected data and information from various per-mile programs across the country. Below is a map that the Oregon DOT compiled indicating which states have completed RUC pilots, which states are considering or planning RUC pilots, and which states are actively monitoring the topic either via their department of transportation, state legislature or another agency.

NCSL has also gathered information on regional efforts and RUC coalition groups. Two regional groups of states, RUC West and the I-95 Corridor Coalition, have coordinated efforts and resources around RUC issues to leverage resources for educational opportunities and to focus funding efforts. Membership for both coalitions are below:

Significant concerns remain over issues such as privacy, how the fee would be collected and how efficient that collection would be, and concerns about the federal government’s capacity to roll-out a national program. Either program would require passenger vehicles to be tracked, whether through odometer reading, radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers, or onboard devices. Depending on the tax or fee structure, the time and location in addition to miles traveled may need to be captured. The idea that every location and mile traveled in your personal vehicle being tracked, recorded, and captured by the federal government may be unsettling for some.

These concerns will have to be addressed before a nationwide program becomes a political possibility, but regions and states are taking the lead in testing this important new technology. Below are four states that showcase different approaches to per-mile charges:

Oregon: Road Usage Charge Program – OReGO

Oregon began its RUC journey in 2017 and is now the only state with a permanent RUC program. Oregon drivers are highly encouraged to enroll in the state’s RUC program called OReGO. A typical electric or high-mpg vehicle driver pays two to four years’ worth of registration fees in advance when purchasing a car or renewing their registration. Oregon House Bill 2017, or “Keep Oregon Moving,” will be making increases to these fees in 2022 and 2023 to respond to expected increases in vehicle performance. This could lead to a combined up-front registration fee of hundreds of dollars. If these same drivers enroll in OReGO instead they would not have to pay these registration fee increases. They would only pay the base registration of $43 per year plus the road charge of 1.8 cents per mile.

Utah Road Usage Charge Program

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) began work on implementing their RUC in 2018 when two laws passed through the state legislature (SB 136 -2018 and SB 72 -2019) directing UDOT to implement a RUC process by 2020. SB 72 fiscal note appropriated $755,000 for the program’s initial setup and an additional $115,000 each year for employee operations. It is unclear when this funding will stop, but UDOT anticipates that RUC revenues will begin to fund the program by 2025.  In addition, the state received a $1.25 million federal grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives (STSFA) Program for a study on the program’s success over the next five years. Users will be charged 1.5 cents per mile driven until the accumulated total matches the annual flat fee. In 2020, the flat fee for electric vehicles will be $90. This is significantly less than the $187 average annual state gas tax payments vehicle owners paid in Utah in 2019.

California Road Charge

The California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) managed a road charge pilot program through the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) by working closely with the California Transportation Commission, the Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and additional external stakeholders throughout California. From July 2016 through March 2017, 5,000 vehicles statewide reported in excess of 37 million miles, according to the program’s full report. California’s now completed road charge pilot program was a voluntary effort that relied heavily on Oregon’s experience. Unlike Oregon’s program, this pilot was conceptual in nature and no actual financial transactions took place.

Washington Road Usage Charge Pilot Project

In December 2019, the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) released  recommendations on how Washington can begin a gradual transition away from the state gas tax and toward a road usage charge system. The commission based its recommendations on extensive research, statewide public engagement and a detailed analysis of participant feedback and system performance of the 12-month Washington Road Usage Charge Pilot Project. The adopted recommendations were transmitted to the Washington State Legislature, Governor Jay Inslee and the Federal Highway Administration last month.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Resources for Regions

NARC COVID-19 Webinar for Regional Councils
NARC hosted a webinar yesterday examining the role that regional councils can play in addressing the COVID-19 epidemic. Leaders from the Puget Sound Regional Council (Seattle), Metropolitan Area Planning Council (Boston), and Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG) spoke on their response to the COVID-19 epidemic and shared ideas for ways that regional councils can support efforts to contain the virus.

