Federal Advocacy Update: Week of March 26, 2019

Multiple American flags flying at sunset.
Multiple American flags flying at sunset.

In this issue:


Why the 2020 Budget Debate Indicates More Challenges for Cities

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

The administration’s budget proposal for FY20 begins with a message touting an “unprecedented”, two-year economic boom that has, among other things, resulted in the creation of five million new jobs. For the administration, this means now is a good time for Congress to bring federal spending and debt “under control”.

The president’s budget proposes to bring spending and debt under control through drastic cuts to safety net programs, including food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare. The proposal also looks to eliminate programs that expand economic opportunity and mobility, including Community Development Block Grants, Economic Development Grants, Community Services Block Grants, Social Services Block Grants, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and the Weatherization Assistance Program.

For cities, towns, and villages, the 35-day partial government shutdown was a disturbing period of uncertainty that spurred local leaders into action to minimize impacts on vulnerable residents. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the overall economy lost $11 billion during the shutdown. Individual cities have also calculated local economic losses and have adjusted budget and revenue projections accordingly.

For more on the President’s proposed budget, visit NLC’s blog, CitiesSpeak.


Ending CCC on Top of the Hill

Zachary Gossett, 202.495.2520

During this year’s Congressional City Conference, 2,000 local leaders from cities, towns and villages across the country shared best practices in city governance, worked together to develop a National Municipal Policy advocacy platform and urged Congress to work with cities to rebuild and reimagine America’s infrastructure. On March 13, NLC ended the conference with our annual Capitol Hill Advocacy Day. In total, over 280 local advocates from 31 states met with over 200 members of Congress and their staff. 

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During their meetings, participants urged their members of Congress to support an infrastructure package that rebuilds and reimagines America’s infrastructure while accounting for our nation’s backlogged infrastructure needs. In addition, they asked for Congress to support H.R. 530, the Accelerating Wireless Broadband Development by Empowering Local Communities Act of 2019, which would repeal the FCC’s regulations that force local governments to subsidize the deployment of 5G wireless infrastructure with no guarantee of improved service for residents. You can continue our advocacy on this issue from home by sending a letter to your representative urging them to cosponsor this bill. 

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Additionally, the local elected officials asked their members of Congress to cosponsor the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act (H.R. 1497), cosponsor the soon to be introduced Investing in Our Communities Act, and prevent future federal government shutdowns.

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Throughout the Congressional City Conference and on Capitol Hill Advocacy Day, NLC's message was amplified through social media under the hashtags #RebuildWithUs and #NLCCCC. For additional photos and highlights, follow NLC on Twitter and Facebook.


NLC, NATOA Call on FCC to Halt Cable Proposal

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

During NLC’s Congressional City Conference, leaders from NLC’s Information Technology and Communications Federal Advocacy Committee and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) met with the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Geoffrey Starks and several FCC bureaus to advocate for local empowerment in federal communications policies. 

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NLC and NATOA urged Commissioner Starks to collaborate with local officials and seek local input as he develops his policy agenda in his new position. NLC and NATOA also sought Starks’ assistance in closing a long-open FCC proceeding to update radiofrequency emissions safety standards and provide local officials with updated information and documentation for residents concerned with the safety of wireless equipment. 

NLC and NATOA also further opposed action on the FCC’s proposal to upend the established cable franchising system and preempt state and local authority over cable companies’ non-cable services and infrastructure. Both organizations, along with hundreds of communities and public, educational, and governmental (PEG) stations, filed comments in late 2018 opposing the proposal.


Water Infrastructure Bills Introduced in House

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Earlier this month, two bipartisan water infrastructure bills were introduced in the House that advance NLC’s Rebuild With Us infrastructure campaign. Together, the bills address the nation’s aging water infrastructure and provide communities with additional flexibility in improving their water systems. 

On March 5, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4), Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Grace Napolitano (D-CA-32), Representative Don Young (R-AK-24) and Representative John Katko (R-NY-24) introduced the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act (H.R. 1497). The bill would reauthorize and increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) program, which is an essential tool for communities to provide clean and safe water for residents and businesses. The bill would also extend the authorization of sewer overflow control grants to enable communities to better manage their wet weather flows and invest in green infrastructure and water and energy efficiency projects. Click here to view NLC’s letter of support. 

Additionally, on March 14, Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA-3), Ken Calvert (R-CA-42) and Rob Woodall (R-GA-7) introduced legislation (H.R. 1764) that would extend the maximum term for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued under the Clean Water Act from five to 10 years. Current federal law only provides for 5-year NPDES permit terms. Extending the permit term to up to 10 years would better reflect planning and construction schedules for local water and wastewater treatment projects. The longer permit terms would only apply to states and local governments, not private entities. Click here to view NLC’s letter of support.


NFIP Reauthorization Legislation Introduced

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) released four discussion drafts of legislation that would reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years and make several changes to its operations.  

The first bill would reauthorize the NFIP through September 30, 2024, and it looks to address a number of affordability issues such as: 1) forgiving the NFIP’s debt, 2) creating a 5-year demonstration for means-tested assistance to low-income policyholders, 3) reducing fees and surcharges, 4) revising the NFIP’s coverage limits, 5) enabling policyholders to pay premiums in monthly installments, and 6) creating a state revolving loan fund. 

