Federal Advocacy Update: Week of May 8, 2018

U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol

In this issue:

Rebuild With Us During Infrastructure Week

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

Nothing is more essential to a city than providing safe and dependable infrastructure. From delivering clean drinking water and providing reliable transportation networks to ensuring that all residents have access to broadband, city leaders don’t have the luxury of ignoring our nation’s infrastructure challenges. 

That’s why NLC is once again participating in Infrastructure Week. From May 14-21, we are joining partners nationwide to challenge federal decision-makers to address the problems facing our nation’s infrastructure, to move beyond short-term fixes and deferred maintenance, and to envision the innovative solutions, technologies, policies and investments that will bring America’s aging infrastructure into the 21st century. 

Now more than ever we need city leaders to highlight your greatest infrastructure needs and why a federal partnership on infrastructure is important to your city. To help you tell your city’s infrastructure story, we’ve released three action guides:

Op-Ed Action Guide 
Social Media Action Guide 

Site Visit Action Guide 

By highlighting successfully completed projects or places where fixes, modernization or new investments are needed in your city through an op-ed, a site visit or on social media, we can make a difference in moving a federal infrastructure plan forward.

To learn more about NLC’s Infrastructure Week activities, visit nlc.org/infrastructure.

Rescission Proposal Would Clawback Existing Funds for City Priorities

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

Today, the White House started the clock on a formal “Rescission” process by submitting a $15 billion clawback request to Congress.  Funding targeted for clawback includes both programs prioritized by city leaders and direct funding that cities are eligible to receive.  For these and other reasons, NLC is urging Congress to reject the White House request.

Under the Rescission process, following a formal request from the White House, Congress has a 45-day window to act on the request.  The funds identified in the White House request will be frozen and unavailable for those 45 days.  If Congressional leaders choose to move forward, a bill will be drafted that may or may not be identical to the President’s request.  That bill cannot be filibustered and only requires a simple majority to pass.  If Congressional leaders do not schedule a vote within the 45 days, or if the bill is defeated by vote, federal agencies are required to unfreeze and allocate the targeted funding according to law.  If the bill is approved, the funds may be either reallocated or permanently rescinded. 

The $15 billion targeted by the White House were all enacted prior to Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, including:

  • $107 million from USDA Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program 
    • The EWP Program is an emergency recovery program that helps local communities recover after a natural disaster.  
  • $40 million from USDA Rural Housing Rental Assistance
    • The program provides project-based rent on behalf of low and very-low income rural residents.
  • $2 million from USDA Rural Community Facilities Program
    • Community Facilities Grants provide assistance to low income rural communities for essential community facilities such as police stations and medical clinics.
  • $13 million from USDA High Cost Energy Grants
    • These grants are for communities to improve energy generation, transmission, or distribution at facilities in communities where the average residential cost for home energy exceeds 275 percent of the national average
  • $37 million from USDA Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program
    • This program provides grants and loans to low income communities of 10,000 or less for clean drinking water and wastewater facilities in rural America.
  • $30 million from EDA Economic Development Assistance Programs
    • This program provides competitive economic development grants to economically distressed communities. 
  • $2 billion from HHS Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Contingency Fund
    • This fund allowed states to continue operating programs despite Congressional inaction during the debate over the FY2018 budget that allowed the CHIP program to temporarily expire.
  • $41 million from HUD Public Housing Capital Fund 
    • This fund provides grants to public housing authorities to address the capital repair needs in over 1 million units of public housing.
  • $106 million from DOJ Assets Forfeiture Fund
    • This fund includes equitable sharing payments to participating State and local law enforcement.
  • $53 million from DOT Capital Assistance for High Speed Rail Corridors and Intercity Passenger Rail Service
    • This fund provides capital grants to States to invest and improve intercity passenger rail service, including the development of new high-speed capacity.
  • $47 million from DOT Transit Formula Grants
    • Provides formula grant funding to transit agencies.
  • $53 million from Treasury Forfeiture Fund
    • This fund includes equitable sharing payments to participating State and local law enforcement.
  • $150 million from Corporation for National and Community Service 
    • These funds provide educational awards to eligible AmeriCorps volunteers who have completed their terms of service. 