CARC Coronavirus Resource Page / Request for Resources and Policies
NARC has created a webpage to house regional resources for combatting coronavirus. If your region has developed resources or policy tools that you would like to share with other regions, please send them in to Jessica Routzahn at jessica@narc.org so that they can be incorporated into the resource page.

SUMMARY/BACKGROUND

The coronavirus disease of 2019, otherwise known as COVID-19, is a respiratory disease caused by a new strain of the coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are responding to the outbreak which has now been detected in more than 100 countries internationally, including in the United States. On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” Less than two months later WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

BY THE NUMBERS

In the United States at least 1,215 people have tested positive for coronavirus as of 10:00 AM March 13, according to the CDC, and at least 40 patients with the virus have died. The CDC updates their coronavirus page regularly at noon Mondays through Fridays. Numbers close out at 4 p.m. the day before reporting resulting in a possible lag of accurate reporting.

Other institutional and media sources are reporting a higher number of confirmed cases. As of Friday morning March 13th the New York Times (NYT) reported 1,663 cases of coronavirus in the United States confirmed by lab tests and 41 deaths, according to the New York Times database. The map below, created by the NYT, showcases the currently reported cases of coronavirus in the U.S.  

New York Times Map of reported Coronavirus Cases in the U.S.: This map was generated on 3/12/2020 at 10:00am.

According to Business Insider, more than half of US states have declared states of emergency in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, so far these 29 states include:  

Washington, Florida, California, Kentucky, New York, Maryland, Utah, Oregon, North Carolina, Colorado, Massachusetts, Indiana, New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Virginia, Delaware, Montana, Nevada, Arkansas, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Tennessee.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Most recent information confirms that COVID-19 is spreading from person to person throughout the United States. Risk of infection with COVID-19 is higher for people who are close contacts of someone known to have COVID-19 such as healthcare workers or household members. Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020 and there are now more than 1,000 cases. The following documents from the CDC provide more information on “what you need to know” (English, Simplified Chinese, Spanish), “what to do if you are sick” (English, Simplified Chinese, Spanish), and how to “stop the spread of germs” (English, Spanish).

People can help protect themselves from respiratory illness with these everyday preventive actions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.

If you are sick, you should do the following to keep from spreading respiratory illness to others:

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

FUNDING RESOURCES UPDATE

Congressional Spending Package:

Politico reported last Thursday March 6th President Trump signed the $8.3 billion emergency funding package Congress quickly cleared. The bipartisan package (H.R.6074/Public Law 116-123) provides a total of $7.7 billion in new discretionary spending and authorizes an additional $490 million in mandatory spending through a Medicare change. More than $400 million will be disbursed to states within the first 30 days of the law’s enactment with each state receiving no less than $4 million. The $8.3 billion new emergency supplemental funds encompass the following breakdown:

  • More than $3 billion for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
  • $2.2 billion in public health funding for prevention, preparedness, and response.
    • $950 million of which is to support state & local health agencies.
  • $1 billion for procurement of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, to support healthcare preparedness and Community Health Centers, and to improve medical surge capacity.
  • $61 million to facilitate the development and review of medical countermeasures, devices, therapies, and vaccines, and to help mitigate potential supply chain interruptions.
  • $1.25 billion to address the coronavirus abroad to help keep Americans safe here at home.
  • Allows for an estimated $7 billion in low-interest loans to affected small businesses, to help cushion the economic blow of this public health emergency o $300 million so the government can purchase vaccines at a fair and reasonable price.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):

On March 4th the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced upcoming action to provide initial resources to a limited number of state and local jurisdictions in support of our nation’s response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

  • Initial $25 million cooperative agreement to the states and local jurisdictions who have borne the largest burden of response and preparedness activities to date.
  • Initial $10 million cooperative agreement to state and local jurisdictions to begin implementation of coronavirus surveillance across the U.S., building on existing influenza activities and other surveillance systems.

