This Week on the Hill
The House and Senate are out, with both chambers returning next week.
Treasury Releases Resources for Pandemic Relief Programs
The Treasury Department recently released a series of updates and resources for implementation of multiple pandemic relief programs.
- Capital Projects Fund (CPF): The department posted slides and the recording from a webinar on Grant Plan Preparation and Best Practices for States, Territories, and Freely Associated States.
- Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF): The department’s Office of Inspector General released the CRF Prime Recipient Quarterly GrantSolutions Submissions Closeout Procedures Guide. The guide notes that “Prime recipients are required to report their CRF expenditures in GrantSolutions no later than September 30, 2022…Accordingly, the GrantSolutions quarterly reporting requirement has been extended through September 30, 2022, with final reports for closeout due no later than the quarter ended December 31, 2022.”
- Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF): The department updated the following reporting resources for the HAF program: Frequently Asked Questions on Reporting Requirements and Guidance on Required Interim Report. The department also released the Interim Report User Guide, which provides information on using Treasury’s Portal to submit the required HAF Interim Report. According to the FAQs, participants must submit the Interim Report via the Portal by 11:59pm EST on March 3.
- State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI): According to the department, it received applications for the SSBCI Capital Programs from all states, the District of Columbia, and territories by the February 11, 2022 deadline. The department also announced it has extended the deadline for states, the District of Columbia, and territories to submit their applications for SSBCI technical assistance funding to June 30, 2022 at 11:59pm ET. Treasury expects to publish guidance on the SSBCI technical assistance program soon.
Third Continuing Resolution Signed to Fund Government Through March 11
On Friday the President signed into law H.R. 6617, the Further Additional Extending Government Funding Act, which provides fiscal year 2022 appropriations to federal agencies through March 11. The bill continues funding at current levels and provides “anomalies” including: $350 million to the Department of Defense to respond to water contamination in Hawaii; extends the temporary emergency scheduling order placing fentanyl-related substances in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act through March 11; and extends the current federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for certain territories through March 11. A section-by-section summary can be found here and legislative text here. Appropriators recently announced an agreement on a “framework” for an omnibus spending bill for the fiscal year, but no details on the framework have been released at this time.
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).
- DOL Extends Deadline for States to Express Interest in Unemployment Compensation Grant Opportunity: The Department of Labor (DOL) released Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 02-22, Change 1. The purpose is to notify states that the deadline for expressing interest in the grant opportunity to prevent and detect fraud, promote equitable access, and ensure timely payment of benefits is extended to September 30, 2022.
- FEMA Establishes Funeral Assistance Document Submission Time Limit: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced the establishment of a COVID-19 funeral assistance document submission time limit. Beginning this month, FEMA will notify applicants who have not submitted all required information and documentation that their applications will be moved to a suspended status 365 days after they initially applied for assistance. Applicants can reactivate their application, without appeal, by submitting the required documents. Additional program information can be found here.
Administration Actions Related to COVID-19
- President Issues Notice on the Continuation of National Emergency Concerning COVID-19: The President issued a notice to continue the national emergency declared on March 13, 2020, and beginning March 1, 2020, noting the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant risk to the public health and safety of the nation. The letter to Congressional leadership can be found here. This is separate from the public health emergency declarations issued by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
- CMS Releases New Medicaid State Plan Amendment Templates: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released several Medicaid State Plan Amendment (SPA) templates. These templates are designed to streamline state submission of the required SPAs and ensure they meet all federal requirements and are related to ARPA COVID-19 coverage mandates, coverage for qualifying clinical trials and section 1135 flexibilities.
- CDC Updates Guidance on Antigen Testing in Long-Term Care Facilities: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance for antigen testing in long-term care facilities. The update streamlines guidance, clarifies the timeline for the time period for confirmatory testing, and adds links to additional resources.
- Education Releases Final FAQs on Implementing Accountability and School Improvement Requirements: The Department of Education released final frequently asked questions (FAQs) to aid states, school districts, and schools implementing accountability and school improvement requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act using data from the 2021-22 school year.
- Education Publishes a Fact Sheet on Appropriate Evaluations and Services to Students with Disabilities: The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a fact sheet reminding public schools of their obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide appropriate evaluations and services to students with disabilities during the pandemic, including the responsibility to provide compensatory services.
