📎 Federal Advocacy Roundup | Holding this moment, government shutdown averted, SCOTUS preview, and more | October 2023

Welcome back to another edition of the Federal Advocacy Round Up, where every few weeks we distill what’s happening at the federal level, how it’ll impact localities, and what you can do to influence change.

We find ourselves in a tremendously heavy moment. A moment filled with pain, anger, grief, and uncertainty as we mourn and respond to the violence in Gaza and Israel. We hope you are doing what you need to process, cope, and care for one another. The LP team is here to support you – both as a human in this moment and as a leader doing what you can to support your community. We hope you’ll lean on this network to find strength and solidarity, so please don’t hesitate to reach out; our team is standing by for our membership.

There is a lot to cover this month between a new Speaker of the House, a looming decision from the Supreme Court regarding the power of administrative agencies, Biden’s efforts to move forward with student loan forgiveness, a continued UAW strike, the rollout of more funding opportunities for local governments from the Inflation Reduction Act and an exciting new program to support farmworkers from the USDA.

Government shutdown averted

On September 30th, Congress passed a 45-day continuing resolution, which averted a government shutdown until November 17th. A government shutdown can harm local governments and communities – especially if longer than a few weeks – by interrupting essential benefits to low-income people, pausing federal discretionary grants, furloughing local federal workers and interrupting healthcare passthrough funding. Congress must either pass an annual spending bill or another continuing resolution by November 17th. 

Ruling expected on power of federal regulatory agencies  

The United States Supreme Court is expected to hear Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo in the coming weeks. The question for the court is whether to overrule well-established precedent from the Chevron case. Chevron deference refers to the principle that courts should defer to reasonable federal agency interpretations of ambiguous provisions in congressional statutes and judges should refrain from crafting their own reading of the laws. In recent years, the Supreme Court’s conservatives have issued rulings that erode the power of the administrative state as part of a deregulatory agenda that harms workers, consumers, and the environment. 

Overturning Chevron would undermine the administrative agency’s ability to implement policies that serve the country. For example, it would undermine the Biden administration’s climate agenda by complicating efforts to tackle major issues such as climate change via regulation, and could potentially take away the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to mitigate carbon emissions from the two highest polluting industries in the United States, the electricity and transportation sectors.

New OMB rule for federal grants and procurements 

On September 28, the federal Office of Management and Budget published a new rule for federal grants and procurements which would remove a Reagan-era ban on applying local hire policies to federal funding, and clarifies that local governments can incorporate other worker & community benefit standards in their federally-funded procurement. The updates also promote environmental justice, community involvement in contracting, and the use of a preference for sustainable green materials in contracts.  

The public has an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule until December 4th. Local governments have taken the lead in pioneering local hire and high road procurement policies, which have used public purchasing power to increase economic inclusion of marginalized groups. Local Progress is a member of the Local Opportunities Coalition, led by Jobs to Move America, which recommended many of these changes, and will be organizing Local Progress members with positive experiences with local hire and progressive procurement policies to share them with the OMB and support this monumental rule change. If your local government has had success with a local or targeted hire policy, or high road procurement policy, that you would like to share, please reach out to nhorrell@localprogress.org.

Biden plans to cancel $9 billion in student loan debt

After student loan repayments resumed last month, President Biden announced new plans to cancel another $9 billion in student loan debt. This news comes after the Supreme Court struck down the Biden Administration’s original plan which could have canceled $10,000 in student loan debt for those making less than $125,000 or households with less than $250,000 in income. 

Biden’s new plan will forgive loans for 125,000 people who qualify under existing programs, including for public-service workers such as teachers and firefighters and for people on permanent disability. While the new plan is a victory, it pales in comparison to the debt that would have been under the plan that was struck down by the Supreme Court. Under that plan, over $400 billion in student debt for about 43 million borrowers would have been forgiven. 

Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program 

The USDA launched the Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Program this month. The program is a new and innovative grant program for agricultural employers that aims to address workforce needs in agriculture, promote a safe and healthy work environment for farmworkers, and support expansion of lawful migration pathways.

The purpose of the program is to improve food and agricultural supply chain resiliency by addressing challenges agricultural employers face with labor shortages and instability. The program seeks to 1) drive U.S. economic recovery and safeguard domestic food supply by addressing current labor shortages in agriculture; 2) reduce irregular migration from Northern Central America through the expansion of regular pathways; and 3) improve working conditions for all farmworkers. 

Supporting Human Rights and the End of Forced Repatriation to Haiti 

Join local and state elected officials calling on President Biden to stop the forced repatriation of Haitian nationals currently in the United States. Despite guidance from the United Nations to discontinue deportations to Haiti, the Biden Administration continued. Disregarding the well-documented violence in the country undermines our country’s security efforts to stabilize Haiti, and flout international and domestic obligations to protect Haitian nationals during this humanitarian crisis. Sign on to the letter here calling for these inhumane deportations to stop.

🗳️ Local Policy Lab Democracy Network 

The Local Policy Lab (LPL) is looking for members to join their Democracy Network. The network is composed of a diverse array of cities from across the country dedicated to strengthening democracy and civic engagement in their communities. 

By joining this growing Network, members will be able to interact with and learn from like-minded peers across the country. Members will also receive invitations to monthly expert-led Democracy Conversations, access to curated resources, and targeted support and technical assistance from LPL staff.  Please fill out this short form if you are interested in joining!

♻️ Climate Pollution Reduction Grants ($4.6 Billion)

The Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) Climate Pollution Reduction Grant (CPRG) program provides grant opportunities for local governments to invest in community-driven greenhouse gas reduction strategies. The program, administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), funds efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses by incorporating waste and landfill methane emissions reduction strategies with tools such as community composting. You can learn more about the grant and application process here and how CPRG funding can be used for local organic waste and methane strategies in a new memo by RMI and Industrious labs here. Also see CPRG explainer by Evergreen Action. Applications due April 1, 2024.

🤝 EPA’s Community Change Grants ($2 Billion): A Unique Co-Governance Opportunity

The EPA is expected to release a NOFO imminently for its Community Change grant program funded by the Inflation Reduction Act. This program can be used for a wide range of purposes with an environmental justice focus including, climate mitigation, clean energy, and workforce development; and it is available for local governments only in partnership with community-based organizations.

🌎 FEMA Climate Resilience Grants ($1.8 Billion)

On October 13, FEMA announced two new competitive grant opportunities for states and local governments to fund projects and programs designed to mitigate against climate change and extreme weather events. The  Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and Flood Mitigation Assistance grant applications are due February 29, 2024.

💧 EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program ($7.5 Billion)

In late September, the EPA announced its initial disbursement of $7.5 billion for a loan program for water infrastructure projects available to local governments, as well as states and private entities. The program will prioritize investment in economically distressed communities, lead pipe replacement, PFAS mitigation, drought resilience and water innovation; and it doesn’t have a deadline (it will operate like a bank with rolling availability). See press release, available funding, and application materials