Coronavirus Response Package:

In a Bloomberg Government report individuals affected by the novel coronavirus could receive paid leave, food assistance and unemployment insurance would be expanded, and Medicaid funding to states would be increased under H.R. 6201 introduced in the House by Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY). The measure would also provide emergency funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC, as well as the Commodity Assistance Program. The measure would require insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health programs to fully cover tests for the virus. Under the legislation funds provided would be designated as emergency requirements and wouldn’t count against the discretionary spending cap for fiscal 2020.

Stafford Act and FEMA Disaster Relief Funds:

In a new letter, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Gary Peters (MI) led 36 senate democrats in urging President Trump to immediately consider a national disaster declaration  that would allow FEMA to utilize $40+ billion disaster relief funds to aid state and local governments  responding to the coronavirus outbreak. In the letter, the Senators note that were a disaster declaration granted, use of the Disaster Relief Fund would allow FEMA to provide emergency protective measures to the state at a 75% federal to 25% state cost share for a wide range of eligible expenses and activities.

As more information comes out about the coronavirus outbreak, we will provide updates on a NARC webpage that is currently being developed as this is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and the CDC is providing updated information and guidance as it becomes available.

All information and resources provided in this blog should be paired with the frequent updates provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Executive Office of the President of the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), among others.

Highlights From the EPA America Recycles Summit and Innovation Fair 2019

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held its second annual America Recycles Summit and inaugural Innovation Fair to highlight national efforts being taken to address major challenges facing the U.S. recycling system. The two-day event brought together industry heads, nonprofit organizations, local and regional leadership, and the federal government to network; show off their latest recycling projects, programs, and technology; and collectively commit to work towards the implementation of the EPA’s 2019 National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System.

This framework, officially released on America Recycles Day (November 15), details the work of four working groups created to address critical areas for action: promoting education and outreach, enhancing materials management infrastructure, strengthening secondary materials markets, and enhancing measurement. The framework document summarizes the activities and accomplishments of the workgroups in 2019 and lays out a path forward for the new year. Recommended 2020 workgroup actions under consideration include:

  • Develop and make available a set of common recycling messages and national public relations campaign to lay the foundation for this common messaging.
  • Conduct and compile research on successful infrastructure investments and continue to support programs like the “Materials Recovery for the Future” pilot project.
  • Explore economic models to create robust and sustainable domestic secondary markets and articulate a better business case for using recycled materials.
  • Develop a central compilation of data and metrics used to measure recycling or components of the recycling system.

These critical considerations were echoed in the America Recycles Summit, where speakers discussed how we can chart a path forwards towards a more resilient U.S. recycling system. Below are themes and takeaways from the event:

Education: A large portion of the event was devoted to the importance of using education as a strategy to address the nation’s recycling challenges. Helen Lowman, CEO and President of Keep America Beautiful, stressed the importance that consistent, ongoing messaging has on the public. Recycling dialogue needs to provide a positive image about the current state of recycling and explain why it is important to continue recycling.

Partnerships: The broad range of participants in the room demonstrated that no one entity is to blame for U.S. recycling shortfalls, nor can anyone solve this problem alone. No one solution exists to fix the American recycling system. It will require a collaborative effort, relying on partnerships built between the private sector, non-profit organizations, governing bodies at all levels, and the general public to carry the momentum forward.

Innovation: There was a general consensus that Americans want to recycle, yet so many communities do not have access to recycling centers or have systems in place to handle the management of recycled materials. This is especially the case for rural, remote, and hard-to-reach communities. Innovation needs to happen to improve the recycling infrastructure in all communities, whether that community is a coastal city or a rural, heartland town.

How can your organization can get involved with EPA’s recycling efforts? An action you can take today is to sign the America Recycles Pledge, an initiative resulting from the EPA’s first recycling summit. All U.S. based organizations can join NARC in signing the pledge, signifying that you are willing to commit to work towards a more resilient materials economy and build on existing efforts addressing the challenges facing the nation’s current recycling system.

