Update From Washington, D.C.
House Democrats Inching Toward Vote on President Biden’s Economic Agenda and House Approves Measures to Improve FEMA Programs and Processes
November 4, 2021
House Democrats Inching Toward Vote on President Biden’s Economic Agenda
This week, House Democrats inched closer toward a final agreement on President Biden’s economic agenda. While there are still several unresolved issues, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is pushing the House toward a vote in the coming days. In fact, both the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376) and the $1.2 trillion ($550 billion in new spending) bipartisan infrastructure package (H.R. 3684) are listed for possible floor consideration today, though the timeline may slip into next week.
It should be noted that House Democratic leaders have decided to include several provisions in H.R. 5376 that likely do not have enough support to pass the evenly divided Senate, including language opposed by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that would provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave. Under the current proposal, a worker whose employer does not provide paid leave would be eligible to receive as many as four weeks of wage replacement for time off. The proposed program would replace 90 percent of wages for employees making up to $15,000 a year and would cut off wage replacement for those earning more than $62,000 annually. The latest plan also retains language from an earlier proposal that would provide federal funding to cover state-run and employer-sponsored paid family and medical leave, including employer plans contracted out to insurers or third-party administrators.
In addition to the leave provisions, the measure would increase the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction to $72,500 – up from $10,000 – through 2031. The current cap is scheduled to end in 2025. For his part, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is pushing his own compromise provision that would restrict SALT deductions to only those who earn up to a certain level – roughly $400,000 to $550,000.
As expected, immigration policy has also been a major sticking point in negotiations, and it remains unclear if the latest proposals included in the revised measure are final. As of this writing, the legislation includes provisions to recapture unused visas dating back to 1992. In addition, the bill would expedite status adjustment applications for legal immigrants and bypass some immigration caps. The legislation also includes a parole plan that would offer work authorization and deportation protections to eligible immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before 2011.
House Approves Measures to Improve FEMA Programs and Processes
This week, the House approved legislation – the Hazard Eligibility and Local Projects (HELP) Act (H.R. 1917) – that would allow applicants for FEMA’s pre-disaster hazard, hazard, and flood mitigation grant programs to begin work on projects before federal funds are awarded. Under current practice, state and local agencies cannot begin projects until FEMA formally makes an award. In fact, purchasing land or starting construction would disqualify a project.
Lawmakers also gave the green light to another bill – the Preliminary Damage Assessment Improvement Act of 2021 (H.R. 3709) – that would require FEMA to assess and seek recommendations on improving its preliminary damage assessment process. Under the current process, local officials conduct an initial damage assessment, which is then validated by the state. The state then requests assistance from federal personnel who work with the state and local officials on a joint preliminary disaster assessment, which is used to decide whether to request a presidential disaster declaration.
H.R. 3709 would direct FEMA to submit a report to Congress that includes information on the process for deploying federal staff to support preliminary disaster assessments, the number of staff, and details on their training and experience. The agency would also be required to convene an advisory panel to make recommendations to improve the components of the preliminary assessment process. Among other things, the panel would have to consider establishing a training regime to ensure preliminary damage assessments are made using consistent guidelines.