Legislative Update

Legislative update for NLAri Neumann, Director of Policy Development and Applied Research, Rural Community Assistance Partnership

As the 2014 mid-term election nears, Congress has gradually checked off many of the big items on its to-do list. Congress will likely devote most of the rest of this legislative session to passing its annual budget and appropriations bills that fund the federal government. We expect that the spending bills will be wrapped up before Congress heads home for its annual August recess and the election season is in full swing. The budget outlook for rural programs is much the same as last year. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, major changes are unlikely to occur.

One of the big items that Congress recently finished is the reauthorization of the 5-year Farm Bill. It passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Obama on February 7. The total bill is complex and multi-faceted and is organized into 12 titles that each address one issue area. The one that most directly impacts RCAP’s work is the Rural Development (RD) Title.

This Farm Bill’s RD Title included a few significant policy changes that will impact rural communities in mostly beneficial ways. It included:

  • Instructions to USDA-RD to streamline the application process for communities applying for loans and grants
  • A requirement that USDA-RD report to Congress regularly on the efficacy of the agency’s programs
  • A pilot program to encourage local and regional planning
  • $150 million in mandatory funding to address the backlog in water/wastewater applications
  • And RCAP’s top legislative priority, authorization for technical assistance for the Essential Community Facilities Program (CF).

The technical assistance authorization for CF is modeled after the successful water and wastewater technical assistance program that currently exists at RD. It sets aside a small percentage of the funds that are appropriated for the program to be used by non-profit entities to help communities adhere to the rules and requirements of the CF program. It helps ensure that projects go smoothly and protects federal investments by ensuring that communities are able to repay any loans they receive from RD. This type of assistance has long been requested by RD state offices, and RCAP looks forward to working with USDA-RD to implement this important policy change.

While the Farm Bill as a whole was not without controversy, the RD Title is a strong title for rural communities that will make many positive changes. We here at RCAP are looking forward to working with USDA to implement the new policies enacted in the bill and ensure that they work to improve the quality of life in rural America.

Fifty Years Ago Today

LBJ1President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the War on Poverty during his State of the Union address.  

The following message was sent out from Robert Stewart, Executive Director of RCAP (Rural Community Assistance Partnership) a national network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure that rural and small communities throughout the United States have access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal.  RCAP Solutions is one of the six regional partners within the RCAP network.

LBJ, The Great Society and The Origins of RCAP

January 8, 1964 is perhaps a date in history that you may not be familiar with, but is one of utmost importance to RCAP and much of the work each of you do every day in support of rural communities. It was on this date 50 years ago that President Johnson declared in his State of the Union Address that:

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

While LBJ initiated an incredible number of programs collectively known as the “Great Society”, which I will note later, it was the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, creating the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) that would eventually lead to the organizations that we know today as RCAPs. Under Title III of that Act, “Special Programs to Combat Rural Poverty” were created to provide funding to rural families and communities; this assistance included loans that could be made to purchase land, improve the operation of family farms, allow participation in cooperative ventures, and finance non-agricultural business enterprises, while local cooperatives which served low-income rural families could apply for another category of loans for similar purposes. Community Action Programs were authorized under Title II leading to the creation of Community Action Agencies. Federal money was allocated to States according to their needs for job training, housing, health, and welfare assistance, and the States were then to distribute their shares of the Community Action grants on the basis of proposals from local public or non-profit private groups.

Within two years 1,000 community action agencies (CAA) had been established across America. One of these agencies, Total Action Against Poverty (TAP) out of the Roanoke Valley of Virginia, was chartered the following year. Like other CAAs, TAP was focused on helping poverty stricken individuals and families. However, they realized that to help families out of poverty conditions, community water and wastewater systems were required to provide essential services, protect the health of rural Americans and provide a foundation for economic development. These needs went beyond helping individuals to helping communities and to building community facilities. By 1968 TAP decided to expand its mission throughout the five adjacent counties by creating a new organization for these purposes and asking the OEO for support. Chartered as the Demonstration Water Project (DWP), this non-profit corporation received its first OEO grant in 1969. The success of this approach led DWP to approach OEO in 1971 to broaden its operations resulting in the award of a $6 million grant in 1972 to conduct a national program that then formed the National Demonstration Water Project (NDWP) on March 19, 1973 that included affiliates in five other states.

