The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote tomorrow (Jan. 15) on the second installment of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Request for Hurricane Sandy Relief. The package includes funding to help water and wastewater utilities in New York and New Jersey build resiliency against future natural disasters. The Senate will vote on this installment next week. Congress passed the first installment of the relief package, which included $9.7 billion for FEMA's Flood Insurance Relief program, on Friday, Jan. 4. The relief package is occurring in two parts because the original proposal was not voted on in the House before the 112th officially adjourned Jan. 3rd; consequently, Speaker Boehner agreed to take up the package in two installments.
The House vote will come in two parts: a base bill sponsored by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and that contains $17 billion in emergency appropriations to fund immediate rebuilding needs; and an amendment package sponsored by Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) containing an additional $33.7 billion to help fund longer-term activities to mitigate future storm damage in New York and New Jersey. Last month, NACWA sent a letter to Congress supporting $60.4 billion in recovery assistance, with an emphasis on repairing and strengthening the impacted region’s municipal wastewater treatment plants.
The Frelinghuysen amendment includes $600 million in funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Program (DWSRF) to enhance water system resiliency to future extreme weather events ($500 million for the CWSRF and $100 million for the DWSRF). Both the base bill and the amendment are likely to pass.
There are several differences between the Rogers/Frelinghuysen relief packages and the initial Senate package. First, the original Senate bill included $700,000 for the CWSRF, which is $200,000 more than the House bill. Second, the Senate bill makes funding to enhance water system resiliency to future extreme weather events available to all states impacted by Sandy, not just New York and New Jersey, as directed by the House. Finally, under the Senate bill, each state would have had to use no less than 50% of the amount of its capitalization grants to provide additional subsidization (also known as grant-equivalent funding). In the House bill, that amount must be no less than 20% but no more than 30%. NACWA is concerned that this 30% ceiling could negatively affect municipalities that have already borrowed significant amounts of funds and may be at, or near, their debt ceiling limits. Nevertheless, this is the first time Congress has provided any funding to enhance utility preparedness/resiliency and it would set an important precedent for a potential national program should it pass.
NACWA forwarded a letter this week to the U.S. House of Representatives, re-emphasizing the importance of providing the maximum possible funding levels to help impacted states, with a focus on the critical need for resiliency funding through the SRFs. The Association is monitoring ongoing developments in the House and will keep members informed of any updates as they arise.
This post was authored by Hannah Mellman, who at the time, was NACWA's Manager of Legislation Affairs. Hannah has since left NACWA for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrtion.