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CRS — The Distribution of Household Income and the Middle Class

April 17, 2014 Comments off

The Distribution of Household Income and the Middle Class (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Although not itself a subject of legislation, the shape of the income distribution enters Congress’s decision-making process concerning such policy issues as taxes, means-tested benefits, and social insurance programs. Congress also considers legislation specifically in the name of those in the middle class, which is variously defined as some income level or income range within the distribution of U.S. households with income. After briefly analyzing the distribution of household money income in 2012, the report attempts to put the term “middle class” into greater perspective.

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CRS — Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund: Programs and Policy Issues

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund: Programs and Policy Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

As communities face a variety of economic challenges, some are looking to local banks and financial institutions for solutions that address the specific development needs of low-income and distressed communities. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs) provide financial products and services, such as mortgage financing for homebuyers and not-for-profit developers, underwriting and risk capital for community facilities; technical assistance; and commercial loans and investments to small, start-up, or expanding businesses. CDFIs include regulated institutions, such as community development banks and credit unions, and nonregulated institutions, such as loan and venture capital funds.

The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (the Fund), an agency within the Department of the Treasury, administers several programs that encourage the role of CDFIs, and similar organizations, in community development. Nearly 1,000 financial institutions located throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia are eligible for the Fund’s programs to provide financial and technical assistance to meet the needs of businesses, homebuyers, community developers, and investors in distressed communities. In addition, the Fund allocates the New Markets Tax Credit to more than 5,000 eligible investment vehicles in low-income communities (LICs).

This report begins by describing the Fund’s history, current appropriations, and each of its programs. A description of the Fund’s process of certifying certain financial institutions to be eligible for the Fund’s program awards follows. The next section provides an overview of each program’s purpose, use of award proceeds, eligibility criteria, and relevant issues for Congress.

The final section analyzes four policy considerations of congressional interest, regarding the Fund and the effective use of federal resources to promote economic development.

See also: Community Development Block Grants: Funding Issues in the 113th Congress (PDF)

CRS — Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.

The fire grant program is now in its 14th year. The Fire Act statute was reauthorized in 2012 (Title XVIII of P.L. 112-239) and provides new guidelines on how fire grant money should be distributed. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community. However, the law does require that fire grants be distributed to a diverse mix of fire departments, with respect to type of department (paid, volunteer, or combination), geographic location, and type of community served (e.g., urban, suburban, or rural).

CRS — Brazil: Political and Economic Situation and U.S. Relations

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Brazil: Political and Economic Situation and U.S. Relations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The United States has traditionally enjoyed cooperative relations with Brazil, which is the seventh-largest economy in the world and is recognized by the Obama Administration’s National Security Strategy as an emerging center of influence. Administration officials have often highlighted Brazil’s status as a multicultural democracy, referring to the country as a natural partner that shares values and goals with the United States. Bilateral ties have been strained from time to time, however, as the countries’ occasionally divergent national interests and independent foreign policies have led to disagreements. U.S.-Brazilian relations have been particularly strained over the past year as a result of alleged National Security Agency (NSA) activities inside Brazil. Nevertheless, the countries continue to engage on issues such as trade, energy, security, racial equality, and the environment.

CRS — Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Related Non-Tariff Barriers to Agricultural Trade

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Related Non-Tariff Barriers to Agricultural Trade (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures are the laws, rules, standards, and procedures that governments employ to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, toxins, and other contaminants. Examples include meat and poultry processing standards to reduce pathogens, residue limits for pesticides in foods, and regulation of agricultural biotechnology. Technical barriers to trade (TBT) cover technical regulations, product standards, environmental regulations, and voluntary procedures relating to human health and animal welfare. Examples include trademarks and patents, labeling and packaging requirements, certification and inspection procedures, product specifications, and marketing of biotechnology. SPS and TBT measures both comprise a group of widely divergent standards and standards-based measures that countries use to regulate markets, protect their consumers, and preserve natural resources.

