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President Declares National Emergency and White House Outlines Situation

Earlier today the President declared a National Emergency that allows the Stafford Disaster Act to be invoked, unleashing $50 billion in aid and allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take necessary actions in support of state and local needs associated with the Covid-19 situation. The action means that critical medical and related support activities, such as providing food to communities, can be initiated.

This evening, the White House convened a second briefing in an ongoing series to update to state and local stakeholders on the status of federal initiatives to mitigate the growing Covid-19 impacts. Overall, the presentations expanded on the actions are expected to be taken under several declarations, including today’s National Emergency Declaration.

The key update issues presented:

  • National emergency to expand state authority to allow for flexibility in testing of individuals
  • Food and Drug Administration: Working to allow states to develop diagnostics and to allow states to do own testing.
  • National Security Council and Department of Health and Human Services: Explained emergency actions today (Stafford Act) means the ability to leverage authorities to work with states and locals to work on emergency actions, public coordination, support hospitals to address surge capacity needs, and Social Security Act provisions are enacted to waive Medicaid and other federal health requirements. Action will provide $41 billion in federal assistance.
  • Small Business Administration: Has authority to make $7 billion in economic recovery assistance to small businesses.
  • Calling all hospitals to activate emergency action plans
  • Looking to activate standard testing across the nation
  • Working with private sector to have drive through testing
  • Up to 2 million additional tests next week
  • Funding for two new diagnostic tests to speed testing
  • Expedite supply chain
  • National Coordination Center activated to level 2 to allow for mid-level staff help
  • Treasury received letter from President directing all states to seek federal assistance under Stafford Act and speak with RA of FEMA for help
  • CMS and Medicaid: Disaster declaration allows waiving Medicare requirements to use docs outside states and to allow hospitals with flexibility blanket waivers
  • FAQ went out on Medicaid eligibility, services waivers
  • For state interests: waiving out of state help from docs Medicare
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): Cutting red tape, increasing federal support for Governors and Health and Human Services. Local governments need to speak to States for support. FEMA eligible activities:
    • Eligible activities reimbursed by HHS. If not, FEMA reimburse at 75% cost-share
    • Protective measures, state energy production, law enforcement and other safety needs eligible
    • With national declaration, states will not need to invoke multiple declarations
    • Research support is eligible under declaration
  • CDC: Working on mitigation and keeping health care system resilient. Implementation of community actions key including: hand hygiene, social distancing, and empowering stakeholders to take scientifically based actions. Framework on actions related to homes, schools, work sites, faith-based community developed and can be found at coronavirus.gov
  • Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Unused Emergency Solutions Grants and Continuing Care Grants can be used. Up to 15% of CDBG funds can be used without approval. Help on homelessness needs should go through local HUD representatives. Public housing flexibility for residence a priority and suggesting owners provide rent adjustments, abatements, and hardship exemptions. Work to avoid exemptions and use discretion on rent obligations. HUD is Real Estate Inspection Program suspended. Working with CDC and Homeless Council to protect needs of homelessness. HUD related information at Hud.com/coronavirus
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS): Screening of folks from Europe and US citizens ongoing. Working with CDC to detect virus. DHS is facilitating CDC enhanced screening for people entering U.S. At midnight tonight, 26 western European states that have removed mutual borders are prohibited from bordering aircrafts. Now have enhanced entry screening expanded to 13 airports to support CDC including: JFK, LAX, SFO, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Newark, Seattle, Boston, and Miami. Arriving passengers given daily book to log activities etc. to chart health for 14 days. If symptomatic referred to CDC at airport.

House and White House Reach Agreement on Coronavirus Federal Response

Late Friday evening, House Democrats and the White House reached an agreement on a federal relief package to respond to the national coronavirus crisis. The agreement follows the President’s decision to declare a national emergency. While text of the relief package has yet to be released, it is likely to include the following provisions:

  • Free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including those who are uninsured
  • Two weeks of guaranteed paid sick leave and three months of paid emergency family and medical leave that expires within one year upon enactment.
  • Increased support for unemployment benefits
  • Strengthens programs that provide school lunches for students who rely upon such programs
  • Increased funding for Medicaid

The House is expected to pass the package Friday evening, with the Senate taking up the legislation early next week. As a result of the agreement reached between the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the President over the legislation, it is expected to pass Congress and be signed into law by next week.

House and Senate Continue to Examine FY2021 Budget Request

House and Senate committees continued this week to examine the Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget request. The congressional committees reviewed the budget requests for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management. The following summarizes the committees’ discussions regarding the above agencies’ funding requests for water infrastructure activities.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Reviews FY2021 USACE and USBR Budget Request

The Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development held a hearing to examine FY 2021 budget request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). There was bipartisan agreement that the budget request for the two agencies is insufficient. Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated that the western U.S. continues to face limited water supply and stressed the need to modernize water infrastructure to adjust to reduced snow pack and increased drought conditions. Feinstein expressed concern that for USBR’s water and related resources activities, the budget requests $533 million less than the enacted FY2020 level. She also expressed disappointment that half of the cut is because the request excludes funding for implementing WIIN drought provisions. She urged USBR and the Administration to recognize Congress’ investment in WIIN projects that will be key to finding solutions to drought and extreme weather events.

