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:

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.

2018 End of Year Summary

In 2018, NARC advocated on your behalf on Capitol Hill and with the Administration, fostered innovative partnerships between members and with national organizations, and highlighted your daily successes. With active support from members like you, NARC has fostered better connections between members, increased our programming, and expanded our scope throughout the country.

The political landscape is more divided than ever, but NARC will continue to bridge divides with a regional perspective in 2019. The coming year will be another important opportunity to expand the role of regions in transportation, infrastructure, environment, public safety, and human services.

As we prepare for what lies ahead, we took a look back at a few of NARC’s many successes in 2018, successes that were only possible as a result of your generous and ongoing support.

Federal Advocacy
NARC continued to engage and connect with congressional staff as the go-to organization to address concerns that cross jurisdictional boundaries. NARC established relationships with federal agencies and acted as a resource on issues ranging from alternative fuel vehicles to broadband. NARC held a series of summer legislative briefings to keep you up to date on federal issues, including automated vehicles, the Farm Bill, the Federal Communications Commission, and integrated planning.

Rural Economic Development Innovation (REDI) Program
Emphasizing partnerships and innovation, NARC collaborated with the National Association of Counties Research Foundation (NACo) on a USDA grant supporting rural economic development. In October, NARC and NACo were awarded $139,000 to implement economic development plans and projects. We will steward applicants through capacity-building workshops, mentorships, and webinars.

Fleets for the Future
In 2018, NARC wrapped up our Department of Energy-funded Fleets for the Future (F4F) project. F4F harbored many successes in its 2.5 years, including the creation of best practices guides and templates for alternative fuel vehicle procurement and the development of several regional and national cooperative procurement contracts. Read more about the project and its accomplishments in our condensed F4F Final Report.

Membership Committee
This year, NARC established a membership committee to recruit new members and improve engagement with current members. This member-driven committee encouraged new regional voices to share their ideas, challenges, and best practices amongst the NARC membership. Since the committee was formed, at least eight regional councils have become NARC members.

Major Metros Roundtable
NARC continued to work with the Major Metros Roundtable (MMR), a member-directed and member-supported group that meets regularly to discuss challenges and solutions that are particular to regional councils in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. In 2018, MMR held three in-person half-day meetings in conjunction with NARC’s three conferences in addition to monthly hour-long conference calls which highlighted an individual issue on each call – including transportation, public safety, resiliency, and more.

Sharing Best Practices
To highlight your groundbreaking work, NARC featured best practices, innovations, and creative solutions during our three conferences, in our weekly newsletters, and through monthly webinars. NARC continued to update the repository of best practices from the Rapid-Fire Innovation session at the Executive Directors Conference. Transportation Thursdays and eRegions provided updates on regional council activities and accomplishments across the country. Our webinars and conferences invited members to share their work firsthand and encouraged others to ask questions and bring these ideas back to their own regions.

What’s in the President’s Proposal to Reorganize the Federal Government?

This is the first in a series of three blogs dealing with aspects of the president’s federal reorganization plan. It is based, in part, on a recent NARC Wednesday Legislative Briefing that was held on the president’s reorganization plan on Wednesday, August 7.

On June 21, the president released his plan to reorganize certain parts of the executive branch. If adopted by Congress and implemented by the president, it would touch virtually every agency in the federal government and the way Americans receive government services.

The following are proposals that would have the most significant impact on regions:

The Department of Education and the Workforce

The president’s proposal would merge the Departments of Education and Labor into a single department. The new Department of Education and the Workforce would include four separate agencies focusing on four different issue areas: K-12 education, enforcement of worker protections, workforce and higher education, and research and administration.

The American Workforce and Higher Education Administration, one of the four new agencies, would be charged with ensuring U.S. workers possess the skills necessary to succeed on the job. This agency would bring together workforce development programs from the Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor and higher education, vocational education, and rehabilitation services from the Department of Education.

The Department of Health and Human Services

The proposal would also reshuffle other domestic agencies and would make it possible, according to the White House, to revamp agencies and, where Congress agrees, reduce funding. Social safety net programs – including housing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other welfare programs from the Department of Health and Human Services, and nutrition programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Association Program (SNAP) from the Department of Agriculture — would be consolidated under a new Department of Health and Public Welfare which would replace the current Department of Health and Human Services.

Other Proposed Changes

If the president’s proposal is adopted and implemented there would be many other potential changes, including:

  • Transferring of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to the Department of Commerce into a new economic development agency (more detail will be provided on this in an upcoming blog post);
  • Privatizing the Postal Service;
  • Creating a government-wide public-private partnership office to “improve services to citizens”;
  • Relocating more staff and offices outside of the National Capital Region (Washington, DC and its Virginia and Maryland suburbs);
  • Consolidating food safety functions into a single office within the Department of Agriculture;
  • Moving USDA’s rural housing activities to the Department of Housing and Development;
  • Shrinking the Office of Personnel Management and sending some of its functions to the Department of Defense;
  • Privatizing the FAA’s air traffic control services and the Saint Lawrence Seaway; and
  • Revamping the Army Corps of Engineers by dividing its functions between the Department of Transportation (navigation) and the Department of the Interior (flood control, wetland permitting, and management of inland waterways).

Why Is this Reorganization Plan Being Proposed Now?

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, a former member of Congress, and a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was the main architect of this plan. As a member of Congress, Mulvaney had argued for merging human services programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), among others, under a single umbrella agency. He has also argued strongly that the federal government needs to be streamlined and that past efforts have been unsuccessful. This proposal would allow the administration to create a new umbrella department for all welfare programs. Whether these proposals would streamline government remains to be seen.

