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.

The Trump Administration’s Budget Blueprint: The Regional Impact

Today President Trump unveiled his first federal budget blueprint, which calls upon Congress to make dramatic changes to the shape, if not the size, of the federal government. The plan calls for deep cuts at some departments and agencies while significantly increasing funding at others.

At the core of the proposal is a $54 billion increase in defense spending, $2.6 billion for a border wall, and $1.4 billion for school choice provisions. These increases are fully offset by significant cuts to the non-defense discretionary portion of the budget, leaving entitlement spending and other mandatory spending (which makes up approximately 73% of the federal budget), unchanged.

“The defense and public safety spending increases in this Budget Blueprint are offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the Federal Government. Our Budget Blueprint insists on $54 billion in reductions to non-Defense programs. We are going to do more with less, and make the Government lean and accountable to the people.

“This includes deep cuts to foreign aid. It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share.

“Many other Government agencies and departments will also experience cuts. These cuts are sensible and rational. Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”

– From America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again

 

The deep cuts to so many programs that each have constituencies of their own makes it likely that Congress will see this skinny budget and the full budget to follow as ‘dead on arrival.’ But it does offer important insight into the new administration and where their priorities lie, and will be taken under some consideration by the Republican majority in Congress.

The departments of Commerce, Agriculture (USDA), Energy (DOE), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Transportation (DOT) would face major cuts if this budget were enacted. The Environmental Protection Agency would lose nearly one-third of its budget. Federal funding for 19 agencies would be terminated, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowments for the Arts, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Delta Regional Authority. As feared, the proposed budget would eliminate the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program. What follows is a selected list of agencies and programs, and how they are treated in the budget blueprint. This is not comprehensive as details are limited at this time. NARC will continue to track these and update you as new information becomes available. Please follow the NARC website (www.narc.org) and our new blog, Regions Lead (www.regionslead.org), to keep up with the latest.

Department of Agriculture

FY2018 proposed funding level: $17.9B (-$4.7 billion, 21% decrease)

  • Eliminates Water and Wastewater loan and grant program (-$500 million)
  • Eliminates McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program (-$200 million)
  • Fully funds Food Safety and Inspection Service and wildland fire preparedness activities
  • Reduces Women, Infants, and Children nutrition assistance (-$200 million)
  • Unspecified staff reductions at USDA service center agencies around the country
  • Cuts funding for Rural Business and Cooperative Service (-$95 million)

Department of Commerce

FY2018 proposed funding level: $7.8B (-$1.5 billion, 16% decrease)

  • Eliminates the Economic Development Agency (EDA) (-$221 million)
  • Increases funding for Census Administration in anticipation of 2020 census (+$100 million)

Department of Energy

2018 Proposed Funding Levels $28 billion (-$1.7 billion, 5.6% decrease)

  • Increases National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) funding more than 11%; all other program are cut by nearly 18%
  • Increases spending for managing the nation’s nuclear stockpile by restarting licensing at Yucca (+$120 million)
  • Eliminates Weatherization Assistance Program and State Energy Program
  • Cuts Office of Science funding to support research at 300 universities and 10 of 17 national labs (-$900 million)
  • Focuses funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and the Fossil Energy Research and Development program on limited, early-stage applied energy research and development activities where the federal role is stronger (-$2.0 billion)

Department of Health and Human Services

Proposed funding level: $84.1B (-$15.1 billion, 16% decrease)

  • Cuts Office of Community Services funding (-$4.2 billion), eliminating Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Community Services Block Grant
  • Increases funding for treatment and prevention of opioid addictions (+$500 million)

Department of Homeland Security

FY2018 proposed funding level: $44.1B (+$2.8 billion, 7% increase)

  • The proposed increase is to fund a border wall and other border-related items (+$2.6 billion); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (+$314 million); detention-related expenses (+$1.5 billion); and protection against cybersecurity threats (+$1.5 billion)
  • Eliminates or reduces state and local grant funding under FEMA, including the Pre-disaster Mitigation Program and Homeland Security Grant Program (-$667 million); institutes a local cost-match requirement for FEMA grant awards if none exists now

Department of Housing and Urban Development

FY2018 proposed funding level: $40.7B (-$6.2 billion, 13% decrease)

  • Eliminates Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program (-$3.0 billion)
    • From the blueprint: “The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”
  • Eliminates HOME Investment Partnerships Program and similar programs (-$1.1 billion)

Department of the Interior

2018 Proposed Funding Levels $11.6 billion (-$1.5 billion, 12% decrease)

  • Increases funding for development of energy on public lands and offshore waters and streamlines permitting processes and provides industry with access to the energy resources
  • Eliminates Land and Water Conservation Fund program
  • Eliminates Abandoned Mine Land grants that overlap with existing mandatory grants, National Heritage Areas that are more appropriately funded locally, and National Wildlife Refuge fund payments to local governments that are duplicative of other payment programs
  • Streamlines operations at National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management
  • Reduces funding for certain Indian Country demonstration projects and initiatives
  • Reduces funding for new major acquisitions of Federal land (-$120 million), and redirects that to increase spending on National Park Service deferred maintenance projects. Reduces funds for other DOI construction and major maintenance programs
  • Provides full 10-year rolling average of expenditures for wildland fire suppression, which will result in a small increase in funding
  • Provides $1 billion in water resources program throughout the western United States
  • Reduces funding for counties through Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, but keeps program in line with average funding for PILT over the past decade

