Bipartisan negotiations on President Biden’s infrastructure plan continue, with Republicans and Democrats saying that progress is being made. On Wednesday, Biden met with the “Big Four”—Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.). On Thursday, the president met with a group of Senate Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Capito (R-W.V.). Biden’s plan, which totals $2.25 trillion, includes funding for physical infrastructure as well as broadband, research and development, clean energy, housing, and long-term home and community-based care. Senate Republicans countered with a nearly $600 billion plan that funds physical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, water, and transportation, as well as broadband. All parties left the negotiations in good spirits; both sides said conversations were productive and consensus was within reach. McConnell suggested that he would be open to raising the bill’s cost to $800 billion to reach a compromise.
Nevertheless, many questions remain unanswered. Republicans contend that the bill should be limited to physical infrastructure, while the administration believes that nontraditional infrastructure, like long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities and affordable housing, are critical in a modern economy. Another issue will be how to pay for the bill. Biden has proposed raising taxes on corporations from 21% to 28%. However, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), a key vote in the Democratic caucus, opposes going above 25%. Republicans are not interested in raising the corporate rate above the current 21%, which was set in former president Trump’s 2017 tax bill. “That’s our red line,” McConnell said. Republicans have brought up user fees as a potential revenue source for infrastructure investments, though Democrats have balked at this idea, claiming fees are a regressive tax on working families. Paying for the bill through deficit spending hangs in the background as a potential compromise solution. The White House said it would like to move a bill by Memorial Day.
USDA Extends SNAP Flexibilities Until End of Year
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended certain flexibilities in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) until the end of the year. Because of the pandemic, certain protocols and procedures were temporarily suspended to facilitate access to nutrition assistance for struggling families. States were no longer required to conduct interviews, recertify recipients, or issue periodic reports as they had pre-pandemic. This new guidance from USDA allows these flexibilities to continue until Dec. 31, 2021 or one month after the public health emergency declaration is lifted, whichever comes first. However, the USDA is encouraging states to prepare for the eventual return to normal operations.
FCC Opens Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
The Emergency Broadband Benefit program went live May 12. This Federal Communications Commission program covers up to $50 per month for broadband service and provides up to $100 for a one-time purchase of a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet. Eligible households must meet one of the following criteria:
- Live at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines
- Participate in assistance programs such as SNAP or Medicaid
- Enroll in the free or reduced-price school lunch programs
- Received a current-year federal Pell Grant
- Experienced significant loss of income since February of last year, with a 2020 income at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers
- Meet criteria for broadband provider’s existing low-income program
This $3 billion program will help the nearly one in three Americans who say they are worried about how they’re going to afford their next broadband bill and the 17 million school children who do not have internet access at home.
Supplemental LIHEAP Funding Sent to States
As part of the American Rescue Plan passed in March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released $4.5 billion in emergency funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for federal fiscal year 2021. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and almost all Native American tribes and tribal organizations will receive these supplemental grants in addition to LIHEAP funds already allocated for 2021. These dollars can help families pay for heating, cooling, and weatherization costs. States can also use the funds for program administration and to provide home energy case management for families and program administration. These funds must be spent in fiscal years 2021 and 2022.
FAQ on Emergency Rental Assistance Published
The U.S. Treasury Department published a Frequently Asked Questions document about the emergency rental assistance programs created by the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December and the American Rescue Plan in March. The FAQ covers a host of topics, including who is eligible for the programs, what income and housing documentation is required to participate in the programs, what costs and services the programs cover, and how many months a participant may receive benefits. The Treasury has not yet disbursed the approximately $50 billion in rental assistance that has been approved by Congress in the last six months.
Guidance on Child Abuse Prevention Funds Released
The Administration for Children and Families released guidance on the use of Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) funds appropriated in the American Rescue Plan in March. The guidance provides information on the allowable uses of the funding and actions necessary to report on planned and actual use of the funds by states and territories. The American Rescue Plan included $100 million for the CAPTA State Grant and $250 million for the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) Program. In particular, CBCAP funds are set aside for community-based organizations to enhance initiatives that prevent abuse and neglect by proactively strengthening and supporting families. These funds can also be used to cultivate appreciation of diverse populations to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect.
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