This Week on the Hill
The House and Senate are in session this week. The House will consider five bills this week including S. 2959, the Supplemental Impact Aid Flexibility Act. The Senate convenes today and will begin consideration of voting rights legislation.
HHS Secretary Renews COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
On Friday, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra renewed, effective January 16, 2022, the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) declaration originally declared January 31, 2020. The renewal remains in effect for 90 days and the Secretary may extend the declaration for subsequent 90-day periods for as long as the emergency continues. The available temporary 6.2 percentage point increase in the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expires at the end of the quarter in which the public health emergency ends. When a decision is made to terminate the declaration or let it expire, HHS plans to provide states with 60 days’ notice prior to termination.
FEMA Issues Advisory on Wraparound Medical Care and Services under Title 32
On Friday the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued an advisory noting it is authorizing Title 32 National Guard resources currently deployed under FEMA mission assignments to perform “wraparound services” at hospitals and other medical care facilities to offset staffing shortages and sustain facility capacity. Due to these current staffing shortages, FEMA has authorized states and territories to use Title 32 National Guard forces to provide wraparound services at a primary medical care facility when necessary to sustain the provision of COVID-19 medical care. This expanded authorization is limited to state and territory use of National Guard personnel deployed under FEMA Title 32 mission assignments to Department of Defense (DOD) in response to the pandemic. Wraparound services missions include activities like linen and laundry services, food preparation and delivery, biomedical waste removal, perimeter fencing, contracted security guards, professional cleaning, and other related services. FEMA is funding 100 percent of costs for National Guard activation to combat and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the full reimbursement in effect until April 1, 2022.
Treasury Posts Series of SLFRF Webinars
The Treasury Department recently posted a series of webinars to aid in the implementation of the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). First, the department posted the webinar and slide presentation on the recently released Final Rule. Second, to assist with reporting, the department posted several webinars related to the Project and Expenditure Report, reporting tiers, account creation and login, and user roles.
Supreme Court Rules in Two Vaccine Requirement Cases
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings related to lawsuits challenging vaccination requirements issued by the administration. In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exceeded its power in issuing the vaccine or test requirement for large employers (100 employees or more). The ruling places a hold on the requirement while lawsuits continue in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. A statement from the Department of Labor can be found here and the updated Emergency Temporary Standard website can be found here. And in a 5-4 decision, the Court allowed implementation of the vaccination interim final rule for health care workers in facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. Statements from the Secretary of HHS and Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can be found here and here. FAQs on the interim final rule can be found here and newly released guidance for the interim final rule, specifically applying to AL, AK, AZ, AR, GA, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, MS, MO, MT, NE, NH, ND, OH, OK, SC, SD, UT, WV and WY, can be found here.
COVID-19 Relief Implementation
The following guidance and information was recently released to implement provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (Division M of H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021), and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).
- Treasury Extends SSBCI Application Deadlines for Tribal Governments: The Treasury Department extended deadlines for Tribal governments under the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). The deadline to initiate and submit their complete SSBCI capital allocation is extended to May 11, 2022 and the deadline to submit an application for technical assistance is extended to July 11, 2022.
- ACF Releases Updated FAQs for Low Income Water Assistance Program: The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) issued the fiscal year 2022 first quarter update to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about administering the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). The update notes that ACF plans to issue periodic updates on critical questions related to LIHWAP to clarify items from previous guidance or answer new questions, as necessary.
- Education Announces Distribution of All ARP-ESSER Funds, Other Resources to Support Schools: The Department of Education announced that every state education agency received approval of their American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP-ESSER) plan and that the department has distributed all $122 billion in funds to the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Fact sheets are available for each state’s ARP-ESSER plan outlining how each state will use their funds and the department’s website now includes links to school districts’ plans for the use of these funds, which each State Education Agency (SEA) is required to post for public transparency. This announcement also contains multiple resources for supporting the opening and operation of schools.
- FNS Approves P-EBT Programs for School Year 2021-2022: The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) approved an additional state, Virginia, to operate a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program during school year 2021-2022. To date, a total of 8 states have been approved.
- Education Updates Education Stabilization Fund Transparency Portal: The Department of Education updated the Education Stabilization Fund transparency portal. The portal includes funds awarded under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER), Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER), Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS), and Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) programs.
- HUD OIG Examines Oversight of Slow-Spending CDBG-DR Grantees: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report entitled Opportunities Exist to Improve CPD’s Oversight of and Monitoring Tools for Slow-Spending Grantees. The report looks specifically at the oversight and monitoring of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) slow-spending grantees.
- ACF Announces Additional Training Opportunities for ERA and LIHEAP Coordination: The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced additional training opportunities for guidance on Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) coordination. Due to previous trainings reaching capacity so quickly, ACF is scheduling two additional office hours, each limited to 15 individuals to maximize assistance. The sessions are scheduled for January 28 and February 1.
- Treasury Publishes ERA Program Promising Practices for Using Commitment Letters: The Treasury Department published promising practices for using commitment letters to assist prospective renters. These practices highlight the opportunity to help those who need to prove to a prospective landlord that they can access future rent assistance to be stably housed.
Administration Actions Related to COVID-19
- FEMA Releases Advisory on Funding for Safe Opening and Operating of Schools: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued an advisory noting it continues to provide funding to state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and eligible non-profit organizations to support the safe opening and operation of eligible schools. This includes funding for COVID-19 screening testing, PPE, and cleaning and disinfection costs. FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) program will reimburse 100 percent of the costs associated with these activities through April 1, 2022 on an expedited basis. Reimbursement is exclusive to COVID-19 emergency and major disaster declarations through the PA program and in accordance with the “Maximizing Assistance to Respond to COVID-19” memo issued November 9, 2021.
- Administration Highlights Actions to Increase Testing, Keep Schools Open: The administration released a fact sheet on increasing COVID-19 testing in schools to keep students safe and schools open. The fact sheet highlights that the administration will increase the number of tests available to schools by 10 million per month, including 5 million rapid tests and 5 million PCR tests. Other actions include supporting school testing programs, deploying federal surge testing units, and ensuring federal reimbursement for testing programs.
- Education Letter Shares Resources for Schools to Implement Testing: The Secretary of Education sent a letter sharing new and existing federal resources to help schools access COVID-19 tests and implement testing programs in schools. The letter highlights funding streams and provides links to resources. This resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also highlights resources to support school screening testing.
- White House Announces Purchase of Additional 500 Million COVID-19 Tests, Launch of Ordering Website: The administration announced it is purchasing an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests, for a total of one billion, to be distributed to Americans for free. Beginning January 19, 500 million tests will be available for order and will be mailed directly to households; the initial program will allow four free tests to be requested per residential address. Orders can be placed at gov and tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering. The administration will also launch a call line to help those unable to access the website.
- Administration to Make “High-Quality Masks” Available to Public, CDC Updates Mask Information: The President announced that the administration will be making high-quality masks available to Americans for free, with additional details coming this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their consumer webpage describing the types of masks and respirators used to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. The updated page lays out the protection provided by available masks and respirators, noting that some provide better protection than others.
IIJA Implementation Resources Released
Federal agencies continue to release implementation resources pertaining to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
- The Department of Transportation (DOT) launched the Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection, and Construction Program (Bridge Formula Program). The program, administered by the Federal Highway Administration, represents the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system, providing $26.5 billion to states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico over five years; the fiscal year 2022 amount is $5.3 billion. Several resources were also released for the program: FY2022 Apportionment; Program Guidance; Bridge Formula Program Funding and Condition by State; and Five-Year Funding Totals.
- The Interior Department (DOI) announced an extension of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund program through 2034 and other changes to the program as directed by the IIJA. The extension, through an interim final rule, will provide continued funding to states and Tribes for reclaiming hazardous abandoned mines, replacing polluted water supplies, and reducing legacy pollution in coalfield communities. The rule reflects the extension of statutory authority to collect reclamation fees for an additional thirteen years and reduce the fee rates. Public comments on the rule may be submitted until February 14.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new comprehensive response to the nation’s growing wildfire crisis, Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America’s Forests. The IIJA provides nearly $3 billion to reduce hazardous fuels and restore America’s forests and grasslands, along with investments in fire-adapted communities and post-fire reforestation. The Forest Service will work with stakeholders, including states, to focus fuels and forest health treatments more strategically and at the scale of the problem.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to formally adopt rules to implement the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program. The program offers qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer or tablet from participating providers.
- The Department of Energy (DOE) announced creation of the Clean Energy Corps, comprised of staff from more than a dozen offices across the department, who will work together to research, develop, demonstrate, and deploy solutions to climate change. The Corps is ready to recruit an additional 1,000 employees using a special hiring authority included in the IIJA to help implement the act’s $62 billion in funding for the department.
- The Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Building a Better Grid initiative to help with the nationwide development of new and upgraded high-capacity electric transmission lines. The initiative will work with community and industry stakeholders to identify national transmission needs and support the buildout of long-distance, high voltage transmission facilities to reach the administration’s energy goals.
- The Interior Department (DOI) announced three funding opportunities available to help Western communities create or expand clean, new water sources. The selected projects will be funded through investments in the IIJA and, when enacted, fiscal year 2022 appropriations. The IIJA contains $1 billion over five years for water reclamation and reuse projects, including $550 million for the Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program and $250 million for water desalination projects.