- CRS Publishes Brief on Federal Support for COVID-19 Test Availability: The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released an issue brief on federal support for domestic COVID-19 test availability. The brief looks at appropriations, test manufacturing, distribution, testing sites, and grant support.
- FMCSA Updates FAQs on COVID-19 Emergency Declaration: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) updated its frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to its emergency declaration. The current extension of the COVID Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 issued on November 29, 2021 expires on February 28, 2022.
Health Organizations Send Letter to Congressional Leadership on Prior Notice to Medicaid Eligibility Changes
On Thursday multiple organizations related to health care, including the National Association of Medicaid Directors, sent a letter to Congressional leadership regarding termination of the enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) and continuous eligibility/Maintenance of Effort (MOE) provisions included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The letter notes the importance of sufficient notice prior to unwinding emergency programs for avoiding gaps in coverage and care. Specifically, the letter requests that “Congress provide at least a 120-day lead time before unwinding the FMAP/MOE provisions of the FFCRA so that enrollees have sufficient time to either re-establish their eligibility for Medicaid or determine their eligibility for subsidized coverage in the state or federally facilitated Marketplaces.” The current public health emergency (PHE) declaration that is linked to the enhanced FMAP is currently in effect through April 15. The administration has promised to provide states with 60 days’ notice prior to any possible termination or expiration of the PHE.
IIJA Implementation Resources Released
Federal agencies and stakeholders continue to release implementation resources pertaining to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
- The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs announced a series of webinars to help partners better understand the programs included in the recently released IIJA guidebook. The webinars will provide an in-depth look into the programs contained within each of the 12 major chapters. All webinars are scheduled for 4pm-5pm ET.
- Public Transportation, February 24
- Rail Road, February 28
- Roads, Bridges and Major Projects, March 3
- Safety, March 8
- Clean Energy and Power, March 10
- Water, March 15
- Resilience, March 17
- Environmental Remediation, March 22
- Broadband, March 24
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opened the application process for airports to submit projects for the first $1 billion of the Airport Terminal Program, funded by the IIJA. Eligible airports include those operated by authorities, cities, territories and tribes within the national air transportation system. Applications are due by March 28.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and White House announced a $1 billion investment from the IIJA to accelerate cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes. The bulk of the $1 billion investment will clean up and restore severely degraded sites, known as “Areas of Concern.” EPA projects that IIJA funds combined with existing resources will enable completion across 22 of the 25 remaining Areas of Concern by the end of 2030.
- The Department of the Interior (DOI) released spend plans for implementing the IIJA, including plans across several bureaus. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Wildland Fire, and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement have submitted their official spend plans to Congress. Information on the plans can be found here.
- The Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) testified in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Topics covered include implementation of the agency’s IIJA broadband programs. The administrator’s written testimony can be found here.
- The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report on Bureau of Reclamation provisions in the IIJA. The bill provides $8.3 billion to the bureau for investment in water storage projects, infrastructure projects, dam safety projects, and more. The report includes an overview of funding, authorization-only provisions, and the bureau’s initial spending plan.
- The Department of Labor (DOL) announced its Wage and Hour Division will present an interactive webinar, “Davis-Bacon Labor Standards for Infrastructure Projects”, on February 28 and March 1 to assist contracting agencies, contractors, unions, workers and other stakeholders in understanding and meeting Davis-Bacon compliance requirements. The press release notes that most of the projects funded or assisted through the law will be subject to Davis-Bacon prevailing wage labor standards. Additional information can be found here.
- The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Local Government Advisory Committee adopted recommendations to present to the EPA Administrator regarding implementation of the IIJA to achieve the administration’s climate and environmental justice goals and meet the needs of local governments. Recommendations include expanding technical assistance to local governments, encouraging state partners to engage with communities, and adding flexibility in allowable costs.
- The Department of Energy (DOE) announced a new organizational structure to effectively implement the IIJA and Energy Act of 2020. The new organizational structure establishes two Under Secretaries: one focused on fundamental science and clean energy innovation and the other focused on deploying clean infrastructure. These new offices will also strengthen partnerships with states, communities, and industry.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a proposed rule that seeks comment on proposals for increasing awareness of and participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program and for an enhanced affordable connectivity benefit for consumers in certain high-cost areas. Comments are due by March 16.
- The Department of Transportation announced two actions to stop programs and initiatives in light of passage of the IIJA. First, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the recission of the Equitable Economic Recovery and Workforce Development Through Construction Hiring Pilot Program. Second, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced a transition from its May 2021 initiative that permitted recipients and subrecipients of federal funds for federal-aid highway projects to utilize geographic, economic, or other hiring preferences or contracting approaches.
- Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) sent a letter, signed by 28 Senate Republicans, to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg regarding the department’s December 16 memorandum to staff entitled “Policy on Using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America.” The letter requests that the Secretary direct the Federal Highway Administration “to rescind or substantially revise this memorandum to demonstrate that the agency intends to implement the IIJA as enacted.” Three Senate Democrats also sent a letter to the Secretary seeking clarification of the policies in the December memo.
Census Bureau to Release First Results of Effort to Measure Accuracy of 2020 Census
The Census Bureau recently announced it will release the first set of results from the 2020 Post-Enumeration Survey (PES) along with additional results from the 2020 Demographic Analysis (DA) estimates on March 10. The first release of PES results will provide national estimates of population coverage overall and by demographic groups, such as race and Hispanic origin, as well as age groups and sex. These results help evaluate the quality of the 2020 Census. Estimates from the PES of population and housing unit coverage by state and by several census operations are scheduled for release in the summer.
DHS Announces Proposed Change to “Public Charge” Rule
On Thursday the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to regulate how DHS applies the public charge ground of inadmissibility. In 2019, the prior administration expanded the interpretation of the term “public charge” and the types of public benefits considered. With the 2019 public charge rule vacated, DHS is undertaking a rulemaking process to establish a new regulation. Under the proposed rule, DHS proposes to define “likely at any time to become a public charge” as “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” and proposes to consider a list of public benefits when making the determination, while not considering noncash benefits. Comments on the proposed rule are due 60 days after date of publication in the Federal Register.
Administration Pauses Oil and Gas Leases Following Court Decision
According to multiple media reports, the administration announced Saturday it will suspend or delay new federal oil and gas leasing following a court ruling. A U.S. District Court decision issued on February 11 granted a motion for preliminary injunction against the administration’s process for using the “social cost of carbon” in decisions around oil and gas drilling on public land or in rules governing fossil fuel emissions. In a motion for a stay pending appeal, the administration highlighted the impact of the ruling on federal agencies, including 21 rulemakings at the Department of Energy, five rulemakings at the Environmental Protection Agency, grant programs at the Federal Transit Administration, and more.
FNS Issues Policy Memos for WIC Flexibility
On Monday the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) issued a series of policy memos for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) as a result of the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the 2022 Abbott recall of certain powder infant formula on the nationwide supply chain. The policy memos relate to the following: medical documentation, maximum monthly allowance, and vendor exchanges. The memos are in response to correspondence from WIC state agencies requesting program flexibility and each memo contains a list of WIC state agencies granted a waiver to provide administrative flexibility.
USDA Extends Application Deadline for ReConnect Program Funding
Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the department is extending to March 9 the application deadline for funding to expand access to high-speed internet for rural Americans under the ReConnect Program. Through this funding opportunity, USDA is making available $200 million in ReConnect Program loans, $250 million in loan/grant combinations, $350 million in grants with a 25 percent matching requirement, and $350 million in grants with no matching requirement for Tribes and projects in socially vulnerable communities. The updated notice can be found here.
Administration Announces Clean Manufacturing Initiative
Last week the administration announced new actions across agencies to support clean manufacturing, including low-carbon production of steel and aluminum and clean concrete. These actions include the Department of Energy’s launch of $8 billion for Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs; the Council on Environmental Quality’s establishment of a Buy Clean Task Force; guidance on responsible deployment of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration; and the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s launch of the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Industrial Decarbonization Research. Other agencies are also working to strengthen reporting and workforce training. Many of these actions have intersections with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), either through funding or policy.
Council on Environmental Quality Releases New Pollution Screening Tool
On Friday the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. The screening tool will help identify communities that qualify as disadvantaged under the administration’s environmental justice initiative and is a component of the President’s Executive Order 14008. To facilitate feedback on the beta version of the screening tool, CEQ will issue a Request for Information in the Federal Register, while the public can also provide feedback directly on the website.
FCC Chair Announces New State-Federal Robocall Partnerships
On Thursday the Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) welcomed new states to the state-federal robocall partnerships for a total of 16, with a goal of extending the collaboration to every state and territory. These formal investigatory partnerships between State Attorneys General and the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau help protect consumers around the country from unwanted and illegal robocalls and spoofing scams, as the commission continues to recruit additional states and territories to broaden the impact of state-federal collaboration. Formal Memoranda of Understanding between the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau and Attorney General offices can be a critical resource for building cases and preventing duplicative efforts in protecting consumers and businesses nationwide.
