5 Things for LocalGov to Know About the Spending Bill (Aside from Opioid Funding)

While opioid funding took many of the 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill headlines, there were more wins for local government, and some notable absences.


Photo/TaxCredits.net via Flickr

After several stop gap measures that prevented government shutdown this last year, Congress passed a 2018 spending bill that was the result of many months of political negotiations in Washington, D.C.

The behemoth Omnibus Spending Bill of more than 2,000 pages was released, and two days later passed, then it was signed pretty quickly despite President Donald Trump’s misgivings over its size -- $1.3 trillion. He then broadcast his position moments after signing it, reviewing points of military defense spending measures and expressing a need for both line item veto power and an end to the filibuster.

Forbes, which put the per page price tag at $582 million, published a good overview of what is and is not included. Military defense and pay raises, border protection, modernization for the Internal Revenue Service, maintenance at National Parks, science and art were funded.

One of the most notable wins for funding at the local level is $3.3 billion for addiction treatment and opioid response to address the nationwide crisis, as well as funding for opioid alternatives medical research and related programs. While this is welcome across the local government domain, what of other hot button issues affecting citizen life -- the vulnerabilities of voting systems, healthcare affordability, affordable housing opportunities, transportation priorities and immigrant populations?

We’ve rounded up some intel below on five other things local governments and their citizens are concerned about, which includes three funding wins and two notable absences.

#1 Affordable Healthcare Fizzles in Spending Bill

The Hill called Maine Senator Susan Collins a loser on the bill for her healthcare funding fight. As with most insurance topics -- it’s complicated. Collins has been leading a bipartisan deal to stabilize the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace and would result in funding to lower healthcare insurance premiums. There was political argument over the Hyde Amendment, which limits federal funding that could be used for abortion, causing funding for healthcare to be left out of the spending bill, but Vox offered further insights on what they call a “bizarre twist:"

“The [Congressional Budget Office] actually projected that restoring [cost-sharing reduction (CSR)] payments would lead to a net loss in coverage. If insurers received the payments, they would presumably reduce rates on the plans used to calculate the size of the ACA’s subsidies, which would reduce the size of the subsidy. People who receive those subsidies would suddenly need to pay more to keep the same plan they bought in 2018.”

The restoration of CSR payments without expanding eligibility to access government-subsidized plans would have elevated the cost of certain healthcare plans. But this complexity that vexed affordable healthcare in the spending bill does not mean the push for affordable healthcare is over.

#2 Billions for Addressing the Housing Crisis

The low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program will receive a 12.5 percent increase, totaling more than $3 billion over four years, according to Affordable Housing Finance.

While the tax reform bill preserved the credit, other measures in the bill predicted affordable housing marketplace instability and an estimated reduction in the affordable rental housing market by 235,000 homes over the next decade.

The spending bill:

  • Allows 60 percent of the area median income ceiling to apply to the average of all apartments in a development
  • Increases funds for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including public housing
  • Includes $1.36 billion for the HOME program, $3.3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program and $250 million for the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund

According to David M. Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, the fiscal 2018 funding bill “the most important housing legislation in many years.”

Of note -- funding totaled more than $11 billion more than what Trump proposed. At that time, LIHTC investors got uncomfortable and reacted immediately. Affordable housing wins in the spending bill are being seen as a start to resolving the housing crisis:

#3 States to Get $3 Million for Voting Infrastructure Security

The bill also includes $380 million for states to enhance voting systems, about $3 million each, according to USA Today:

“Within 45 days, the Election Assistance Commission will send a grant award letter to each state’s chief election official telling them that funding is available and providing guidance on how to get the money, said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who helped push for the funding as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

While states and the federal government began communicating about threats to the election system last year, all 30 machines used in U.S. elections were hacked within a few hours at the 2017 DEF CON conference.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, began asking the voting machine companies last year about their security vulnerabilities, and according to Gizmodo, is giving ES&S until March 30th to explain why they have pre-installed remote-access capabilities when voting machines are supposed to be isolated.

#4 Transit Gets a Billion Dollar Boost

According to City Lab, the Federal Transit Administration secured a $1 billion budget boost and Amtrak maintained its $1.5 billion funding with $650 million for Northeast Corridor fixes.

“Cities that have recently voted to increase local taxes to expand and improve transit — including Atlanta, Indianapolis and Seattle — should be able to proceed with those projects as planned if this budget passes,” reported Streetsblog USA.

Even Chicago.

#5 Immigrant Protections Stay Uncertain

Also hanging in the balance was a lack of resolution on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

CNN reported that both parties sought more comprehensive immigration reform solutions and remained at an impasse in the spending bill. CityLab’s omnibus reporting noted that defunding of sanctuary cities -- which Trump recently repeated his call for -- was however, left out of the bill.

Immigration reform will remain a fireball in the night, to borrow a phrase from Ben Franklin, for the mid-term elections, according to CNN.

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.