FEMA Publishes Additional Data for New Flood Insurance Rating Methodology
Last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released additional data on the new National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) rate pricing methods, Risk Rating 2.0. Users can view data that compares rate changes from the new rating methodology to the legacy rating system. The data is presented through an interactive map and zip code-level data for existing single-family homes; state profiles are also included on the site. FEMA took a phased approach to the implementation of the new pricing plan; Phase 1 was initiated on October 1, 2021 with existing policyholders allowed to take advantage of decreases on their policy renewal date and with the selling of new policies and for phase 2, all remaining policies renewing on April 1 and continuing through March 31, 2023 will be subject to the new rating methodology.
DOL Announces Two Initiatives to Assist Veterans
Last week the Department of Labor (DOL) announced two initiatives to assist veterans. First, the department announced a funding opportunity for organizations to provide training and employing services to veterans combating homelessness. The grants will fund projects up to $500,000 annually for three years. Eligible applicants include state governments; applications are due by February 23. Second, the department announced its Veterans’ Employment and Training Service will extend its traditional Transition Assistance Program curriculum beyond the active military installations it currently serves to at least 50 locations in at least 20 states to improve employment-related outcomes in areas where large veteran populations face high rates of unemployment.
Administration Announces Accelerated Reviews of Clean Energy Proposals on Public Lands
On Wednesday the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Defense, Energy and Environmental Protection Agency announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve federal agency coordination and streamline reviews for clean energy projects located on public lands managed by the Interior and Agriculture departments. The agencies will prioritize and expedite federal agency reviews by establishing interagency coordination teams to facilitate preparation of environmental reviews, accelerate decision-making and coordinate agency reviews.
For Your Information
FEMA Releases FY2021 Fire Protection and Safety Grants Funding Notice
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released the funding notice for $46 million available through the Fiscal Year 2021 Fire Protection and Safety grants. These grants are part of the Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program and focus on reducing injury and preventing death among high-risk populations. The application period runs from January 18 until February 18. Other application materials can be found here.
USDA Investing $225 Million in Conservation Programs
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced up to $225 million in available funding for conservation partners through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). There are two types of funding opportunities: RCPP Classic and RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements. USDA is accepting project proposals for both components through April 13 and state and local governments are eligible partners.
HHS Updates ACA Guidelines for Preventive Care and Screening
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced updated comprehensive preventive care and screening guidelines for women and for infants, children, and adolescents. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), certain group health plans and insurance issuers must provide coverage with no out-of-pocket cost for preventive health services within these HHS-supported comprehensive guidelines.
FNS Sends Letter to SNAP Commissioners on Public Charge Rule
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) sent a letter to state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Commissioners regarding SNAP policy on public charge. Per the letter, under the 1999 Interim Field Guidance, a noncitizen’s application for or receipt of SNAP benefits is not considered when making public charge determinations and FNS encourages SNAP state agencies to make the policy well-known in their respective states.
Education Releases Guidance on Federal Funds to Support Newcomer Students
The Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter to Chief State School Officers that details information about federal funds and resources available to support Afghan children and their families, who may have recently arrived. While the letter is specific to Afghan children, the department notes that the information applies to children and families arriving from other countries as well.
Recently Released Reports
Counties and the ARPA Recovery Fund: Executive Summary
National Association of Counties
State and Local Contributions to Statewide Pension Plans: FY20
National Association of State Retirement Administrators
State Tax Changes Effective January 1, 2022
Unemployment Claims Reported for Week Ending January 8
The U.S. Department of Labor released unemployment insurance weekly claims data last Thursday that showed for the week ending January 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 230,000. This is an increase of 23,000 from the previous week’s unrevised level of 207,000. The 4-week moving average was 210,750, an increase of 6,250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 204,500. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.1 percent for the week ending January 1, a decrease of 0.2 percentage point from the previous week’s unrevised rate. The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 419,446 in the week ending January 8, an increase of 103,693 (or 32.8 percent) from the previous week.
Consumer Price Index Increased in December as Real Hourly Earnings Also Rise
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data on the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for December, showing the CPI-U increased 0.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.8 percent in November. Over the last twelve months, the all items index increased 7.0 percent before seasonal adjustment. The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.6 percent, as the food index increased 0.5 percent while the energy index declined 0.4 percent as the indexes for gasoline and natural gas both decreased. For the 12 months ending in December the index for all items less food and energy rose 5.5 percent, the largest 12-month change since the period ending February 1991. Meanwhile, real average hourly earnings for all employees increased 0.1 percent from November to December, seasonally adjusted. This result stems from a 0.6 percent increase in average hourly earnings combined with a 0.5 percent increase in the CPI-U.