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April 20, 2010

RE: Federal Update for Period Ending April 16, 2010

  1. Local Jobs Bill Gains Support
  2. Unemployment Benefits and COBRA Subsidy Extended
  3. Senators Call for EECBG Funding Issued by DOE
  4. DOE Announces Changes to the Procurement Process for EECBG
  5. NLC Opposes FCC Plan for Public Safety Interoperability
  6. Vice President Biden Announces Tighter Enforcement of Recovery Act Reporting
  7. Immigration Reform Expected to Gather Steam in Senate
  8. Airport Reauthorization - Support Passenger Facility Charges Increase

 Dear Mayor:

Our thanks go out to the Federal relations staff at the National League of Cities (NLC). That association has been supporting municipalities and state municipal leagues in our Nation’s Capitol longer and better than any other. The information in this letter comes from those dedicated professionals. It covers action in Washington over the past two weeks.

1.         Local Jobs Bill Gains Support
Thanks to the efforts of municipal officials and state municipal leagues, since April 9, there were added 20 more co-sponsors to the Local Jobs for America Act, H.R. 4812. The bill now enjoys the support of 139 House members. Included among the co-sponsors are New Jersey Congressmen Andrews, Holt, Pallone, Pascrell, Payne, Rothman and Sires. If enacted, the bill would direct $75 billion to municipalities and counties to save local government jobs and prevent layoffs.  The bill also includes $23 billion to support an estimated 250,000 teacher jobs; $1.18 billion to put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the streets; $500 million to hire and retain firefighters; and $500 million for approximately 50,000 additional on-the-job training positions to help the private sector expand employment.  For cities and towns, the resources made available will counter the recession's impacts --- declining property, sales, and income taxes and lost state aid and increased need for services. NLC is asking municipal officials to continue reaching out to House members who have not signed on to the legislation; share with them how the resources could help your citizens; and urge them to support the legislation. 

2.         Unemployment Benefits and COBRA Subsidy Extended
On a related front, last Thursday, Congress approved and the President signed into law legislation that extends through May 31 federal funding of unemployment insurance and health insurance subsidies for unemployed persons.  As a result of this extension, unemployed individuals in some states may be able to receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment pay.  The law also restores benefits to anyone who lost their extended unemployment insurance benefits during the two weeks when Congress debated whether to extend federally funded unemployment benefits. 

3.         Senators Call for EECBG Funding Issued by DOE
A bipartisan group of Senators, led by our own Senator Robert Menendez, along with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), are encouraging the Senate to appropriate money for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program.   Funding for the program was initially authorized two years ago; however, it remained unfunded until economic recovery legislation passed last year.  Additional funds were not included in the Administration's budget request for fiscal year 2011.  Senators Menendez and Sanders, who were original sponsors of the program, along with Senator Lugar and an additional 26 Senators, sent a letter to Senators Dorgan (D-ND) and Bennett (R-UT), leaders of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, urging them to provide $3.2 billion for the EECBG program this year.  Noting the value of EECBG to local governments' leadership, innovation, and efforts to promote energy and conservation programs, the letter urged Congress to "expand on the success of local initiatives to increase energy efficiency, promote energy conservation, expand renewable energy supplies, and create jobs. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) ensures that program resources are results-oriented, with recipients reporting each year on their energy efficiency gains." 

4.         DOE Announces Changes to the Procurement Process for EECBG
While support for additional EECBG funding continues to grow, the difficulty in getting money flowing to municipalities - particularly larger cities - remains a concern.  Much of the $3.2 billion already provided by Congress for the block grant through the Recovery Act remains unspent, and the Department of Energy (DOE) is now seeking to expedite spending of the funding.   Two weeks ago, DOE sent a memo to all EECBG grantees reviewing changes and clarifications to the procurement process involving:  (1) sub-grants and sub-contracting; (2) historic preservation; (3) waste stream; (4) project budget changes; (5) deadlines for submitting NEPA information.  Municipalities with questions about the changes and clarifications are encouraged to contact: Claire Johnson, Acting Program Manager, Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs, at Claire.Johnson@hq.doe.gov. Also, NLC is collecting information regarding the EECBG application process and the ways in which cities are investing these funds.  If you have information to share, please contact Tammy Zborel at zborel@nlc.org.. 

5.         NLC Opposes FCC Plan for Public Safety Interoperability
On April 14, NLC joined with other state and local government groups in asking Congress to oppose the commercial auction of the 700 MHz D block of spectrum proposed by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in the National Broadband Plan (NBP) and to support legislation reallocating the spectrum to public safety.  The 700 MHz D block of spectrum provides a unique opportunity for state and local governments to create a modern, reliable nationwide interoperable communications network that can handle both voice and data communications.  The network would allow for quick exchange of pictures, video, and text, enhancing the ability to save lives by quickly passing information to first responders, public institutions, and private citizens.  Under the FCC's proposal, private interests provide priority access to public safety on commercial networks for a fee.  This would require technology that does not yet exist and the creation, implementation, and enforcement of a new regulatory structure.  State and local public safety groups have been vocal in their opposition to the plan, and some private industry interests have questioned its technical feasibility. 

6.         Vice President Biden Announces Tighter Enforcement of Recovery   Act Reporting

During the week of April 5, the Administration released a Presidential Memorandum directing agencies to further intensify their efforts to improve reporting compliance by recipients of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) funds.  The Recovery Act requires recipients of funds to submit quarterly reports on how funds are put to work.  Specifically, the memorandum directs federal agencies to undertake strong due diligence in enforcing reporting requirements and take the strongest measures available by law to punish non-reporting recipients including "terminating awards; pursuing measures such as suspension and debarment; reclaiming funds; and considering, initiating, and implementing punitive actions."   For assistance submitting Recovery Act reports, local officials can contact the Recovery Act reporting hotline at 877-508-7386 or by e-mail at Support@FederalReporting.gov.  

7.         Immigration Reform Expected to Gather Steam in Senate
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democratic leaders recently announced intentions to move forward with comprehensive immigration legislation, possibly bringing the issue to the Senate floor sometime before June.  Reid argued that this legislation would secure the country's borders, include a guest-worker program, and forge a path to legalization for immigrants already in the country.  Separately, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have been working together on an immigration plan but have not yet introduced any legislation.  Senate leaders have said they have 56 Democrats lined up to support comprehensive legislation and are seeking more Republican votes.  Several attempts to reform immigration have failed in the Senate in previous sessions, even with bipartisan support.  Rather than face getting blocked in the Senate, House leadership will wait for the Senate to act before bringing up any legislation.  

8.         Airport Reauthorization - Passenger Facility Charges Increase
Federal airport and aviation programs, and the taxes that support them, expired in September 2007 and Congress has since been unable to reach agreement on a compromise bill.  The House has passed a reauthorization bill twice, and the Senate finally adopted an authorization bill on March 22.  Both the House and Senate versions of the bill provide additional funding for the Airport Improvement Program, the formula grant program providing funding to public use airports.  Both versions also expand and reform the Essential Air Services program, which subsidizes service to small and rural communities.  Despite these similarities, several differences remain, including a controversial labor provision that may delay any agreement between House and Senate conferees.  One issue important to NLC - an increase in the maximum passenger facility charge (PFC) that an airport can levy - is found in the House version but not the Senate's.  These fees finance airport capital projects, and the FAA must improve any increases before they can be imposed.   NLC, along with a broad coalition, supports the fee increase, which would allow airports to increase the maximum fee from the current $4.50 to $7.00. 

If you have any questions about 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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