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.

Friendly Regional Competition: SEMCOG and MORPC Compete on Census Response Levels

The countdown for the 2020 Census is now reaching single digits as households begin receiving census packets in less than a week. With the clock ticking down, regional councils are making their final outreach pushes to ensure that as many residents as possible in their regions are counted. The stakes are high for the census, as each resident that is counted has a significant impact on the amount of federal dollars that their community will receive over the next ten years.

Two regional councils, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) have entered a friendly competition to see which region can receive the highest percentage of Census responses. “At SEMCOG, we’re making a successful census for Southeast Michigan fun. I’ve challenged our mid-Ohio peers – those Buckeyes from the Columbus region at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission – to see which region gets the highest percentage of responses. I issued this challenge the day after last year’s Michigan-Ohio State football game, and we really need to win this one.” said SEMCOG Executive Director, Kathleen Lomako, in a blog post on the competition.

To support a strong census response, SEMCOG has developed a Hard-to-Count Populations map and a media toolkit with materials in English, Spanish, and Arabic that can be used by the local governments in the Southeast Michigan region. The media toolkit includes a “Southeast Michigan Counts!” video which was produced by SEMCOG staff:

MORPC has also been active, chairing the government subcommittee and providing staff for other subcommittees in the Columbus and Franklin County Complete Count Committee. “MORPC has a unique role, because we have the ability to extend the work of the Columbus/Franklin County Complete Count Committee to the rest of Central Ohio,” said Aaron Schill, MORPC Director of Data & Mapping in a MORPC census post. This way we can help get every person in every corner of Central Ohio counted, including traditionally hard-to-count populations like ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, children, and renters.”

Staff and board members of SEMCOG and MORPC pose with an Ohio State / Michigan Census banner.

Staff and board members of SEMCOG and MORPC posed for a picture at NARC’s National Conference of Regions in February. As the census gets underway, we will be looking forward to hearing the results of the competition. Regardless of who comes out on top, both regions are set to benefit from the energetic and creative effort that their regional councils are making to ensure that their communities are counted!

A Brief Update on SALT Deduction Cap Legislation

Just before leaving for their holiday recess, the House passed legislation that would suspend the $10,000 cap for state and local (SALT) tax deductions imposed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017. The legislation, the Restoring Tax Fairness for States and Localities Act (HR 5377) would increase the cap for married, joint-filers to $20,000 for their 2019 taxes and eliminate the deduction cap entirely for 2020 and 2021.

The SALT deduction allows taxpayers to deduct the amount of state and local taxes that they have paid from their federal taxes. This allowance supports state and local authority to impose the taxes necessary to provide public services, following the longstanding U.S. system of fiscal federalism. The existing cap opens taxpayers to being taxed twice on the same income: once by states and localities and then again by the federal government.

Since removal of the deduction cap would result in reduced federal tax revenue, the House bill includes an increase to the top marginal income tax rate from 37% to 39.6%. The legislation would also reduce the dollar amount at which the increased tax rate begins. According to a Tax Foundation analysis, removing the SALT cap would reduce federal tax revenue by about $177 billion, and increasing the top individual income tax rate to 39.6 percent and widening the top bracket would raise about $162 billion. This would result in a net tax cut over 10 years, reducing federal revenue by $18.8 billion.

While this legislation has passed the House, a corresponding bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate. The tax rate increases and anticipated loss of federal tax revenue of HR 5377 are likely to create challenges to passage in the upper chamber. Additionally, the current impeachment situation can be expected to be a further impede all upcoming Senate legislative action, including a potential SALT deduction bill.

NARC will continue to follow SALT deduction legislation and will work to support solutions like HR 5377 that support local government efforts to raise the funds they need to provide public services to their communities.

Four Ways Regions Can Help Prepare for the Upcoming Census

Now that 2020 is nearly upon us, the U.S. Census Bureau has entered a critical stage of planning for the decennial census. The agency has been busy trying to hire nearly half a million temporary workers to help carry out the national headcount. A national 2020 census advertising campaign is expected to kick off in January. And census materials are continuing to be prepared and finalized to send via mail or hand-delivery to American households.

How can you help the Census Bureau prepare your region for the upcoming 2020 census? Please see the action items below:

Urge Congress to Provide Direct, Full-Year Funding for the 2020 Census

Congress is still working to finalize and pass the fiscal year (FY) 2020 federal appropriations bills. They are currently operating under the second continuing resolution (CR) of this new fiscal year, which provides funding to federal agencies through December 20, 2019. This most recent CR provided the Census Bureau a temporary spending rate of at least $6.7 billion for 2020 census as well as at least $90 million to implement a mobile Question Assistance Center program.

