D.C. Watch

Infrastructure, broadband and ARPA among top issues at NACo’s Legislative Conference

February 24, 2022

Legislative News

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Infrastructure, broadband and ARPA among top issues at NACo's Legislative Conference

TAC's federal outreach team attended the National Association of Counties' 2022 Legislative Conference from Feb. 11 to 15. President Joe Biden, Sen. John Cornyn and secretaries and administrators from the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Commerce and Environmental Protection Agency addressed the crowd, highlighting issues faced by our nation's counties. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg emphasized that the newly enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill is available not only to states but also to counties. A common theme among speakers was that the direct allocation to counties does not necessitate action by state legislatures. Officials and staff from 16 Texas counties attended the conference, both in person and virtually.

The Gulf States Counties and Parishes Caucus, co-chaired by Judge Jeff Branick of Jefferson County and Judge Barbara Canales of Nueces County, met to discuss the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and its updated risk assessment program, Risk 2.0. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has faced criticism for its lack of input from local governments and the perceived lack of funds coming to states since the Hurricane Ida recovery program.

The Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) and the Rural Action Caucus (RAC) met separately, but had common themes of discussion on the opioid and fentanyl crises, mental health diversion and the need to accommodate electronic vehicles in the near future.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the release of the U.S. Treasury's final rule were much discussed. The final rule includes a standard allowance for revenue losses of up to $10 million. Counties have the option to use the increased standard allowance or complete a revenue loss calculation with a higher loss percentage. TAC and NACo advocated for the $10 million standard exemption, a successful effort that was greatly aided by Sen. Cornyn's inclusion of it in his State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Fiscal Recovery, Infrastructure and Disaster Relief Flexibility Act (S.3011). The resolution passed the U.S. Senate in a rare unanimous vote and now awaits action in the U.S. House of Representatives. S.3011 will direct the expenditure of more than $27 billion in set-aside funding for new transportation and infrastructure projects and more than $17 billion for government services, use funds for programs authorized under the Community Development Block Grant Program, and provide flexibility in natural disaster response. NACo has sent a letter to U.S. House leadership urging swift passage of S.3011.

In addition to the $10 million revenue loss allowance, ARPA's final rule more clearly defines the eligible and prohibited uses of funds. There is still time to access these funds, but they must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024. Additionally, all funds must be expended and all projects must be completed by Dec. 31, 2026.

Please visit TAC's federal outreach page for more information.

Another major topic of discussion at the conference was the bipartisan Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act (IIJA). IIJA includes $550 billion in new investments, with $284 billion for all modes of transportation, and the remaining $266 billion for other physical infrastructure sectors. Nearly 52% of IIJA's new resources are dedicated to modernizing and improving transportation infrastructure, with a majority of funding reserved for highways, roads and bridges.

As Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation work to implement IIJA, counties will be able to access transportation funds in three ways: meeting certain eligibility criteria for formula funds in public transit systems and airports; receiving sub-allocations from state governments; or applying directly to the U.S. department or a state department of transportation for competitive grant opportunities. Agency officials emphasized that many of these programs will be grants or fully forgivable loans. For more information, refer to this guidebook produced by the White House.

The IIJA also includes $65 billion for broadband, of which $42.45 billion is allocated to the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD). Through this program, the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will make grants to states. The BEAD program creates new “middle mile” competitive grants to facilitate broadband deployment ($1 billion over five years), creates a new competitive grant program for broadband ($1.25 billion over five years), provides funding for the Rural ReConnect Program ($2 billion in fiscal year 2022) and extends the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, renamed the “Affordable Connectivity Program.” The Notice of Funding Opportunities for the BEAD program will be released on May 16.

Please visit TAC's federal outreach page for more information.

NACo's Legislative Conference included many discussions with leaders from other states' professional associations. Topics included efforts to prohibit local governments from using public money to advocate for their interests, eligible uses of ARPA funds, broadband expansion, rural transportation, local election administration, public safety, immigration, and border security issues.

NACo's 2022 Annual Conference will be held July 21 to 24 in Adams County, Colorado.

For more information, please contact Megan Molleur or Austin McCarty at (800) 456-5974.