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Congress Begins Development of Phase IV Relief Package  

House Democrats announced their plan to put forth at least a trillion-dollar economic assistance package to aid states and local governments that are facing economic shortfalls due the COVID-19 crisis. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), has explained that the fourth package would deliver funding assistance in three tranches, providing aid to the hardest-hit states, counties, and municipalities, and would provide long-term funding, as the economy recovers. In addition to state and local government assistance, Democrats are also looking at providing a second installment of direct-cash payments to Americans, medical supplies, unemployment insurance, and enhanced broadband capacity.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Ed Markey (D-MA) have unveiled the  Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act to address the economic instability many Americans are facing during the COVID-19 crisis. The Act expands the $1,200 direct-cash payments provided as part of the CARES Act by increasing payments to individuals making less than $120,000 would to $2,000, married couples who file joint taxes would receive $4,000, and families would receive $2,000 for each dependent, but caps the number of dependents that are eligible to receive a payment to three. Under the Act, eligible recipients would receive payments on a monthly basis and the program would expire three months after the Health and Human Services Department determines the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Congressional Republicans have expressed skepticism over the Democratic plan, noting that Congress has already passed extensive relief funding packages in the last two months. Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) continue to stress that they will not accept any future relief package unless the legislation includes liability protections for businesses and employers as the economy reopens.

The House has yet to announce when Members will return to Washington D.C. to consider a fourth relief package. The Senate returned to Washington D.C. on May 4.

Senate Committee Moves Water Resources and Water Infrastructure Legislation

After months of preparation, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works moved quickly to unanimously approve America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (AWIA) (S. 3591) and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (DWIA) (S. 3590) by roll call votes of 21-0.  The bills now go to the Senate floor for debate and votes.  A date for floor debate on the legislation has yet to be scheduled.  AWIA provides a total of $17 billion in new federal authorizations to support America’s water infrastructure. This includes activities related to the Army Corps of Engineers’ management of water infrastructure and clean water infrastructure, such as repairing wastewater and stormwater systems. DWIA provides $2.5 billion to reauthorize programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act to assist communities meet their clean drinking water needs.

The committee’s action comes as Congress has intensified discussions concerning developing infrastructure legislation to address the dire economic impacts from the COVID-19 crisis.  During the committee mark up, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) expressed the desire to use these bills to serve as a model for “a great get-back-to-work, rebuild America’s infrastructure” initiative in Congress.  Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) stated that “these bills, along with our bipartisan highway infrastructure legislation, should be considered by the full Senate, after the immediate health crisis is behind us.”

Select provisions in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 and Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 include:

  • S. 3591 provides a total of $17 billion in new federal authorizations to support U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects and activities, and the USEPA’s municipal wastewater, stormwater, and other clean water infrastructure programs.
  • S. 3590 provides $2.5 billion for programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act to provide resources and technical assistance to communities to meet drinking water needs.
  • Reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs. Authorizes $7.5 billion in CWSRF funding for FY 2022-24 and $X.X billion for the DWSRF program for FY 2022-24.
  • Reauthorization of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program) through 2024 at the current annual funding level of $50 million.
  • Reauthorization of the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Grant Program at $250 million for FY 2021 and 2022, an increase of $225 million over the current authorized level.
  • Reauthorization of the Alternative Water Source Grants Pilot Program at $25 million per year from FY 2022 to FY 2024.
  • Authorizes $15 million annually for the USEPA’s Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Grant Programs.
  • Authorizes $300 million for grants to treat PFAS in underground sources of drinking water, including private wells. Directs the USEPA to develop a national drinking water standard for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFOA/PFAS).
  • Creates a new USEPA pilot program to provide competitive grants to states to provide platforms for intrastate information sharing among communities regarding water quality, water infrastructure needs, and water technology. Grants for this pilot program are authorized at $15 million annually through FY2024.
  • Creates a Clean Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability program at $5 million annually though FY 2024 for grants to water utilities to assist in the planning, design, construction, implementation, operation, or maintenance of a program or project to increase the resiliency or adaptability of water systems to natural hazards.
  • Creates new Centers of Excellence for Stormwater Technology grant program for research on new and emerging stormwater control technology. Grants are authorized at $10 million annually for FY 2022 and FY 2023.

Ratepayer Assistance Focus in Congress

There is a growing focus within Congress to try to address economic strains that will affect wastewater and drinking water utilities due to “no service shut-off” policies that utilities have instituted during the pandemic. One approach under discussion is to provide at least $1.5 billion in grants to States and Indian Tribes to be distributed to wastewater total and drinking water utilities to assist in the needs of low-income households. Under this approach, “low-income household” is defined as 150% of the Federal poverty line, a household where the ratepayers have lost their job(s) due to the COVID-19 crisis, or where at least one member of the household receives supplemental social security payments under title XVI of the Social Security Act, supplemental nutritional assistance benefits under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, or payments under the Veterans’ and Survivors’ Pension Improvement Act of 1978.

How Congress will ultimately address ratepayer assistance remains uncertain, but there continues to be growing demands from stakeholders and congressional members for the federal government to provide some form of relief to utilities and low-income households.

House Democrats Introduce Legislation to Block WOTUS Implementation

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman, Peter DeFazio (D-OR), along with the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairwoman, Grace Napolitano (D-CA), has introduced legislation that would block implementation of the recently finalized Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule.

The legislation, entitled the Clean Water for All Act, also directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop new regulation to protect rivers, streams, and wetlands based on the best available science. The regulation will also not have a negative impact on water quality, contaminate drinking water, or increase local flood risks.

New Legislation

S. 3621, A bill to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to remove limitations on the required use of American iron and steel products in projects carried out using State revolving loan funds, and for other purposes. – Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

H.R. 6684, To improve flood protection and water resources enhancement and utilization along the Sacramento River and in the Yolo Bypass region of California, to improve policies and procedures for civil works projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, and for other purposes. – Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA)

Federal Agency Updates For The Week

National Preparedness: Additional Actions Needed to Address Gaps in the Nation’s Emergency Management Capabilities – Highlights shortfalls in several emergency management capabilities: (1) preventing imminent acts of terrorism, (2) protecting citizens and assets, (3 mitigating the loss of life and property, (4) responding quickly to save lives, and (5timely restoration of infrastructure and housing.

Flood Risk Reduction from Natural and Nature-Based Features: Army Corps of Engineers Authorities. – Congressional Research Service report on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ use of nature-based features (NNBFs) as part of their flood risk reduction activities as directed to consider and evaluate effectiveness of NNBFs by Congress.

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Whole-of-America FEMA Update – FEMA’s daily update on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis to date.

FEMA Announces Supplemental Funding Through CARES Act – Press release from FEMA detailing the announcement of $200 million in supplemental funding to allocate to local jurisdictions managing the COVID-19 crisis.

Department of the Treasury 

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Round 2 Summary Report – PowerPoint from the Department summarizing the funding data for the second round of PPP.

FAQs Document About Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans – Updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document from the Small Business Administration, in consultation with the Department, on the PPP loans.