What Regions Can Do to Protect Themselves from Cyber-Attacks

The National League of Cities (NLC) in partnership with the Public Technology Institute (PTI) has recently released a new guide: Protecting Our Cities: What Cities Should Know About Cybersecurity during cybersecurity month in October. This document was designed to help communities, regions, and local officials better prepare for cyber-attacks before they happen.

Despite popular belief, ransomware is not a new concept. The first ransomware attack happened 30 years ago involving floppy disks and mailed checks. Although technology has drastically changed, the intent to steal data and instill fear while costing taxpayers millions is the same. During a ransomware attack, a hacker will block access to a computer system or data and hold access hostage until the victim pays a fee or ransom. If the victim does not pay the fee, the hacker could destroy important data forever. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) both recommend that no entity should comply with ransomware demands in order to stop the cycle of attacks as many victims who pay a ransom are vulnerable to repeat attacks.

Recent increases in cyber-attacks and ransomware campaigns can be linked to the rise of hard-to-track payment methods like bitcoin. Many consider the 2013 CryptoLocker malware incident with the Swansea Police Department in Massachusetts as the first modern day ransomware attack. Since then, there have been thousands of reported cyber and ransomware attacks. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), there were more than 31,000 cyberwarfare incidents against federal agencies in 2018.

Cities and regions not only risk losing sensitive data in the event of an attack but also may face costs associated with returning their software to normal and loss of public trust. The cost for Atlanta to recover from its ransomware attack was estimated at $17 million. Similarly, the recent Baltimore ransomware attack was predicted to cost over $18 million. And it is not just big cities that are at risk. Lake City, Florida and Riviera Beach, Florida paid ransoms of $485,000 and $600,000 in bitcoin respectively to unfreeze their systems. Twenty-three Texas municipalities were affected by a ransomware attack this past summer caused by failure to take proper cybersecurity precautions. 

So what can you do to help prevent cybersecurity attacks before they happen, or to mitigate the risk in the case that they do occur?

General Recommendations for Local and Regional Leaders

The combined NLC and PTI guidebook, along with other national tools can help cities, regions, and local officials protect themselves against cybercrime.

Below are ten strategies and recommendations from the NLC guidebook for local leaders to strengthen their cybersecurity efforts:

  1. Identify one individual to be responsible for cybersecurity programs in that jurisdiction
  2. Make digital hygiene an institutional priority
  3. Educate the local workforce, elected leaders, and residents about cybersecurity
  4. Conduct an analysis of local government vulnerabilities
  5. Ensure your data is properly backed up
  6. Implement multi-factor authentication
  7. Create policies or plans to manage potential attacks
  8. Ensure public communication is part of your attack response plan
  9. Consider converting to a dot gov (.gov) domain
  10. Work with education partners to create a cybersecurity talent pool

Cybersecurity Strategic Planning

According to a survey of local government IT executives conducted by the Public Technology Institute, 75 percent of governments surveyed have a cybersecurity plan. However, only 43 percent of respondents felt their communities elected officials make cyber security an adequate budgetary priority. After the recent 23-municipality Texas attack, the state Chief Information Officer attributed their cyber incident response plan to the state’s ability to swiftly contain the damage of the attack.

The Department of Homeland Security’s new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has also developed a National Cyber Incident Response Plan (NCIRP) to help localities develop their own plans. CISA also hosts webinars sessions to continue outreach efforts to stress the importance of local governments remaining proactive to prevent a cybersecurity breach.

Cybersecurity Insurance

Many government agencies and private companies recommend against paying ransomware, which leaves localities footing the bill. After the event of a cyber-attack, system restorations can become very expensive. Insurance can help mitigate some of these costs. Cybersecurity Insurance has been available for 15 years and is now becoming more widely available as the number of attacks has increased. Coverage is designed to mitigate losses from a variety of cyber incidents including data breaches, business interruption, and network damage.

