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.

It’s NARC Membership Week – Thanks for Being a NARC Member!

The National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) annual Membership Week begins this week!

This week is all about you, our members, because without your support and leadership, NARC would not be able to do the work we do: bringing regional councils across the country together and advocating for regional solutions in Washington.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to pose unprecedented challenges across the country, we are impressed by all the ways you have stepped up to move your regions forward. We at NARC remain dedicated to providing you the support and tools you need to help your organization thrive.

Over the next couple weeks, a NARC staff member will be reaching out to each member by phone to personally thank you for your ongoing support. I encourage you to let them know what you think we are doing well and what we could be doing better to serve you.

This week we will also be highlighting some of the key benefits that come along with being a part of our organization. We want to make sure you are utilizing all the advantages that come along with being a NARC member.

Check out the video below for a quick Membership Week kickoff message from NARC Executive Director Leslie Wollack. And keep an eye out this week for more videos from NARC leadership and staff, highlighting the benefits that NARC provides to its members and offering some ways that you can get more engaged with NARC.

On behalf of the entire NARC staff, Happy Membership Week! We look forward to talking with you and hope to see many of you at our upcoming Virtual Executive Directors Conference the week of October 5th. 

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.

NARC HEALS Act Summary

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor last week to introduce the HEALS Act, the Senate Republicans’ plan for a coronavirus relief package that would follow up the CARES Act passed earlier this year. “Our nation stands now at an important crossroads in this battle,” McConnell said. “We have one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery. The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive. And they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads.”

The HEALS Act, an acronym that stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools, would extend and modify several CARES Act provisions as well as provide new support for areas of critical need. The plan comes with a price tag around $1 trillion, noticeably smaller than the $3 trillion HEROES Act proposal passed by the House back in May.

Structurally, the plan is a composite of several different pieces of legislation, each targeting a different priority area, including unemployment benefits, liability protection, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) continuation, funding for schools, and the development of “Rescue Committees,” among others. Below are links to the text of the individual bills that make up the HEALS Act plan:

The HEALS Act notably does not provide additional aid for state and local governments. However, it would provide some flexibility for previously allocated CARES Act dollars, allowing these funds to be spent past the original December 30, 2020 deadline and expanding allowable uses of relief payments to include lost revenue.

NARC will continue to advocate for regional priorities in upcoming coronavirus legislation. Most recently, NARC joined with local partners at the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) and the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) on a letter urging congressional leaders to include local transportation funding needs in upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation. The full letter can be read here.

Below is a bill-by-bill summary highlighting the most significant items in each piece of the HEALS Act plan:

The American Workers, Families, And Employers Assistance Act

Key items: Unemployment extension, stimulus checks, and state and local funding flexibility

This bill, sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would extend the current unemployment supplement provided by the CARES Act but at a lower benefit level. The bill would reduce the previous $600-per-week supplement down to $200 per week while states work on implementing a new supplement system that would be calculated to provide workers with no more than 70% of their previous wages.

The bill would also provide another round of stimulus checks in a manner like those distributed following the CARES Act. Those with incomes under $75,000 per year would receive a $1,200 direct payment and couples making less than $150,000 per year would receive a $2,400 payment. Additionally, those with dependents would receive $500 for each dependent regardless of that dependent’s age. Payments for those with higher incomes would be reduced, with payments phasing out for those making more than $99,000 as individuals and $198,000 as couples. Phaseouts would be set higher for those with dependents.

The bill would also provide some flexibility for state and local governments to spend previously allocated funds provided through the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) in the CARES Act. The HEALS Act does not provide additional aid for state and local governments.The provisions for increased flexibility of CRF funds include extending the date for these funds to be spent from December 30, 2020 to 90 days after the last day of the governments’ fiscal year 2021 as well as expanding allowable uses of relief payments to include lost revenue (up to 25% of their CRF allocation.)

For more information, check out the full text of the bill as well as the section-by-section summary.

The Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required To Kickstart The Economy Act (SAFE TO WORK Act)

Key item: Liability protections

This bill, led by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), would provide businesses, schools, and healthcare providers that follow certain guidelines with a five-year liability shield against lawsuits regarding coronavirus. Republicans have indicated that they view liability protections as a critical inclusion in the next aid package while Democrats have voiced opposition on the grounds that this type of measure prioritizes protection for employers and corporations.

For more information, check out the bill text.