NDWP developed a program strategy involving field demonstration projects, research and publications, an information clearinghouse, provision of management and technical assistance and through the vehicle of the Commission on Rural Water (an ancillary group established by NDWP) a national alliance of concerned individuals and organizations to bring about needed changes and improvements in rural water and waste disposal services. Such awareness building was necessary since at this time millions of rural families were without community water and wastewater services. Between 1974 and 1978 NDWP spent over $9 million through its affiliates (which had grown by 1978 to 16 statewide affiliates and 35 special program agency partners) to improve or create water and wastewater systems in rural America. At this time NDWP funds were primarily for direct construction related costs.

In 1977 the Community Services Administration (CSA – successor to OEO) provided a grant to NDWP to study and survey the possible role of CAAs in water and sewer development in rural areas. Virtually all of the CAAs indicated a dire need for additional services in this area and over half were already providing these services. Realizing that the extent of the needs required a revised model, NDWP embarked on an initiative to transfer expertise to intermediaries for local development projects. The first two regions identified where interest was strongest and where viable organizations were in place that could be trained to provide assistance in water and sewer matters were RHI in New England (later to become RCAP Solutions) and the Center for Rural Affairs (which later spun off this work to create the Midwest Assistance Program) . These agencies would provide consulting assistance to rural communities and use existing development funding instead of relying on direct project subsidies as was the original NDWP design.

NDWP’s primary funding was transferred to the Economic Development Administration while CSA looked to expand the regional technical assistance model created by NDWP. From 1979 to 1981 CSA designated and funded four additional RCAPs: Virginia Water Project (now the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project); Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Great Lakes Rural Network (now WSOS Community Action Commission) and Community Resource Group along with RHI and MAP. CSA used a six-region geographic division of the country first developed by the Farmers Home Administration and funded these as the Rural Community Assistance Program. In 1981 CSA was abolished and its duties transferred to the Office of Community Services within the Department of Health and Human Service. In 1989 the six RCAP agencies reorganized NDWP as RCAP, Inc. with a new governance structure that survives to this day: a 12 member Board of Directors consisting of one representative from each region and six at-large members.

RCAP is You!

While the path towards the final development of RCAP was not a “short or easy struggle,” it was an endeavor that has resulted in RCAP assisting and continuing to assist thousands of rural communities not only on water and wastewater needs but also in the areas of affordable housing, solid waste and recycling services, economic development initiatives and the creation of revolving loan funds for community development.

All of you who work for an RCAP are an enduring legacy of fifty years of struggle to alleviate rural poverty, to provide essential water and wastewater services, to create opportunities for affordable housing and home ownership, and to promote economic development. There is no more important way that you can dedicate your lives than by helping our fellow inhabitants of this great land in their attempts to provide a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. While your work to improve the living conditions and opportunities of rural Americans may not always be recognized, be assured that my appreciation for your dedication and your endeavors is boundless. RCAP and its employees constitute an organization and a force for good like no other; one that has a long history of success in its chosen field, one that draws its strength from the values, aspirations and resourcefulness of rural America, one that ensures that equal opportunity is paramount, one that is confident in its abilities, and one that is continually looking for ways to improve its range and delivery of services to those in need.

A Brief Digression – The Great Society’s Accomplishments

Not that I am an historian (I am a Texan!) but I wanted to simply remind everyone what one man, albeit the President, and Congress can accomplish. While everyone may not agree with or be supportive of what was accomplished in the five years LBJ was President, there is no denying the importance of this legacy on the United States. It is almost too easy to compare these achievements with that of our current Administration and Congress. I often wonder where our nation would be if the issues faced in those years were being addressed by our current Congress. But enough of all that, it’s easier for the following legislation and programs created from 1964-1968 to speak for themselves and this list is by no mean exhaustive!

• Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968
• Voting Rights Act
• Economic Opportunity Act – which created Head Start and VISTA in addition to what was described earlier
• Medicare
• Medicaid
• Wilderness Protection Act
• Endangered Species Protection Act
• Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
• National Environmental Policy Act
• National Endowment for the Art and the Humanities
• Omnibus Housing Act, Fair Housing Act
• Stronger Air and Water Quality Acts
• Appalachian Regional Commission
• Elementary and Secondary Education Act
• Higher Education Act
• Expansion of Food Stamps
• Child Nutrition Act
• Public Broadcasting Act – Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio
• Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act
• Creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Urban Mass Transit Administration

One final note (from this veteran) on LBJ: he was the first member of Congress to volunteer for service in WWII (sworn in on December 9, 1941) and was awarded the Silver Star while serving in the Pacific. While the Vietnam War was his ultimate downfall, I believe it is important to remember all the many accomplishments of LBJ, including those that led to the creation of what are now the RCAPs.

A Vision Fulfilled – An Excerpt from LBJ’s State of the Union Address on January 8, 1964:

Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope–some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

The program I shall propose will emphasize this cooperative approach to help that one-fifth of all American families with incomes too small to even meet their basic needs.

Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities to help more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment rolls where other citizens help to carry them.

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

But whatever the cause, our joint Federal-local effort must pursue poverty, pursue it wherever it exists–in city slums and small towns, in sharecropper shacks or in migrant worker camps, on Indian Reservations, among whites as well as Negroes, among the young as well as the aged, in the boom towns and in the depressed areas.

Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it. No single piece of legislation, however, is going to suffice.

We will launch a special effort in the chronically distressed areas of Appalachia.

We must expand our small but our successful area redevelopment program.

We must enact youth employment legislation to put jobless, aimless, hopeless youngsters to work on useful projects.

We must distribute more food to the needy through a broader food stamp program.

We must create a National Service Corps to help the economically handicapped of our own country as the Peace Corps now helps those abroad.

We must modernize our unemployment insurance and establish a high-level commission on automation. If we have the brain power to invent these machines, we have the brain power to make certain that they are a boon and not a bane to humanity.

We must extend the coverage of our minimum wage laws to more than 2 million workers now lacking this basic protection of purchasing power.

We must, by including special school aid funds as part of our education program, improve the quality of teaching, training, and counseling in our hardest hit areas.

We must build more libraries in every area and more hospitals and nursing homes under the Hill-Burton Act, and train more nurses to staff them.

We must provide hospital insurance for our older citizens financed by every worker and his employer under Social Security, contributing no more than $1 a month during the employee’s working career to protect him in his old age in a dignified manner without cost to the Treasury, against the devastating hardship of prolonged or repeated illness.

We must, as a part of a revised housing and urban renewal program, give more help to those displaced by slum clearance, provide more housing for our poor and our elderly, and seek as our ultimate goal in our free enterprise system a decent home for every American family.

We must help obtain more modern mass transit within our communities as well as low-cost transportation between them.

Above all, we must release $11 billion of tax reduction into the private spending stream to create new jobs and new markets in every area of this land.

Federal Funding Outlook

Ari Neumann, RCAP Policy Director

Legislative update for NL

As of press time, the federal funding outlook for the new fiscal year, set to begin October 1, is murky at best. The Senate and the House have each passed Continuing Resolutions that would keep the government open until the end of the year so that they can pass regular appropriations bills. However, the House version contains a ban on funding for the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”), while the Senate version fully funds the ACA’s implementation.

The two sides are fundamentally opposed, and as of now, it is not clear how the stalemate will be resolved. We expect there to be last-minute negotiations that will hopefully lead to some resolution, but there may well be a government shutdown in early October.

In the event that there is a shutdown, all non-essential government functions will temporarily cease. USDA Rural Development state and area offices will be closed, and EPA, USDA-RD, HUD, and other federal employees will be forced to stay home. So, federal agencies that normally provide funds for rural infrastructure will not be able to process applications for the duration of the shutdown.

Depending on how the funding dispute is resolved—whether the government is shut down or not—we expect to see either a Continuing Resolution or the full slate of appropriations bills passed this fall that will fund the government for Fiscal Year 2014. Then, we will start the budget and appropriations processes again next January for Fiscal Year 2015 (beginning Oct. 1, 2014). Once Congress provides some certainty about spending levels for the next year, agencies will begin to process applications again and proceed with the development of rural infrastructure projects.

Since most infrastructure projects are long-term in nature, we encourage communities to continue the planning process so that you are ready when the fiscal situation is resolved. As federal funds become scarcer, those communities who are best prepared stand the best chance of receiving limited funds. And, as always, we encourage you to look for funding from state and local governments, as well as private sources of capital (where available) to supplement the costs borne by the ratepayers.

