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January 20, 2010

RE: FEDERAL UPDATE - Period Ending January 15, 2010 

1. Update on U.S. Relief Efforts in Haiti
2. NLC Board Announces 2010 Legislative Agenda

3. HUD Announces Recovery Act Neighborhood Stabilization Program Grants
4. Congressional Leaders Continue Work to Finalize Health Care Reform
5. APTA Plans High Speed Rail Seminars in Three U.S. Cities
6. Obama Administration Announces Shift in Transit Policy
7. DOL Announces Recovery Act Pathways Out of Poverty Grants

8. NLC Files Petition for Reconsideration and Motion for Stay in FCC Proceeding

Dear Mayor:

Courtesy of the Federal Relations staff of the National League of Cities (NLC), here is an update of recent action in our Nation’s Capital.

1. Update on U.S. Relief Efforts in Haiti
In response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, earlier this week in a conference call with municipal officials, the White House provided an update on its efforts, which continue to focus on saving lives, supporting recovery efforts on the ground, and accounting for the thousands of American citizens who are currently in Haiti.

In addition, the White House has established a centralized website, www.whitehouse.gov/HaitiEarthquake, which will be updated in coming days with informational tools and resources for individuals and communities seeking to support relief efforts.  Families of Americans living in Haiti who are trying to determine the status of loved ones are encouraged to contact the State Department at 1.888.407.4747.

Cash donations are the most efficient and effective way to help the relief effort in Haiti right now. They allow humanitarian organizations to purchase (often within the affected region itself) the exact type and quantity of items needed by those affected by the crisis.  Read about the advantages of monetary donations here.  You can immediately donate to the Red Cross to assist the relief effort.  Contribute online to the Red Cross, or donate $10 to be charged to your cell phone bill by texting "HAITI" to "90999."  You can also find more ways to help through the Center for International Disaster Information, or through USAID’s interactive website.

Finally, the White House has requested that municipal officials keep track of all offers of in-kind services and supplies so that as needs on the ground are assessed the Administration can quickly turn around the resources and get them to Haiti.  NLC will continue to keep city officials posted as more information becomes available

2. NLC Board Announces 2010 Legislative Agenda
At their annual planning meeting in Washington, D.C., last week, the NLC board of directors called for more federal action to help municipalities create jobs and stabilize their budgets.  This call to action for a jobs package came in the wake of a new NLC report projecting that the municipal sector will face budget shortfalls ranging between $56 billion and $83 billion over the next three years.  According to the report, local governments will continue to face layoffs, canceled contracts with small businesses and vendors, reduced services, and confront cuts in state aid due to these projected shortfalls.  Together, these measures can have devastating impacts on the employment level in local communities.  It is estimated that local budget cuts could result in 600,000 public and private sector job losses in 2010 and another 900,000 in 2011.  One in seven cities is beginning to cut public safety services, which is usually only done as a last resort.

In addition to calling for short-term action on a jobs package, the board also called for federal action in 2010 on the following key priorities for cities including:

• Authorizing a new federal surface transportation program;
• Fully funding the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program; and
• Continuing efforts to stabilize the housing market and strengthen neighborhoods.

3. HUD Announces Recovery Act Neighborhood Stabilization Program Grants
Yesterday, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the agency has awarded $2 billion in competitive Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) grants under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. 

This is the second round of NSP funding authorized by Congress in response to the ongoing home foreclosure crisis; in September 2008, HUD allocated nearly $4 billion to 309 cities and states on a formula basis.  These grants can be used to acquire, redevelop, or demolish foreclosed and abandoned properties that might otherwise become sources of blight within their communities and are subject to the Recovery Act conditions and reporting requirements.

4. Congressional Leaders Continue Work to Finalize Health Care Reform
Congressional negotiators continue efforts to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of health care reform.  Two key issues in the negotiations have been: (1) how to pay for the reform and (2) whether to impose employer insurance mandates.

In terms of paying for reform, both the White House and leading economists back the proposal to fund health care reform through a tax on expensive or “Cadillac,” insurance plans, which is contained in the Senate bill.  Some argue that such an excise tax would not only pay for a large portion of health care reform but also substantially contribute to cost containment.  In an agreement reached yesterday with the labor unions, the White House and House and Senate negotiators announced that labor unions and state and local governments would be exempt until 2018 from any proposed tax on expensive insurance plans.

On the second issue, a provision in the Senate proposal that would require individuals to purchase health insurance but would not require large employers to provide their workers with health insurance is also gaining support, due in part to a substantial lobbying effort by small businesses and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Both have argued that a mandate on employers would reduce their competitiveness.  No agreement has been reached on this issue yet.

While the timeframe to complete negotiations is unclear, many in Congress hope to pass a final bill before the President’s upcoming State of the Union address.