Continuing Small Business Recovery and Paycheck Protection Program Act

Key item: PPP continuation

Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced the Continuing Small Business Recovery and Paycheck Protection Program Act, which would permit some small businesses to receive another round of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans. The bill would streamline the forgiveness process and would create a $60 billion working capital fund for the hardest hit businesses.

For more information, check out the bill’s full text and its section-by-section summary.

Safely Back to School and Back to Work Act 

Key item: Funding for schools and childcare

This bill from Senate Health and Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) would offer relief for some student loan borrowers (although it would not provide an extension for the student loan deferral provided by the CARES Act). Senator Alexander’s proposal also provides additional funding for schools and childcare providers including $105 billion for schools, $15 billion for childcare, $16 billion for testing, and $40 billion for vaccines and other health research. A section-by-section summary of the proposal can be found here.

Time to Rescue United States’ Trusts (TRUST) Act

Key item: Creation of Rescue Committees

This part of the HEALS Act comes from a bill that was initially proposed in 2019 by Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) and is now being resurrected with some minor changes. The legislation would create “Rescue Committees” to research changes needed to ensure the solvency of government trust funds with outlays greater than $20 billion, including those for highways, Medicare hospital insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance.

A note on the Highway Trust Fund: Since the Highway Trust Fund has more than $20 billion in outlays it would be a recipient of a “rescue committee.” The bipartisan committee would be comprised of 12 members of the House and Senate and would work to create a strategy and accompanying legislation to put the trust fund on a path to solvency by June 1, 2021.

A one pager of the legislation is available here, text of the legislation is available here, and a section-by-section of the legislation is available here.

The Coronavirus Response Additional Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020

Key item: Funding for a range of health and economic aid programs

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) sponsored this $306 billion spending proposal that would allocate funds for a variety of federal agencies and programs. There is some overlap between this funding proposal and some of the other elements of the HEALS Act plan, such as the $105 billion in funding for elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education.

Below are some of the largest funding recipients as well as other items of note for regions:

  • $105 billion for elementary, secondary and post-secondary education
  • $16 billion for COVID-19 testing
  • $25 billion for hospitals
  • $15 billion for childcare, including $5 billion through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and $10 billion in a new flexible grant program
  • $10 billion for airports
  • $1.5 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is administered by county governments in 13 states
  • $2.2 billion for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (Section 8 vouchers)

The Restoring Critical Supply Chains and Intellectual Property Act

Key item: Support for domestic PPP production

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced this proposal, which aims to move personal protection equipment (PPE) production to the United States from China using a $7.5 billion tax credit.

For more information read the full text of the bill.

Supporting America’s Restaurant Workers Act

Key item: Business meal tax deduction increase

This bill proposed by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) would increase the tax deduction for business meals from 50% to 100%.

The bill’s full text can be found here.

Further Reading

For more reading on HEALS Act provisions regarding local government, check out the following resources from NARC and other local government partners:

Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Update

Congress has managed to hold to a two-year reauthorization schedule for the last three Water Resource Development Acts (2014, 2016, and 2018) and it looks like they are on track to increase that streak to four this year. This past Wednesday, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously to move H.R. 7575 The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA 2020) out of committee. The bill is now headed to the House floor.

WRDA bills provide authority for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to conduct projects and studies. They have historically included (or been packaged with bills including) other water-related provisions such as drinking water programs and water infrastructure funding mechanisms.

This year’s House WRDA bill would provide around $8.6 billion in funding for 34 USACE projects. This is notably more than five times as many projects as were approved by WRDA 2018. The bill would authorize 35 new USACE studies and calls for 41 ongoing studies to be expedited. In addition to project authorizations, the bill includes three other significant provisions shared more in detail below:

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund “Unlocked”

The House bill would “unlock” $10 billion in funds held in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), allowing that money to be spent on dredging and port projects. This has been a longtime aim of Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR). HMTF funds were partially unlocked earlier this year in the CARES Act, but annual expenditures from the fund were capped at the amount of the previous year’s HMTF revenue. WRDA 2020 would expand on this by allowing access to additional funds from the existing HMTF balance.

Inland Waterways Trust Fund Cost Share Reduced

WRDA 2020 would reduce the share drawn from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to 35% from the current 50% for lock and dam projects on rivers. This would increase the Treasury’s general fund cost share for these projects from 50% to 65%. Theoretically this reduction of trust fund spending will allow trust fund dollars to fund more projects. This change notably is not permanent and would apply only to projects beginning before the end of 2027.

