Federal Advocacy Update: Week of April 24, 2018

Inside of Capitol Building.
Inside of Capitol Building.

In this issue:


New Tool: Workforce Investment Strategies to Support Local Economies

Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman, 202.626.3098

As Congress and the Administration continue to consider workforce policy changes through both executive order and legislation, it remains critical for cities and towns across America to be able to speak to the on-the-ground implications and needs as it pertains to a skilled workforce. As cities across America work to strengthen their economic standing and competitiveness, strong workforce development systems are critical.

To support that work and messaging, NLC President Mark Stodola recently released a new resource that offers key areas for cities and federal partners to consider, which include supporting and scaling pathways to employment, equity and access, and the impact of emerging technologies. This tool will assist NLC and local leaders as we work to inform the president’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion as well as workforce implications in various pieces of legislation before Congress, including FAA and WRDA reauthorization.

NLC Weighs In on Farm Bill Priorities as House Committee Passes Bill

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101; Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman, 202.626.3098

On April 18, the House Agriculture Committee passed the Agriculture and Nutrition Act (H.R. 2, the “Farm Bill”) along a party-line vote of 26-20. The Farm Bill is wide-ranging legislation that establishes federal farm, food and rural policy. The current authorization expires on September 30. Important to cities and towns are the portions of the bill pertaining to rural development, water infrastructure and conservation, and food and nutrition. Prior to the markup, NLC sent a letter to Committee members outlining these local priorities for the Farm Bill.

Rural Development Title

The Rural Development Title provides an opportunity to advance rural development programs such as housing, business development, and water, energy and broadband infrastructure. The bill maintains funding at $150 million per year for broadband grants and loans to improve access in rural areas, reduces annual funding for water infrastructure grants from $30 million to $15 million, and eliminates mandatory funding for several other rural development programs, subjecting them instead to the annual appropriations process. The bill also includes changes to the rural broadband program to increase speed requirements for eligible broadband services and make “middle mile” broadband infrastructure eligible for subsidy.

NLC and its partners in the Campaign for Renewed Rural Development sent a letter to Committee members calling for a robust Rural Development Title that promotes economic growth and stability by investing in our nation’s rural infrastructure and incentivizing regional collaboration to address the array of issues facing rural communities such as increasing health disparities, the opioid epidemic and a digital divide.

Conservation Title

Regarding conservation programs, the legislation would provide $250 million per year and make several key changes to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, including allowing projects to extend beyond the current five-year limit if approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The legislation also ensures that at least 10 percent of all conservation program funding, approximately $400 million, is used to promote water quality and quantity practices that protect drinking water. 

Nutrition Title

Within the nutrition title, NLC supports programs that promote local food systems. The House bill increases mandatory funding to $275 million over five years for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program, a competitive grant program that provides low-income consumers with cash incentives that increase their purchasing power at farmers markets. The House bill eliminates mandatory funding for programs like the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, a competitive grant program aimed at increasing and strengthening direct producer-to-consumer marketing channels.

Finally, within this title, the House legislation also makes changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program, which provides greater access to nutrition for low-income households. The bill would:

  • Expand the number of participants that would be subject to work requirements and create stronger penalties for those who don’t comply;
  • Increase funding for the SNAP Employment and Training program, a state administration grant program that varies in its design and participation requirements from state to state, but that assists participants in fulfilling a job or training requirement on a voluntary basis; and
  • Update language as it relates to employment or training activities to include subsidized employment, apprenticeship and time-limited unpaid volunteer experiences.

NLC’s National Municipal Policy supports federal efforts to encourage employment that reduces dependence on welfare, provided it considers local capacity as well as regional differences and that does not create unfunded mandates.

Several amendments were approved by the committee, including one that NLC opposed by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) that preempts state authority to regulate production of farm goods in other states.

House Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) said he hopes to bring the bill up for a floor vote in early May. In the Senate, the Agriculture Committee is expected to release their version of the Farm Bill in the coming weeks.

Congress Pushes to Pass Additional Legislation to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

The House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) announced that he would be pushing to have an opioid legislative package delivered to the House floor by Memorial Day weekend. The Committee is considering more than two dozen bills aimed at combating the opioid epidemic. 

The package of bills include legislation that will:

  • permit medical providers to share data of patients diagnosed with substance use disorders (SUD) without consent;
  • establish Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers (CORCs);
  • improve federal support for Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP);
  • expand medication-assisted treatment (MAT) by increasing the number of prescribers of buprenorphine;
  • authorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to develop practices for SUD recovery housing;
  • spur research on non-addictive pain medications and develop alternative pain management solutions;
  • provide grants to federal, state, and local agencies to detect fentanyl and other synthetic opioids; and
  • increase the funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act’s (CARA) Building Communities of Recovery Program.