NLC will monitor the discussions in the weeks ahead and continues to call for final legislation that improves access to health care for all Americans, reduces the rate of growth in costs, ensures that cities and towns have access to the same or similar health care insurance options available to individuals and businesses, and that the costs of overall reform are not shifted to local governments.

5. APTA Plans High Speed Rail Seminars in Three U.S. Cities
Last year, Congress provided $8 billion for the development of high speed rail in the United States.  Next month, the American Public Transit Association (APTA) will hold three regional seminars to share information from other countries with experience in implementing high speed rail, with a focus on best practices and lessons learned in both Europe and Asia.

Sessions will be held in Washington, DC (February 8-9), Chicago (February 9-11) and Los Angeles (February 11-13).  Please contact NLC if you would like information on current U.S. high speed rail efforts or if you are interested in attending any of these sessions. Further event information may also be found on the APTA website

6. Obama Administration Announces Shift in Transit Policy
This week, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood outlined proposed new federal funding guidelines for major transit projects that add livability issues, such as economic development and environmental benefits, to the current criteria of cost-effectiveness and time saved.  The new guidelines aim to make it easier for municipalities to use federal money for public transportation initiatives and to support transit-oriented development and other community development goals.  Congress provided $2 billion in fiscal year 2010 for new public transit and commuter rail service.

The Administration continues to seek ways to better coordinate federal programs to encourage livable communities, and the proposed changes in funding criteria further its efforts to promote this agenda.  DOT, along with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), already have combined forces, working together on grants and seeking ways to minimize federal programs for local governments that work at cross-purposes.  In the next few weeks, the Departments of Energy and Agriculture are expected to officially join forces with this initiative, which NLC has strongly endorsed.

7. DOL Announces Recovery Act Pathways Out of Poverty Grants
Last Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the award of “Pathways out of Poverty” grants to 38 local and national organizations.  The grants are designed to help workers in disadvantaged communities gain access to “good, safe and prosperous jobs in the 21st century green economy,” according to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

The organizations will use the grants to design and implement programs to help those most impacted by the recession—unemployed individuals, high school dropouts, and disadvantaged individuals who live in communities with poverty rates of 15 percent or more.  Individuals who enroll in these programs will receive basic skills and work-readiness training along with occupational skills training, supportive services designed to help participants overcome barriers to employment, and job placement assistance. 

Among the cities receiving grants are St. Louis, Missouri; St. Petersburg, Florida; Syracuse, New York; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New York, New York; Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles, California; and Charlotte, North Carolina.  To view a copy of the Department’s press release and a full list of grant recipients, click here

8. NLC Files Petition for Reconsideration and Motion for Stay in FCC Proceeding
On December 17, NLC, joined by the National Association of Counties, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the American Planning Association, filed a Petition for Reconsideration with the FCC as to a part of the FCC’s recent ruling developing a “shot clock” for tower siting application review.

Although the entire rule, and the FCC’s claim of legal authority to issue it, is troublesome to NLC, the Petition focused on one of the most troubling aspects of the Ruling.  In addition to establishing deadlines of 90 days for collocation application reviews and 150 days for review of all other applications, the Ruling gave a local government the ability to toll those shot clocks when an application was “incomplete.”  However, the local government would only have the power to toll the shot clock because the application was incomplete if it discovered the incompleteness within 30 days of when the application was submitted.  This rule has the potential for serious unintended consequences, especially when problems with an application are only apparent after 30 days through no fault of the local government, or when third parties (or the applicant) hold up the review process. 

The groups’ Petition focused on this 30 day incompleteness deadline.  First, the Petition argues that the FCC (even under its own, incorrect, understanding of its authority) exceeded its power by issuing this rule.  Second, the Petition discusses some of the numerous practical problems with the 30 day incompleteness deadline.  Third, the Petition expresses our concern about the origin and thought process behind this rule when the rule was implemented without CTIA’s request, without discussion in any party’s comments or ex parte presentations, and without preliminary discussion with any local government. 

The Petition requested that the FCC remove or revise the 30 day deadline and, instead, give local authorities the ability to toll the shot clock for legitimate reasons at any point during the review process.  To accompany this Petition, the groups also filed an Emergency Motion for Stay requesting that the Commission suspend the entire Ruling or at least the 30 day incompleteness deadline until there is more deliberation on this issue. The Petition does not address the FCC’s legal authority to institute the 90 and 150 day shot clocks.  The Petition makes clear to the FCC that we are not accepting their argument that they acted within their authority, but, we are not holding that argument at this time in this Petition may join an appeal at a later date.  To view the full text of the Petition for Reconsideration, click here, and for the full text of the Emergency Motion for Stay, click here.

On January 11, the FCC published a notice in the Federal Register requesting comments on the Petition.  The comments are due on January 22, 2010; to view the Federal Register Notice, click here.

If you have any questions on any of these items, contact Jon Moran at 609-695-3481, ext. 121.

Very truly yours,

 

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director

 

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