How $1.3T omnibus will help states, local government, school districts

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WASHINGTON -- States, local governments, school districts and transit agencies will get a boost in federal aid through a wide variety of federal programs from highway aid to housing assistance under a $1.3 trillion 2018 omnibus spending bill.

The House approved the legislation 256-167 midday Thursday with split majorities of 145-90 among Republicans and 111-77 among Democrats supporting the spending plan.

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the opposition by “scores of Republicans” who never planned to vote for the omnibus spending bill gave Democrats leverage in the negotiations to successfully pursue funding for many of their priorities.

The Senate was expected to also approve the legislation before midnight Friday with a vote coming as early as Thursday evening.

Details of the bill released Wednesday evening showed lawmakers ignored the Trump administration’s proposals to reduce funding for many popular domestic programs and instead used the higher spending caps agreed to last month under a two-year budget deal.

That deal allowed an $80 billion increase in defense spending and $63 billion for non-defense discretionary programs in the 2018 fiscal year ending Sept. 30, including $10 billion more for infrastructure programs.

The White House said in a press release issued after the House vote saying, “The omnibus funding bill is a victory for the American people and supports President Trump’s priorities.”

President Trump appeared ready to sign the spending bill when it reaches his desk, although he groused in a late Wednesday night tweet about spending concessions made to Democrats.

“Got $1.6 Billion to start Wall on Southern Border, rest will be forthcoming,” he tweeted. “Most importantly, got $700 Billion to rebuild our Military, $716 Billion next year...most ever. Had to waste money on Dem giveaways in order to take care of military pay increase and new equipment.”

The federal government has been operating under stopgap budget resolutions since the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, preventing states and localities from knowing what their 2018 federal aid levels will be.

The deal announced Wednesday night provides mostly good news for them.

Local governments and housing authorities would get a $2.8 billion increase in funding to $30.3 billion for Section 8 rental assistance and other public and Native American housing.

Community Development Block Grants will increase by $300 million compared with 2017 to $3.3 billion.

The HOME Investment Partnerships Program will increase by $412 million to $1.4 billion for local governments to create affordable housing in partnership with private investors.

Other housing highlights include a $176 million increase in housing for the elderly to $670 million and an $83 million increase for housing for people with disabilities to $230 million.

States and local governments also will receive an 83% increase in Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG) which Senate Democrats hailed as “the largest single-year increase in the program’s history.” The $2.37 billion increase will bring total funding to $5.226 billion to assist low-income, working families.

Highway Trust Fund spending would increase by $1 billion to $45 billion and discretionary highway funding would increase another $2.5 billion above the 2017 spending levels.

In addition, the Federal Transit Administration would get a $1 billion increase from 2017 to $13.5 billion, which is $2.3 billion more than requested by the Trump administration.

Transit formula grants will total $9.7 billion with $2.6 billion of that money put into Capital Investment Grants transit projects. The capital investment grants would be divvied up among “New Starts” getting $1.5 billion, Core Capacity projects getting $716 million, and Small Starts projects getting $400 million.

The proposed Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River and the Portal North Bridge in New Jersey would be eligible for as much as $541 million in federal funds without U.S. Department of Transportation
approval through several pots of money, according to officials involved in the deal. That money includes $650 million available through Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Account that can be used for priorities throughout the corridor including Gateway projects.

Another $1 billion increase will go to the multi-modal TIGER program which gets a total of $1.5 billion. The bill includes language to ensure that at least 30% of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant money goes to rural communities.

The bill has a $36 million increase to $947 million for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a $201 million increase to $845 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Counties would share a $65 million increase in the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program to $530 million.

Colleges and universities will be able to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $175 and the budget creates a $350 million discretionary relief fund for student borrowers to receive public service loan forgiveness.

School districts will get a $300 million increase for Title I grants for poor students and a $275 million increase for Special Education Part B State Grants (IDEA).

There’s also $75 million for the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) that has been administered by the National Institute of Justice since 2014 to fund school safety assessments and provide training and technology to enhance overall school safety.

Police departments would receive $225.5 million for COPS hiring grants that Congress estimates will pay for an additional 1,100 new police officers. Some communities have used COPS grants to assign police officers to schools.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will get a $789 million budget increase to $6.827 billion.

Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s water infrastructure programs include a $600 million increase to $2.857 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water revolving funds used for water and wastewater infrastructure projects and an estimated $6 billion in new lending under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. The WIFIA program will utilize $55 million to finance more than 100 times that amount to accelerate investments in water projects with national and regional significance, according to lawmakers.

The bill also provides $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WINN) Act to support testing for lead contamination schools and child care centers, $20 million for lead reduction projects in rural areas, and $10 million for water projects in communities working to improve compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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