Federal Advocacy Update: Week of April 10, 2018

Capitol Building with American Flag
Capitol Building with American Flag

In this issue:

Will Congress Return to Rebuild With Us?

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

Congress returns to Washington this week following a two-week recess. For many Members of Congress, the recess was an opportunity to take a victory lap following passage of a spending package that thousands of city advocates across the country came together to support. Because we stood strong together, Congress recognized that city leaders are part of the solution to our country’s greatest challenges and passed the bipartisan Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

The positive messages back home, however, may not be enough to counteract the growing political anxiety in Washington regarding the upcoming midterm elections. Congress has an historic opportunity to build on the bipartisan success of recent budget and appropriations bills with an infrastructure package that would fulfill the campaign promises of the last election – or to succumb to the momentum-killing politics of the next election.

This Consolidated Appropriations Act, which funds the federal government through the end of September, boosts funding levels for dozens of city priorities across multiple agencies in the federal budget. A major victory for cities, the $1.3 trillion package maintained or increased funding for key programs that cities use to fund infrastructure, economic development and public safety. To learn more about the federal budget and appropriations process going forward, visit NLC’s blog CitiesSpeak.

While the Consolidated Appropriations Act provides a welcome down payment for infrastructure investment, the additional $10 billion allocated doesn’t come close to scratching the surface of the funding needed to restore our nation’s infrastructure to good working order.

America's infrastructure problems cannot wait. Send a letter to your members of Congress and urge them to partner with cities and invest in our vision to rebuild and reimagine America’s infrastructure.

Important Updates for Cities on Census

Brian Egan, 202.626.3107

Last month, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross directed the U.S. Census Bureau to include a question on citizenship among the final questions for the 2020 decennial census submitted to Congress. NLC opposed the addition of this untested and last minute question due to the bipartisan consensus that it would likely suppress self-reporting rates, drive up the cost of the decennial census and ultimately produce a less accurate count of our cities’ population.

At this point, an act by Congress or judicial action are the only ways to have the question removed. The State of New York is leading the charge on a lawsuit and the cities of Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, Seattle and San Francisco have joined New York’s efforts to have this question removed along with 16 other states.

On a related note, if your city has enrolled in the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program, please be mindful of quickly approaching deadlines. LUCA review materials began shipping out to cities in February. Local governments that have registered for LUCA have 120 calendar days from the date of receipt of their Review Materials to complete their LUCA Review and return their submission to the Census Bureau.

Government officials and LUCA liaisons can call the LUCA Support Desk at 1-844-344-0169 or email geo.2020.luca@census.gov for information on training, retrieving lost passwords, assistance on completing your LUCA review, and support using the Geographic Update Partnership Software (GUPS). Additional information about LUCA can be found here.

Rural Leaders: Ensure Your Community Gets Mobile Coverage

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

The process to validate and challenge cell phone data coverage maps that will decide the next decade of federal mobile infrastructure subsidies began on March 29, with the opening of the USAC Challenge Process portal. This portal is open until August 27 to local governments to review and challenge data about the current availability of 4G LTE mobile data service in their communities. To gain access to the portal, local governments must complete this form.

The final data set will be used by the federal government to determine which areas are eligible for inclusion in the Mobility Fund Phase II Auction, in which mobile providers will compete for subsidies to provide service in the designated unserved areas. City officials can use the USAC Challenge Process portal to contest the coverage data submitted by wireless providers, if they believe that areas in their communities have been incorrectly designated as currently covered and should actually be eligible for the auction. An initial map of the data submitted by wireless providers is available publicly for review.

To learn more about the Mobility Fund II program and how to participate in the data challenge process, sign up for this April 18 webinar or join the official update email list.

Additional Support for Opioid Addiction Prevention and Treatment

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

While Congress approved nearly $6 billion over the next two years to help pay for prevention, treatment and law enforcement efforts to fight the drug epidemic, it is unclear if this funding will make it to the local level. The majority of the funding will go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is charged with maintaining the Opioid State Targeted Response (STR) grant program.

