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.

The Affordable Care Act Is More Important Now Than Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Resources for Regions

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

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

SUMMARY/BACKGROUND

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

BY THE NUMBERS

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

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

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

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

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

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

FUNDING RESOURCES UPDATE

Congressional Spending Package:

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus Response Package:

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

Stafford Act and FEMA Disaster Relief Funds:

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

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

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

What Regions Can Do to Protect Themselves from Cyber-Attacks

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

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

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

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

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

General Recommendations for Local and Regional Leaders

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

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

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

Cybersecurity Strategic Planning

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

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

Cybersecurity Insurance

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

Cybersecurity Avoidance

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

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

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

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.

FEMA’s National Level Exercise 2018

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has begun its National Level Exercise (NLE) 2018, an event that brings together more than 250 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments, private industry, and nonprofit organizations to test their emergency response to a simulated major disaster. Through May 11, these organizations are coordinating together and using established plans, policies, and procedures to prepare for and respond to a Mid-Atlantic hurricane scenario near Hampton Roads, Virginia. FEMA Administrator Brock Long said, “NLE 2018 serves as the culminating effort to exercise the nation’s response capabilities before the 2018 [hurricane] season.” To help your communities prepare as well, please share the following FEMA tips and resources with your residents:

Lawmakers Push for Program to Improve Urban Flood Hazard Maps

Under the newly proposed bipartisan and bicameral Flood Mapping Modernization and Homeowner Empowerment Pilot Program Act of 2018, cities would gain access to a new grant initiative aimed at improving how the nation assesses and manages flood risk. If implemented, three cities with populations over 50,000 would be selected to participate in the FEMA pilot program every year to help develop better methods for mapping urban flood hazards. It would authorize $1.2 million for FY 2019 and a total of $4.3 million for FY 2020-2022 that could flow to state and local governments. FEMA will use information learned from this pilot program to create best practices and improve their flood risk mapping program.

In Houston, a Focus on Innovation to ‘Build Back Better’

Houston, TX has always had an eye for new technology and innovation. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey; however, local officials learned just how helpful these tools can be during a storm and after when it is time to rebuild. Jesse Bounds, director of innovation for the City of Houston, relayed several examples of the ways Houston residents used technology during and after the storm, including:

  • The local tech community of civic hackers developed ad-hoc technologies to address citizens’ immediate needs;
  • Volunteers used crowdsourcing tools to rescue 7,000 households;
  • Houston-area public agencies used open-sourced platforms and social media websites like Nextdoor to share critical emergency communications; and
  • Houston leaders are currently partnering with The Atlas Marketplace to learn how other cities are building back even better after a natural disaster.

At Long Last, Congress and the President Fund FY 2018

After months of wrangling, five continuing resolutions, two short-term government shutdowns, and much argument over what funding levels and policy riders should make the final cut, Congress voted and the president signed an omnibus appropriations bill that will keep the federal government funded through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2018.

The $1.3 billion appropriation represents a significant success for our members! Many of NARC’s 2018 legislative and funding priorities received substantially more funding than the president requested and more than was appropriated in fiscal year 2017. Areas that saw significant funding increases include:

  • Transportation and infrastructure, including TIGER Grants, AMTRAK funding, and autonomous vehicles;
  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG);
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) state workforce formula grants;
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA);
  • Census Bureau;
  • Opioid crisis relief, including funding for prevention, treatment, and law enforcement;
  • Rural water and broadband programs;
  • Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds;
  • Aging programs;
  • Low Income and Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program and other housing assistance programs; and
  • Homelessness assistance.

Several policy riders and authorizations were also adopted as part of the omnibus, including:

  • Reauthorization of the EPA Brownfields Program, including NARC supported language;
  • Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration is now extended through September; and
  • Short-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is extended through the end of July.

For more information, check out our new blog post on the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.