For immediate release
Federal priorities discussed at MRPC board meeting
Update given on CARES funding
ST. JAMES—Donna Hickman and Brett Hoffman with Rep. Jason Smith’s office and Hannah Larrick and Aris Loukis with Sen. Roy Blunt’s office, Ray Bozarth and Matt Bain with Sen. Josh Hawley’s office and Rachel Gilroy with Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s office met with the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) board via Zoom to discuss federal legislative priorities as set forth by the MRPC board at its Feb. 11 meeting.
Conversation touched on many topics, including the rural broadband access which has become more prevalent with stay-at-home orders and virtual learning, another stimulus package, and COVID vaccination processes.
The board shared its federal priorities with the federal representatives. The priorities are voted on by the board and were approved during the Jan. meeting. The list will be presented to federal legislators by MRPC Chairman Larry Miskel and Executive Director Bonnie Prigge via Zoom in March.
MRPC’s top federal priorities are:
- In COVID-19 related recommendations: Pass another COVID-19 relief/recovery program that includes funding for small business owners, direct assistance to families who have lost employment, fund is for public infrastructure, funding for families with large health care bills due to COVID-19 and funds for local governments that have experienced sales tax/use tax decreases; extend the Families First Coronavirus Response Act; extend CARES Act Small Business Relief and provide funding for SBA certified development companies and other agencies that handle the paperwork and deferments at the local level;
- In transportation: Encourage federal funding for improvements to Highways 50 and 63, provide enhanced and sustainable funding for the nation’s highway, aviation and transit needs and find a means to fund the Federal Highway Trust Fund and work with Federal Highway Administration to include low water crossings as eligible for funding. Prigge pointed out that the first step was the reauthorization of a multi-year transportation bill;
- In economic and community development: Support efforts to provide high speed internet to all residents; advocate for fully funding the existing portfolio of federal community and economic development programs, including the Economic Development Administration’s infrastructure and economic development grant programs, HUD’s Community Development Block Grant, Delta Regional Authority State Economic Development Assistance Program (SEDAP) and Small Business Administration’s business lending programs; make adjustments to Davis/Bacon Act that allow small, rural communities to waive prevailing wage requirements for projects costing less than $250,000; and continue to support Fort Leonard Wood using the results of the FLW Joint Land Use Study and Missouri’s Military Infrastructure Report;
- In environment: Continue to support and protect our national parks, monuments, wildlife reserves and provide tax reduction incentive for food-service companies and farms to donate surplus food that would otherwise be discarded;
- In health care and social services: Continue to protect Medicare and Social Security; support full administrative funding for public housing agencies; and repeal or correct nonworking components of the Health Care Reform Act and keep the provisions that work and equalize Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates for rural and urban hospitals;
- In energy: Pass the RURAL Act and continue to work toward energy independence;
- In homeland security and emergency preparedness: Ensure rural regions receive adequate and equitable access to the broad portfolio of homeland security and emergency preparedness programs;
- In education: Support technical training initiatives such as the MO Wins and MO Health Wins program or our labor force and encourage greater emphasis on reading, writing, math and science competency; and
- In local government: Eliminate unfunded federal mandates to states such as federal elections and wastewater/storm water regulations or provide funding options/opportunities to state and/or local governments to fund them; continue mandatory funding for Payment of Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program and Secure Rural Schools Act and make these funds more flexible; and preserve the current tax exemption for municipal bonds; recalibrate EPA wastewater standards to reduce the fiscal impact to local governments/communities.
Additionally, the board heard an update from Kelly Sink about the CARES funding status for the six counties – Dent, Gasconade, Maries, Osage, Phelps and Washington – that MRPC administers. As it stands the majority of the counties have spent their funds or have applications pending that would exhaust 93 to 100 percent of the remaining funds. A federal program extension allow the counties to spend funds after Dec. 31, 2020. The six counties received just over $14.3 million in allocated CARES funds and the majority of the funds were spent on school districts, county departments, fire departments, law enforcement, ambulance districts, county health departments and hospitals, cities, businesses and non-profits. As of Dec. 31, 2020, MRPC had reviewed 485 applications in the six-county area.
MRPC staff continues to work on reporting to the state, including submitting follow-up documentation on certain applications.
In other business, the MRPC board:
- Approved Oct. 21 as the MRPC 2021 Annual Dinner date and set the location at Linn State Technical College of Missouri;
- Approved a draft letter be sent to state legislators in support of Sheltered Workshops; and
- Heard an update on the MRPC RLF CARES fund which loaned about $407,000 of the $780,000 available to six small businesses effected by COVID-19. Additional applications are in process.
The next MRPC board meeting will be held by Zoom on March 11.
Formed in 1969, MRPC is a voluntary council of governments serving Crawford, Dent, Gasconade, Maries, Osage, Phelps, Pulaski and Washington counties and their respective cities. Gasconade County Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel serves as chairman of the board. A professional staff of 34 offers technical assistance and services, such as grant preparation and administration, housing assistance, transportation planning, environmental planning, ordinance codification, business loans and other services to member communities.