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.

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.

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!

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some ways you can take action now:

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

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

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.