In addition to these specific cuts, NLC is concerned about reports from Congress that additional rescission requests will follow if the current request is approved.  Any rescission of recently enacted federal funds would only compound the uncertainty that already exists for state and local governments stemming from the terminally broken federal budget process.  

NLC Opposes Clean Power Plan Repeal 

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101 

On April 25, NLC submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a proposed rule to repeal the “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Unites (EGUs),” commonly referred to as the Clean Power Plan (CPP), as promulgated on October 23, 2015.

NLC supports the Clean Power Plan as a means of nationally reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the growing negative impacts of climate change on cities. NLC urges the Administration to support and partner with cities in addressing the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Agency also recently accepted comments on an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input as it considers proposing a future rule for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. 

NLC also raised concerns with the process the Agency is using to repeal and potentially replace the CPP, urging the Agency to move forward in a more deliberative and subsequent manner, rather than concurrently. 

Aviation Bill Moves to Senate and Autonomous Vehicles Bill May Ride Along

Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

On April 27, the House passed a long-term FAA Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4) by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 393-13. Cities attention should now move to the Senate which is expected to take up their bill shortly. NLC will be watching closely to see where additional improvements can be made and what amendments will be allowed. 

One issue raised by NLC and other state and local colleagues for the House and now for the Senate is how air carriers are organized and managed with the addition of companies who want to engage in drone deliveries and other low altitude economic operations. While the House reviewed over 100 amendments on the floor, the Senate is likely to consider far fewer, and there will likely be a few that NLC will be watching closely including those on drones and airport noise. 

Additionally, the Senate autonomous vehicle bill has been stalled in negotiations since last year. Similarly, to how the disaster relief bill rode along with the House bill, it’s possible that the A.V. START Act could ride along with the FAA bill due to the limited timing available for the Senate to debate and move bills this legislative year. If moved together, a five-year FAA reauthorization, the disaster and mitigation bill, and an AV bill would bring an extensive set of infrastructure policy shifts for cities. 

DOJ Should Release 2017 Law Enforcement Grants

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

The National League of Cities is disappointed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to delay the disbursement of $174 million in Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) funds for the Fiscal Year 2017. DOJ is delaying the release of the 2017 funding awards because of the pending litigation that questions the legitimacy of the new requirements DOJ has placed on Byrne JAG recipients related to their enforcement of federal immigration laws. 

In July 2017, DOJ added a “notice” and an “access” requirement to receive Byrne JAG funds. Recipients were required to (1) provide 48 hours advance notice to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding the scheduled release of “aliens” and (2) allow access to correctional or detention facilities to meet with “aliens” and inquire about their right to be in the United States.

When the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the nationwide preliminary injunction on the imposition of new conditions on the Byrne JAG grant program, NLC hoped the Court’s ruling would have encouraged DOJ to release the 2017 Byrne JAG awards immediately.  Unfortunately, during last week’s Senate hearing, Attorney General Sessions' suggested that his agency will continue to hold the funding until there is a final ruling which can be months away.  

NLC strongly believes that any further delay by DOJ in awarding the funds undermines local law enforcement's efforts to keep our communities safe. We look forward to working with  DOJ to support local law enforcement and ensure they have the resources needed to keep all of us safe.

For more on the Byrne JAG disbursement delay, visit NLC’s blog, CitiesSpeak.

New “No-Low” Bus Grants Available from Federal Transit 

Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

For cities considering ways to make your bus fleet more sustainable, a new opportunity to partner with the federal government to purchase new no or low emissions buses recently opened. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the availability of $84.45 million of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 funds for the purchase or lease of low or no emission vehicles, such as buses as well as the related charging equipment or facilities needed for them. 

The main purpose of the Low-No Program is to support the transition of the nation’s transit fleet to the lowest polluting and most energy efficient transit vehicles. FTA’s Low-No Program provides funding to state and local governmental authorities for the purchase or lease of zero-emission and low-emission transit buses, including acquisition, construction, and leasing of required supporting facilities. Eligible applicants are local governmental authorities, a designated recipient of FTA grants, states, and Indian Tribes. Proposals are due June 18, 2018.

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