Over the next two weeks, in two new blogs, we will explore what it would mean to the future of CDBG to transfer it to a new economic development agency within the Department of Commerce and what the likelihood is that Congress would adopt this or any reorganization plan.

2018 NARC Achievement Awards Winners

At every Annual Conference and Exhibition, NARC celebrates membership achievements of regional excellence and cooperation across the nation. This year’s winners exemplify many qualities that a 21st-century regional council needs to be successful, including innovation, adaptability, collaboration, and hard work. Read more about our 2018 NARC Major Metro, Medium Metro, and Rural Achievement Awards Winners below:

Major Metro Winner: Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG)
Headquarters: Detroit, Michigan
Project: Water Resources Plan

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) won the 2018 Major Metro Achievement Award for their Water Resources Plan. The plan focuses on three major pillars of water planning in the region: “Blue Economy,” Natural Resources, and Infrastructure. “Blue Economy” recognizes the importance of the region’s water assets and supports water placemaking efforts to enhance water recreation opportunities and support the economic development of water-dependent industries. The Natural Resources pillar highlights threats to natural resources such as invasive species and prioritizes strategies to eliminate them, as well as protect wetlands, riparian corridors, and aquatic habitats. Finally, the Infrastructure pillar addresses the region’s drinking water, wastewater, storm water, dams, and transportation infrastructure.

The plan’s breadth and depth make it a very useful part of the region’s toolkit for addressing water infrastructure needs. It outlines specific policy recommendations and actions related to protecting water resources in Southeast Michigan, many of which will be incorporated into SEMCOG’s planning efforts, like their 2045 Regional Transportation Plan. Implementation of the innovative Water Resources Plan is already underway through several projects. Looking forward, SEMCOG will work with the state to map and inventory all existing and historical wetlands, helping inform decisions made about wetland restoration and protection. Congratulations to SEMCOG on their excellent Water Resources Plan!

Medium Metro Winner: Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG)
Headquarters: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Project: Regional Advocacy Program

INCOG’s 2018 Medium Metro Achievement Award-winning advocacy program exemplifies regional cooperation and proves that unifying a regional message is more effective than individual efforts to pass legislation. This INCOG program is unique in its four-pronged approach to regional advocacy:

  • Hosting the Coalition of Tulsa Area Governments (CTAC), an active group of county and municipal governments who advocate for issues that directly affect their member governments;
  • Developing an annual federal policy issue agenda that identifies issues important to the region, which then informs the development of their Congressional Delegation Information Packet and conversations with Oklahoma’s federal representatives;
  • Holding an annual reception and orientation meetings to start building relationships with newly-elected state and federal officials; and
  • Working through their OneVoice Legislative Program with the Tulsa Regional Chamber to develop an annual state and federal legislative agenda embraced by public and private partners alike.

Since 2000, more than 65 CTAC bills have been signed by the governor, with countless more bills killed that harm local governments. CTAC’s slate of issues require unanimous support from all members to initiate or oppose a legislative change, creating an expectation that disagreements will be resolved in favor of the larger group and the greater good. The OneVoice agenda is also a product of more than 400 individuals – which 70 organizations, including INCOG, routinely endorse – that governors and legislators find invaluable as an indication of regional consensus on significant legislative issues. Congratulations to INCOG on their inspiring Regional Advocacy Program!

Medium Metro Winner: Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC)
Headquarters: Portage, Indiana
Project: Greenways + Blueways 2020 Plan

NIRPC’s Greenways + Blueways 2020 Plan, which won them the Medium Metro Achievement Award, highlights the benefits and relationships of both environmental and non-motorized transportation planning through three main topics: conservation, recreation, and transportation. The plan is the product of a significant public engagement process and cooperation among governmental, advocate, and corporate stakeholders. It merges typically distinct planning focus areas to highlight opportunities for integration. The plan identifies conservation corridors along waterways and large but fragmented patches of conservation land, and highlights over 160 miles of land-based, multi-use recreation trails across the Northwest Indiana landscape. The plan includes a chapter on merging these focus areas and a chapter on implementation that identifies performance measures and outlines eight stakeholder groups that can help put them into practice. The Greenways + Blueways Plan is an ambitious vision for tying together mutually beneficial focus areas to advance regional priorities of conservation and non-motorized transportation planning. Congratulations to NIRPC on their impressive G&B 2020 Plan!

Rural Achievement Award Winner: Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) Headquarters: Bartow, Florida
Project: Highlands Transit Plan

HRTPO developed the Highlands Transit Plan through a collaborative planning process, engaging thousands of citizens over a 10-month study period and winning them the 2018 Rural Achievement Award. It is the first adopted transit development plan for Highlands County, Florida, which has no existing public transit system. Because of its successful campaign, HRTPO can confidently use their results to inform their strategic vision, which will guide the planning, development, and implementation of future public transportation services.

HRTPO used several approaches to gather feedback from their residents on their plan. Rather than focusing on public meetings, they placed an emphasis on education and participation where they knew people were – online, at work, civic activities, and community events. An informal “street team” of volunteers distributed surveys to their neighbors, co-workers, church members, and friends to help expand their reach, resulting in the collection of over 900 survey responses. The first public involvement phase identified the community’s public transportation and potential service options by conducting 27 stakeholder interviews, collecting 771 transportation needs survey responses, putting out a PSA on a Spanish language radio station, producing a one-hour segment on local talk radio, and hosting a booth at the Highlands County Fair for 10 days. Outreach strategies for the second phase, proposing service options for public input and prioritization, included: 100+ engagements at the Blueberry Festival, 156 service options surveys collected, two newspaper articles on plan development, and 20 attendees at a transit forum. Congratulations to HRTPO on their impressive outreach efforts that informed their Highlands Transit Plan!