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ADVOCACY & POLICY UPDATE - February 14th, 2022

Stopgap Stalls in Senate

Washington Update

Appropriations

There will likely not be another stopgap spending measure this week, even though government funding runs out on Friday, and there’s still some question about the way forward for the continuing resolution to keep federal agencies open until mid-March. Senator Marsha Blackburn (TN) has placed a hold on the measure that would avoid a government shutdown on Friday, adding procedural hurdles to plans to quickly pass the funding legislation with the House out of town. She and other conservatives are upset over allegations that federal funds allocated as part of a $30 million grant program under the Health and Human Services Department could be used to purchase crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia.

On Wednesday, February 9, leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees had announced they reached a ‘breakthrough’ agreement on the framework for an omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2022 (FY22) appropriations. Neither side has revealed specific top-line numbers or details of the framework but the deal apparently includes equal increases for defense and nondefense spending and leaves current policy riders in place. About $10 billion in earmarks are expected in the final omnibus bill. It marks the first time in more than a decade that lawmakers have been permitted to specifically direct dollars toward hometown projects. Earmarks were banned and many Republicans still see them as wasteful so their return may be short-lived if the Republicans take the House after midterm elections. The omnibus is also expected to contain supplemental aid for recent natural disasters and pandemic response.

The announcement came the day after the House passed a stopgap appropriations measure, on a vote of 272-162, to fund the government through March 11. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) had intended to quickly take up the measure but the way forward is not clear today. No one wants a shutdown, but it will take some negotiating to work out a time agreement to swiftly move the legislation. Blackburn and other GOP conservatives may want to get a vote or some language added to the bill. Any change to the bill would force the House to take it up again before Friday’s deadline and the House is out of town. They could do it by unanimous consent in a pro forma session, however.

Click here for a section-by-section summary of the stopgap measure.

Click here for the full text of the legislation.

RAISE Grants Notice of Funding Opportunity

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, providing $1.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) discretionary funding available for states, cities, or other transportation authorities to invest in surface transportation infrastructure projects that will have a significant local or regional impact. This is the first discretionary funding program to accept applications as directed by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

RAISE projects are evaluated on statutory criteria of safety, environmental sustainability, quality of life, economic competitiveness and opportunity, state of good repair, partnership and innovation. This year, under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, 2022 RAISE applications will also be evaluated on the criteria of mobility and community connectivity, according to USDOT. For 2022, USDOT said it is also encouraging applicants to consider how their projects can create workforce development opportunities. Applicants are also encouraged to utilize registered apprenticeship and local and economic hire agreements. The RAISE program is one way the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law acts on President Biden’s promise to bring good-paying jobs to local communities.

The application deadline is Thursday, April 14 at 5 p.m. (EDT) and selections will be announced no later than August 12, 2022.

Click here to access the NOFO.

Build Back Better Act

Even though President Biden’s Build Back Better Act has stalled, Democrats have not given up on it though — with many fighting to get a slimmed-down version passed using the reconciliation process. A smaller version of the package could include climate spending along with policies like reducing the cost of prescription drugs and expanded health care subsidies. Democrats could also attempt a bipartisan compromise to save some portions of the legislation with Republicans saying there are some areas where they can find common ground on climate issues - specifically the clean energy tax credits that would offer a boost to technologies with bipartisan support, including carbon capture and advanced nuclear.

DOL and DOE Nominees

On Thursday, February 10, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced multiple senior positions in the Departments of Labor and Education. The Committee voted 14-8 for the nomination of Glenna Wright-Gallo as Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Education Department. Wright-Gallo has more than 25 years of public education experience supporting students with disabilities and adult teachers and was the assistant superintendent of special education in the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington state since 2017.

Separately, through a unanimous voice vote, committee members advanced Christopher Williamson as assistant secretary for Mine Safety and Health at the DOL, and Mary Lu Jordan and Timothy Baker as members of the independent Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. All will have to be confirmed on the Senate floor before being able to take up the position. A date for that vote has not been scheduled yet.

Initial Jobless Claims

In the week ending February 5, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 223,000, a decrease of 16,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 238,000 to 239,000. The 4-week moving average was 253,250, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 255,000 to 255,250. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.2 percent for the week ending January 29, unchanged from the previous week's unrevised rate.

Click here to access the report.

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