Federal Advocacy Update: Week Ending December 16, 2016

City building
City building

In this issue:

Does your Representative Support Muni Bonds?

Tax-exempt municipal bonds are an essential and irreplaceable tool for cities to finance the construction and maintenance of main street infrastructure. Tax-exempt municipal bonds finance nearly two-thirds of the nation's core infrastructure. Approximately $1.7 trillion in infrastructure investment over the last decade was financed with tax-exempt municipal bonds.

Despite proven success as a financing tool that drives development while saving local governments interest costs, tax-exempt municipal bonds could be capped, diminished or dismantled as a pay-for under federal tax reform. As Congress considers comprehensive tax reform during the next session, cities must stand strong in defense of municipal bonds.

One way to ensure support for tax-exempt municipal bonds is to help grow the Congressional Municipal-Finance Caucus. Founded in March 2016 by Representatives Randy Hultgren (IL-14) and Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2), the Caucus is fighting for local governments' ability to independently finance projects to keep their communities strong.

We need your help to grow the Caucus. Click here to send a letter to your member of Congress today urging them to join the Congressional Municipal-Finance Caucus and protect the tax exemption for municipal bonds. By becoming a member of the Caucus, your member of Congress can join our fight to protect municipal bonds.

Cities Applaud Passage of Cures Act & Opioid Funding Authorization

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

This week, President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34), bipartisan legislation supported by NLC that authorized $1 billion of grant funding over the next two years to help communities combat the opioid crisis. For 2017, Congress appropriated $500 million for the opioid grant program.

NLC has been at the forefront of efforts to combat the opioid crisis. Earlier this year, NLC and the National Association of Counties (NACo) launched the City-County National Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which recently released the report, "A Prescription for Action: Local Leadership in Ending the Opioid Crisis." The report provides recommendations for how local officials should address the opioid crisis, and explores how cities and counties can strengthen collaboration with each other and state, federal, private-sector and non-profit partners. Click here to view the report and find additional resources.

Following the passage of H.R. 34, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) and Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), announced that the application period for the FY 2017 State Targeted Response (STR) to the Opioid Crisis Grants is now open. The Opioid STR program aims to address the opioid crisis by increasing access to treatment, reducing unmet treatment need, and reducing opioid overdose related deaths through the provision of prevention, treatment and recovery activities for opioid use disorder. These grants will be awarded to states and territories via formula based on unmet need for opioid use disorder treatment and drug poisoning deaths.

To help cities that are interested in applying, NLC has answered a few top questions below:

How can my city receive Opioid STR grant funding?
Eligible applicants for the Opioid STR grants are the Single State Agencies (SSAs). City officials should work closely with their SSA to ensure treatment and prevention programs in their cities will be eligible to receive Opioid STR funding. Click here to find your SSA's contact information.

How are the funds awarded?
State allocations for the Opioid STR grants are calculated by a formula based on the number of people with abuse or dependence on opioids with unmet treatment needs (NSDUH, 2011-2014) and the number of drug poisoning deaths (CDC Surveillance System). States are expected to develop and provide opioid misuse prevention, treatment, and recovery support services for the purposes of addressing the opioid abuse crisis within the states and territories. This service array should be based on needs identified in the State's strategic plan. At least eighty percent of the state's award must be spent on opioid use disorder treatment and recovery support services. Click here to see this year's allocations by state.

What do you need to do?
Your SSA's application will need to identify communities of focus at highest risk for opioid use disorders. The application must provide a comprehensive demographic profile of these communities in terms of race, ethnicity, federally recognized tribe (if applicable), language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, rural/urban population, and socioeconomic (including insurance) status. Cities will need to ensure the SSA correctly identifies their communities needs in the application.

What is the deadline for grant applications?
Applications are due by 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) on February 17, 2017

Where can you go to learn more?
Click here to learn more about the Opioid STR grant program and other resources that are available from SAMHSA to help cities combat the opioid epidemic.

NLC Releases 2017 National Municipal Policy

Avery Peters, 202.626.3020

NLC's National Municipal Policy is a compilation of federal policy positions adopted by the full NLC membership. These positions focus on federal actions, programs, and legislation that directly impact municipalities and guide all of NLC's federal advocacy efforts.

The 2017 National Municipal Policy has been updated to include policy amendments and resolutions approved during NLC's Annual Business Meeting held at the conclusion of the recent City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Click here for more information and to download the NMP.