The federal funding picture is murky, but regardless of how the current spending debate is resolved, the federal budget as a share of the national economy is almost certain to shrink over the next decade. That will mean less money from the federal government for water infrastructure and an emphasis on direct and guaranteed loans, rather than grants.

Quality Training to Revitalize Communities and Sustain Jobs in the Water Sector

Sukhwindar Singh, Director of Education and Training, RCAP Solutions

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RCAP Solutions is the northeast member of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) with headquarters in Worcester, Massachusetts and onsite drinking water and wastewater technical assistance specialists and trainers throughout the Northeastern United States and Caribbean.  All RCAP specialists utilize state and federal funding to work onsite with small rural drinking water and wastewater systems to effect four community outcomes:

a)      Improved environmental and community health

b)      Compliance with federal and state regulations

c)      Sustainable water and waste disposal facilities

d)      Increased capability of local leaders to address current and future needs.

For years, RCAP personnel have documented the unique challenges that small systems face in providing reliable drinking water and wastewater services that meet federal and state standards.  These challenges can include but are not limited to a lack of financial resources and customer base, aging infrastructure, management limitations, and high staff turnover.  RCAP offers educational outreach to small systems to raise awareness of technical, managerial, and financial issues.  These RCAP tools, resources and methods assist system personnel and their boards to successfully operate and manage the system while addressing some of the barriers mentioned above.

Within the past year or so, RCAP has developed and released the following documents, materials and training programs that support economic and workforce initiatives:

  • An infographic on how Water Infrastructure Creates Jobs is available for free download here.
  • Color Brochures for recruiting new drinking water and wastewater operators to the water sector.  These brochures encourage those who are entering the workforce or those looking for a career change to consider a job in drinking water/wastewater operations.  These brochures highlight the benefits of jobs in the water sector, the education  and training experience needed and are suitable for distribution at high school and college career fairs, community colleges, technical schools and programs that help veterans find work.  These brochures are available at www.rcap.org/opcareers.
  • Wastewater Training Modules for Operators of Small Systems- intended primarily for training contact hours/CEUs or precertification training, there are 12-14 modules newly developed for entry level operators on a variety of topics including Wastewater Chemistry, Overview of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Program, Energy Efficiency, Overview of Wastewater, Lagoons and Ponds, Preliminary and Primary Treatment, Wastewater Sampling and Preservation, Wastewater Disinfection, Introduction to Wastewater Plant Instrumentation and Monitoring, Wastewater Math for Operators, and a number of other topics.  Learning objectives, exercises, assessment and evaluation are core elements of these modules and characteristic of the RCAP approach. Seven of these modules were developed by RCAP Solutions and its qualified contractor Cotton Environmental.   All the training modules were developed around the most recent findings from the Association of Boards of Certification Need-to Know Critera for Wastewater Treatment Operators. In order to access our operator training materials, we encourage you to sign up for an RCAP Solutions training or contact us about setting up events near you.
  • Our first RCAP Solutions Summer Series Operator Training Tour was a success! Full day workshops were held in South Burlington, Vermont; Rutland, Vermont; Concord, New Hampshire and Worcester, Massachusetts.  The morning trainings consisted of the Clean Water Act & NPDES Program, Overview of Wastewater Treatment and Discharge Monitoring Reports.  The afternoon sessions consisted of the Intro to Chemistry and Wastewater Sampling and Preservation.  In addition, local officials and managers from surrounding municipalities were invited to a sponsored Lunch and Learn to learn more about wastewater characteristics and stream standards so that they are better informed to effectively manage their system.  In all, approximately 40 individuals attended the trainings with representatives from 14 communities with Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWS) and over 21 operators.  A review of pre and post-test scores for the attendees notes an overall improvement in understanding of basic concepts at the conclusion of the event and all attendees noted that the workshops met their expectations, and that class participation was encouraged and that the presenter(s) demonstrated knowledge of the topic and good presentation skills.  Many attendees noted that they would attend RCAP Solutions trainings again and found the material and video demonstrations quite useful.
  • RCAP has also released a new series of wastewater focused videos that highlight wastewater collection systems, small on-site wastewater treatment systems, energy efficiency, and preparing for emergencies for operators.  This compliments a series of videos already produced by RCAP  on wastewater processes for non-operators.  All these videos can be found here:  www.rcap.org/dwwwtreatment and www.rcap.org/newresources .

