Late in the evening on Friday, December 9, Congress passed a short-term spending bill (H.R. 2028) that will provide funding for the federal government through April 28, 2017. The spending bill, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), extends the authorization of current federal spending which was set to expire at midnight. Prior to the bill advancing, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) had threated to use procedural tactics to stall the legislation due to a lack of critical funding for retired miners whose health care and pension funds will soon become insolvent. Ultimately Manchin and his allies backed down and allowed the bill to proceed.
The CR, released on December 6 following weeks of negotiations over the its scope and the length of the extension, funds the federal government at FY 2016 levels minus a 0.5% across-the-board cut to stay under statutory spending caps. Congress included funding levels for some programs above the standard pro-rated amounts in the CR. These funding levels, also known as “anomalies,” enable agencies to commit to long-term projects or to fund other urgent priorities.
In a win for counties, the CR provides $500 million in FY 2017 funds for state and local efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. This funding was authorized in the recently passed 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34) and would be made available through grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In our report on the opioid epidemic, published jointly with the National League of Cities in November, NACo called for significant federal funding to augment local efforts to end the opioid epidemic. A joint letter was sent to congressional leaders on December 8 calling for urgent appropriation of such funds.
Also important for counties, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program will receive an additional $1.8 billion in new CDBG disaster assistance to states for recovery and rebuilding efforts for individuals with homes damaged by severe weather events.
The CR also maintains FY2016 level funding for key rural housing and infrastructure assistance programs including $1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans, as well as $24 billion in loan authority for the Single Family Housing guaranteed loan program.
These programs provide assistance to rural communities for basic infrastructure improvements, as well as direct assistance to low-income rural families that have limited options for purchasing a home due to their geographic location.
Although the CR does not include an anomaly to provide the $480 million necessary to fully fund the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program in FY 2017, the bill does extend funding for PILT at FY 2016 levels. This allows the Interior Department to conduct data calls and gather the information it needs to calculate PILT payments under the statutory formula in preparation for an on-time 2017 payment. However, Congress must act to pass FY 2017 appropriations legislation that includes funding for PILT at the $480 million level in order to ensure counties receive full PILT payments. NACo will continue to advocate in support full funding for PILT as Congress works to enact legislation to fund the federal government through FY 2017.
The CR also does not include language to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program retroactively for FY 2016 or into the future. The SRS program expired in September of 2015 and counties received their last authorized SRS payments in early 2016. If Congress fails to act, counties will revert to 25 percent forest revenue sharing payments based on annual timber receipts, rather than payments under the SRS program. The last time Congress failed to reauthorize the SRS program, counties faced, on average, an 80 percent cut in federal forest payments to counties and schools.
The CR contains $170 million to help communities like Flint, Michigan that have contaminated drinking water systems. The funding includes grants for infrastructure improvements, lead poisoning prevention care and a lead exposure registry. The CR also provides $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) which would provide low interest loans for large water and wastewater projects.
As the members of the 115th Congress convene in Washington in the new year, NACo will continue to advocate for critical funding for county government priorities.
Contact: Jacob Terrell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.942.4236