Washington Snapshot

Washington Snapshot: No Movement, No Deal

Friday, August 14, 2020 - 9:00 am

With Congress adjourned for the summer, Snapshot will not be published again until September 18. We will issue breaking news as stimulus talks continue or consequential presidential actions occur.

In This Week's Edition of Snapshot...

Congress IconNews from the Hill

No Movement, No Deal

Congressional leaders and White House officials are still at an impasse with respect to negotiations on the next COVID-19 package. Democratic leaders have said that they will not support a package that includes less than $2 trillion in aid. The White House and Senate Republicans have indicated that price tag is too much for them and they would prefer to move smaller pieces of legislation instead of a single comprehensive package. It appears that a deal is unlikely to come together before September.

In addition, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) released an updated calendar for the House with House Members not expected to return for floor votes until the week of September 14.

Coronavirus Emergency Education Grants Act

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the Coronavirus Emergency Education Grants Act (S.4505). The bill provides parents with one-time grants to help with the cost of education from March 2020 to June 2021. In addition, it provides tax credits for donations to eligible scholarship organizations.

Executive & Regulatory News IconExecutive & Regulatory Affairs

White House

Presidential Memos and Executive Orders Regarding COVID Relief
President Trump signed four executive actions Saturday to provide additional jobless aid, suspend the collection of payroll taxes, avoid evictions, and assist with student-loan payments. The move can be interpreted as an attempt of the White House to potentially accelerate talks, as opposed to derailing the current negotiations in Congress that had deadlocked over the weekend. 

There is plenty of debate whether any of these actions can effectively be implemented or are consistent with current laws. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded that the president breached congressional spending authority by the action and that his plan wouldn’t provide enough relief. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended the legality of the action, making the argument that holding up relief for millions of Americans could have consequences for the economy.

Additionally, PoliticoPro reports that it is unclear whether employers will actually pass on to workers what they would otherwise withhold in payroll taxes and that the implementation of these directives would difficult, thus raising further questions about how much economic punch the new executive action will carry.

The Executive Order and Memoranda:

  • Memorandum on Continued Student Loan Payment Relief During the COVID-19 Pandemic: On March 20, 2020, the Trump Administration suspended federal student loan payments and temporarily set interest rates to 0 percent. The original announcement of this policy specified that it would continue for at least 60 days. In the interim, the CARES Act provided this same student loan payment relief through legislation, but that program is scheduled to expire on September 30, 2020. The new presidential memo to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos directs her to extend the original March 20th action until such time that the economy has stabilized, schools have re-opened, and the crisis of the pandemic has subsided. This action does not have the force of law and does not extend the relief enabled through the CARES Act.
  • Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster: Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin was directed to defer the withholding, deposit, and payment of the taxes imposed on wages or compensation paid during the period of September 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. This action refers to any employee whose wages or compensation payable during any bi-weekly pay period generally is less than $4,000, calculated on a pre-tax basis, or the equivalent amount with respect to other pay periods.

    Technically, this only delays the deadline for paying the workers’ share of the Social Security payroll tax. That 12.4 percent levy is split evenly between employers and employees, whose taxes are automatically withheld from their paychecks. The delay is not that different from when the administration postponed the tax-filing deadline this year until July 15, because of the coronavirus outbreak. The money would eventually have to be repaid, though the order does not say when.

    However, those who are self-employed are not included in the memoranda and will not be able  to defer taxes under this directive.
  • Executive Order on Fighting the Spread of COVID-19 by Providing Assistance to Renters and Homeowners: The current policy of the United States is to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, residential evictions and foreclosures during the ongoing COVID-19 national emergency. This new Executive Order directs Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Center for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield to consider “whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions of any tenants for failure to pay rent are reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 from one State or possession into any other State or possession.”

    The Order further directs Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to “identify any and all available Federal funds to provide temporary financial assistance to renters and homeowners who, as a result of the financial hardships caused by COVID-19, are struggling to meet their monthly rental or mortgage obligations.”

    HUD shall also take action, consistent with applicable law, to “promote the ability of renters and homeowners to avoid eviction or foreclosure resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19. Such action may include encouraging and providing assistance to public housing authorities, affordable housing owners, landlords, and recipients of Federal grant funds in minimizing evictions and foreclosures.”

