President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, designed to get the country back on its feet after a yearlong battle with the pandemic, focuses on rescue and recovery that includes $350 billion in aid to state, local and territorial governments.
“The federal resources proposed would enable county leaders to make strategic investments in the immediate task of vaccinating our residents and mitigating the spread of this deadly, destructive virus,” said NACo Executive Director Matt Chase.
As Biden begins to tackle many issues important to counties, he will be working with a Democratic-controlled Congress, a scenario Washington has not experienced since 2009.
In addition to COVID-19 relief, other top issues for counties during the 117th Congress will include health care, infrastructure, Payment in Lieu of Taxes, Secure Rural Schools and rebuilding the economy.
As counties continue to grapple with the stresses of COVID-19, they can expect to see a health care agenda from the Biden administration that aims to alleviate the pressures and maintain the safety of residents. This strategy will include the goal of distributing 100 million doses of the vaccine within the Biden administration’s first 100 days, expansion of testing efforts for schools and safely reopening businesses.
Biden has expressed a desire to consult with state and local officials as his administration develops a vaccine distribution strategy, provides economic relief, tackles racial and ethnic disparities and reopens schools and businesses. Counties will be critical in these efforts and will play an integral role in continuing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year will hopefully be a banner year for infrastructure investment. Biden has repeatedly voiced support for a major infrastructure package and Congress is likely to advance legislation that funds a variety of transportation and infrastructure priorities.
Biden’s pick for Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, has spoken at length about creating a robust infrastructure system. The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., has also stressed the importance of bringing local governments into the national conversation on infrastructure and transportation during his conversation with NACo members during the transition.
Additionally, Congress is likely to include a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill in any larger infrastructure package that it puts forward. Lawmakers had hoped to pass a long-term surface transportation bill before the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act expired on Sept. 30, 2020.
However, disagreement over funding mechanisms and differences over policy issues including clean energy led Congress to approve just a one-year extension of the FAST Act. While these arguments have not gone away and are likely to carry over into 2021, lawmakers in both parties appear committed to investing in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It is likely that we will see a long-term surface transportation bill signed into law this year.
The Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) programs are longstanding NACo priorities.
In a win for Public Lands counties, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 allocates one year of full mandatory funding for PILT. Unfortunately, the legislation does not contain language for the SRS program. We hope to see a reintroduction of SRS funding in the upcoming year as counties across the United States experience budgetary shortfalls.There is currently bipartisan support in Congress for reauthorization of SRS, but no concrete action has been taken.
The start of NACo’s Legislative Conference is March 8. During the December Board of Directors Meeting, the NACo Board voted to hold the 2021 Legislative Conference virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, a local law limiting gatherings in Washington D.C. and the closure of the host hotel.
The conference brings together more than 2,000 county officials to explore solutions to the nation’s greatest problems and share best practices among peers at the county level. This year, we are offering a robust month of virtual engagements including networking events, workshops and opportunities to connect with federal stakeholders.
NACo’s legislative conference will begin with meetings of the 10 Policy Steering Committees. Members will have the opportunity to vote on any interim policy resolutions that the NACo Board of Directors may subsequently adopt. For more information on the interim policy resolutions process, visit www.naco.org/2021Resolutions.
Following the convening of NACo’s Policy Steering Committees and Board of Directors meeting, we will host a series of workshops, presentations from representatives of federal agencies and virtual Capitol Hill briefings. Registration is currently open for the 2021 Legislative Conference. For more information, visit www.naco.org/events/conferences.