House Democrats’ $1.9 Trillion Virus Relief Bill Faces Possible Changes in Senate; President Biden Extends Residential Foreclosure Moratorium and Forbearance Program
House Democrats are quickly advancing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal through committees to create a final bill that may face delays in the Senate, but is expected to give President Biden his first major legislative accomplishment by March. (BGov, Feb. 18)
- The Real Estate Roundtable has consistently urged Washington policymakers to take aggressive actions to combat the pandemic and its economic repercussions. (Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 12)
- Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last week said she expects the House will approve a bill “by the end of February so we can send it to the president’s desk before unemployment benefits expire” on March 14. (CNBC, Feb. 11)
- The House legislation is being considered under a budget reconciliation process that allows passage in the Senate with only a simple majority – yet certain measures such as a minimum wage increase face opposition from Democratic Senators that could pose delays in the 50-50 upper chamber. (The Hill, Feb. 17)
- House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) told his Democratic colleagues in a Feb 16 letter that “Members should be aware that the House may need to remain in session through the weekend next week to complete consideration.”
- Anticipating potential changes to the House bill from the Senate, Hoyer added, “During the week of March 8, the House will continue in legislative session. We will be ready to take further action on the American Rescue Plan in the event the Senate amends it and sends it back to us.” (Rep. Hoyer’s Feb. 16 Dear Colleague letter)
- The Democratic House bill include $25 billion in assistance to renters and their landlords, as well as $10 billion for assistance to homeowners. It would also provide $350 billion for state and local governments, territories and tribal governments to respond to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. (“Where things stand on the COVID-19 relief measure,” The Hill, Feb. 17)
- The two chambers must reconcile differences before a final bill is sent to Biden’s desk. Comparisons of the Democratic and Republican proposals are available from CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
Foreclosure Moratorium Extended
- President Biden on Feb. 16 further extended a ban on home foreclosures for Americans with federally backed mortgages through June 30, as well as a residential mortgage payment forbearance program that allows people to pause or reduce payments. On his first day as president, Biden issued an executive order extending eviction protections for the country's 44 million rental households until March 31. (USA Today, Feb. 16 and Forbes, Feb. 3 )
- According to a White House Fact Sheet, the extension benefits 2.7 million homeowners currently in COVID forbearance and extends the availability of forbearance options for nearly 11 million government-backed mortgages nationwide.
The White House statement on the extensions also referred to the pandemic relief package under consideration in Congress. “To bolster these efforts, it is critical that Congress pass the American Rescue Plan to deliver more aid to struggling homeowners. The rescue plan creates a Homeowners Assistance Fund which will provide states with $10 billion to help struggling homeowners catch up on their mortgage payments and utility costs,” according to the Feb. 16 statement.
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Biden Policy Eases Funding Constraints on Mass Transit Projects
The Biden Administration released a policy letter on Feb. 16 enabling states to more readily access federal grant dollars to help finance mass transit and other large-scale transportation projects. (FTA “Dear Colleague” letter and CQ, Feb. 16).
- The letter from Acting Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez reverses Trump-era policy from 2018. The earlier policy restricted the amount of transportation money states could receive from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) through the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program if the project also received a low-interest DOT loan.
- The Feb. 16 letter clarifies that DOT loans extended under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) or the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program – when repaid with non-federal funds – can count toward the state’s cost-share requirement to also qualify for a “new starts” CIG grant.
- The Roundtable has long supported the FTA’s recent step. "Loans repaid [by states] with interest are fundamentally different instruments than grants awarded with no repayment obligation," The Roundtable noted in a 2019 letter to the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The letter added, "Credit-worthy state and local project sponsors who successfully navigate the TIFIA loan process should not be penalized for seeking a CIG grant as a separate, necessary layer in the capital stack to finance a massive transit project." (Roundtable Weekly, May 3, 2019)
- The FTA’s policy change should help large-scale transportation projects of national and regional significance that may qualify for both CIG grants and TIFIA loans. [See nationwide lists of CIG projects and TIFIA projects.] One prominent example is the New York-New Jersey Gateway Program, a $30 billion modernization of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
- Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) applauded the Biden Administration’s action, noting that the effect of the 2018 policy was to “stall the Gateway project” which includes replacing a 110-year-old bridge and construction of a “new Trans-Hudson rail tunnel.” (Menendez press release, Feb. 16)
- The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) applauded the Biden FTA’s move. “Restoring access to federal funding for Gateway is an initial but pivotal step toward advancing the project, which will improve mass transit service for millions of commuters, create thousands of good jobs and play a significant role in getting our regional and national economics back on track,” said REBNY President Jim Whelan. (REBNY news release, Feb. 18)
Movement on Infrastructure
- Biden Transportation Department Secretary Pete Buttigieg hinted at the FTA’s policy change during his January confirmation hearing, emphasizing that he was committed to working with lawmakers on projects such as Gateway. (Bloomberg, Jan. 21, 2021)
- Also this week, President Biden discussed plans to improve the nation’s infrastructure with labor leaders, including Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions. (Wall Street Journal and White House Remarks, Feb 17) Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey D. DeBoer and McGarvey discussed infrastructure policy in a video interview released during RER’s annual meeting last June. (Roundtable Weekly, June 19, 2020)
- The Biden Administration is expected to reveal its infrastructure package soon as part of its “Build Back Better” agenda to spur economic recovery from the repercussions of the pandemic.
- Additionally, The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has scheduled a hearing on transportation infrastructure on Feb. 24, entitled “Building Back Better: Investing in Transportation while Addressing Climate Change, Improving Equity, and Fostering Economic Growth and Innovation.”
The Roundtable’s recommendations regarding infrastructure financing and permitting will again be featured in our forthcoming 2021 Policy Agenda. The Roundtable is also a member of the “Build by the 4th”coalition, led by U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which urges Congress to pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill by Independence Day 2021.
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