Additional information about the legislation, including bill numbers, sponsors and summaries, is available here. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to begin markup of the bills on April 25. 

While in the Senate, a bipartisan group of Senators also introduced legislation in February to build on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) passed in 2016. The Senate Health Committee is looking to markup legislation this spring.

NLC is closely monitoring all the House and Senate bills but at this time we have not endorsed any specific piece of legislation. However, bills that improve the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, increase the number of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) providers, and increase the amount of funding that is available through CARA, are a good step forward to help cities combat the opioid epidemic.

NLC Supports Legislation to Restore Brownfields Tax Incentive

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, NLC lent its support to the Brownfields Redevelopment Tax Incentive Reauthorization Act to renew section 198 of the Internal Revenue Code through December 31, 2021. The federal brownfields tax deduction allows for the expensing of all cleanup costs in the year incurred. Reauthorizing the tax incentive would promote and accelerate the cleanup of brownfields sites across the nation.

The Brownfields Tax Incentive first passed as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. It allowed taxpayers to deduct remediation expenditures for the cleanup of a property if the property was used for a trade, business, or for the production of income. However, following a two-year extension in 2009, the incentive expired on January 1, 2012, and Congress has since failed to reauthorize this tax incentive.

The bipartisan bill sponsored by Reps. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Peter King (R-NY), Michael Turner (R-NY) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) builds on the brownfields reauthorization that was signed into law as part of the FY18 omnibus appropriations bill in March. The legislation made key changes to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields program, including addressing the liability issues of “involuntary” acquisition of brownfields sites. 

FAA Bill Takes Off in House with Disaster and Mitigation Provisions Riding Along

Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

On April 25, the House will vote on the FAA Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4) to reconstitute the FAA through 2023. While the funding was secured previously through the omnibus, the bill provides stable policy that cities and their airports rely on such as:

  • the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which funds construction of critical infrastructure at airports of all sizes ($4.35 billion);
  • the Essential Air Service Program, which guarantee that small communities retain commercial service ($155 million),
  • and continues the NextGen development to improve the technology running our national airspace ($1.3 billion).

Of note, the bill will carry new provisions for drones and airline passengers, as well as a bill focused on pre-disaster planning and disaster mitigation. After the removal of the hotly contested air-traffic control privatization, the House bill debate will focus on the 225 amendments filed – including several important airport noise provisions and amendment 188, which would codify the FAA’s drone Integration Pilot Program– and the addition of the bipartisan Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), which House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Shuster (R-PA) deemed “must pass” legislation.

Passage of this FAA bill would allow for longer term certainty for at least one of the smaller, yet significant corners of the nation’s transportation portfolio. The National League of Cities will continue to work with Members of Congress to support passage of FAA and DRRA with some priority amendments like 188, and modifications that would allow for greater city engagement in their airports and future flyers overhead.

President Trump Issues Executive Order Targeting Welfare Reform

Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman, 202.626.3098

On April 10, President Trump issued an executive order directing secretaries across seven federal agencies to review their programs through the lens of nine principles to guide their proposals for policy changes, which are due within 90 days. These policy changes and recommendations can include adding or increasing work requirements, providing more flexibility to states, likely in the form of block grants, looking for opportunities to consolidate programs, as well as working with the private sector to develop local solutions.

The parameters set forth in this executive order could have implications on a number of social safety net programs important to cities and towns across America, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid. While NLC’s National Municipal Policy supports federal efforts to encourage employment that reduces dependence on welfare, it must be done so as not to create unfunded mandates and ensure comprehensive and coordinated services that take into account regional and local differences.

NLC Added to FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

After months of advocacy, NLC was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) in early April. David Young, Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager for the City of Lincoln, Nebraska, will represent NLC during its next public meeting on April 25 in Washington, DC. The BDAC, formed in January 2017 by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, has been tasked with identifying barriers to broadband deployment and proposing solutions, and creating model state and municipal codes to promote broadband deployment. NLC has advocated for more local representation on the BDAC since its inception, as local representatives continue to be outnumbered by industry advocates ten to one.

During its April meeting, the BDAC is expected to review and vote on model state and municipal model codes intended to speed the deployment of broadband infrastructure, particularly wireless infrastructure. While the model municipal code has evolved greatly due to the input of local officials, the state model code was crafted without local feedback and heavily prioritizes the preemption of local governments above all other policy solutions to deploy broadband infrastructure. The FCC has not yet announced how the work of the BDAC will inform its policymaking on pending wireless infrastructure dockets focused on small cell deployments, or whether the work of the BDAC will continue past this spring.

For copies of the latest model codes and other BDAC documents, visit the FCC website.

Appeals Court Rules against DOJ’s Effort to Punish Sanctuary Cities

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

On April 19, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the nationwide preliminary injunction in the Chicago v. Sessions case regarding the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) imposition of new conditions on the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne JAG). The Byrne JAG grant program provides personnel, equipment, and training assistance to local law enforcement agencies across the country. 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions placed additional immigration enforcement conditions to cities, which Chicago argued were unlawful and unconstitutional. The court agreed with Chicago that the “notice” condition mandating 48-hour notice of the release date of persons in local correctional facilities and the “access” condition that required correctional facilities to grant access to federal immigration enforcement agents to facilities to meet with persons to determine their immigration status exceeded DOJ’s authority. The court found that the Attorney General lacks Congressional authority “to impose conditions that require states or local governments to assist in immigration enforcement, nor to deny funds to states or local governments for the failure to comply with those conditions.”

NLC filed an amicus with the court in support of Chicago’s lawsuit for an injunction on the DOJ’s effort to withhold Byrne JAG funding. 

We are concerned that the Attorney General continues to withhold the allocation of Byrne JAG funds to cities that are not even a part of the case, until there is a final determination on the nationwide injunction. We hope the court’s ruling will encourage DOJ to release the 2017 Byrne JAG awards immediately. Any further delay by DOJ in awarding the funds undermines local law enforcement's efforts to keep local communities safe.

Supreme Court Hears Internet Sales Tax Arguments in South Dakota v. Wayfair

Brian Egan, 202.626.3107

We’ve been waiting 26 years for the Supreme Court to reexamine its Quill decision, and on April 17, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. case. The case will determine the constitutionality of a South Dakota law that compels out of state retailers to collect and remit state and local sales taxes if they have a sufficient economic presence within the state.

In January, we know that at least four justices voted to grant a writ of certiorari and hear the case, although we do not know which ones. We cannot predict how the Court will opine in June and what implications the opinion may have, but the oral arguments offer some insight into where some of the justices stand. To learn more about the case, visit NLC’s blog the CitiesSpeak.

USDOT Announces $1.5B of TIGER Grants Available Through Rebranded “BUILD” Program

Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

On April 20, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced that they opened up $1.5 billion in new competitive, transportation grant opportunities that cities can take advantage of today to advance projects of varying sizes and types. Previously known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grants, the new funding will be available through the rebranded and retooled Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants program.

This additional funding was provided by Congress for infrastructure in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 to “help states and communities address their most critical transportation projects.” Congress stipulated to USDOT that the maximum grant award would be $25 million, and no more than $150 million can be awarded to a single State. Additionally, they required that at least 30 percent of funds must be awarded to projects located in rural areas. Applications for these grants are due on July 19, 2018. Find out more about these grants here and sign up for webinars to learn more about applying here.

FEMA Releases Affordability Framework for the National Flood Insurance Program

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released an affordability framework, as required by the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 (HFIAA). The framework titled, “An Affordability Framework for the National Flood Insurance Program,” is intended to provide a data driven analysis of policyholder and potential policyholder incomes by flood risk and home ownership status.

When Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12), it sought to build a more sound financial framework for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by directing FEMA to remove the discounts for some policyholders with homes insured by the NFIP. Due to challenges associated with increased premiums required by BW-12, HFIAA directed FEMA to develop an Affordability Framework to help policymakers consider how to provide targeted financial assistance to policyholders rather than generally providing subsidized rates. The framework proposes several options for developing an affordability program for flood insurance and offers models of the costs of each option.

FEMA is asking Congress to authorize the NFIP to establish a means-tested affordability program that allows low-income policyholders to maintain subsidized rates. According to FEMA, the measure to keep the program affordable for those who need it should be paired with accelerated premium increases for policyholders who can afford to pay risk-based rates.

The NFIP, which was set to expire last September was extended by the omnibus spending package until July 31, 2018. While the House passed a flood insurance package in November that reauthorizes the NFIP and provides some concessions which were secured in favor of policyholders, the pressure is now on the Senate Banking Committee to produce companion legislation.

