Congress is back in Washington for a critical fall legislative session. Congress left in August without finishing a COVID-19 relief package, and both federal government funding and expiring transportation programs need to be handled before September 30. After months contending with extreme economic woes and a devastating health crisis, America’s cities, towns and villages are urgently calling on Congress to address key issues in what must be a productive few weeks in Congress, before action slows to a stop in the lead up to the 2020 election.
Finalize an Emergency COVID-19 Relief Package with Local Aid
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to do massive economic damage to our nation’s workers and communities. Cities Are Essential! State and local governments continue to call for federal relief in the form of a comprehensive aid package that provides funds directly to communities, where it will make the greatest difference. While federal negotiations have been stagnant, a COVID-19 relief package is a must-pass during this legislative session – our nation’s economic future depends on it.
Prevent Another Federal Government Shutdown
Congress cannot permit another federal government shutdown! With all that America’s cities, towns and villages have faced this year, local leaders should not have to bear any additional uncertainty and strain to our economy that would result from another avoidable lapse in federal government operations. Congress must prevent a shutdown by passing the 12 annual spending bills by September 30, or by passing a short-term continuing resolution. The failure to pass spending bills would pose unnecessary additional challenges for local governments with already strapped budgets.
Extend Federal Transportation Programs Before the Deadline
Every few years, Congress reexamines the nation’s transportation plans to better fund critical programs and prioritize the needs of residents. While the House and Senate started the legislative process, they will likely not be able to finish a bill in time. The most recent bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2016, will expire at the end of September, and Congress must pass an extension for the programs and for the funding to cover the programs. The alternative is a lapse in the federal transportation programs, which would essentially stop the flow of contracted funding to cities, transit agencies and states for roads, bridges and transit. NLC is calling for at least a one-year extension with an increase in funding in 2021, given the budget challenges at the local and state levels. Any future FAST Act reauthorization must meet our nation’s growing infrastructure demand and transportation goals and fix the outdated model for transportation funding.
Pass Water Legislation
Given our nation’s growing water and wastewater infrastructure needs, we must make substantial investments in our water resources for flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration and to repair and replace our nation’s aging water infrastructure. Congress must pass bipartisan bills that will maintain a strong water infrastructure system, ensure access to clean and safe drinking water, and support the nation’s economic growth and maintenance of global competitiveness, including America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (S. 3591), the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (S. 3590), and the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (H.R. 7575).
Stop Unfunded Mandates and Spectrum Sell Off
Additionally, the Administration must resist imposing any unfunded mandates onto local governments to solve federal budget woes. NLC is monitoring an expected forthcoming proposed regulation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule. NLC also supports legislation to overturn recent Federal Communications Commission rules preempting local control over wireless infrastructure siting and cable franchise negotiations. Federal efforts to preempt local authority only increase the burdens on residents and communities.
On the topic of broadband, Congress must make good on a promise to reverse the 2012 provision calling for the transition of T-Band spectrum and its auctioning by the FCC for alternative uses. The deadline is quickly approaching and cities, including in 11 of the largest U.S. metropolitan markets, cannot afford to transition this communications tool away from the large state and local public safety agencies reliant upon it. Broad bipartisan consensus exists to overturn the auction process, and Congress should take action immediately on this area of agreement.
Make Housing Stability and Safety Federal Priorities
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation faced an affordable housing crisis. The economic shutdown required to control the spread of coronavirus has only fueled the crisis and devastated households living paycheck to paycheck. An unprecedented wave of national homelessness has been temporarily put off by the CDC moratorium on evictions, but funding is necessary for lasting stability for both renters and landlords. Congress must make housing stability a top priority of the agenda for restoring the economy. Housing stability is the first step in restoring economic mobility, job security, and health and well-being following the reopening of our national economy.
With Congress back in session, there must be an emphasis on public safety as it relates to public health and reforming our nation’s criminal justice system. After a summer of contentious debate and social unrest, federal leaders must prioritize reforming and reimagining public safety and policing. Local leaders stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration on the best long-term solutions around gun violence and keeping Americans safe.
Invest in Workers and Skills
Much like with housing, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation faced a skills shortage in many of the critical industries that support local economies. With today’s increasing unemployment numbers combined with an underfunded federal workforce development system, Congress must look critically at the issue of workers. The answer is not simply job creation. Congress must invest in skills development that will equip the millions who are out of work, as well as those looking to advance their careers, with the skills they need to meet business demand. During this pandemic, we have seen more than ever that the face of business is changing, and we must ensure that significant investments are made in workforce programming – through reauthorization and funding of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and supporting new programs such as the BUILDS Act – that will prepare and train our workforce to build the way towards economic recovery.
Voting and Census Take Center Stage
Election Day 2020 is November 3rd and voting has once again taken a center stage in our communities. As the most trusted level of government, local leaders have a unique ability to understand the challenges their residents face to participate in this year’s elections, especially considering additional safety risks due to COVID-19. Our federal leaders must put forth every available protection on the foundational act of voting this fall. Visit nlc.org/citiesvote for more information.
The 2020 Census is set to wrap up response collection by September 30, which will allow for apportionment counts to be delivered to the President by the end of the year. Local and federal leaders alike must use the final month of response time to encourage participation and ensure a complete and accurate count. Visit nlc.org/census or www.my2020census.gov to learn more!
NLC will continue to uplift local voices and fight for the priorities of America’s cities, towns and villages. It is critical that local leaders stand ready to drive forward a dynamic agenda on Capitol Hill that addresses the needs of all America’s residents, businesses and communities. The fight for additional fiscal relief to America’s communities is still ongoing – call your Member of Congress and take action now!
About the author:
Irma Esparza Diggs is a senior executive and director of federal advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Irma on Twitter @iediggs.