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), SPS and TBT measures have become more prominent concerns for agricultural exporters and policy makers, as tariff-related barriers to trade have been reduced by various multilateral, regional, and bilateral negotiations and trade agreements. The concerns include whether SPS and TBT measures might be used to unfairly discriminate against imported products or create unnecessary obstacles to trade in agricultural, food, and other traded goods. Notable U.S. trade disputes involving SPS and TBT measures have included a European Union (EU) ban on U.S. meats treated with growth-promoting hormones and also certain pathogen reduction treatments, and an EU moratorium on approvals of biotechnology products, among other types of trade concerns with other countries. Foreign countries have also objected to various U.S. trade measures.

CRS — Small Business Administration Trade and Export Promotion Programs

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Small Business Administration Trade and Export Promotion Programs (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Library)

According to Census data, approximately 1% of small businesses in the United States currently export. With roughly three-quarters of world purchasing power and almost 95% of world consumers living outside of U.S. borders, more attention is being paid to the potential of small business export promotion programs to grow small businesses and contribute to the national economic recovery. In addition, some Members of Congress believe that the contributions of small businesses to commercial innovation and economic growth could be enhanced through greater access to growing international markets.

Consistent with these policy goals, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides export promotion and financing services to small businesses through its loan guarantee programs, management and training programs, and other initiatives. SBA’s Office of International Trade (OIT) coordinates these activities as it assists with four stages of export promotion: (1) identifying small businesses interested in export promotion; (2) preparing small businesses to export; (3) connecting small businesses to export opportunities; and (4) supporting small businesses once they find export opportunities.

CRS — Small Business Administration Microloan Program

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Small Business Administration Microloan Program (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Library)

The Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Microloan program provides direct loans to qualified non-profit intermediary Microloan lenders who, in turn, provide “microloans” of up to $50,000 to small business owners, entrepreneurs, and non-profit child care centers. It also provides marketing, management, and technical assistance to Microloan borrowers and potential borrowers. The program was authorized in 1991 as a five-year demonstration project and became operational in 1992. It was made permanent, subject to reauthorization, in 1997.

The SBA’s Microloan program is designed to assist women, low-income, veteran, and minority entrepreneurs and small business owners and other individuals possessing the capability to operate successful business concerns by providing them small-scale loans for working capital or the acquisition of materials, supplies, or equipment.

In FY2013, Microloan intermediaries provided 4,426 Microloans amounting to $51.2 million. The average Microloan was $11,569 and had a 7.76% interest rate.

CRS — Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Library)

The Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers (TAAF) program provides technical assistance and cash benefits to producers of agricultural commodities and fishermen who experience adverse economic effects caused by increased imports. Congress first authorized this program in 2002, and made significant changes to it in the 2009 economic stimulus package (P.L. 111-5). The 2009 revisions were intended to make it easier for commodity producers and fishermen to qualify for program benefits, and provided over $200 million in funding through December 2010. Subsequently, P.L. 112-40 (enacted in October 2011) authorized $202.5 million through December 2013. No program activity occurred, because Congress did not appropriate funds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is required to follow a two-step process in administering TAAF program benefits. First, a group of producers must be certified eligible to apply. Second, a producer in a certified group must meet specified requirements to be approved to receive technical assistance and cash payments.

CRS — Farm Commodity Provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill (P.L. 113-79)

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Farm Commodity Provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill (P.L. 113-79) (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Library)

The farm commodity program provisions in Title I of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79, the 2014 farm bill) include three types of support for crop years 2014-2018:

+ Price Loss Coverage (PLC) payments, which are triggered when the national average farm price for a covered commodity (e.g., wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and peanuts) is below its statutorily fixed “reference price”;

+ Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) payments, as an alternative to PLC, which are triggered when crop revenue is below its guaranteed level based on a multiyear moving average of historical crop revenue; and

+ Marketing Assistance Loans (MALs), which offer interim financing for the loan commodities (covered crops plus several others) and, if prices fall below loan rates set in statute, additional low-price protection, sometimes paid as loan deficiency payments (LDPs).

CRS — Bonus Depreciation: Economic and Budgetary Issues

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Bonus Depreciation: Economic and Budgetary Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The Tax Extenders Act of 2013 (S. 1859), which would extend expiring tax provisions for a year, includes bonus depreciation. The temporary provisions enacted in the past for only a year or two and extended multiple times are generally referred to collectively as the “extenders.” One reason advanced for these temporary provisions is that time is needed to evaluate them. Most of these provisions, however, have been extended multiple times, and some suggest that these provisions are actually permanent but are extended a year or two at a time because permanent provisions would significantly increase the costs in the budget horizon. Historically, bonus depreciation has not been a traditional “extender.”