An Increasing Focus on Resilience and Environmental Justice

This year’s WRDA is crafted with an increasing focus on disaster resilience and consideration of communities impacted by flooding and other water-related dangers. Of the 34 projects approved for USACE work, seven are for flood management and two others are for flood reduction with ecosystem restoration components. The bill also reaffirms a commitment to using natural and nature-based solutions and authorizing projects and studies for communities facing repetitive flooding events. The bill also includes PFAS provisions, increases minority community and tribal input on projects, and aims to address affordability issues for disadvantaged communities.

What’s Happening in the Senate?

The Senate’s 2020 WRDA proposal has been voted through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee but has not yet received a floor vote. The Senate’s proposal comprises two bills: one for USACE entitled America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2020, and another for drinking-water authorizations and provisions called the Drinking Water Act of 2020. The Senate proposal, like the House bill, was developed using a bipartisan approach and has broad support on both sides of the aisle.

What’s Next for WRDA?

With bipartisan proposals already out of committee in the House and Senate and plenty of pressure to stick to the two-year authorization cycle, the outlook looks bright for WRDA 2020. As broader infrastructure packages like the Moving Forward Act remain mired in partisan debate, WRDA presents an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground on infrastructure investment. Expect to hear more on WRDA once Congress returns from their August recess.

For further reading, check out the House bill text, fact sheet, and section-by-section summary; the Senate AWIA text, fact sheet, and section-by-section summary; and the Senate Drinking Water Act text and section-by-section summary.

Summer Federal Appropriations Update

As we approach the dog days of summer, the federal appropriations process is finally heating up. This follows several months of being on hold as Congress tried to address the growing coronavirus pandemic, the staggering drop in unemployment, and cries for action regarding racial injustice and police brutality.

With Election Day less than four months away, several critical questions remain. Will Congress finish its consideration of all twelve appropriations bills before the September 30th fiscal year (FY) 2021 deadline? What are the chances of a continuing resolution and what length will it be? And what impact will the election results have on how the appropriation process plays out? We will consider these questions and more below.

What is happening in the House?

After months on hold because of the focus on coronavirus and police reform packages, the House is now pushing through their appropriations markups at lightning speed. The full Committee passed their FY 2021 302(b) subcommittee allocations last week along with five appropriations bills: Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA, Legislative Branch, and State-Foreign Operations. The Committee wrapped up their consideration and approval of the remaining seven bills this week: Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Energy-Water Development, Financial Services-General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, Transportation-HUD.

Initial reports are saying that Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA, and State-Foreign Operations bills will be combined into a minibus package and considered on the floor late next week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that he wants the House to approve all twelve bills on the floor by the end of July. However, the Homeland Security bill might be held back because of concerns from progressive Democrats about funding levels for customs and border protection and immigrations and customs enforcement.

It is worth noting that these bills will probably be passed mostly or entirely along party lines. Since the Senate must reach a 60-vote threshold to end debate on appropriations bills, whereas the House only needs a majority vote, the Senate has to forge bills that are more bipartisan. This means that these more partisan House bills are likely to sit and not be taken up by the upper chamber for serious consideration.

What is happening in the Senate?

Unlike in the House, crickets can be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Committee has held just two hearings since March, and both were on issues unrelated to the FY 2021 appropriations process.

It was reported several weeks ago that partisan disagreements on police reform and COVID-19 spending is to blame for the delay of Senate appropriation bill markups. Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), noting that offering amendments was a key concern for Democrats, said “There is bipartisan agreement that we need to address the COVID-19 pandemic. And if we want to truly address the issues of racial injustice that George Floyd’s tragic death has brought to the surface… we need to appropriate money for programs that advance these issues.” Committee Republicans, led by Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), felt that these issues should be addressed outside of the appropriations process.

Markup notices for their appropriations bills were reportedly postponed due to these disagreements. While it is very likely that most of their bills are already drafted, we probably will not see any markups until the Committee leadership can agree to move forward in a bipartisan way.

What is going to happen next?

There is one thing that is all but guaranteed: there will be a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government open past the September 30th deadline. Between the upcoming August recess and the desire of members to be home to campaign for competitive races, there are not a lot of congressional workdays left on the calendar.

This continuing resolution will likely be a short-term, stopgap solution just to get Congress through the FY 2021 deadline and election season. Although a specific date is hard to determine, it would likely extend current federal funding levels to at least early to mid-December.

