On Friday, IAC hosted a call for County Commissioners in the first district with Representative Russ Fulcher and a call with Representative Mike Simpson for County Commissioners in the 2nd district. Both had words of encouragement for Idaho county officials. Here are some of the highlights from the calls.
Rep. Fulcher shared that money started flowing a short time ago for the small business component of the CARES Act. In less than a week, over $90 billion of the $350 billion had already been allotted to small businesses as of close of business last Thursday. Congress is working on securing another $250 billion for this program. The Congressman emphasized that this is not a bail-out. This is the ramifications of what happens when the government tells people that they cannot earn a living. He said that direct deposits and checks for individuals are also starting to be seen.
With regards to future aid being made directly available to smaller counties, Rep. Fulcher agrees that the more local decision making can be the better. He said to keep in mind that there are some dollars available that will flow through Governor Little’s office. He recognizes that county commissioners in Idaho are not on the same playing field as other commissioners in many other states because of federal lands limiting property tax revenue. While he thinks more help will be coming from the Federal Government, he believes the real answer is to put the wheels back in motion on the economy.
Regarding the opening of the economy, he shared that he recently had a personal conversation with President Trump and his staff. They are looking at staging regional openings first. He believes the President will recommend that the Governors use their judgment regarding how soon. Due in part to our diligence with social distancing, COVID-19 will not have as big of an impact as was anticipated. We’ll never know whether we did too much or not, but the ramifications on the economy are the same regardless.
Unemployment was also a point of discussion. Rep. Fulcher shared something that he hasn’t shared with many. He wants an infrastructure package at the Federal level and he wants China to pay for it as a recourse for the damage done by COVID-19. He agrees that broad infrastructure needs to happen and that it needs to be driven at the Federal level. In addition, he thinks there needs to be a state line item for transportation in JFAC’s budget. If we don’t start budgeting in the state budget specifically for transportation then we will end up being even more reliant on the Federal government for transportation funds.
Rep. Fulcher asked Idaho’s counties to continue to be visible. The Federal Delegation would benefit from getting a clearer understanding county by county regarding the level of dependency, needs, and benefits that each county receives from Federal Programs and what other programs, in addition to SRS and PILT, counties are accessing. He said they can use this information to build support with other members of Congress by helping them to see that our state is dependent on these programs through no fault of our own. He said that the Western Caucus has been very helpful for Idaho. They will be holding Western Caucus meetings in various counties in Idaho probably in the next year. He also encouraged counties to reach out with specific needs. He and his staff will do their best to help.
Rep. Simpson shared that Congress is currently working on a fourth package to supplement the small business portion of the CARES Act. In this package, or as a stand-alone bill, he also wants to address a provision for counties with populations under 500,000 who were not funded directly in the CARES Act. He signed a bi-partisan letter to support this issue that has been sent to leadership. There is another bill that would allow counties to use funds from the CARES Act that are currently only allowed to be used on COVID-19 expenses to backfill the loss of tax revenue to help with the hardships that counties are going through.
Another issue that counties are facing is the requirement to provide an additional 80 hours of sick leave related to COVID-19 as well as an additional 10 weeks of time off to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act. Businesses were given a payroll tax credit to make up for these losses. New legislation rolled out on Thursday that would address this issue allowing counties to be included in this tax credit to help fund the additional leave.
Due to high unemployment and the fact that some small businesses will not re-open due to COVID-19, Congressman Simpson agrees that an investment in infrastructure to increase employment may be helpful while also addressing infrastructure needs that have been ignored for far too long.
Regarding PILT and SRS, Simpson recognizes that they are especially important due to the decline of other revenues here in Idaho. He said they are his highest priority on the Appropriations Committee (Rep. Simpson serves as ranking member on that committee). He has been looking for a permanent funding source for these programs for years. He shared that Senator Crapo and Senator Wyden are working on a bill that would fund SRS out of an endowment fund, but they need to find 7 billion dollars to get the endowment started. He recognizes the difficulties that local governments have trying to plan a budget each year without knowing whether they can rely on these funds. He’s going to continue to work on getting a permanent funding source for PILT. He said that if they can get it done, it would be the highlight of his career.
Congressman Simpson shared his appreciation for the work county officials do to address the concerns in our counties. He recognizes that county officials are on the ground every day. The Federal Delegation depends on the counties to be a resource of information to help them keep in touch with our local communities. If issues come up, please reach out either through IAC or through calling his office directly. He shared that often times if they don’t hear from the counties, then they don’t hear from anybody and don’t know if it’s an issue.
He closed by saying, “Please keep us informed. This is an unusual time for all of us. Please forgive us if things aren’t done exactly as you would like them to be done. It’s unusual when we can’t talk in person. We’ll get through this and come out stronger. We’ll figure out that relying on China for medications and other things is not a good idea and perhaps start making more of those items here in the U.S. Please just be safe. There’s nothing more important than taking care of yourself and your families. Thank you for all that you do to address the concerns in your counties. We appreciate your work.”