Members of TAC's federal outreach team visited Capitol Hill this month to advocate for federal legislation and issues important to Texas counties.
The outreach team met with Sen. John Cornyn and expressed support for his bill (S.3011) that would expand authorized uses of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The U.S. Treasury Department's ARPA rules allow counties to spend up to $10 million of ARPA recovery funds as "lost revenue" without having to calculate actual revenue loss. Cornyn's proposed legislation simplifies the money's usage even further and would allow counties to spend up to 30% of their ARPA funds on local infrastructure projects.
"Great to sit down with @TexasCounties to discuss my bill to give state and local governments more flexibility to spend their unused COVID funds on important infrastructure projects like the deployment of high-speed internet to rural communities," Cornyn tweeted on May 11.
TAC and the National Association of Counties will continue to support Cornyn's bill and other legislation that would provide greater latitude to apply ARPA funds to infrastructure projects.
Additional issues discussed were the need for more veteran county service officers, funding to implement the new mental health crisis hotline (988), funding for behavioral health crisis services, and support for county transportation and infrastructure projects as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is implemented.
Federal broadband funding now available to the states. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released its notice of funding opportunity for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, requiring states to create a "middle-class affordability plan to ensure that all consumers have access to affordable high-speed internet."
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law requires these funds to be used to build broadband that offers customers an undefined "low cost" plan, which is left up to the states and the NTIA to define. NTIA stopped short of defining the low-cost options that states must meet but offered examples of possible low-cost requirements. For example, states could require that customers be offered a plan for $30 a month and, when combined with the FCC's existing $30 a month Affordable Connectivity Program, that would make internet free for those qualifying for the low-income subsidy. NTIA must accept states' definition of "low-cost" service.
In addition to the BEAD program, NTIA opened the application period for the Digital Equity Act Programs to increase digital literacy among low-income people, seniors, the incarcerated, veterans, people with disabilities and language barriers, and minorities and rural residents. Applications are due by July 12.
NTIA also released a notice for the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, funding aimed at connecting local broadband networks with national and regional networks. The application period is June 21 to September 30.
Texas Broadband Development Office seeks feedback. The Texas Broadband Development Office continues to solicit feedback as part of its state plan development.
High-speed internet is a requirement for most if not all aspects of modern life. Reliable, high-speed internet access is a necessity for education, business, agriculture, public safety and public health. Texas communities without access are at a disadvantage. Help bridge the digital divide by sharing your concerns, challenges and feedback about broadband access in your area.
For more information, please contact Megan Molleur or Austin McCarty at (800) 456-5974.