NLC Continues Outreach to New Administration

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

This week, in New York, the line of those entering Trump Tower to meet with the President-elect included a delegation of mayors lead by Oklahoma City, Okla., Mayor Mick Cornett, who also serves as President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The Mayors meeting with President-elect Trump is a welcome development for cities and, hopefully, a sign of more interaction to come.

Meanwhile, in D.C., officials with the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump continue their focus on federal agencies. NLC is engaged in discussions with transition officials and asking for meetings with Cabinet-level nominees as they are announced. Recently, NLC delivered meeting requests to Nominee for E.P.A. Administrator Scott Pruitt, Nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

With NLC's Support, Congress Passes Veterans Bill

Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman, 202.626.3098

Last week, by unanimous consent, the Senate passed the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R. 6416). The bill contained multiple provisions supported by NLC, including:

  • Clarifying the definition of homeless veteran by amending Title 38 of the United States Code to clarify that veterans with discharges that are not exclusively Honorable may be served by the Veterans Administration's homeless programs.
  • A clarification and update to the Veterans Administration's definition of homelessness, to align with the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act, which allows those fleeing domestic violence to be classified as homeless.

This legislation will now move to the President's desk for signature. Thank you to the many local officials who called their Senators in support of this legislation and NLC will continue to support federal efforts to end veteran and chronic homelessness in the coming year.

Congress Passes Water Resources Bill and Flint Aid

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

With NLC's support, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act (S. 612). The WIIN Act passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support, 360-61 in the House and 78-21 in the Senate, and was sent to the President's desk for signature this week.

The bill includes the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that authorizes $9 billion for 31 flood protection, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The bill also includes provisions to address the ongoing drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich. and to help communities nationwide improve their water infrastructure. Specifically, the bill authorizes:

  • $100 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund for any state, such as Michigan, that receives an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in a public drinking water supply system;
  • $20 million for WIFIA loan and loan guarantees for water infrastructure projects nationwide;
  • $50 million to support public health initiatives such as lead poisoning prevention, research and health assistance;
  • $300 million over 5 years for lead reduction projects in public water systems nationwide;
  • $100 million over 5 years for lead testing in schools and daycare centers nationwide over 5 years; and
  • $300 million over 5 years for water system improvements in small and disadvantaged communities nationwide.

The Continuing Resolution, which Congress also passed last week to fund the government through April 28, 2017, includes $170 million in appropriation for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund program, WIFIA and public health initiatives.

Local Communications Professionals Meet in D.C.

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

NATOA

On December 6, leadership from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) convened in NLC's office on Capitol Hill. Following the meeting, NATOA leadership met with federal agencies to advocate on behalf of local governments.

DOE Issues Residential PACE Best Practices

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released Best Practice Guidelines for Residential PACE Financing Programs. The guidelines outline best practices to help state and local governments develop and implement programs and improvements that effectively allow homeowners to improve their energy efficiency and increase renewable energy use through PACE programs.

PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, is a way to help property owners pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements over time through a property tax assessment, thereby removing the barrier of high upfront costs to homeowners and businesses. NLC has been a long-time champion of PACE.

The guidelines recommend protections that PACE programs should put in place for consumers who voluntarily opt into the service, as well as for lenders that hold mortgages on properties with PACE assessments. DOE also provides additional program design recommendations that address the unique needs and potential vulnerabilities of low-income and elderly households.

The DOE guidelines build on the PACE guidance issued in July by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs outlining how homeowners can purchase and refinance properties with FHA-insured mortgages. Due to ongoing concerns from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the guidance stipulates that PACE assessments will have secondary lien status, rather than first lien position ahead of a mortgage. Additionally, when the property is sold the PACE assessment will transfer from one property owner to the next, even in the case of a foreclosure.

Together these guidelines and guidance are designed to decrease the costs and increase the accessibility of PACE financing in communities and are an important framework for expanding the innovative financing model nationwide. PACE holds the potential to unlock capital and jumpstart economic growth backed by the marketplace certainty of the Administration.

Currently, 33 states plus the District of Columbia have laws enabling local governments to develop PACE programs. While commercial PACE programs have flourished over the years in communities nationwide, residential PACE, notwithstanding programs in California and Florida, has stalled due to the opposition and concern from the FHFA that began in 2010. While their position remains unchanged-homeowners with PACE loans will not be able to purchase or refinance their home with a Freddie Mac of Fannie Mae loan-NLC continues to urge FHFA to allow local governments to develop PACE programs with senior lien status.

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