Department of Justice

2018 Proposed Funding Levels $27 billion, (-$1.1 billion, 3.8 percent decrease)

  • Increases funding for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (+$249 million)
  • Provides additional funding to hire 75 additional immigration judge teams (+$80 million); 60 additional border enforcement prosecutors and 40 deputy U.S. Marshals to combat illegal immigration; and 20 attorneys to pursue federal efforts to obtain the land and holdings necessary to secure the Southwest border and another 20 attorneys and support staff for immigration litigation assistance
  • Additional short-term detention space to hold federal detainees, including criminal aliens, parole violators, and other offenders awaiting trial or sentencing (+$171 million)
  • Funds Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement Officer Resilience and Survivability and the Bulletproof Vest Partnership
  • Eliminates State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (-$700 million)

Department of Labor

FY2018 proposed funding level: $12.2B (-$2.6 billion, 21% decrease)

  • Eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program (-$434 million)
  • Eliminates OSHA training grants (-$11 million)
  • Expands Reemployment and Eligibility Assessments
  • Closes underperforming Job Corps centers
  • Decreases federal funding for job training and employment service grants, shifts responsibility of continuing programs to states & localities

Department of Transportation

FY2018 proposed funding level: $16.2B (-$2.6 billion, 13% decrease)

  • Corporatizes the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system
  • Eliminates New Starts transit funding for capital projects if a full funding grant agreement is not already in place
  • Reduces federal support for Amtrak; eliminates funding for long-distance routes, redirects savings to State-support routes and the Northeast Corridor
  • Eliminates Essential Air Service (-$175 million)
  • Eliminates TIGER grant program (-$499 million)

Army Corps of Engineers

FY2018 proposed funding level: $5.0B (-$1.0 billion, 16% decrease)

  • Changes unknown

Environmental Protection Agency

FY2018 proposed funding level: $5.7B (-$2.5 billion, 31% decrease)

  • Maintains Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program at same funding level as last year
  • Eliminates Clean Power Plan funding (-$100 million)
  • Halves funding for the Office of Research and Development (-$233 million)
  • Significantly reduces funding for the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account (-$330 million)
  • Eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs (-$427 million)
  • Eliminates more than 50 programs, including: Energy Star; Targeted Airshed Grants; the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program; and infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native Villages and the Mexico Border (-$347 million)

A Budget Mess

To say that things are a mess on Capitol Hill around the budget and appropriations process may be an understatement. Here are six reasons for the mess:

  1. Earlier this year congressional leaders committed to completing the appropriations process for fiscal year 2017 by April 28th, the date on which the current continuing resolution (CR) expires. However, senators from both parties are now expressing concern that the appropriations process is so far behind schedule that they may need to adopt another temporary funding bill in the form of a CR, something they are loathe to do.
  2. Democrats, who are deeply concerned that the president will demand that the April funding bill includes money for “the wall” between Mexico and the United States, have indicated that they are prepared to prevent such a funding bill from passing Congress, thereby shutting down the government. The ramifications of a shutdown can only be conjectured.
  3. Many economists are predicting that the president’s budget is so bad for discretionary non-defense programs that mass federal employee layoffs and a shrinking housing market and economy are likely in states with large numbers of federal employees.
  4. According to the Washington Post, the president’s budget proposal is “expected to seek a historic contraction of the federal workforce” that would “shake the federal government to its core if enacted.” Noting that this will be the first time since the drawdown following World War II that the government would execute “cuts of this magnitude,” the Post goes on to say that while funding for the military and homeland security will increase substantially, other areas such as housing, environmental programs, and research will be slashed substantially. Again, the ramifications can only be conjectured.
  5. The New York Times is reporting that some Republicans on Capitol Hill believe that the president’s budget may be going in the wrong direction by cutting “too much from already lean department accounts while leaving untouched the massive benefit programs” that have been blamed by Republicans for contributing to the nation’s deficits, and that many of the proposed cuts to foreign aid and domestic programs are a non-starter, especially in the Republican-led Senate as well as the more conservative House. It seems that they are prepared to oppose efforts to cut federal funding to non-defense discretionary programs. For example, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) told the Times that “we’ve reduced our discretionary spending over the last seven or eight years an incredible amount. Maybe some people don’t like those agencies, but it’s been pretty difficult for them to meet their mandate.”
  6. Democrats are claiming that if the president has his way, discretionary non-defense programs would be cut by anywhere from 13 to 20 percent. In simple terms, nearly one-fifth of all funding for transportation, infrastructure, housing, health, education, and economic development programs would be cut, and programs like those funded through the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Energy, and Economic Development Administration could be eliminated completely.

The question of course is where does this leave us? The answer is neither simple nor straightforward.