Created by the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016, the Opioid STR grant program already awarded $1 billion to states to expand access to evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. In addition, the Opioid STR grant program helps reduce unmet treatment needs and prevents opioid overdose deaths. Each state submitted a justification on how they will use the funding, but there is insufficient data and reporting on how the money is being used to support local programs. 

NLC continues to urge that the additional funding approved by Congress must go directly to local programs to help fight the opioid epidemic and HHS must ensure that states are appropriately reporting back on how the money is being used to support local programs.

E-Fairness Gets Its Day in Court

Brian Egan, 202.626.3107

On April 17, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. case. Online retailers Wayfair, Overstock and Newegg are suing the State in response to a law that compels them to collect and remit sales taxes for transactions shipped to recipients in South Dakota.

In a 1992 decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that retailers did not need to collect and remit sales taxes unless they had a “physical presence” in the state. At the time, the internet and the online sales industry were just beginning, but as the industry grew, the online sales tax loophole that the case opened became a larger issue for states and cities.

While it’s impossible to determine the outcome of the case, there is reason to believe the Court may replace the “physical presence” test with a timelier option, such as an economic presence test. Such a ruling would be a huge step forward in the fight for parity between brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers.

 On the legislative front, NLC continues to push Congress to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 967) or the Remote Transactions Parity Act (H.R. 2193), as this legislation establishes parity at the point of purchase through a destination sourcing regime. Both pieces of legislation would steer states and cities toward a solution that is simplified, standardized and streamlined. Passing e-fairness legislation remains a priority for cities and we urge Congress to support S.967 or H.R. 2193.

EPA Announces Water Infrastructure Funding Opportunity

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a new round of funding for water infrastructure projects under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). Prospective borrowers seeking WIFIA credit assistance must submit a letter of interest by July 6.

WIFIA provides low-interest loans and loan guarantees for large water infrastructure projects of national or regional significance (projects of at least $20 million or $5 million for communities serving less than 25,000 people). WIFIA received $63 million under the FY18 omnibus appropriations bill, which the agency estimates could leverage over $11 billion toward water infrastructure projects.

WIFIA credit assistance can be used for a wide range of projects, including:

  • Drinking water treatment and distribution projects;
  • Wastewater conveyance and treatment projects;
  • Enhanced energy efficiency projects at drinking water and wastewater facilities;
  • Desalination, aquifer recharge, alternative water supply, and water recycling project; and
  • Drought prevention, reduction, or mitigation projects.

Learn more about how to apply for WIFIA assistance.

Additionally, EPA has a number of resources to assist prospective borrowers, including:

Finally, EPA will hold a series of upcoming webinars to learn more about the process for submitting and evaluating WIFIA letters of interest:

Proposed NLC Policy Resolutions and Amendments Due June 14, 2018

Avery Peters, 202.626.3020

NLC's National Municipal Policy and Resolutions (NMP) are the foundation for the organization's federal advocacy in policy matters before Congress, the administration, and the courts. The NMP is a permanent statement of NLC's position on federal policy matters that directly affect local governments. Resolutions address timely issues or specific pieces of federal legislation and are annual statements of position. Unless action is taken to renew a resolution or incorporate it into the NMP, each resolution expires at the City Summit following its adoption.

As part of NLC's annual policy development process, NLC's Federal Advocacy Committees are charged with reviewing the NMP and resolutions and making recommendations for changes, additions, and deletions. In addition to the committees' work, NLC is inviting all member cities to submit National Municipal Policy (NMP) amendments and resolutions for consideration. The deadline for submissions this year is June 14, 2018.

Each proposed policy amendment or resolution should include a document that provides background on the issue, as well as a discussion of the issues impact on local governments nationwide.

All proposals submitted by the deadline will be forwarded to the appropriate Federal Advocacy Committee for review and consideration. Voting delegates will consider the committees' work at the Annual Business Meeting during NLC's City Summit in Los Angeles, CA in November.

Proposed policy amendments and resolutions should be submitted in writing to Avery Peters via email at peters@nlc.org or mailed to him at the National League of Cities, 660 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 450, Washington, D.C. 20001.

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