Congress is getting ready to take suggestions on worthy municipal projects ready for investment, but the opportunity to submit them is going to move quickly.

Before the end of April, the House Appropriations Committee is seeking Community-Based Project requests, and the Transportation Committee is taking Local Transportation Priorities from Members that may be used in the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill this spring.

Additionally, the traditional collection of programmatic and language changes by Appropriations subcommittees is also moving forward.

Earmarks are back
This type of congressionally directed project spending was discontinued for several years, but both the House Democratic majority and House Republican minority made changes to their rules to allow for the new version of “earmarks” to return. This move is meant to encourage bipartisan cooperation and ensure that Congress was not over-delegating their investment authority to unelected administration officials.

Here’s what city leaders need to know to engage in this process:
Every member of Congress gets to pick and rank community projects: Your member of Congress will get to rank and submit only 10 Community Project Funding requests across all subcommittee areas, and only a handful may actually be funded. Each member of Congress is responsible for identifying their office’s own preliminary process and submission timelines, and many of your members of Congress will have deadlines coming up in late March and early April.

Municipal leaders who want to participate in sharing a project with their member of Congress should check the member’s website for details and be sure to note their office’s deadlines and all the required information. The Appropriations Committee has issued guidance on submitting Community Project Funding requests, as well as the subcommittee instructions. The earlier that municipalities can provide input, the earlier that their members of Congress can review the input and catch any issues before they move forward with submitting priority projects.

Members of Congress have three ways to support local priorities: In addition to projects, members of Congress can add project and programmatic requests and language across all subcommittees. These changes to programs can be very effective in ensuring strong programs for local governments. Here are some transportation examples from the THUD Subcommittee:

• Community Project Request: a funding request for a specific governmental entity or nonprofit organization to carry out a specific community project
Example: Provide $100,000 for capital improvements to a community center in City, County, State

• Programmatic Request: a request to fund a specific program in the bill at a specified level
Examples: Provide $100,000,000 for the Low and No Emission Bus program; Support highest possible funding for Community Development Block Grants

• Language Request: a request to include specific bill or report language that does not direct funding to a particular entity but encourages, urges or directs some type of action by an agency
Example: The Committee encourages the U.S. Department of Transportation to integrate considerations of the impacts of climate change into all aspects of the Department’s transportation planning and into competitive grant and formula programs

Every member of Congress gets to submit and rank highway and transit projects: The Transportation Committee has announced preliminary details for members of Congress to submit highway and transit transportation requests as part of the process for the FAST Act federal transportation reauthorization. The formal process will be announced later this month.

The committee has strongly encouraged members to begin gathering this information now and work directly to get local and MPO project requests.

In addition to basic project information, the committee will require all submissions to include the following information for each project requested:
• Documentation that the project is on the state, tribal, or territorial transportation improvement program (STIP); and on the metropolitan transportation improvement program (TIP), if applicable
• Sources of funding for the full share of the cost of the project beyond the amount requested
• Letter(s) of support from the state department of transportation, or local government, transit agency or other non-federal sponsor
• A description of the process that has been or will be followed to provide an opportunity for public comment on the project
• Project phase (e.g., Planning, Final Design, Construction)
• NEPA category of action (e.g., Categorical Exclusion, Environmental Assessment, Environmental Impact Statement)
• Status of environmental review
• Whether the project has received federal funding previously, and if so, the source and amount
• Certification that the member, their spouse, and other immediate family members do not have a financial interest in the project

Additional information and updates are available on the Transportation Committee website.

Community support is required
The committees have made it clear that community engagement and support are crucial in determining which projects are worthy of federal funding. Only projects with demonstrated community support will be considered.

Municipalities can provide evidence of community support such as:
• Letters of support from elected community leaders
• Press articles highlighting the need for the requested community project funding
• Support from newspaper editorial boards
• Projects listed on state intended use plans, community development plans, or other publicly available planning documents
• Resolutions passed by city councils or boards

Projects may have two congressional supporters. According to the committee, if one member of Congress wishes to sign onto a letter of community support that another member intends to submit as part of a formal request, the first member should take the extra time to also include a financial disclosure statement to ensure the highest ethical standards in the process.

Reprinted with permission from the National League of Cities. Brittney Kohler is the program director for Transportation and Infrastructure on the NLC’s Federal Advocacy team.