Washington Snapshot

Washington Snapshot: Congress Returns to DC with a Long To Do List

Friday, September 18, 2020 - 3:00 pm EDT

In This Week's Edition of Snapshot...

Congress IconNews from the Hill

Congress Returns to DC with a Long To Do List

2021 Federal Budget Passage
Members of the House returned to D.C. this week, joining their Senate counterparts who returned the prior week. With deadlines quickly approaching, Congress has several items that need action, including continuing federal funding and further aid to families, businesses, and communities dealing with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.

Top of the list is avoiding a federal government shut down on October 1. Current funding for the federal government ends September 30. Without Congress passing, and the President signing, legislation extending that funding, the federal government will shut down. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have informally agreed to a “clean” continuing resolution (CR). Still, it is unclear what, if any, additional provisions will get tacked onto this must-pass bill.

An outstanding issue is the end date for the funding resolution. Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) suggested December 18, 2020 as the potential date, while some Democrats are in favor of pushing it into 2021. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has said that he hopes to bring a funding bill to the House floor by early next week. Senate Republicans have also said they expect a CR to be considered next week, which would mean legislation could be released soon.

2020 Census
One of the provisions that may be rising in importance is whether to include an extension for the 2020 Census. Last month, the Administration announced they were shortening the deadline for the count. Their announcement was met by concerns from a broad coalition of groups, including experts, nonprofit organizations, and foundations. There are reports that Democratic lawmakers are pushing to include a provision that would extend the 2020 Census deadline. In addition, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both Chambers to provide the Census Bureau with additional time to ensure an accurate population count. The legislation would extend the count deadline to October 31 and provide the Bureau with four additional months to get the finalized numbers to Congress.

COVID-19 Relief Package
In August, negotiations broke down between Democratic leaders and the White House on another COVID-19 legislative package. With the House back from their August recess, it does not appear that any progress has been made over the month. On Tuesday, the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus released a $1.5 trillion framework for a legislative package to address the ongoing impacts from COVID-19. Democratic Leaders in the House quickly panned the proposal saying it fell short of what is needed to respond to the crisis. While talking with Members of her Caucus, Speaker Pelosi said the House would remain in session until a deal on another COVID-19 stimulus package is reached. Democratic Leader Hoyer later clarified to reporters that Members of the House would receive 24 hours’ notice to return to Washington for a vote if a deal is reached. Democratic leaders have said that they would not agree to any package that provides less than $2.2 trillion in aid. Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have said that is too high of a price tag and have pushed for a smaller package. At this point, neither side appears willing to budge in the negotiations making it difficult to see the two sides coming to an agreement any time soon. Still with less than 50 days left until the November elections, anything is possible.

Disaster Relief?
Last, with several natural disasters impacting communities across the country in Oregon, California, Iowa, California, Louisiana, Alabama and others, Congress may need to consider a disaster package to provide resources to those in need. In the Senate, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide tax relief to individuals and businesses impacted, including deductions for certain charitable contributions.

Executive & Regulatory News IconExecutive & Regulatory Affairs

Department of Commerce

On September 1, the Department of Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Department of Agriculture released a report outlining the Trump Administration’s plan to address the threat posed by increased foreign imports to American producers of seasonal and perishable fruits and vegetables.

Economic Development Administration
EDA is seeking applications from eligible applicants to create and implement innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) apprenticeship models that complement their respective region’s innovation economy. The grant competition is a $2 million STEM Talent Challenge that will provide funding to develop, implement, and expand new work-and-learn models to increase America’s STEM-capable workforce. Applications are due October 14.

Federal Reserve Board

The Federal Reserve Board and Federal Open Market Committee released economic projections from the September 15-16 meeting. These are the economic projections of Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents under their individual assessments of projected appropriate monetary policy. Summaries of economic projections are released quarterly.

Today, the Federal Reserve Board released an update on the economic well-being of US households based on data collected in July. This was the second supplemental survey conducted by the Federal Reserve to monitor the financial well-being of Americans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that U.S. families were faring better financially in July than in April, but many laid-off workers still faced uncertainty regarding prospects for returning to work. In July, 77 percent of adults said they were doing at least okay financially, up from 72 percent in early April, and 75 percent in October 2019. This increase is likely due to some people returning to work as well as the availability of assistance programs either from the government or from charitable organizations. A substantial number of families received one or more forms of financial assistance, and the effects of these programs were apparent in people’s overall financial well-being and ability to cover expenses. The report also highlights households’ financial resiliency, including their abilities to save for emergencies and pay their bills, employment concerns, including layoffs and their expectations to return to work, among other topics. Access the report or view a video summarizing the supplemental survey's findings.

Department of Health and Human Services

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
CMS hosts varied recurring stakeholder engagement sessions to share information related to the agency’s response to COVID-19. These sessions are open to members of the healthcare community and are intended to provide bi-weekly updates, share best practices among peers, and offer attendees an opportunity to ask questions of CMS and other subject matter experts. For example, sessions are available for nursing homes personnel, home health and hospice practitioners, and nurses, while topic specific sessions include Lessons from the Front Lines of COVID. Calls recordings and transcripts are posted on the CMS podcast page.