The election outcome is also likely to influence how the federal appropriations wraps up. History tells us that during an election year, lawmakers are likely to hold an average of seven appropriations bills over until the next calendar year. They say to the victor goes the spoils – as well as the incentive to shape the final bills once the winning party takes control. If the Democrats win the presidency and/or the Senate, we can certainly expect them to punt the bills into 2021 when they will have more influence over the process.  

Stay tuned to eRegions, Transportation Thursdays and the Regions Lead blog for the latest federal appropriations updates.

The Affordable Care Act Is More Important Now Than Ever

There is clear evidence that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is making a tremendous difference in the lives of tens of millions of Americans who are unemployed and in need of accessible quality health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March the number of unemployed individuals rose sharply from 5.7 million to 23.1 million[1] and 17.1 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits[2] as state and local officials ordered bars and restaurants, offices, manufacturing plants, schools, gyms, and other public and private facilities to shut down in the wake of the sudden spread of the novel coronavirus. 

By May 2, more than 33 million people had filed for unemployment insurance.[3]  Of those, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) estimated that as many as 27 million unemployed workers had lost their health insurance.[4]  For many of those individuals, the only accessible or affordable health insurance was available through two federal programs: Medicaid (including Medicaid Expansion) and the ACA’s insurance marketplaces. 

According to KFF, more than 21 million, or 77 percent of all Americans who were laid off, were eligible for either Medicaid (12.7 million) or an ACA insurance plan (8.4 million). Without these programs, millions of Americans would have had no way of paying for or accessing quality healthcare.

Unfortunately, six million Americans are not able to access either no cost or low-cost health insurance, and there appears to be no easy fix. This gap was created by states that chose not to take advantage of the ACA’s Medicaid Expansion program, even though their share of the cost would be low. Under Medicare Expansion the federal government paid 100 percent of the cost of coverage from 2014 to 2016, 95 percent in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, and 90 percent in 2020 and every year thereafter.[5]

The Medicaid Expansion was designed to fill the gap between regular Medicaid and ACA marketplace insurance programs. This ongoing gap in coverage — especially for lower income individuals and their households — required a fix, according to Democrats. In late June the House of Representatives adopted H.R. 1425, the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act of 2020,” to help address this issue. 

If H.R. 1425 were to become law, it would address the Medicaid/ACA gap in coverage by making subsidized or free health insurance and care available to those who currently cannot obtain coverage through Medicaid, Medicaid Expansion, or the ACA marketplaces. However, the chances of that happening are next to nil. 

Republicans opposed the bill as another tax and spend effort by Democrats. Senate Republican leadership has indicated that they will not allow the bill to come to the Senate floor, while the White House issued a veto threat should the bill reach the president’s desk. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, called the bill “misguided” and argued that it would “contribute to already skyrocketing healthcare costs, and double down on the many failures of the Affordable Care Act or ACA.”[6]

At the same time, the administration has asked the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA as unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court agrees with the administration, the 28 million Americans who are covered by Medicare, Medicare Expansion, and the ACA would lose their benefits.

Without the ACA, 28 million Americans would have to rely on emergency rooms and other urgent healthcare facilities that are extremely expensive and are generally not able to address their individual, long-term healthcare needs. States and counties, generally the healthcare providers of last resort, would be saddled with the cost of healthcare for these 28 million Americans, placing further financial burdens state and local budgets that are already stretched thin due to the pandemic. Additionally, the loss of these health insurance programs would have the most negative impact Black and Latinx communities. It would substantially increase the healthcare disparities that already exist between people of color and their white counterparts. It would also contribute directly to the disproportionate number of coronavirus cases and deaths among people of color because of their more limited access to healthcare options. 

Without the Affordable Care Act and its related programs, including Medicaid Expansion and health insurance through marketplaces, tens of millions of Americans would be without access to affordable insurance and quality healthcare. The failure to maintain or expand the ACA could have very negative consequences for all our communities.


[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, February through July, 2020.

[2] Washington Post, U.S. now has 22 million unemployed, wiping out a decade of job gains, April 16, 2020.

[3] ABC News, 3.2 million more people file for unemployment, bringing coronavirus crisis total to over 33 million, May 7, 2020.

[4] Kaiser Family Foundation, Eligibility for ACA Health Coverage Following Job Losses, May 19, 2020.

[5] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Medicaid Expansion Continues to Benefit State Budgets, Contrary to Critics’ Claims, October 9, 2018.