Presidential budgets are often dead on arrival (DOA) and summarily rejected by Congress for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that Congress has its own priorities that may differ dramatically from those of the president. But presidential budgets, regardless of party or person, set a tone for further discussions and are often incorporated into Congress’ plans, even when congressional leadership announces that the budget is DOA.

Adding to the complicated environment on Capitol Hill is that the majority party is very divided, with many wanting to see more cuts to domestic discretionary programs coupled with a substantial increase in military spending and significant tax cuts. Others are calling for caution, arguing that many of the domestic programs slated for slashing are critical to the nation’s economic growth and safety.

But here is the bottom line. If these cuts do come to fruition – if education, job growth, housing, community and economic development, environmental, and aging programs are cut to the extent the president wants and Democrats predict – we will see, without a doubt, a significant reduction in programs designed to support economic development, help businesses and industry obtain well-trained staff, protect seniors, provide safe and secure communities, support affordable housing, address homelessness, and so on. Regional councils across the nation are likely to see substantial reductions in the federal funds they receive necessitating either additional funding from their states and localities or a significant reduction in the services they provide for their regions. And the larger impact on our economy may be more far reaching than anyone, including the president, could have anticipated.

Tomorrow the president’s “skinny” budget will be released. At that point, we will have a clearer idea of what he wants, what Congress is willing to accept, and how far Democrats may go to defend non-defense discretionary programs. And of course, we will have more to share with you.

By Neil E. Bomberg, NARC senior policy advisor

Budget and Appropriations: Where Do We Go From Here?

As the Senate and House move to finalize fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding for the federal government, it is becoming increasingly clear that three obstacles – two pieces of legislation and an on-going congressional investigation – stand in the way of a rapid and conclusive FY2017 funding bill.

The current continuing resolution (CR) expires on April 28, at which point a new CR or other funding bill must be passed to avoid a government shutdown. While April 28 may seem like a long way off and plenty of time for Congress to complete the appropriations process, the reality is that Congress will only be in session for 26 legislative days before the CR expires and funding for the federal government runs out. Additionally, most of the work has to be completed in March because Congress will recess for two weeks in April for the Easter and Passover holidays. As if these limitations were not enough, Congress must deal with two pieces of legislation and an on-going congressional investigation that may substantially slow the legislative process.

The first obstacle to rapid completion of the appropriations process is the defense appropriations bill. It is a must pass appropriations bill and a priority for many members of Congress. The outcome of this bill will set the tone for the rest of the debate around funding, which is why there is little-to-no work being done on other appropriations bills.

The second obstacle is the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which House leaders introduced this past Monday, March 6. Designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – often referred to as Obamacare – House and Senate leaders have indicated that they want this bill passed and on the president’s desk before the April recess.

The third obstacle is the on-going turmoil around alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The outcome of each of these obstacles will have a tremendous impact on non-defense discretionary program funding.

Why do they matter? 

The calendar matters because there is actually very little time to resolve all of the outstanding appropriations issues.

The defense appropriations bill that Congress will pass and the president will sign will matter greatly. Under current budget rules, there must always be parity between defense and non-defense discretionary programs. That means for every dollar increase or decrease in funding for either half of the discretionary pot, there must also be an equal increase or decrease on the other side. But Congress could change that and permit defense discretionary funding to increase so long as there is an opposite reaction in non-defense discretionary funding. In other words, Congress may choose to pay for an increase in defense spending with a decrease in non-defense discretionary funding. And even if this does not happen this year, there is clear evidence that it will happen with the FY2018 budget when the majority is expected to increase defense discretionary spending by $54 billion. According to appropriations committee staff, that kind of an increase in defense spending could result in a 13 to 20 percent cut in non-defense discretionary funding, cuts that on a program-by-program basis could even be more.

The AHCA matters greatly, as well. The effort to repeal and replace the ACA may prove much more difficult than originally expected. Already, several senators and many House members have expressed significant reservations about the bill, which was just released on Monday, March 2. If that happens, efforts to pass the AHCA may eat up a significant amount of legislative time, leaving little time for either chamber to address appropriations issues. More importantly, public opinion of Congress is likely to diminish if it cannot complete the work leadership has been promising to do for eight years, and further loss of public support would severely hamper Congress’s ability to adopt other legislation.

Investigation into alleged collusion between the Russian government and the White House also matters. It has become an albatross around the necks of the Administration and Congress, and the way this issue plays out over the next weeks and months will determine the political clout that the president will have in his dealings with Congress. The more clout he has, the easier it will be to push through his legislative agenda that includes a substantial increase in defense funding.

Of course, all of this is speculation. Congress could find a way to get its work done and pass the appropriations and other bills. The Russian albatross could vanish. Agreements around funding could emerge and help prevent the kinds of cuts that we are anticipating. But if the past is prologue, Congress will not be able to do its job and will only pass an appropriations bill in the form of a continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations bill at the very last minute, without significant input from the public, the minority party, or public interest groups like NARC.

By Neil E. Bomberg, NARC senior policy advisor

Next week:  What can we expect in the president’s “skinny” budget and what does that mean for programs important to regional councils?