Today, both Houses of Congress begin their Fourth of July/District Work recess. They will return to Washington in two weeks, with important work to do on a number of items, at least four of which will be important to New Jersey municipalities.
Please, take advantage of these two weeks, while they are in New Jersey, to reach out to them on these priorities. With Congressional election campaigning like to take up much of August and most of the Fall, the last two weeks in July represent a crucial window of opportunity for you and your priorities.
1. Direct, Substantial, and Flexible Financial Aid
While New Jersey municipalities, large and small, continue to respond to the public health, the public safety, the economic, the mental health, and the social service impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, they also continue to wait for federal support. Local services are now more important than ever. But unless another level of government steps up to help, the same front-line local workers who have been risking their lives, working around the clock to deliver essential services since March, will soon be at risk of lay-offs.
To date, Congress has passed four bills, responding to COVID-19. All of those bills addressed important priorities. But none of them prioritized the impact of the pandemic on municipalities.
Since then, every member of our State’s delegation has either sponsored or cosponsored bills designed to send a lifeline to New Jersey municipalities. Notably, Senator Bob Menendez, joined by Senator Cory Booker and others, introduced the bipartisan State and Municipal Aid for Recovery and Transition Act (SMART). And a bipartisan House companion bill has been introduced by NJ Congresswoman Sherrill, joined by Congressman Gottheimer and others.
Either this, or some other bill, which includes direct, substantial, and flexible local aid is needed. All local governments, regardless of population, urgently need direct federal funding to continue to fight COVID-19, to protect their residents, and to promote the economic recovery, through the summer and beyond. The citizens of small towns matter just as much as the citizens of big counties, and New Jersey municipal employees contribute at least as much to society as private-sector workers.
2. Infrastructure Investments
This week, the House of Representatives began consideration of the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act. Among other provisions, the bill would dedicate $19 billion, over five years, in Local Aid. And, it would enact reforms to enhance State-Local coordination in order to ‘improve the flow of funds’ to local units of all sizes. Also included in the proposal is $250 million for complete streets.
The total package would authorize $1.5 trillion over five years – an average of $300 billion a year, with some of the funding front-loaded in the Federal government’s upcoming (FY 2021) Fiscal Year. That would make$83.1 billion available to states, municipalities, tribal governments, U.S. territories, and transit agencies in FY ’21 for COVID Response and Recovery. An additional $22 billion would be made available, beginning on October 1, in capital support to compensate for lost revenues.
The bill will also include other funding streams for transit systems, and a Transforming Rail by Accelerating Investment Nationwide (TRAIN) component, supporting passenger rail improvements with $19 billion, over five years, plus $29.3 billion over five years for Amtrak, of which $13.1 billion would be earmarked for the North East Corridor.
We will need to be on guard against private interests who will see a new Infrastructure bill as a chance to advance their agendas. The bill stresses trucking safety. However, for years, the interstate trucking industry has been lobbying Congress for relaxation on truck size and weight limits. And for years, NLC and the New Jersey League have been lobbying against any relaxation of those limits. Public safety and the resilience of local roads would be compromised by the presence of longer, heavier trucks.
We need your advocacy with your House Member on this.
3. National Flood Insurance Program
Kept alive with temporary extensions for over a year, while Congress struggles to find acceptable reforms, the National Flood Insurance Program is again facing sunset on September 30. Vital to so many residents in so many municipalities, please let your Representative know how important the NFIP is to you.
4. Policing Reform
On June 8, led by Senator Cory Booker, House and Senate Democrats proposed a sweeping reform measure. On Wednesday, June 17, the House Judiciary Committee released the bill, H.R. 7120 (the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act). That bill was approved by the full House of Representatives on June 24.
On June 17, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on Safe Policing. The Order looks to condition federal funding for police on local adoption of federal standards, including a ban on chokeholds, except when an officer’s life is in danger. The Order also improves the Federal government’s ability to track officers with a history of excessive force complaints.
On June 19, Senate Republicans, led by Senator Tim Scott, unveiled police reform legislation (S.3985). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not negotiate with Democrats before he brought the JUSTICE Act to the floor, saying their choice will be whether to support it or try to block it. A Senate vote was scheduled on June 24 on the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act (JUSTICE Act). The lack of bipartisan support, however, prevented action on the bill.
Absent some willingness to compromise, progress on this vital matter seems unlikely.
Contact: Jon Moran, Senior Legislative Analyst, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481 x121.