Department of Homeland Security

Federal Emergency Management Agency

  • It is still National Preparedness Month (NPM) in September, in the midst of hurricanes in the Gulf, wildfires in the California and the Pacific Northwest, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Here are FEMA information resources: Prepare for Disasters, Emergency alerts and where to go if evacuation is necessary, Ready.gov, and Weather.gov.
  • The "COVID-19 Resource Summary Report" is now available on FEMA.gov. This report is a list of resources provided by the federal government since the start of the response to COVID-19 and is designed to assist with recovery efforts. Potential applicants should directly consult each agency's program information to verify the applicability of a resource.
  • The "COVID-19 Resource Roadmaps" tool provides a deep-dive into specific topic areas and challenges associated with COVID-19 recovery. Roadmaps offers potential solutions and federal resources that could support recovery activities. To date, FEMA has published two roadmaps: "COVID-19 Education Resource Roadmap," and "COVID-19 Food and Nutrition." FEMA will provide additional roadmaps for Healthcare, Housing and Economic Development by the end of September. Roadmaps use information that is either publicly available or publicly obtained and is offered for informational purposes only.
  • On September 1st, FEMA released an interim policy to clarify eligible work under the Public Assistance program as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The interim policy, "COVID-19 Pandemic Eligible for Public Assistance" is for eligible applicants only and is exclusive to emergency and major disaster declarations for the COVID-19 pandemic for work performed on or after September 15, 2020. Examples of eligible services include purchase and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical care, and purchase of food and distribution.

Department of Interior

From September 21 - 25, DOI, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), will showcase creative solutions to some of the biggest barriers to tribal broadband development. As part of the larger effort to close the digital divide in Indian Country, the second annual National Tribal Broadband Summit will connect community leaders with information and resources to identify opportunities for public and private sector solutions to close the connectivity gap in schools and libraries on tribal lands.

Department of Treasury

  • When community foundations and similar entities are approached by state and local governments to help facilitate the distribution of Coronavirus Relief Funds as sub-recipients, the new Treasury guidance, released on August 28, will help answer questions about the reporting requirements. Council members engaging with their local officials about the CRF funds distribution may find the brief compiled by the National Associations of Counties breaking down the CRF funds useful. On another note, Treasury’s Office of Inspector General received a letter from seven bipartisan organizations representing state and local governments expressing concerns over the regulatory changes and oversight process for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) including how long state and local governments can expect federal support to last. These new CRF reporting requirements may prevent counties from receiving reimbursements for payroll expenses incurred during the pandemic, severely impacting budget forecasts.
  • The agency’s tax-exempt unit will start using a new case management system later this year. The new framework is meant to improve how IRS employees and taxpayers communicate by digitizing many more interactions than are currently possible, a limit due in part to long-outdated technology and use of old-fashioned paper correspondence. The new technology will give IRS case workers the ability to scan and copy documents, research case records, and speed requests for publicly available documents such as applications and exemption letters. This should also help to expedite answers to problems on exempt organizations’ determination requests. Eventually, the case management system will expand across the IRS.

Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Millions of people have yet to receive their stimulus funds. To do so, they must enter their information into the IRS Non-Filers Tool by October 15, 2020. Community organizations and foundation grantees are being urged to help people to file for the payments. Find the “how-to” information in the guide Helping Consumers Claim the Economic Impact Payment: A guide for intermediary organizations. It contains step-by-step information for direct service and community organizations frontline staff. The CFPB will also offers helpful information on their website. Direct any questions to TaxTime@cfpb.gov.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA is recognizing Suicide Prevention Month by highlighting VA’s Be There campaign, reminding Americans that small actions can make a big difference to Veterans going through difficult times.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie asks all Americans to show support for our nation’s Veterans through the VA’s suicide prevention efforts. Recognize the signs that a Veteran may need help or consult the Veterans Crisis Line website. For more information and resources: BeThereForVeterans.com.

State Policy IconHappening in the States

Exclusive from our colleagues at the National Council of Nonprofits.

National Council of Nonprofits logo

States Pressed to Spend Federal COVID Funds

Unless Congress extends the deadline, state policymakers must either spend their share of $150 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds under the CARES Act before Dec. 30, 2020 or return the money to the federal government. While states informally allocated nearly 75 percent of the funds as of June 30, they had officially incurred or expended only 25 percent according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. Earlier this month, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the state Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 bill that would appropriate more than $145 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund monies to a wide range of nonprofits, including food banks, arts organizations, YMCAs, free and charitable clinics, nonprofit residential facilities, domestic violence agencies, and sexual assault centers. Almost a third of the funds ($45.5 million) goes to the NC Job Retention Grant Program, which provides grants of up to $250,000 to nonprofits and businesses that suffered economic loss during the pandemic. Learn more. Lawmakers in neighboring South Carolina are debating over the amount of CRF monies to allocate for relief for nonprofits, with amounts ranging from $15 million to $25 million.

The Governors of Delaware and Maine recently announced grant programs to assist eligible nonprofits and small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The DE Relief Grants program will provide grants of up to $100,000, and the Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program will award funds on demonstrated need as a pro-rated percentage of the total cost of business interruption. Elsewhere in the Northeast, Vermont lawmakers are considering funding a second round of Economic Recovery Grants, which currently provide grants of up to $500,000. Common Good Vermont, the state association of nonprofits in the Granite State, urged lawmakers to treat charitable giving declines as revenue losses for purposes of calculating eligibility to expand the number of nonprofits that could benefit from the program. In Montana, the Governor announced additional funds for the ongoing Montana Department of Commerce coronavirus relief programs, allowing nonprofits to apply or reapply for applicable grants.

States Debate Expanding Charitable Giving Incentives

With federal stimulus talks apparently stalled in DC, nonprofits are looking to state lawmakers to provide some relief through charitable giving incentives. Three bills in New Jersey would establish a charitable deduction up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples for contributions to NJ-based charitable organizations. The state deduction would be available whether or not a taxpayer itemizes on their federal return. Two of the bills (A. 4546/S-2360) would limit the giving incentive to donations made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The charitable giving incentives “would provide a much-needed lifeline to help charities to fill growing demands for services and to weather the emergency,” according to the Center for Non-Profits, the state association of nonprofits in New Jersey. Legislation in four other states (Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, and West Virginia) that would have created tax deductions for charitable contributions failed to pass this year.

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