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County priorities fare well in spending measure bill

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PILT fully funded, SRS restored in $1.3 trillion Omnibus spending bill

After months of debate and nearly a half-dozen extensions, Congress passed, and President Trump signed a final $1.3 trillion spending bill for FY 2018. The appropriations in the omnibus bill — a combination of $692 billion in defense funding and $591 in non-defense funding — represents the highest level of funding for the federal government since FY 2011.

Although this increase in federal spending will benefit counties on several fronts, it will likely push the federal deficit past $1 trillion by next year, hitting that dubious milestone for the first time since 2012.

The FY 2018 omnibus spending package features several significant victories for county governments. Long-standing NACo advocacy priorities received substantial — and in some cases unprecedented — funding increases. The legislation included historic levels of funding for public lands counties, augmented efforts to revitalize America’s infrastructure, boosted support for public health and the fight against the opioid epidemic, strengthened counties’ ability to prepare for and respond to disasters and increased investments in elections security.

NACo released a comprehensive analysis of the FY 2018 appropriations package, which can be found on NACo’s resources page at Highlights include:


Public lands programs reauthorized and funded

The Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program was fully funded at $530 million, $65 million above FY 2017. Counties cannot collect property taxes on federal land, but must still provide essential services for residents and those who visit public lands each year. PILT helps offset the cost of these services, which include road and bridge maintenance, law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical and fire protection, solid waste disposal and environmental compliance. Full-funding of PILT is a long-standing NACo priority.

In addition to PILT funding, counties scored a major victory with the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for FY 2017 and 2018, particularly after the program expired in 2015. Those payments benefit 720 federal forest counties and 9 million school children by making up for lost timber revenues. SRS payments keep teachers in the classroom, police officers on the beat and road crews working to construct and help maintain county infrastructure.


Infrastructure gets a big boost

Speaking of infrastructure, the FY 2018 bill laid out $10 billion in new infrastructure investments, a funding boost agreed to by lawmakers during budget discussions earlier this year. The bulk of this money is directed to the Department of Transportation (DOT) through the Capital Investment Grants program ($2.6 billion), discretionary highway funding ($2.5 billion), TIGER grants ($1 billion) and the Highway Trust Fund ($1 billion).

However, appropriators also used this funding to supplement several programs outside DOT, including the Community Development Block Grant, water and wastewater grants and loans, a new rural broadband program and the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean water and drinking water revolving funds.


Disaster relief efforts get major lift

Under the FY 2018 omnibus, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund received $8 billion in new funds, of which $7.3 billion is designated for relief from major disasters. The Disaster Relief Fund is the primary funding source for federal disaster response and recovery.

This new funding follows more than $100 billion additional funds which were appropriated over the last several months following the major hurricanes and wildfires of 2017. Unlike most other federal programs that support states and localities, the Disaster Relief Fund is a “no-year” account, meaning that unused funds left over from previous years are carried over to the next fiscal year.

FEMA’s National Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund also received $249 million in FY 2018, a major increase of $149 million over FY 2017. This fund helps to mitigate risks, reduce damage from future disasters and lower flood insurance premiums for homes and businesses.


Funding for opioid epidemic included

The FY 2018 funding bill approved $2 billion in new funding to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic. This included $350 million for the Center for Disease Control to advance the understanding of the opioid overdose epidemic and scale up states’ prevention activities. It also included $1 billion for Opioid State Target Response Grants. Although a percentage of these funds are allocated to states with the highest mortality rates due to opioid use disorders, no state will receive less than $4 million.

Also of importance to counties, a new Rural Communities Opioid Response program is funded at $130 million with the explicit aim of reaching hard-hit rural communities across America.


Election security upgrades a priority

Finally, the FY 2018 omnibus included $380 million in grant funding to states for “election security improvements,” including enhancing election technology and increasing election cybersecurity.

This funding comes from remaining Help America Vote Act funds, and the bill grants authority to distribute these funds to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) — an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to help jurisdictions meet requirements established under the Help America Vote Act of 1992. The EAC has until the week of May 7, 2018 to distribute these funds.

Numerous other county programs were funded in the FY 2018 omnibus bill. As the 2018 election cycle approaches, Congress will be less likely to pass other major pieces of legislation, and many anticipate this will be the final large bill passed before November. However, a few outstanding issues remain, including government appropriations for FY 2019 (which begins on Oct. 1, 2018) and reauthorizations of the National Flood Insurance Program and the Federal Aviation Administration, which expire on July 31, 2018 and Sept. 30, 2018, respectively.

NACo will continue working with Congress and the administration to ensure county priorities are protected in future appropriations processes.


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