Update From Washington, D.C.
House Democrats Prepare to Advance COVID-19 Relief Package Next Week; Democrats Unveil Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposal; HUD, USDA, VA Announce Extension of COVID-19 Forbearance and Foreclosure Protections
February 18, 2021
According to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House will aim to advance President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package by the end of next week. Prior to its consideration by the full chamber, the budget reconciliation process requires the House Budget Committee to assemble the various components of the plan – which were approved by the authorizing committees last week – into a single bill. The panel, which will consider the package on February 22, cannot propose any amendments to the package. From there, the Rules Committee will meet to consider a rule for the consideration of the bill on the House floor.
Democrats have forged ahead with a legislative package that hews closely to the president’s proposed American Rescue Plan, but things could change in the Senate. The upper chamber is prohibited from approving measures through the budget reconciliation process that do not have a significant budgetary impact. The Senate parliamentarian will ultimately determine what, if any, portions of the bill violate the so-called “Byrd rule.” A Democratic proposal that would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour is the most likely provision to hit the cutting room floor.
In an extremely positive development for California’s counties, and as previously reported, the reconciliation package includes a new COVID-19 local recovery fund that would provide federal financial support to counties of every size. Under the bill, $130.2 billion in funding would be available to counties and cities, with $65.1 billion allocated to counties based on population. If enacted, California’s counties would receive over $7.7 billion.
The remaining $65.1 billion from the fund would be allocated to cities using a modified CDBG formula. Of the funding set aside for municipalities, $45.57 billion would be reserved for those with a population above 50,000 and $19.53 billion would be available for those with a population below 50,000.
In addition to the local government recovery fund, the legislation would create a $219.8 billion state fund. Pursuant to the bill, $193.5 billion would be allocated to states and the District of Columbia; $20 billion would go to tribal governments; and, $4.5 billion would be for territories.
It should be noted the U.S. Department of the Treasury would be required to award recovery funds directly to states and localities within 60 days of the bill’s enactment. Funds would be available to jurisdictions until expended and could be used to respond to or mitigate the public health emergency; cover costs incurred as a result of the pandemic; replace revenue that was lost, delayed, or decreased due to the emergency; and, address the negative economic impacts of COVID-19.
For its part, CSAC sent a letter to the California congressional delegation in support of the budget reconciliation bill, with an emphasis on the new Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund as well as the investments for key public health and safety-net programs.
Democrats Unveil Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposal
While much of the legislative attention has been on the American Rescue Plan, Democrats today unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform proposal, which is modeled after the outline that President Biden sent to Congress on his first day in office. The proposal, known as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, will be sponsored by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) in the House and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in the upper chamber.
Among other things, the legislation includes a path to citizenship for most of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. This includes young people – known as Dreamers – who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as children, as well as immigrant farmworkers and those with Temporary Protected Status.
It also bolsters the nation’s refugee and asylum systems and calls for additional technology to be used to help secure the southern border. It should be noted that the citizenship path is not explicitly tied to the implementation of border security measures, a trade-off that has been included in previous reform proposals designed to earn GOP support.
Beyond creating a pathway for those already in the country, the legislation would ease immigration timelines abroad by increasing numerous types of visa caps, including those on the family-based side of the immigration system. It also would lift restrictions that prohibit people from re-entering the U.S. if they have previously overstayed their visa.
Finally, and in an effort to address the root causes of migration, the legislation would provide federal aid to the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Looking ahead, the legislation is likely to face substantial pushback from Republicans, who have been critical of the president’s early actions on immigration. However, the administration has indicated that it would be open to taking a more piecemeal approach. Saying that, the White House will defer to Democratic leaders on the best path forward.
HUD, USDA, VA Announce Extension of COVID-19 Forbearance and Foreclosure Protections
On February 16, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Agriculture announced a coordinated extension and expansion of forbearance and foreclosure relief programs. It should be noted that these programs were all slated to expire in March. Specifically, the actions announced this week will extend the foreclosure moratorium and the mortgage forbearance enrollment window through June 30. The administration will also provide up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30, 2020. These extensions build on similar action taken last week by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Additional information on these actions is available here.