NLC continues to urge Congress to quickly reauthorize the NFIP and to keep flood insurance rates affordable for primary, non-primary and business properties while balancing the fiscal solvency of the program. We believe the federal government should work with state and local governments, the insurance industry, and other stakeholders to develop an incentive-based disaster insurance and mitigation system that would encourage property owners to retrofit existing structures to reduce future losses from natural disasters. In reauthorizing the NFIP, Congress should provide additional resources to FEMA to utilize the best technology and methods available to improve the mapping process, including requiring FEMA to seek input from local government officials prior to approving any flood map that could impact local zoning rules.

Malicious Russian Cyber Activity is Targeting Government Networks

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

On April 16, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released a joint “Technical Alert” about malicious cyber activity carried out by the Russian Government.

According to the alert, “The targets of this malicious cyber activity are primarily government and private-sector organizations, critical infrastructure providers, and the internet service providers (ISPs) supporting these sectors.” The techniques used by Russian actors exploit basic weaknesses in network systems. Specifically, these malicious cyber activities can target local government network infrastructure such as routers, switches, firewalls to compromise government services and extract intellectual property, compromise login credentials, and potentially lay a foundation for future attacks.

Local government personnel, who are responsible for maintaining network infrastructure should read the alert (TA18-106A) and act on the recommended mitigation strategies. The alert contains indicators of compromise, technical details on the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and contextual information regarding networks of compromised victims. If your city finds signs of the malicious activity described in TA18-106A, you are encouraged to report them to DHS’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), the FBI, NCSC or law enforcement immediately. To request incident response resources or technical assistance, contact NCCIC at NCCICcustomerservice@hq.dhs.gov or (888) 282-0870 or the FBI through a local field office or its Cyber Division at CyWatch@fbi.gov or (855) 292-3937.

To learn more about how malicious Russian cyber activity is targeting government networks visit NLC’s blog, CitiesSpeak.

FCC Commissioner Clyburn to Step Down

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

During the April 17 Open Commission meeting, Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Mignon Clyburn announced her resignation from the FCC. During her tenure as a commissioner since starting in 2011, Commissioner Clyburn has served as a champion of city issues, including the modernization of the Lifeline and e-Rate programs, and an opponent of preemption of local authority. Commissioner Clyburn also served as the Commission’s first female chair for an interim period in 2013 and was a vocal advocate for communications service access for the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as an opponent of high prison system calling rates.

The FCC is now left with a 3-1 party split in favor of Republicans. Commissioner Clyburn’s Democratic seat will likely be filled by current FCC Enforcement Bureau Assistant Chief Geoffrey Starks. Prior to his time at FCC, Starks worked as senior counsel to the deputy attorney general’s office at the Department of Justice, as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly, as an aide to the Illinois State Senate Local Government & Elections Committee, and as an analyst at Goldman Sachs. Any confirmation hearing for Starks would likely be paired with a confirmation for Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr, whose current term expires in 2018.

Better Buses Coming to A City Near You

Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

Americans took more than 10 billion transit trips in 2017, and now in 2018, many of them will be getting a better ride. On April 5, the Federal Transit Administration announced the city recipients who would receive $264 million in competitive grants through the FTA’s Buses and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program. These grants pay for capital projects to replace, rehabilitate and purchase buses, vans, and related equipment, and to construct bus-related facilities, including technological changes or innovations to modify low or no emission vehicles or facilities.

In total, FTA provided funding to 139 projects in 52 states and territories. If your city is benefitting from these new bus and bus facility grants, we would love to feature your new buses and facilities in our Rebuild With Us campaign and showcase how city-federal partnership is improving your citizen’s commute.

FCC to Hold Mobility Fund Phase II Challenge Process Webinar for Local Officials

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Rural Broadband Auction Task Force will host a webinar for local officials on May 3 at 2:00PM EDT focused on how local governments can participate in the ongoing Mobility Fund Phase II Challenge Process. The webinar will provide local leaders with information on how they can challenge areas identified by the FCC as ineligible for subsidies for mobile wireless carriers, based on data submitted by those carriers.

The FCC released a map in February showing areas across the United States initially deemed eligible to receive support for the deployment of 4G LTE service. It released an additional data set in April of areas deemed ineligible to receive support because they have a single mobile carrier currently providing unsubsidized coverage. These areas will be the easiest for local governments to challenge and are the most likely to have their ineligible determination overturned.

The webinar will provide an overview of the Mobility Fund Phase II reverse auction, and help local officials determine if their communities have been identified as ineligible for support and how to challenge that determination. Local officials will have until August 27 to submit challenge data to the FCC.

For additional information about the webinar, please contact Barbara Britt at barbara.britt@fcc.gov or (202) 418-0323.

Program Area
Related Topics