Washington Snapshot: Council Letter to House Ways and Means and Senate Finance on COVID Priorities
In This Week's Edition of Snapshot...
Earlier this week, the Council sent a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee with our COVID priorities for the budget package that Congress is considering now. Many of the asks included are similar to those in the broader nonprofit sector letter the Council and thousands of other organizations joined. The Council encouraged Congress to:
Encourage more charitable giving by expanding the temporary charitable deduction and extending all provisions until at least 2022;
Recognize all charitable vehicles donors use to give their charitable gifts to nonprofits in need, including donor advised funds;
Expand nonprofit access to federal relief and support programs so they can continue to help people and communities in need; and
Increase aid for state, local, and Tribal governments.
As the COVID-19 stimulus bill continues to move through the budget reconciliation process, several House committees held markups on their portion of the COVID relief package.
The House Ways and Means Committee approved their portion of the package late Thursday, which includes additional direct payments to qualifying persons and extends temporary federal unemployment and benefits until August 29, 2021. Unfortunately, it does not include any expansion of the charitable deduction.
The House Small Business Committee package includes an expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program to apply to more nonprofits, including larger nonprofit organizations.
On Friday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will consider their part of the package, which includes $350 billion in funding to states, localities, Tribes, and territories.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expects the House to pass their reconciliation bill by the end of February and send it to the Senate for their consideration. Democratic leaders are optimistic that they can pass a final package before mid-March.
Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reintroduced the Legacy IRA Act (S.243) last Friday. The bill would expand the IRA charitable rollover, allowing seniors to give up to $400,000 each year to qualifying charities.
Congressional Research Service
The CRS updated The Federal Minimum Wage: In Brief report on February 4. About 1.6 million workers, or 1.9 percent of all hourly paid workers, are paid at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The CRS notes that most minimum wage workers are female, aged 20 or older, and typically work part-time in food service occupations. Proponents of increasing the federal minimum wage argue that it may increase earnings for lower-income workers, lead to reduced turnover, and increase aggregate demand by providing greater purchasing power for workers receiving a pay increase. Opponents of increasing the federal minimum wage argue that it may result in reduced employment or reduced hours, lead to a general price increase, and reduce profits of firms paying a higher minimum wage.
Neera Tanden has been nominated to the position of Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Ms. Tanden faced tough questioning from the Senate about the Center for American Progress’s corporate donors. Like the rest of President Biden’s nominees, she emphasized unity in working toward the administration’s goal to build back better.
On February 11, the White House announced a series of actions the Administration will take to create new jobs by addressing the climate crisis. These include the launch of a new research working group, an outline of the Administration's innovation agenda, and a new $100 million funding opportunity from the U.S. Department of Energy to support transformational low-carbon energy technologies. The announcements kickstart the Administration's efforts to empower the United States to innovate and lead the world in addressing the climate crisis.
To address and prevent COVID-19 health inequities and ensure an equitable response to the pandemic, the Biden administration announced a COVID-19 Equity Task Force. The twelve Task Force members represent a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, a range of racial and ethnic groups, and several important populations, including: children and youth, educators and students; health care providers; immigrants; individuals with disabilities; LGBTQ+ individuals; public health experts; rural communities; state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments; and unions.
Department of Commerce
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
NTIA held Tribal Consultation sessions this week to ensure that tribal input informs the new grant program, Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP), prior to the application process. The program has been funded through the recently enacted Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2021, which provides a new source of tribal broadband funding to assist in mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consult NTIA's Tribal Consultation slides for eligibility criteria and funding use.
Department of Homeland Security
Federal Emergency Management Agency
FEMA is seeking bids to contract medical personnel to help staff both federally supported and community vaccine centers around the country. The contracts will be awarded through the federal acquisition process and are expected to be completed by mid-March. Local hospitals, community-based hospitals, and state-managed centers, as well as federally supported and federally managed centers, would receive staff from these contracts exclusively for vaccine support.
The Agency has civil rights advisors and disability integration specialists in each of FEMA's regions to advise state, local, tribal and territorial governments, and other partners.
Disability Integration specialists and advisors are deployed to ensure the needs of people with disabilities are integrated in all facets of vaccine center operation. FEMA is analyzing community demographics, coordinating translation and interpretation services to include American Sign Language, and is considering the needs of people with disabilities who choose to be vaccinated.