Cybersecurity Avoidance

In the fight against cybercrime, it is also important for regions and localities to focus on ransomware avoidance. PTI identifies four key ways ransomware can cause damage to a system:

  • Exploitation of a software vulnerability
  • Employees opening malicious email attachments
  • Employees visiting hyperlinks (phishing exploits) sent in spam emails
  • Employees simply landing on contaminated websites

Making sure your employees are aware of the red flags associated phishing emails or fake websites can go a long way in keeping your data secure. Whether you are an intern, executive director, elected official serving on a board of directors, or anywhere in between, people on all levels of a regional council are responsible for the safety and security of critical data. As the digitalization of services and local management of sensitive material increases, cybersecurity efforts will only become more important.

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.

Broadband Resources for a 21st Century Nation

In 2019, having access to the internet is no longer an option. Job applications, student homework, ecommerce, small business billing, and even conversations with friends and family require access to basic internet. Unfortunately, millions of Americans still lack sufficient internet access.

Census data from 2017 indicate that 19 million households do not have a mobile or in-home internet subscription, with 16 million of those simply not having any internet access. Broadband connectivity is an issue in both urban and rural centers; however, the challenge is greatest in rural areas. According to the FCC, over 31 percent of rural Americans do not have access to broadband at home compared to four percent of urban Americans.

Despite concerningly limited national broadband coverage, municipalities, counties, and regions are making progress and overcoming barriers to implementation. Some of the many challenges of broadband deployment facing local officials include ensuring stakeholder buy-in, locating funding, and choosing the correct technology to deploy.

Regional councils have an important role to play in the strategy, development, and deployment of broadband infrastructure. No single connectivity model works for every community, but with the aid of some of the tools below, local and regional leaders continue to connect communities through broadband:

Pew Research: State Broadband Policy Explorer

The Pew Research Center has a state broadband policy explorer which provides states, localities, and regions with an easy tool to look up state laws regarding broadband access expansion. Included in the document are important chapters outlining policies and procedures to support investment and information on how to prioritize digital inclusion. Categories for searching within the tool include broadband programs, competition and regulation, definitions, funding and financing, and infrastructure access. The tool also allows searches by state, category, topic, or year. A 50-state map illustrates which states have adopted such laws. Each state code is broken down into relevant broadband criteria. The state broadband policy explorer includes state statutes related to broadband as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Next Century Cities: Becoming Broadband Ready

Next Century Cities has established a toolkit for communities and acts as a one-stop shop for strategies and solutions to connect residents. This resource is ideal for those in the first stages of seeking internet strategies and solutions to connect their residents. Throughout each chapter, several resources are linked, successful examples are provided, and Next Century Cities provides relevant suggested reading. The toolkit acts as a checklist for planning and developing a broadband deployment strategy, helping readers consider topics such as identifying goals, exploring financing options, collaborating, and measuring success.

National League of Cities (NLC): Small Cell Wireless Technology in Cities

The National League of Cities (NLC) has produced a municipal action guide, Small Cell Wireless Technology in Cities, which provides guidance on how local and regional leaders can plan for and develop small cell wireless internet deployment. In addition to the municipal action guide, NLC has also developed a model ordinance for local leaders. As the carrying capacity of cities grows, local officials are finding new and innovative ways to provide better service, more data, and connectivity for all residents.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration: BroadbandUSA

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) managed two broadband grant programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). However, these programs are no longer funded and NTIA is no longer accepting applications for these programs. But the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiative (National Broadband Map) NTIA still offers many resources for local and regional officials, including Sustaining Broadband Networks: A toolkit for Local and Tribal Governments.

USDA Toolkit: e-Connectivity @ USDA: Broadband Resources for Rural America

This USDA toolkit presents resources that support e-Connectivity with the aim of helping customers navigate the agencies within USDA to find the opportunities that best fulfill their needs. USDA hopes to use grants and loans, partnerships, and in-person consultations to support a wide variety of projects and customers.