Although this was a much-appreciated addition to the CR, the Census Bureau needs the certainty of full-year FY 2020 appropriations now. Operating without funding certainty could force the agency to curtail or delay critical aspects of their final preparations, jeopardizing the ability of the federal government to be able to complete an accurate count. This could negatively impact the geographic distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding annually and long-term regional planning decisions for years to come.

NARC and its census advocacy partners urge you to call your members of Congress, especially if they serve on congressional appropriations committees or in House or Senate leadership positions, and ask them to fully fund 2020 census activities for the entire fiscal year in the third CR or in a final FY 2020 Commerce/Justice/Science appropriations measure — whichever comes first. Talking points developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights can be found here.

Inform and Prepare Local Elected Officials Regarding the Implementation of the Executive Order on Citizenship Data

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in July 2019 directing the Census Bureau to compile federal and, where possible, state administrative records to produce data on citizens and noncitizens. In October, the Census Bureau issued a statement asking states to voluntarily share driver’s license records as a part of these efforts. Some states, such as Maine and Illinois, have already indicated that they will not comply with the request to participate in this data sharing agreement with the Census Bureau. Several organizations have filed a legal challenge stating the action is unconstitutional.

Whether their state has indicated they will participate in this voluntary data sharing agreement, local officials should remember:

  • A citizenship question will not be on the 2020 census questionnaire.
  • All data collected by the Census Bureau (including data collected via administrative record sharing agreements) are confidential and protected under federal law. The agency is not allowed to release individual data or personal responses to anyone, for any purpose — including to other government agencies or law enforcement.
  • It is critical to remind all residents early and often to participate in the decennial census. Communities missed in the census could potentially lose out on funding, resources, and equal political representation.

Promote Census Bureau Job Recruitment

The Census Bureau is hiring in regions across the United States. The decennial census could not operate at full capacity without a large team of temporary census workers. Job opportunities include census takers, recruiting assistants, office staff, and supervisory staff. These temporary jobs are a great opportunity for your residents to earn extra income, often on a flexible working schedule, while helping ensure that everyone in the region is counted.

Regional councils are encouraged to work with community leaders, businesses, and other workforce stakeholders to get the word out on these job opportunities. If your organization serves in the administrative role for your local workforce development board, make sure you are promoting this opportunity to jobseekers participating in your various workforce programs. Those interested in applying can visit the Census Bureau’s main job recruitment page to learn more.

Review Resources Regarding the Upcoming 2020 Census

Please use the following resources for reference as we near the official 2020 census kickoff. Feel free to share with your local and regional stakeholders working to help get the word out on the upcoming nationwide headcount!

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.

Back to School: Preparing the Next Generation of Regional Leaders

With new backpacks and school supplies in tow, students across the country are heading back to school. They probably are not thinking about the regional planning that went into creating the transportation system that brought them to school. Nor the interjurisdictional trails that connect the parks that they will use for soccer practice. No, they are probably more focused on where their classes are at than knowing where their community’s natural disaster emergency evacuation routes are located.

Some regional councils are trying to teach the next generation that even being as young as they are, they can significantly impact their communities. Just as Mara Mintzer highlighted in her TedxMileHigh talk, children should be included in local planning efforts. After all, they may help regional planners find a blind spot in how we construct our built environment that we adults have not considered. The decisions being made today will impact their tomorrow, so it is imperative that they know how to be a part of the long-range planning process that may influence their way of life 20, 30, or even 50 years from now.

Below are some examples of how members are educating young leaders about regional planning and are involving them in ongoing efforts across their communities.

Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) – Think Like a Planner Program

Broward MPO has held several “Think Like a Planner” workshops in high schools across the region. During these workshops, teens get an introduction to transportation planning and potential careers in the industry. After a walk around the neighborhood surrounding Broward MPO offices, the students are tasked with coming up with ways to make the area safer for all modes of transportation. They then turn these ideas into a proposal, presenting to a three-judge panel of transportation professionals and Broward MPO Board Members. The organization has seen great success with the program and is looking forward to hosting more workshops this school year.

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) – Future Leaders in Planning Program

For ten years, CMAP has organized Future Leaders in Planning (FLIP), a leadership development opportunity for high school students in Northeastern Illinois. Over the course of a week during the summer, the students learn about the issues that are shaping the Chicago region and come up with solutions for some of the challenges facing urban planners. Activities throughout the 5-day bootcamp include:

  • A scavenger hunt to find bus stops, LEED-certified buildings, and public art;
  • Negotiating a mock community development project;
  • Designing their own sample plan for the new Obama Foundation central plaza; and
  • Completing a final group project where they visualized the goals of CMAP’s ON TO 2050 plan across the different scales of urban planning.

Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) – Model Atlanta Regional Commission

Bringing together 10th and 11th graders from the Atlanta metro area, ARC’s Model Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC) provides experimental learning opportunities in critical issue areas such as transportation, sustainability, and community development. Participants take part in a six-month program to learn from subject-matter experts and community leaders, engaging in thoughtful conversations about challenges the region is facing. Students are taken on field trips and visits to various community partners to receive hands-on learning about the efforts of different stakeholders throughout their region. They also develop leadership, communication, and collaboration skills by creating actionable solutions to current regional issues. After participating in MARC, students have expressed a better understanding of the considerations that go into the different issue areas that ARC regional planners have to think about, as well as how their entire 10-county region is interconnected.       

How Can Regional Councils Help Increase Affordable Housing?

A March 2018 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that the U.S. has a shortfall of more than 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for low-income households. Despite government attempts bridge the gap, three out of four low income households in need of housing assistance are denied federal help with their housing, primarily due to chronic underfunding.

As housing affordability has developed into a national crisis, communities have been looking for more ways to become more actively engaged in increasing affordable housing options for low and moderate-income individuals and families. Many communities have already implemented solutions including rent control, inclusionary housing, tax incentives and trust funds, but more efforts are needed.

Housing is a regional issue and regional coordination, information sharing, and funding generation can make a large impact, particularly in metropolitan areas.

Here are a few examples of the activities and programs that regional councils are carrying out across the US to help tackle the impacts of the affordable housing crisis in their regions.

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)

MWCOG plays a variety of roles in the Washington D.C. region, working with local governments on plans for residential growth. In September 2018, MWCOG identified a long-term goal of creating 100,000 additional homes in the region by 2045. Some of their recent activities to further this goal include:

  • Partnering with Urban Institute to conduct a research study entitled Housing Security in the Washington Region. This study was influential for local government officials and the community by outlining critical gaps in the region’s affordable housing for a wide range of household incomes. It also outlines specific housing policies and programs which are funded by local governments and philanthropic support. Much of their research is also being shared to community members and government officials through forums and conferences.
  • MWCOG is targeting housing preservation alongside production. They have been working with the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington to create the Capital Area Foreclosure Network (CAFN), which was designed to combat the region’s foreclosure crisis. The network provides grants and technical assistance, while counseling and organizing stakeholders, non-profits, banks and state agencies as they work towards solutions.

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP)

In CMAP’s GO TO 2040 and ON TO 2050 long-term regional plans, they have outlined goals and steps to sustain and rebuild their region’s infrastructure. Their priorities include affordable housing and inclusionary housing to create more opportunities throughout every community. One of the specific goals of the GO TO 2040 plan is to increase housing options by lowering prices, which is being tackled by their Regional Housing Initiative (RHI). With RHI, CMAP has partnered with various groups to increase collaboration between organizations such as the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), and ten housing authorities in the region. Their objective is to support affordable and mixed-income housing developments in opportunity zone areas that they have found to be the most in need.

Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC)

ARC has taken an innovative approach toward finding solutions for affordable housing via social media. By joining Enterprise Community Partner’s 100 Great Ideas Facebook Campaign as part of the host committee and one of the event’s moderators, they were able to virtually unite residents within the Atlanta Metro Region for five days of brainstorming and exchanging ideas that could improve housing affordability. The forum was open to anyone in the region to participate and generated over 3,400 posts, comments and reactions. ARC is currently working with Enterprise Community Partners and the other local agencies involved in the campaign to synthesize ideas into a final report that can be presented to local officials for implementation.

Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG)

Being the fastest growing region in their state, GPCOG provides a wide range of planning services for affordable housing, including comprehensive planning, neighborhood master planning, ordinance development, workshop facilitation and advocacy. They act as a resource to other governing agencies as they help communities assess their needs and develop a personalized plan for the future. A recent example of this work includes the South Portland West End Neighborhood Master Plan, which looks at how South Portland’s West End neighborhood can preserve housing affordability for current and future residents as demand rises in the region.

Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC)

PVPC assists its region by helping members identify and plan ways to meet their current and future housing needs. Their team helps people create Housing Production Plans and Housing Needs Assessments and Action Plans that are compliant with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development guidelines. They are also the convener for the Pioneer Valley Regional Housing Committee, bringing together regional stakeholders on a quarterly basis to discuss housing successes and challenges and work towards achieving the goals outlined in PVPC’s Pioneer Valley Regional Housing Plan.