FEMA established a Civil Rights Advisory Group to proactively consider and promptly resolve civil rights concerns and help ensure equity in the allocation of scarce resources, including future vaccine allocation. This group evaluates policies, practices, strategies, and plans to ensure equity is at the forefront of all FEMA vaccination efforts across the country.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
HUD issued a directive on February 11 that committed to enforcing the fair housing act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The directive sets a course for implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender or Sexual Orientationon January 20
Department of Interior
On February 11, the Department:
Took steps to strengthen the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by rescinding Trump administration policies that significantly undermined the landmark conservation program. Secretarial Order 3396 revokes a previous order issued in November 2020 that unilaterally imposed new restrictions on the availability of LWCF funding for federal land and water acquisitions. The new Order instructs the National Park Service to reinstate pre-existing implementation of the LWCF state assistance program and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program. The ORLP program is the only LWCF competitive grant program dedicated to addressing the recreational gap in underserved urban areas.
Announced it will host initial consultations with Tribal leaders in March. The formal consultations honor and strengthen the nation-to-nation relationships and help to ensure that future White House and Interior efforts to address four converging crises -- COVID-19, economic security, racial justice, and climate change -- are inclusive of Tribal Nations' priorities and recommendations. This opens a new chapter with Tribal government following President Biden's January 26 memorandum that noted that respect for Tribal sovereignty and self-governance, fulfilling Federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations, and regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal officials are of the utmost priority for the Administration.
And the Department thinks everyone deserves a great love story, so check out their annual Valentine's Day video featuring America’s beloved public lands.
Department of Labor
Office of Contract Compliance Programs
The Department of Labor indicates it will propose a rollback of a controversial rule that broadened the defenses religious federal contractors use when accused of workplace discrimination. The regulation went into effect on January 8, 2021. The recession is likely to take a few months to go into effect. Until then, DOL has asked a Manhattan Court judge for a 90-day pause on pending lawsuits related to the rule.
Department of Treasury
The Department hosted its inaugural U.S. Financial Sector Innovation Policy Roundtable on February 9 and 10. The Roundtable brought together policymakers and regulators with experts from the private sector to exchange views for collaborating on policy issues and innovative technologies that support global financial integrity, while fostering economic recovery, competitiveness, and financial inclusion. View Secretary Janet Yellen's remarks.
Department of Veterans Affairs
On February 8, the VA Secretary nominee Denis McDonough was confirmed. He was sworn in on Tuesday, February 9, as the eleventh VA secretary. In his first message, Secretary McDonough said his priorities during his tenure will be focused on VA's three core responsibilities: providing world-class healthcare, ensuring veterans and their families receive the benefits which veterans earned, and honoring veterans with a final resting place as a lasting tribute to their service. The Secretary has also committed to help veterans get through the pandemic, that the VA will be welcoming to all veterans, and to end veteran homelessness. He pledged to seek the advice and support of veteran service organizations by hearing from partners and the respected organizations who share our mission of improving veterans' lives.
Exclusive from our colleagues at the National Council of Nonprofits.
COVID-Related Unemployment Insurance Relief a Top Action Item
State legislatures and administrative agencies are fast-tracking unemployment insurance relief nearly one year into the pandemic and economic crises. Two bills advancing in Kansas HB 2195 and HB 2196 would hold harmless reimbursing and contributing employers, including nonprofits, by prohibiting any employer’s account from being charged for any benefits paid and freezing automatic rate increases. The relief would be retroactive to the beginning of the pandemic. Likewise pending legislation in Maryland, Mississippi, and New Mexico would also limit or prohibit unemployment insurance rate increases for contributing employers. Minnesota has already enacted such legislation, and Washington State lawmakers have sent a bill to Governor Inslee that would do the same. In Delaware, nonprofits with a balance of reimbursable unemployment claims related to COVID-19 may self-certify and request that federal CARES Act funding be allocated to their accounts.
Last month, the New York State Department of Labor issued an order temporarily modifying the unemployment benefit charging system and easing the burden for COVID-related unemployment insurance charges. The order relieves all employers, including reimbursing nonprofits, of all charges for unemployment costs dating back to the beginning of the pandemic. Governor Cuomo signed legislation that prohibits increases in unemployment insurance taxes for contributing employers that have laid off workers for COVID-related reasons for the duration of 2021. A bill in Utah would require certain nonprofits to notify an employee when they would be unable to claim service performed for the nonprofit as employment for the purpose of qualifying for unemployment insurance benefits.