Department of Agriculture

USDA Rural Development is seeking applications from organizations to provide planning and/or implementation technical assistance to rural communities to foster placemaking under the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC). This funding opportunity will be administered by the USDA Rural Development Innovation Center and will award up to $1,000,000 in competitive cooperative agreement funds in fiscal year (FY) 2020. 

Planning must directly benefit cities or towns with 50,000 residents or less. Public or private groups, organizations, or institutions must demonstrate experience and expertise in providing placemaking technical assistance to rural communities. Applicants must demonstrate existing and proposed partnerships with public, private, philanthropic, and community partners. Planning must directly benefit cities or towns with 50,000 residents or less.

The deadline for applications is September 10th.

Department of Commerce

National Telecommunication and Information Administration 
On July 30, NTIA released the Botnet Road Map Status Update. In the report, the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security documented more than 50 activities led by industry and government that demonstrate progress in the drive to counter botnet threats. In these days of increased virtual organizational operations, nonprofits and foundations also need to increase their understanding of cyber threats and to create strategies for protection and resilience.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
On August 6, NOAA released its annual August update to the Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, initially issued in May. NOAA indicates this is one of the most active seasonal forecasts the agency has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks. They urge preparedness this season. For late-breaking updates, follow reports from the National Hurricane Center on twitter.  

Census Bureau
Last week, following the announcement of the Commerce Department’s intent to cut short the 2020 Census enumeration (including self-response and non-response follow-up) and data processing, the leaders of more than 500 philanthropic institutions, including the Council on Foundations, signed a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham opposing the move.

The letter raises concerns about rushing the Census in the midst of the global pandemic and posits that this move “would hurt a diverse range of rural and urban communities, leaving them underrepresented locally and in Congress and cutting their fair share of federal funding for Medicaid, economic development, child care, schools, road and public transit improvements, home heating assistance for senior citizens, and many more vital services.”

Department of Homeland Security

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Federal Funding Distributed related to COVID-19 relief:

  • As of Aug. 7, FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services (combined) obligated $153.5 billion in support of COVID-19 efforts.
  • As of Aug. 3, all 50 states, five territories, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Washington, D.C. were approved for major disaster declarations to assist with additional needs identified.
  • As of Aug. 7, FEMA obligated $8.9 billion in support of COVID-19 efforts. This support includes:
    • Emergency Food and Shelter: $200 million
    • Temporary Medical Facilities including medical personnel, mortuary and ambulance services: $2.3 billion
    • PPE including medical supplies and pharmaceuticals: $2.8 billion
    • National Guard: $1.7 billion
    • Public Assistance Emergency Protective Measures (Non-PPE): $1.6 billion
    • Commodities: $27.3 million
    • Crisis Counseling: $59.7 million

State Policy IconHappening in the States

The Tax Policy Center issued its report “State Tax Revenues Declined Once Again in June 2020” that shows continued declines in state tax revenues for the fourth consecutive month. In addition, many states ended fiscal year 2020 with revenue shortfalls.  

Exclusive from our colleagues at the National Council of Nonprofits.

National Council of Nonprofits logo

More States Open Grants for Nonprofits

As states begin spending Coronavirus Relief Funds from the CARES Act, nonprofits are starting to see positive results. Grant opportunities previously announced in Alaska and Tennessee are now open to nonprofits for economic relief related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Energize Colorado initiative opened loans, grants, and other financial relief programs for nonprofits, small businesses, women-owned businesses, disaster relief, rural-based businesses, and more. The North Carolina Job Retention Grant provides up to $250,000 for operational purposes and North Dakota grant programs provide funds for economic resiliency and technical skills training for for-profit business and nonprofits, respectively. One of three new programs in Oklahoma City provides financial resources for COVID-19 assistance specifically for nonprofits. Two other programs focus on small business continuity, including nonprofits, and arts and cultural programming in the city.

In Connecticut, the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance received a letter from the Office of Policy and Management clarifying the state’s intentions on disbursing Coronavirus Relief Fund funding to community nonprofits. Nonprofits were not originally included for access to the monies from the fund. “We are pleased to report that OPM will be disbursing $125 million in relief to community nonprofits through the CRF to support uncovered expenses as long as they are not also covered as part of the PPP,” wrote The Alliance’s President and CEO Gian-Carl Casa in a statement. “This news comes after weeks of unrelenting advocacy.” 

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