During the hearing, Feinstein asked Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers, USACE, what actions USACE needs to take to be able to issue WIFIA loans. Semonite said that while he is not an expert on the topic, USACE has completed the policy conditions for issuing WIFIA loans and the next question will be determining where the money will be derived. He added that there is a need for dialogue between Congress and USACE on this topic.

Testifying at the hearing were R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Brenda Burman, Commissioner for USBR, U.S. Department of the Interior, and Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers, USACE.

House Oversight Hearing Examines FY 2021 Federal Lands Appropriations

On March 10, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands held an oversight hearing entitled “Examining the Spending Priorities and Missions of the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).” Testifying at the hearing were U.S. Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen and Michael Nedd, Deputy Director of Operations for the Bureau of Land Management.

Chairwoman Deb Haaland (D-NM) opened the hearing by emphasizing the disproportionate impact that climate change is already having on public lands and the failure of the Forest Service and the BLM to properly respond to the issue.  Haaland was critical of the Administration’s FY 2021 proposed budget for the Forest Service and BLM, stating that it “promotes energy dominance at all costs; to push an extractive and destructive agenda that has left our public lands responsible for nearly one-quarter of all U.S. CO2 emissions.”

Chief Christiansen highlighted that the Forest Service’s FY 2021 budget proposes the creation of a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund to address “preventive maintenance, rehabilitation, and capital improvements; replacing structurally deficient bridges; upgrading many of the 22,000 culverts; and trail maintenance and capital improvements.”

Christiansen stressed that the Forest Service is committed to a shared stewardship strategy, working on landscape scale projects with states, tribes, and other partners to protect vital watersheds and reduce the threat of wildfire.  Chief Christiansen singled out the Meadows Forest Restoration Project in the Tahoe National Forest as a national model for collaborative forest management.

USEPA Publishes Preliminary Regulation for PFOS and PFOA

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) published its Preliminary Regulatory Determinations for Contaminants on the Fourth Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List. USEPA identifies PFOS and PFOA as contaminants to include on the list. The preliminary determination does not identify a maximum contaminant level for PFOS and PFOA. The agency is seeking public comment on the potential regulatory constructs and monitoring requirements USEPA may consider for the larger class of PFAS chemicals, as well as PFOS and PFOA, if the regulatory determination were to be finalized. The document provides three potential approaches to determine regulation: (1) evaluate each additional PFAS on an individual basis, (2) evaluate additional PFAS by different grouping approaches, and (3) evaluate PFAS based on drinking water treatment techniques. Public comments on the preliminary regulatory determination are to be submitted no later than May 11, 2020.

Senators Introduce PFAS Legislation

On Thursday, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation to assist communities address drinking water and groundwater contamination from PFAS. The legislation, entitled “Providing Financial Assistance to States (PFAS) for Testing and Treatment Act,” would provide funding assistance to states to address contamination and the public health risks associated with it, by investing in projects and activities that assist public water systems and users of underground drinking water sources. The legislation has been referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Fund, the bill would authorize $1 billion for each of the fiscal years 2020 – 2029 to address contamination in drinking water and groundwater. Funding would be allotted to states based on promulgated regulation established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) that accounts for the prevalence and remedial costs of addressing PFAS contaminants. The legislation would also create a new grant program under the Clean Water Act to cleanup sites contaminated with PFOS and PFOA substances until USEPA designates the two substances as hazardous under Superfund law. This grant program would be authorized at $1 billion per fiscal years 2020 – 2029.

Legislative Activity This Week

H.R. 6084, Water Power Research and Development Act. – Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). Advanced to full committee favorably by voice vote.

H.R. 3723, Desalination Development Act. – Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA). Reported out of committee as amended by recorded vote 13-10.

H.R. 1162, Water Recycling Investment and Improvement Act. – Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA). Reported out of committee as amended by recorded vote 19-12.

H.R. 2473, Securing Access for the central Valley and Enhancing (SAVE) Water Resources Act. – Rep. Josh Harder (D-CA). – Reported out of committee as amended by recorded vote 19-12.

New Legislation

S. 3418, A bill to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to allow the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide capitalization grants to States to establish revolving funds to provide hazard mitigation assistance to reduce risks from disasters and natural hazards, and other related environmental harm. – Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI)

S. 3427, A bill to require the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to digitize and make publicly available geographic information system mapping data relating to public access to Federal land and waters for outdoor recreation, and for other purposes. – Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ)

H.R. 6169, To require the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to digitize and make publicly available geographic information system mapping data relating to public access to Federal land and waters for outdoor recreation, and for other purposes. – Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-ID)

H.R. 6071, FEMA Disaster Preparedness Improvement Act. – Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA)

 

Congress Next Week

Congress is on recess next week.