There are many additional materials and programs that have not been mentioned here.  Our goal was to highlight some newer materials that have recently been developed courtesy of our various funders.  All operator training workshops, modules, and videos were presented and funded as a part of the EPA/RCAP Training and Technical Assistance for Small, Publicly Owned WW Systems, Onsite/Decentralized Wastewater Systems and Private Well Owners to Improve Water Quality Project 2012-2013. Please contact Sukh Singh, Director of Education and Training for information about these materials at ssingh@rcapsolutions.org or 814.861.7072.

Senator Eldridge Visits RCAP Solutions

Massachusetts Senator James B. Eldridge from the Middlesex and Worcester District, visited RCAP Solutions today to tour the new Worcester headquarters, receive an overview of our programs and services with an in depth discussion around the work we do in our Community Resources division, specifically water and wastewater programs.

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Senator Eldridge tours the RCAP Worcester offices.

Pictured from left: Paul Teixeira, Vice President & Chief Program Officer; Brian Scales, Chief Development & Governmental Affairs Officer; Karen A. Koller, President and CEO; Senator James Eldridge, Tunde Baker, Regional Lead for Ma/RI/CT; and James Starbard, Environmental Water and Wastewater Technician.

 

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Senator Eldridge meets with staff members and receives an overview of RCAP Solutions programs.

Towns Try to Take Back Water Systems

The Wall Street Journal published an article this week about Municipalities that have recently attempted to gain control of their water systems due to rate increases. Private firms are defending their rate increases, saying they have had to spend money to improve the infrastructure and are entitled to make a profit.

RCAP Solutions is the Northeast affiliate of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a national network of regional nonprofit organizations that provide comprehensive, on-site technical assistance and training to help small, rural communities address their drinking water, wastewater, and other community development needs. We provide services in all six New England states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

If your community needs assistance managing your water system, or if  you are looking for information on resources available for your community, please visit our Community Resources Page or contact Maegen McCaffrey, Chief Communications Officer at 978-630-6714 or email mmccaffrey@rcapsolutions.org.

Please click here for the article:  Towns Try to Take Back Water Systems

 

Wastewater Operator Training A Success!

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The RCAP Solutions Operator Training Summer Tour of 2013 was a great success!

Workshops were held in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

These newly developed programs – geared for new and intermediate level wastewater operators – offered up to 8 hours of approved contact time at no cost to the town.

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Topics included: Clean Water Act & NPDES Program, Overview of Wastewater Treatment, Discharge Monitoring Reports, Intro to Chemistry and Sampling and Preservation.

The courses were well received by all participants and attendees indicated they would be interested in additional training.

Over the 4 days of training, approximately 40 individuals attended the training with representatives from 14 communities with Publicly owned treatment works.

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Pictured:

Top – Karen A. Koller, RCAP President & CEO welcomes the group  and provides an overview of RCAP Solutions Programs and services.

Middle – David Cotton, Consultant with Cotton Enviromental, LLC presents to a packed room at RCAP Solutions Worcester Training Room.

Bottom – Sukhwindar Singh, RCAP Solutions Director of Education and Training presents the chemistry training module.

Sponsorship opportunities are available for all workshops and include high visibility with speaking and promotional opportunities at workshops, logo on all publicity, etc.  For more information on our training programs, please contact Sukhwindar Singh, Director of Education and Training, Phone: 412-554-2572 / Email: ssingh@rcapsolutions.org.

RCAP lauded in Washington Examiner

InTheNews1Last Friday, the Washington Examiner, a local Washington, DC newspaper ran an article about The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) titled “Why are federal agencies completely funding this private nonprofit group?”.

RCAP Solutions is the Northeast affiliate of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a national network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure that rural and small communities throughout the United States have access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal.

In this article, the author admits that he was skeptical about RCAP’s work, but that researching the organization made him realize what important and valuable work the RCAP network does. He concludes by saying that while he’s no fan of the federal government, he does support smart government programs, like those that fund RCAP, that help people help themselves.

For more information about RCAP and our affiliation with this national program, please visit our partnership page on our webiste:  www.rcapsolutions.org/partners.