Update From Washington, D.C.
President Biden Unveils Framework for the Build Back Better Act; ARPA Flexibility Legislation Introduced in the House; Senator Padilla Introduces Stafford Act Reform Legislation; More.
October 28, 2021
President Biden Unveils Framework for the Build Back Better Act
Earlier today, President Joe Biden unveiled a revised framework for the Build Back Better Act, which is part of his ambitious economic agenda. The framework was used by congressional leaders to guide the development of legislation (HR 5376), which was released at press time. It should be noted that the topline cost of the proposal is $1.75 trillion, which is considerably less than the $3.5 trillion initially sought by progressives, but still higher than the level of investment endorsed by moderate Democrats.
While this could represent a key breakthrough in discussions, there are still a number of unresolved issues and it remains unclear whether the proposal has enough support to clear either chamber. Democratic leaders remain hopeful, however, that the framework and the corresponding bill text will provide enough of an incentive for progressives to vote on the stalled $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure proposal – the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684). While the Senate has already cleared H.R. 3684, House progressives have held the legislation pending an agreement on the larger investments. As of this writing, early signals are that the liberal caucus wants an opportunity to review the final text, as well as receive assurances that the package has the votes to clear the Senate.
ARPA Flexibility Legislation Introduced in the House
Earlier this week, Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced legislation that would provide counties with additional flexibility with regard to the use of Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). It should be noted that the House bill (H.R. 5735) mirrors legislation (S. 3011, Padilla-Cornyn) that was unanimously approved by the Senate on October 19.
While ARPA explicitly allows state and local governments to spend Recovery Funds on water, sewer, and broadband projects, investments in other key infrastructure categories are not permitted. Pursuant to H.R. 5735/S. 3011, states and localities would be authorized to invest a portion of their recovery dollars for a range of infrastructure-related purposes, including, but not limited to: road, bridge, and safety improvement projects; rural surface transportation program projects as authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA; H.R. 3684); public transit; and, Community Development Block Grant-eligible projects. Under the bill, entities would be permitted to direct up to $10 million (or 30 percent, whichever is greater) of their Recovery Fund allocations toward investments in the expanded program areas.
In addition to the aforementioned provisions, S. 3011 would allow states and local governments to spend ARPA funds to provide emergency relief from natural disasters and their negative economic impacts, including temporary emergency housing, food assistance, financial assistance for lost wages, or other needs. Furthermore, the bill would provide additional expenditure flexibility by allowing entities to allocate up to $10 million of their Recovery Fund allocations for the provision of government services without being required to calculate revenue loss.
For additional information on H.R. 5375/S. 3011 and to view CSAC’s federal action alert, please click here.
Senator Padilla Introduces Stafford Act Reform Legislation
On October 27, Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced a package of reforms to the Stafford Act, which are intended to make the law work better for wildfire disasters. The proposal is split into two measures (S. 3092; S. 3093). The first bill – the FEMA Cost Share Equity and Fairness Act – would increase the federal cost-share to 90 percent (up from the current level of 75 percent) for communities that have experienced multiple disasters in a short period of time. It also would increase the federal cost-share for emergency food delivery, as well as for underserved communities.
The second measure – the FEMA Improvement, Reform, and Efficiency (FIRE) Act – would allow FEMA to explore ways to pre-deploy resources during a red flag warning and would require the agency to defer to a state on areas where a state can provide the necessary services in half the time of the comparable federal solution. It should be noted that this is in direct response to delays in FEMA housing assistance following recent California wildfires. The bill also would make relocation assistance available if it can be demonstrated that a structure is at risk of future damage.
In addition to these proposed reforms, the measure would direct FEMA and the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on potential solutions to address the availability and affordability of wildfire insurance. This study would be the first step in pursuing some form of federal insurance program for wildfires, similar to the National Flood Insurance Program. A separate study is geared toward improving how the agency provides housing assistance after a disaster, while a third study would examine potential gaps in wildfire disaster response.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is slated to consider the FIRE Act sometime next week.
House Panel Approves Bipartisan Proposal to Improve FEMA Pre-Disaster Programs
On October 27, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee approved bipartisan legislation – the Resilient AMERICA Act (H.R. 5689) – that would boost resources for FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation and resilience programs. Among other things, the legislation would help communities update and enforce their building codes. It also would establish a block grant-style program for states to help those in the wildland-urban interface become more resilient to wildfires.
The measure – which is sponsored by the Chair and Ranking Member of both the House T&I Committee and the Subcommittee on Emergency Management – was briefly discussed at a hearing earlier this week that examined FEMA’s assistance programs. It should be noted that the panel received testimony from several witnesses with expertise in emergency management, post-disaster recovery, and wildfire suppression, including Butte County Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Casey Hatcher.
More information on the hearing, including witness testimony and an archived webcast of the discussion, can be accessed here.