[6] Committee on Education and Labor Republicans, Press Release:  “Foxx Opposes Democrats’ Socialist Health Care Scheme,” June 29, 2020.

House Releases Transportation Reauthorization Proposal

Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Peter DeFazio (D-OR) released a transportation reauthorization proposal today called Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (INVEST in America Act). This is an 853-page bill, so it will take some time to go through in detail. NARC will prepare a detailed analysis of the bill as it relates to MPOs, RPOs, and RTPOs, and get it out to members as soon as possible.

Committee Resources


A Very Quick Overview
In the meantime, a few things that we know:

  • This is a 5-year, $494 billion bill ($319B for highways, $105B for transit, $60B for rail, $10B for passenger and commercial vehicle safety)
  • The first year of the bill is an extension of FAST Act policy, with additional funding and flexibility to use the funds for a broader array of activities and at 100% federal share.
  • Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP) suballocation is not increased and remains at 55%. Areas with population 50,000-199,999 would have greater say in how STBGP funds are spent.
  • The bill intends to provide significant funding for local priorities through two new grant programs, one focused on community transportation priorities and the other on carbon reduction grants. This is in addition to a carbon apportionment program that would be state-directed.
  • The bill also creates a program to provide funding for high performing MPOs on a pilot basis; qualifying MPOs could be of any size and would have to demonstrate previous good stewardship of federal funds. The organizations chosen to participate would receive funds directly to spend on local priority projects.
  • Transportation Alternatives (TAP) is increased significantly and would be funded at 10% of STBGP. Suballocation of TAP would increase from 50% to 66%.
  • Planning funding (PL) is significantly increased, with additional responsibilities for MPOs on greenhouse gas emissions and accessibility issues.
  • The existing INFRA program is restructured to include transit, passenger rail, and freight rail and is more like a Projects of National and Regional Significance program.
  • Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funding also increases significantly and additional requirements are placed upon states that have higher rates of cyclist and pedestrian deaths and injuries.

Questions? Contact Erich Zimmermann at erich@narc.org
202.618.5697

NARC’s Heroes Act Summary

This past Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (Heroes Act). The 1,815-page legislation would provide a $3 trillion follow-up to the $2.2 trillion CARES Act aid passed into law in March.

The HEROES Act, developed by House Democrats, includes a variety of Democratic priority items and passed the House with only one Republican vote. While the bill has little chance at passage in the Republican-controlled Senate and has already drawn a veto threat from the White House, it creates a foundation for coronavirus-aid negotiations to move forward.

Particularly significant for regions is the focus that the bill puts on state and local funding, which was an advocacy priority for NARC and other local partners. The bill would provide $915 billion for state, local, tribal, and territorial funding, with $375 billion of that funding going to local governments.

The bill also includes a variety of other provisions including $435 billion for another round of direct payments to households and $100 billion to provide emergency assistance for low-income renters at risk of eviction.

Continue reading below for a further breakdown of the bill’s contents, with a focus on key items for regions including transportation and economic development provisions:

Local & State Budgetary Relief

SALT Deduction – Eliminates the limitation on the deduction for state and local taxes for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2020 and on or before December 31, 2021.

Local Fiscal Relief – $375 billion in funding to assist local governments with the fiscal impacts from the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus.

Tribal Fiscal Relief – $20 billion in funding to assist Tribal governments with the fiscal impacts from the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus.

CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund Repayment to DC – Provides an additional $755 million for the District of Columbia to assist with the fiscal impacts from the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus.

State Fiscal Relief – $500 billion in funding to assist state governments with the fiscal impacts from the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus.

Elections – $3.6 billion for grants to States for contingency planning, preparation, and resilience of elections for Federal office.

Transportation

  • Federal Highway Administration: $15 billion for Federal Highway Administration programs ($14.775B for States and District of Columbia, $150M for Tribal Transportation Program, $60M for Puerto Rico Highway Program, $15M for Territorial Highway Program) apportioned in the same ratio as under fiscal year 2020 appropriations legislation
    • Suballocation: A portion of funds to states are further suballocated to areas with population greater than 200,000 in the same ratio that funds were suballocated to these areas in fiscal year 2020 approprations
    • Eligible Uses: All funds (for States and the suballocated portion) can be used for:
      • Activities allowed under the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program;
      • administrative and operations expenses;
      • information technology needs; and
      • availability payments.
    • 100 Percent Federal Share: Funds obligated under this act and any funds subject to obligations limitations in the FY2020 transportation appropriations that are obligated after the date of passage of this legislation are eligible for a federal share of costs up to 100 percent.
  • Federal Transit Administration: $15.75 billion for Public Transportation Emergency Relief ($11.75B for grants to urbanized areas with population over 3M; $4.0B for grants to transit agencies that require significant additional assistance due to coronavirus)

Economic and Community Development

Community Development Block Grant –$5 billion for coronavirus response and to mitigate the impacts in our communities to be distributed by formula to current grantees.