The second bill would make several changes to floodplain management and mitigation, such as: 1) raising the amount of funds available under the Increased Cost of Compliance program and expanding the eligible mitigation activities to include the cost of acquisitions, among others; 2) granting the Administrator discretion to consider the extent to which communities are working to remedy problems with repeatedly flooded areas when administering mitigation assistance; 3) granting credits for alternative forms of mitigation, allowing coverage for co-ops and community-based policies; and 4) authorizing any flood plain management activities.  

The third bill would reauthorize and fund the flood mapping program and provide funding to support flood mapping. It would also make several changes to the mapping program, such as: 1) requiring the most up-to-date technology and more advanced and granular flood maps, 2) improving the process for policyholders and communities to appeal the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) mapping decisions, and 3) creating new flood map zones for levee-impact and agricultural areas. 

The fourth bill would make numerous changes to the claims process drawing on the lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy. The bill would ensure that policyholders better understand the terms of their flood insurance policies and improve the appeals and litigation process for consumers.

NLC is reviewing the draft legislation and we look forward to working with Chairwoman Waters to make sure any reforms that are made to the NFIP will keep flood insurance rates affordable for primary, nonprimary 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. We believe the mapping legislation should provide additional resources to FEMA to utilize the best technology and methods available to improve the mapping process, including seeking the input from local government officials prior to approving any flood map that could impact local zoning rules.


CFBP Initiates Rulemaking Process on PACE

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

On March 8, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing. The Bureau is soliciting information to help it better understand the market and unique nature of PACE financing. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law in May 2018, requires CFPB to develop rules in consultation with state and local governments that ensure consumers have the ability to pay their residential PACE financing obligations. Comments are due May 7. 

PACE financing programs are an innovative local government solution to help property owners finance energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements – such as energy efficient HVAC systems, upgraded insulation, new windows, solar installations, etc. – to their homes and businesses. The PACE program removes many of the barriers of energy efficiency and renewable energy retrofits that otherwise exist for residential homeowners and businesses, particularly the high upfront cost of making such an investment and the long-term ability to reap the benefits of cost savings. 

To date, 36 states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws enabling local governments to develop PACE programs. Residential PACE financing is available in California, Florida and Missouri. According to PACENation, from 2009-2018, residential PACE financing nears $5.2 billion across more than 220,000 homes. Commercial PACE programs, which are not part of the CFPB rulemaking, are active in 20 states plus D.C. 

CFPB is soliciting information on all aspects of PACE financing, but specifically about current standards and practices in the PACE financing origination process, civil liability, the unique nature of PACE financing and potential implication of regulating PACE financing under the Truth in Lending Act. 


Supporting the House Municipal Finance Caucus

Brian Egan, 202.626.3107

The House Municipal Finance Caucus is a bipartisan group in Congress that has served as a support anchor for municipal priorities since 2016. Their efforts and assistance have played an invaluable role in NLC’s fight to preserve the tax exemption on municipal bonds and private activity bonds during tax reform last Congress.

Undoubtedly, their support is pivotal in our push to reinstate the tax exemption on advance refunding bonds. It is crucial that we have and maintain a strong base of support for municipal bonds on Capitol Hill. 

Currently, Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD-2) and Steven Stivers (R-OH-15) serve as the Caucus chairs. With the new Congress, however, comes a lot of new faces. Now, we need your support to help continue building a bipartisan membership for the Caucus. Check to see if your member of Congress is already on the Caucus here. If they are, be sure to thank them for their support. If they are not, be sure to tell them that you support the House Municipal Finance Caucus and consider asking them to join their colleagues in serving as a champion for cities, towns and villages on the Caucus. 


New Federal Broadband Educational Resources for Local Officials Available

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), BroadbandUSA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have all announced new online and in-person educational resources for local officials.

USDA, as part of its ReConnect rural broadband pilot, has announced two of six anticipated in-person regional technical assistance workshops. The workshops are intended for possible applicants to get information and assistance with the application process and program requirements. The first will be held in Washington, Pennsylvania, April 2-3, 2019, and the next in Welches, Oregon, April 23-24, 2019. Registration is required.

BroadbandUSA will host a webinar on April 17 focused on building a cybersecurity workforce. The event will center on the efforts by historically black colleges and universities to develop cybersecurity training programs and address workforce shortages.


How States and Localities Use Emergency Management Grants 

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

Each year, the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) issue a report on the return on investment of the Emergency Management Performance Grants (part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agencies suite of grants). The 2019 edition represents the input from 46 states, two territories and 1,042 local emergency management agencies. One of the key data points in the report is the fact that state and local emergency managers respond to thousands of events that were never declared federal disasters. In 2018, there were 23,331 such events. The report also provides data on disaster planning, training, communications and mutual aid agreements. 

NLC works closely with NEMA and IAEM to make changes to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act that improves the way the federal government helps localities develop comprehensive disaster preparedness plans, prepare for better intergovernmental coordination before and after a disaster and provide assistance programs to local governments to recover after a disaster. 

Lastly, FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau announced the availability of a recorded webinar for state and local officials focused on how the FCC can assist state and local governments to prepare for, respond to and recover from major incidents that affect communications systems.
 

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