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House Prepares to Debate and Pass $3 Trillion HEROES Act          

This week, Committee on Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES), H.R. 6800. HEROES is the House Democratic $3 trillion economic and public health assistance package to address the continuing Coronavirus COVID-19-related public health and economic impacts. HEROES represents the fourth federal relief package and expands provisions contained in the CARES Act that was enacted in April. It provides increased financial assistance to states and local governments, and creates a new program of assistance to support essential works that have led the way in the response to the health impacts. As of this writing, the House is scheduled to pass HEROES Friday evening. Passage is expected on a mostly partisan basis, but a handful of Republican Members have indicated that they will vote to pass the bill.

House Republicans and the Senate Republican Leadership have expressed skepticism over the Democrat plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated the bill is dead on arrival due to the spending to date and the liberal wish list contained in HEROES. Despite this position, and an informal White House veto threat, quiet negotiations to provide increased state and local governmental funding assistance are reportedly underway. As part of this process, McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), have staked out their condition for any final package to include employer liability protections related to the COVID-19 impacts. Democratic opposition to liability protections poses a serious challenge to develop a compromise package, suggesting that any resolution will require several weeks of negotiations.

H.R. 6800 overall provides $1 trillion in assistance to states and local governments. The funding would be distributed to the states and local governments over three years to deliver long-term assistance. A breakdown of the estimated funding allocations per year for all 50 States, as well as a breakdown of estimated funding for individual localities in each State, can be accessed here. Continuing with the effort to assist states and local governments, the Act also expands on the CARES Act’s payroll tax credits, extending such credits for the provision of mandatory paid sick, medical and family leave to the public sector.

The Act also creates a new grants program, entitled the COVID-19 HEROES Fund, funded at $180 billion to provide financial assistance in the form of premium pay and retention bonuses to essential workers and employers of essential workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis. Finally, HEROES establishes a low-income ratepayer assistance grants program that would provide water and wastewater agencies grants to help offset revenue losses attributable to the inability of ratepayers to pay utility bills because of illness or loss of employment during the pandemic.

A selected summary of the key provisions within the HEROES Act can be reviewed here.

Phase IV Financial Assistance For Localities

The Heroes Act establishes a local fiscal relief fund that provides $375 billion in funding to local governments to “respond to, mitigate, cover costs or replace foregone revenues not projected on January 31, 2020 stemming from the public health emergency.” Funds would be awarded to local governments as follows:

  • $187.5 billion for counties on the basis of population
  • $131.25 billion to metropolitan cities as defined under the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (PDF) as cities that have populations of 50,000+ or are the principal city of a metropolitan statistical area
  • $56.25 billion for general governments other than counties or parishes in non-entitlement areas, distributed to states for local use.

The Office of the Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released estimated awards by County and City for 2020 and 2021.

*Note: 2021 are to be paid between April 15, 2021 and May 3, 2021. There is no condition on how or when such funds must be expended.

Ratepayer Assistance Focus in Congress

As part of the economic and public health assistance the HEROES Act supports, the Act establishes a new $1.5 billion ratepayer assistance grants program to support low-income households’ needs in paying their municipal water service bills. Under the program, the Department of Health and Human Services would provide grants to States, which the States would distribute to public drinking water and wastewater utilities to help offset revenue losses due to COVID-19 impacts.

To be eligible to receive funding, utilities will have to ensure and maintain outreach activities, notifying ratepayers of available assistance and charge not more than the difference between actual cost of service and amount of assistance payment made by the State. Under this program, a utility receiving assistance is barred from disconnecting service due to nonpayment, charging late fees or fees accrued during the emergency period, and reconnections of service must be conducted so that health risks to the household receiving service are minimized.

Below is a summary of how the bill defines low-income households and how funding would be allocated to States under the program.

  • States must enter into agreements with utilities to assist in identifying low-income households. Allotment would be made based upon:
    • Percentage of households in a state with income equal or less than 150% of federal poverty line
    • Percentage of such households that spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing
    • Extent to which the jurisdiction impacted by COVID-19 compared with national average
    • 10% of funds reserved to provide funding by Secretary to states based on economic disruptions from declared emergency
  • Definition of low-income household is:
    • All households equal or less than 150% of federal poverty line and all households with income equal or less than 60% of state median income
    • Other households may include those adversely impacted by job loss or severe income loss and households that are receiving assistance under SNAP, SSI, and payments under Veterans’ and Survivors’ Pension Act

Environmental Justice Included In Phase IV Package

The HEROES Act ensures that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) continues its environmental justice programs during the COVID-19 crisis. The bill directs USEPA to continue carrying out its Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program, and Community Action for a Renewed Environment grant programs I and II. It authorizes $50 million for fiscal year 2020 to support projects that investigate or address disproportionate impacts of the public health crisis in Environmental Justice communities.

House Considers Remote Voting

Today the House passed H. Res. 965, a resolution that gives Members the ability to vote remotely by proxy in the event of a public health crisis. During the health crisis, a Member would have the option to decide whether they want to travel to the Capitol to vote in-person. If the Member is unable or chooses not to travel, a designated Member will provide a proxy vote on their behalf. A Member can serve as a proxy for no more than ten Members.

This rule change allows for the House to conduct regular legislative order, including hearings and mark-ups, during the COVID-19 crisis. This represents a drastic change in House procedures that, up until now, required Members must be physically present when voting on the floor.

New Smartphone App To Crosscheck Disinfectant Products

The U.S. Environmental Agency (USEPA) is launching a new smartphone app that allows people to crosscheck whether the disinfectant product they are using is approved by the Agency to kill the coronavirus. USEPA published a list of more than 400 surface disinfectant products that prove successful at killing the coronavirus or a virus strain similar to the coronavirus, such as SARS-CoV-2. The app allows users to identify products based on specific disinfectant needs based on variables like surface type, use site, and contact exposure time.

Reclamation Infrastructure Projects a Priority for Economic Recovery

In a bipartisan letter to House leadership, twenty-four House members emphasized the importance of funding for U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water storage, conservation, reuse and delivery infrastructure projects as part of any future COVID-19 relief package.

New Legislation

S. 3682, A bill to provide States, Tribal governments, and local governments with spending discretion for part of their Coronavirus Relief Fund payment. – Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD)

S. 3680, A bill to require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to continue to carry out certain programs relating to environmental justice, and for other purposes. – Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

Federal Agency Updates

Monthly Budget Review for April 2020 (Congressional Budget Office) – The federal budget typically records a surplus in April because final tax payments for the prior year and estimated payments for the current year are usually due on April 15. But this year, the government incurred a deficit of $737 billion in April, CBO estimates, compared with a surplus of $160 billion last year.

Federal Emergency Management Agency

FEMA Exercise Starter Kit Exercise Starter Kit Slides – The kit is intended to help organizations and companies start and plan their reopening process by facilitating a discussion within the organization about the process/concerns that employees may have.  The kit includes suggested and customizable questions and slides to guide how to facilitate a group discussion.

Whole-of-America Update – Details the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis to date.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Upcoming WIFIA Webinars for May and June – USEPA webpage to register for upcoming webinars in May and June that will outline the WIFIA Program.