Homeless Assistance Grants – $11.5 billion for Emergency Solutions Grants to address the impact of coronavirus among individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and to support additional homeless assistance, prevention, and diversion activities to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.

Emergency Rental Assistance – $100 billion to provide emergency assistance to help low income renters at risk of homelessness avoid eviction due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Housing for the Elderly – $500 million to maintain operations at properties providing affordable housing for low income seniors and to ensure housing providers can take the necessary actions to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic. To ensure access to supportive services for this vulnerable population, this includes $300 million for service coordinators and the continuation of existing congregate service grants for residents of assisted housing projects.

Housing for Persons with Disabilities – $200 million to maintain operations at properties providing affordable housing for low income persons with disabilities, and to ensure housing providers can take the necessary actions to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Census Bureau, Periodic Censuses, and Programs – $400 million for expenses due to delays in the 2020 Decennial Census in response to the coronavirus.

Census Bureau, Current Surveys, and Programs – $10 million for expenses incurred as a result of the coronavirus.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – Provides $10 billion to support anticipated increases in participation and to cover program cost increases related to flexibilities provided to SNAP by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Broadband – $1.5 billion to close the homework gap by providing funding for WiFi hotspots and connected devices for students and library patrons, and $4 billion for emergency home connectivity needs.

Assisting Small Businesses – $10 billion in grants to small businesses that have suffered financial losses as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Indian Health Service – $2.1 billion to address health care needs related to coronavirus for Native Americans.

Department of Labor – $3.1 billion to support workforce training and worker protection activities related to coronavirus, including:

  • $2 billion to support worker training;
  • $25 million for migrant and seasonal farmworkers, including emergency supportive services;
  • $925 million to assist States in processing unemployment insurance claims;
  • $15 million for the federal administration of unemployment insurance activities;
  • $100 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for workplace protection and enforcement activities in response to coronavirus, including $25 million for Susan Harwood training grants that protect and educate workers;
  • $6.5 million for the Wage and Hour Division to support enforcement and outreach activities for paid leave benefits; and
  • $5 million for the Office of the Inspector General.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – $2.1 billion to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus, including:

  • $2 billion for State, local, Territorial, and Tribal Public Health Departments; and
  • $130 million for public health data surveillance and analytics infrastructure modernization.

Administration for Children and Families – $10.1 billion to provide supportive and social services for families and children through programs including:

  • $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants;
  • $1.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
  • $1.5 billion to support paying water bills for low income families$50 million for Family Violence Prevention and Services;
  • $20 million for Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) State Grants; and
  • $20 million for Community Based Child Abuse Prevention Grants.

Administration for Community Living – $100 million to provide direct services such as home delivered and prepackaged meals, and supportive services for seniors and disabled individuals, and their caregivers.

Economic Development Administration:

  • Application of Law: Temporarily waives prohibition on using federal funds to pay for consultants or counsel to allow EDA grantees to pay consultants to help develop grant applications for funds under the CARES Act.
  • Federal Share: Temporarily waives matching fund requirements due to plummeting local government revenues for grants funded under the FY 19 disaster supplemental, CARES Act supplemental funding, and FY 20 appropriations.
  • Disaster Recovery Office: Grants EDA disaster hiring authority, which it currently does not have, and defederalizes the EDA revolving loan funds, which are vital lifelines to small, family owned businesses.

Additional Recovery Rebates to Individuals & Families

Provides a $1,200 refundable tax credit for each family member that shall be paid out in advance payments, similar to the Economic Impact Payments in the CARES Act. The credit is $1,200 for a single taxpayer ($2,400 for joint filers), in addition to $1,200 per dependent up to a maximum of 3 dependents. The credit phases out starting at $75,000 of modified adjusted gross income ($112,500 for head of household filers and $150,000 for joint filers) at a rate of $5 per $100 of income.

FURTHER READING

For more information on the CARES Act check out these other resources: