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.

2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill Bolsters Many State and Local Programs

Following the release of the $1.3 trillion fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations bill on March 21, NARC staff has been combing through the 2,232 page document to learn how localities will be impacted by these federal program funding levels. Much of it is great news for regions! The bill proposes additional funding for so many of the priorities we have advocated for over the last year.

Here are a few highlights:

Transportation

TIGER Grants: The TIGER program increased to $1.5 billion, tripling FY 2017’s funding level of $500 million. It provides some planning money for the first time in many years, allowing for up to $15 million in planning grants. A minimum of 30 percent of the funds are reserved for rural areas, an increase from the current 20 percent requirement.

STBGP: FAST Act highway programs are fully funded, and the bill also includes a one-time increase of $198 billion for the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP). The increase will be distributed as it is through the FAST Act, meaning that funds will be suballocated to local areas. The funds are only eligible for road, bridge, and tunnel projects, and the STBGP set-aside (TAP) is waived. The bill includes an additional amount for public/Indian lands and territories ($320 million), and a new competitive bridge program in states with densities of less than 100 persons per square mile ($225 million).

New Life for New Starts: While the administration proposed narrowing the Capital Investment Grants Program (New Starts) funding to only cover projects already underway, the omnibus agreement provides nearly $400 million for new projects. This is an overall increase of $232 million.

Transit: Transit receives full FAST Act funding with an additional $834 million in general fund appropriations, which includes funding for state of good repair grants, buses, and bus facilities.

Rail: The bill includes large increases for several Federal Railroad Administration programs, including Amtrak which will receive $1.9 billion (an increase of $447 million) with $650 million allocated for capital projects along the Northeast Corridor (an increase of $322 million). The bill also includes funding for three FAST Act rail programs that previously received far less than their authorized amounts: the consolidated grant program to support PTC installation ($593 million), the federal-state partnership state of good repair program ($250 million), and restoration and enhancement grants ($20 million).\

Extends FAA: The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization is now extended through September.

Automated Vehicle Research: The bill repurposes funds to create a $100 million pot for study grants and implementation of an overall study program.

No Rescissions: The previous version of House and Senate bills would have rescinded contract authority, and an amendment by Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA) to the House bill would have made suballocated STBGP subject to rescission. Since this bill ditches the rescission, there is no need for the amendment.

Clearview Font: The bill temporarily prohibits the use of funds to enforce the termination of an Interim Approval to use the Clearview Font on highway signs and requires FHWA to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the research and report back to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Aging Programs

ACL: The Administration for Community Living is funded at $2.171 billion, a $178 million increase from fiscal year 2017.

Senior Workforce: The Senior Workforce Development Program remains level at $400 million, rejecting the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate the program and the House’s proposal to cut the program funding by 100 million.

OAA, Title III: The Older Americans Act (OAA) Title III programs received significant increases:

  • $35 million increase to OAA Title III B Home and Community-Based Supportive Services
  • $59 million increase to Title III C Nutrition Services
  • $5 million increase to Title III D Preventative Health
  • $30 increase to Title III E Family Caregiver Support

Census Bureau

Boost to Census Funding: The Census Bureau is funded at $2.8 billion, an increase of more than $1.344 billion from fiscal year 2017. Over $2.5 billion of that amount will be going to periodic censuses and programs, including efforts to continue preparations for the 2020 Census Survey.

Community and Economic Development

CDBG and HOME: The Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) is funded at $3.3 billion – the amount NARC and the CDBG Coalition requested. The HOME Investment Partnerships Program is funded at $1.362 billion, an increase of $412 million. The Trump administration proposed to eliminate funding for both programs in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

SSBG & CSBG: The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) received level funding at $1.7 billion and $715 million, respectively.

State Workforce Formula Grants: Increased grants under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) by a combined $80 million, including:

  • $30 million increase to WIOA Adult program
  • $30 million increase to WIOA Youth programs
  • $20 million increase to WIOA Dislocated Worker state grants

EDA: The Economic Development Administration (EDA) received a $25.5 million increase. This allocation ignores the Trump administration’s recommendation to eliminate funding for the agency.

Environment

Brownfields Authorization Language: The omnibus package contains the brownfields reauthorization language NARC has pushed for, including:

  • Allowing local governments to acquire abandoned or tax delinquent property that is contaminated and to clean up the property without fear of liability
  • Funding for brownfields cleanup grants
  • Creating a multipurpose brownfields grant
  • Allowing for the recovery of limited administrative costs

Urban and Community Forestry Program: The Urban and Community Forestry Program is funded at $28.5 million, an increase from fiscal year 2017. The omnibus package also includes a comprehensive fix for wildfire funding.

Energy

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program: The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Program is funded at $2.32 billion, a significant increase of $290 million. Rather than follow the Trump’s recommendations to cut the program by three-fourths, Congress chose to increase EERE’s funding by 14 percent.

LIHEAP: The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is funded at $3.64 billion, a $250 million increase. This program has been slated for elimination by the Trump administration for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Flood Insurance

NFIP: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is giving a short-term reauthorization through the end of July, incentivizing Congress to complete a full reauthorization before the August recess.

Rural Development

New Broadband Loan and Grant Program: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service received $600 million for a new broadband loan and grant pilot program.

Rural Development Programs: Rural development programs receive $3 billion, an increase of $63.7 million from fiscal year 2017. This includes decreases to the Rural Housing Service and Rural Utilities Service programs, which are funded at $1.99 billion and $661.4 billion respectively.

Substance Abuse Crisis

Opioid Crisis Relief: Includes a $3.2 billion increase for programs responding to the opioid crisis, including funding for prevention, treatment, law enforcement, and other purposes.

Water

Coastal Zone Management Funding: The Coastal Zone Management Program is funded at $75 million, a $5 million increase from the previous fiscal year.

USDA Water/Wastewater Loans: USDA’s Rural Water and Wastewater Program would allow more than $3 billion in loans, $1.8 billion more than the previous fiscal year.

Water State Revolving Funds: The omnibus package provides $2.89 billion in funding to Clean Water State Revolving Funds and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, an increase of $300 million for each program. The WIFIA loan program also saw an increase in funding this year, currently standing at $63 million.

What Happens Next?

The bill quickly passed through the House and the Senate, leaving one last hurdle: getting the president’s signature. Trump tweeted this morning that he is considering a veto because of two factors:

  • The bill presents no action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • The bill does not provide the full $25 billion the president requested to build a US-Mexico border wall.

On Thursday, March 22 White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters that the president would sign the bill. The president has until midnight tonight to sign the bill to avoid a federal government shutdown. If he vetoes the bill and it goes back to Congress, a short-term continuing resolution might be employed to avert a shutdown and buy more time to discuss next steps.

UPDATE, March 23 at 1:30 PM ET:

In a White House press conference, President Trump signed the fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations package, making it public law. The legislation provides funding for the federal government through September 30, the end of fiscal year 2018. Although the president said, “there are a lot of things I’m unhappy about with this bill,” he approved the bill for national security reasons and because it authorizes a major increase in military spending. He criticized the rushed process Congress took to pass this bill, saying he would “never sign another bill like this again.”

2018 Legislative Priorities & Updated Member Call Info

Members: Take a look at NARC’s policies and priorities for 2018 below. Additionally, NARC will host a member call to review these policies and priorities, explain how NARC staff are working toward achieving these objectives, and share best practices and tips for educating and influencing Congress.

NARC Member Call! NARC’s Policies and Priorities for 2018
March 14, 3:30 – 4:30 PM ET, Please note the new call time!
Dial: (571) 317-3122 / Access code: 304-259-525
Contact Neil Bomberg (neil@narc.org) or Maci Morin (maci.morin@narc.org) with questions.

Infrastructure Package
NARC urges the federal government to increase direct funding to expand and maintain the nation’s infrastructure, and provide incentives to attract private financing for the subset of projects that can be supported in this manner. The new infrastructure package should resolve the Highway Trust Fund’s funding shortfall, fund regional planning organizations, support multimodal investments, provide flexibility in the projects it supports, and fund existing grant channels.

Broadband
NARC urges Congress to acknowledge that local governments are a key player creating and incentivizing broadband deployment, recognize local authority over rights of way and other public infrastructure assets, encourage public-private partnerships, establish new grant programs to fund broadband deployment, and increase funding for programs targeted at unserved and underserved communities.

Disaster Recovery
NARC urges Congress to immediately reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. In addition, Congress should solicit input and guidance from locally elected officials and regional councils on federal emergency preparedness and disaster recovery programs and initiatives. Congress should allocate emergency preparedness, response, and recovery funding directly to regions and localities that know the immediate needs of their communities best.

Farm Bill
NARC urges Congress to support sustained funding for all twelve titles of the Farm Bill to strengthen rural infrastructure (including broadband, water, and wastewater systems), protect our nation’s food supply, increase access to healthy food, and promote environmental stewardship and conservation. Congress should reauthorize the USDA rural development programs that offer critical investments in our nation’s most underserved communities, including the Strategic Economic and Community Program that promotes regional collaboration.

Protect Local Programs
NARC urges Congress to maintain support for federal programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Economic Development Administration, water infrastructure investment and maintenance, funding for senior programs, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that ensure municipalities, counties, and regions meet the needs of their communities.

Funding for the 2020 Census
NARC urges Congress to increase Census funding by no less than $300 million above the current funding level, so that the Census Bureau can adequately prepare for the 2020 Decennial Census and support efforts to accurately count historically hard-to-reach populations.

Budget/Appropriations
NARC urges Congress to support parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Substance Abuse Crisis
NARC supports federal efforts to partner with local and state officials to help address the addiction and misuse of opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, fentanyl, and other substances. NARC also urges Congress to provide emergency supplemental funding to local governments for medicine-assisted treatment programs, expanded drug abuse prevention and education efforts, naloxone, and drug take-back programs.

Brownfields
NARC urges Congress to reauthorize the Brownfields Reauthorization Act of 2017 (HR 1758), which would increase cleanup grant amounts, create a multi-purpose grant, allow for administrative costs, and clarify liability issues for local governments. NARC also urges Congress to at least maintain level funding for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Texas Regional Council Preparation and Recovery Efforts for Hurricane Harvey

If you watched any of the coverage for Hurricane Harvey at the end of August, you have an idea of the devastation it caused. Hundreds of images filled our television sets and computer screens, from totally submerged apartment buildings to water-filled streets that looked more like canals, not to mention the hundreds of people displaced to shelters. Some areas of Texas received more than 50 inches of rain from the storm. The Houston Chronicle reported that the hurricane broke the record for heaviest rainfall ever logged in the United States during a tropical storm, totaling 64.58 inches in Nederland, Texas. Local, state, and federal officials all agree on one thing: it will take Southeast Texas months, if not years, to fully recover.

Local officials and regional councils had pivotal roles to play in the preparation and recovery efforts for Hurricane Harvey. The following sections highlight just some of the actions our members carried out, whether they were directly affected, neighbored the affected, or just took the initiative to help other regions and the state bounce back from the record-breaking hurricane.

Texas Association of Regional Councils, Statewide

 The impact of Hurricane Harvey was felt by more than 60 counties within nine of the state’s 24 regional councils. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that more than 792,000 households have applied for federal assistance in Texas alone because of this event. As the state and the nation were looking for ways to assist in the storm’s aftermath, the Texas Association of Regional Councils (TARC) began its efforts by offering a forum to the impacted regions in which they could discuss possible opportunities for collaboration with state and federal agencies.

In its role as a liaison between its members and agencies taking a lead in disaster response and recovery efforts, TARC initiated calls with the impacted regions to ensure all were speaking with one voice and benefiting from the same information. TARC is continuing to follow up with its members as state and federal programs are activated. Because of the partnerships with state agencies created by TARC and its members, the association was also able to quickly build a framework allowing their impacted member regions to provide technical assistance and coordination to their communities and lead recovery agencies. Disasters are local, but with an event of this magnitude, it was and remains important for the regional councils in Texas to continue serving as a steady, reliable, and transparent partner with local, state, and federal government entities.

Houston-Galveston Area Council, Houston, Texas

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) serves 13 counties that are continuing to grow and become more diverse over time. Houston was the largest city to be impacted by the hurricane, and the effects were severe. The Texas Tribune reported that parts of the city received more than four feet of rain. Dozens of Houstonians lost their lives, and thousands of homes and vehicles were damaged or destroyed. According to the Texas Tribune, Houston officials estimate that the first responders’ overtime, debris collection, and other expenses associated with response and recovery will cost more than $250 million.

One of H-GAC’s initial actions was to create a Hurricane Harvey Recovery Resources page on their website, to provide easy access to information for residents, organizations, and local governments that sought updates, assistance, or next steps for recovery. The webpage offers updated information on disaster recovery centers, recovery efforts, and post-disaster reports, as well as recorded webinars on disaster preparedness and economic recovery. H-GAC highlighted pertinent programs they manage that provide services for recovery efforts and shared disaster-related material for each, including HGACBuy Disaster Debris Clearance and Removal Services, disaster debris resources, workforce solutions, and the Houston-Galveston Area Agency on Aging.

After Hurricane Harvey, the H-GAC Board of Directors approved the acceptance of $10,531,000 in workforce disaster assistance funds from the Texas Workforce Commission. H-GAC has planned to use this funding in a variety of ways, including providing temporary jobs for clean-up and repair of government facilities, financial assistance for dislocated workers, and training for individuals who need it to return to work. H-GAC estimated that the funds would create a minimum of 400 temporary jobs and serve at least 1,000 dislocated workers – 85 percent of this budget is earmarked for wages, benefits, and assistance to temporary workers.

Lastly, the H-GAC GIS team has acquired over 10,000 square miles of post-Hurricane Harvey aerial imagery of the major flooding in their region. The resolution of the imagery is one foot and the images are available in natural color and color-infrared. This GIS imagery will help those involved in the recovery efforts understand the impact of the storms and where the flooding was most prevalent. Those that are interested in participating in the cost-sharing effort of this project should reach out to the Data Services GIS team at DSGIS@h-gac.com.

Brazos Valley Council of Governments, Bryan-College Station, Texas

The Brazos Valley Council of Governments (BVCOG) serves seven counties in the eastern part of the state. According to their local newspaper The Eagle, some areas of the region expected anywhere from 3-25 inches of rainfall and wind gusts up to 30-40 miles per hour. This area of Texas is mostly rural, so severe flooding was a major concern for local officials. When the hurricane finally came onshore, the small city of Bedis received 30 inches of rainfall, while other cities in the region garnered 10-20 inches.

BVCOG supported the “whole community approach” that local governments and stakeholders in the region took to help the areas most impacted by the hurricane. Despite some of the areas in the region suffering from flooding themselves, they still supported their neighbors like Houston and Beaumont in the following ways:

  • The City of Bryan and Texas A&M University provided personnel and ambulances to the Emergency Medical Task Force-7 (EMTF-7) to those on the coastline and in the mega-shelter George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston for patient transportation and medical treatment;
  • The fire departments in the cities of College Station and Bryan deployed engines with personnel and swift water rescue assets to the heavily flooded areas;
  • The Navasota Fire Department responded as a Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) water strike team and sent a boat with personnel to impacted areas along the coast (despite being one of the hardest hit counties in the BVCOG region);
  • Temporary evacuation centers were created for displaced families;
  • A large animal shelter was opened at the Brazos County Export Center;
  • Ambulance services from CHI St. Joseph EMS, PHI Air Medical, and Allegiance transported hospital patients and nursing home residents out of harm’s way to designated safe areas; and
  • Regional hospitals, such as CHI St. Joseph Regional Hospital, took in patients from hurricane impacted areas.

The region also served as a major state staging area, providing skilled services, shelter, and medical assistance for those most impacted. Texas A&M University’s RELLIS Campus was a staging area for the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) TIFMAS assets, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT), Texas Task Force-1, and the Texas Military Department assets, relief supplies, and equipment. The cities of Brenham and Bryan also staged Texas Military personnel. The BVCOG region’s local governments and stakeholders also provided these personnel groups shelter and meeting space to make sure they were well prepared to enter the hardest-hit areas of the storm.

The local government officials that made these major decisions sit on BVCOG’s Board of Directors. Looking beyond their own communities, they realized that they needed to help the more flooded counties in their region and the areas with the heaviest rainfall in the state of Texas. The BVCOG region’s collective efforts provided support and relief to its citizens and served a greater role as a state team player helping neighboring regions in need.

Deep East Texas Council of Governments, Jasper, Texas

Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) covers 9,790 square miles in the eastern part of the state. The region, which sits right above Houston, Texas, saw six of its 12 counties included in the Presidential Disaster Declaration. A map provided by Longview News-Journal showed that the region was going to avoid the heavy rainfall expected in Houston and on the Gulf of Mexico. However, the rural region still expected anywhere from 3-15 inches of rain with the heaviest concentration of rain in the south.

During the storm, DETCOG was an important source of information for those that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey. DETCOG is one of 25 Area Information Centers for 211 Texas, a program designed to connect Texans that call 2-1-1 to state and local health and human services programs 24/7. Before Hurricane Harvey hit, DETCOG’s office received an average of 104 calls a day. In the 15 days following the hurricane, the DETCOG office received 3,172 calls – an average of 212 calls each day. Numbers from their online inquiries were not immediately available, but DETCOG expected that those numbers were higher than normal as well. Their call center even served as a shelter for those that needed it. DETCOG offered vital disaster-related information and resources to thousands in their region, assisting with initial recovery efforts.

DETCOG has also been offered an opportunity to help oversee some of the immediate assistance in some of its more impacted counties in the region. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, located in DETCOG’s region, donated $500,000 to various organizations in the 11 counties surrounding them for Hurricane Harvey relief. They asked DETCOG to oversee this assistance in Jasper and Newton counties, each receiving $25,000 from the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. With this generous donation, DETCOG has been able to help provide emergency assistance with housing, transportation, groceries, cleaning supplies, and building materials to those most affected by the hurricane in Jasper and Newton.

Alamo Area Council of Governments, San Antonio, Texas

The Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) serves a 13-county region. Early hurricane models showed that Hurricane Harvey was going to head towards San Antonio after it left the Gulf of Mexico, but it doubled back to the coast before making landfall. The city, according to a San Antonio Express News article, only received a total of 1.94 inches from the hurricane.

In the face of earlier predictions, AACOG took precautionary measures to ensure the safety of citizens in the region. In a press release disseminated the same day that Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, AACOG said that they were carrying out the following preparations to help their membership counties in South Central Texas:

  • The AACOG team took the lead in activating emergency operations centers and preparedness measures in their region;
  • Their Homeland Security Program served “as a liaison between smaller jurisdictions in the region and the City of San Antonio and Bexar County;”
  • The Alamo Regional Transit system, a low-cost public transportation bus service run by AACOG in 12 rural counties, was prepared to assist with regional evacuations if necessary;
  • Employees from the Bexar Area Agency on Aging and Alamo Area Agency on Aging were ready to conduct case management work at designated shelters, much like they did during Hurricane Ike in 2008;
  • Through AACOG’s Long-term Care Ombudsman Program, AACOG staff members planned on conducting on-site visits to dozens of nursing homes and assisted living centers in the region. If the residents were being moved to a safer location, AACOG staffers would make sure that they would still receive the proper care and medication they need.

AACOG took a multi-faceted approach to preparation efforts that readied the region for the worst-case scenario. They were a leader and a liaison for various cities and counties in their region, and they prioritized putting procedures in place for the most vulnerable populations.

After the hurricane made landfall in other areas, San Antonio became a huge hub for hurricane evacuees. The San Antonio Food Bank, which has a regional reach of 16 counties in South Central Texas, provided food to evacuees. The AT&T Center in AACOG’s home city became a command center for more than 300 first responders from around the state. AACOG and the local officials that make up their Board of Directors were quick to turn their preparation efforts at home to disaster relief and response for their neighbors.

NARC would like to thank H-GAC, BVCOG, DETCOG, and AACOG for the information they provided and for their efforts during Hurricane Harvey. Stay tuned for our next blog, which will cover regional efforts in response to Hurricane Irma.