For Your Information
FTA Awards $45.3 Million for Passenger Ferry Service
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded $45.3 million in fiscal year 2021 grants to projects in 11 states and territories to support passenger ferry service. Grants awarded through the Passenger Ferry Grant Program help buy, repair, and modernize ferry boats and terminals. FTA received 24 eligible project proposals in 11 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands totaling approximately $113 million in funding requests.
EPA Announces $20 Million Available to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $20 million in available grant funding to assist communities and schools with removing sources of lead in drinking water. The funding includes $10 million for projects to conduct lead service line replacements or implement corrosion control improvements and $10 million for projects that remove sources of lead in drinking water (e.g., fixtures, fountains, outlets and plumbing materials) in schools or childcare facilities. Applications are due April 19.
DOL Issues Guidance on Reallotment of WIOA Title I Formula-Allotted Funds
The Department of Labor (DOL) released Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 07-21 regarding Reallotment of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I Formula-Allotted Funds for Dislocated Worker Activities for Program Year 2021. The purpose of the letter is to provide adjusted funding levels for program year 2021 allotments for the Dislocated Worker program related to recapture and reallotment.
Education Releases Guidance on Within-District Title I Allocations
The Department of Education released non-regulatory guidance discussing provisions that govern within-district allocations under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The guidance supersedes prior non-regulatory guidance concerning statutory and technical issues related to within-district Title I allocations.
DOE Issues Notice of 2022 Poverty Guidelines and Income Definition for WAP
The Department of Energy (DOE) issued a program notice containing 2022 federal poverty guidelines and definition of income for use in the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). The provisions of the notice apply to all WAP grantees applying for financial assistance under the program.
DOT Inspector General Releases Report on Oversight of Unobligated Emergency Relief Funds
The Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report examining the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) oversight of emergency relief funds. The report noted that FHWA does not always deallocate funds that have not been obligated by the end of the fiscal year, as its policy requires, and its outdated policies hinder its ability to oversee emergency relief funds. The report also found a low incidence of improper payments in the highways program and no improper payments in the roads program.
CRS Publishes Brief on Gray Wolf Court Decision
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) published an issue brief following action by a U.S. District Court to vacate and remand the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) rule that delisted certain gray wolf entities. The issue brief provides a listing history of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act, covers litigation, considers next steps for the FWS and considerations for Congress.
Education Department Announces $415 Million in Student Debt Cancellation
On Wednesday the Education Department announced nearly 16,000 borrowers would receive $415 million in borrower defense to repayment discharges following the approval of four new findings and the continued review of claims. The actions relate to specific institutions and the actions bring the total amount of approved relief under borrower defense to repayment to approximately $2 billion for more than 107,000 borrowers. Additional information on borrower defense loan discharge can be found here.
Recently Released Reports
Public Plans Database Snapshot
MissionSquare Research Institute
Nursing Home Staff Vaccination Rates Vary Widely By State as Vaccination Mandates Take Effect
Kaiser Family Foundation
Lifesaving Addiction Treatment Out of Reach for Many Americans
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Unemployment Claims Reported for Week Ending February 12
The U.S. Department of Labor released unemployment insurance weekly claims data last Thursday that showed for the week ending February 12, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 248,000. This is an increase of 23,000 from the previous week’s revised level, which was revised up by 2,000 from 223,000 to 225,000. The 4-week moving average was 243,250, a decrease of 10,500 from the previous week's revised average of 253,750. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.2 percent for the week ending February 5, unchanged from the previous week’s unrevised rate. The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 238,482 in the week ending February 12, an increase of 7,742 (or 3.4 percent) from the previous week.
Job Openings Rates Were Little Changed in 39 States for December
Newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that job openings rates increased in 7 states, decreased in 4 states, and were little changed in 39 states and the District of Columbia in December. Hires rates decreased in 6 states, increased in 1 state, and were little changed in 43 states and the District. Total separations rates decreased in 15 states, increased in 2 states, and were little changed in 33 states and the District. Nationally, the job openings, hires, and total separations rates were little changed in December. Quits rates decreased in 13 states and increased in 4 states, while the national quits rate was little changed.