Bonus depreciation allows half of equipment investment to be deducted immediately rather than depreciated over a period of time. Bonus depreciation was enacted for a specific, short-term purpose: to provide an economic stimulus during the recession. Most stimulus provisions have expired. Bonus depreciation has been in place six years (2008-2013), contrasted with an earlier use of bonus depreciation in place for three years. Is bonus depreciation temporary or permanent? The analysis of bonus depreciation differs for a temporary stimulus provision, compared to a permanent provision that can affect the size and allocation of the capital stock.

CRS — Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF): Program Overview and Issues

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF): Program Overview and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

In the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments of 1996, Congress authorized a drinking water state revolving loan fund (DWSRF) program to help public water systems finance infrastructure projects needed to comply with federal drinking water regulations and to meet the act’s health objectives. Under this program, states receive annual capitalization grants to provide financial assistance (primarily subsidized loans) to public water systems for drinking water projects and other specified activities. Through June 2012, Congress had provided $14.7 billion for the DWSRF program, and combined with the 20% state match, bond proceeds, and other funds, the program generated $23.6 billion in assistance and supported 9,990 projects.

The latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey of capital improvement needs for public water systems indicates that these water systems need to invest $384.2 billion on infrastructure improvements over 20 years to ensure the provision of safe tap water. EPA reports that, although all of the identified projects promote the public health objectives of the SDWA, just $42.0 billion (10.9%) of reported needs are attributable to SDWA compliance.

CRS — Green Infrastructure and Issues in Managing Urban Stormwater

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Green Infrastructure and Issues in Managing Urban Stormwater (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

For decades, stormwater, or runoff, was considered largely a problem of excess rainwater or snowmelt impacting communities. Prevailing engineering practices were to move stormwater away from cities as rapidly as possible to avoid potential damages from flooding. More recently, these practices have evolved and come to recognize stormwater as a resource that, managed properly within communities, has multiple benefits.

CRS — Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: A Primer

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: A Primer (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

From an environmental quality standpoint, much of the public and policy interest in animal agriculture has focused on impacts on water resources, because animal waste, if not properly managed, can harm water quality through surface runoff, direct discharges, spills, and leaching into soil and groundwater. A more recent issue is the contribution of air emissions from animal feeding operations (AFOs), enterprises where animals are raised in confinement. This report provides background on the latter issue.

CRS — U.S. Crude Oil Export Policy: Background and Considerations

April 17, 2014 Comments off

U.S. Crude Oil Export Policy: Background and Considerations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

During an era of oil price controls and following the 1973 Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo, Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), which directs the President “to promulgate a rule prohibiting the export of crude oil” produced in the United States. Crude oil export restrictions are codified in the Export Administration Regulations administered by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)—a Commerce Department agency. The President has some powers to allow certain crude oil exports if an exemption is determined to be in the national interest.

CRS — Forest Service Appropriations, FY2010-FY2014: In Brief

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Forest Service Appropriations, FY2010-FY2014: In Brief (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The Forest Service (FS) is responsible for managing 193 million acres of the National Forest System, as well as conducting forestry research and providing assistance to state, local, private, and international forest owners. Funding to complete such work is provided through both discretionary and mandatory appropriations (see Figure 1).

Although it is an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the FS receives its discretionary appropriations through Title III of regular Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bills. The FS has received additional discretionary monies through supplemental appropriations bills. In addition, continuing appropriations resolutions have been used to maintain funding for the agency when regular appropriations bills have not been enacted before the start of the fiscal year, and in some cases, to provide full-year funding.

The FS also receives annual mandatory appropriations under existing authorizing statutes. Laws authorizing mandatory appropriations allow the FS to spend money without further action by Congress. The budget authority for several of these mandatory spending accounts is dependent on revenue generated by activities on the national forests. Typically, these laws are permanent—such as the Timber Salvage Sale Fund—but sometimes the authorizations have a sunset date.

This report presents and analyzes the discretionary and mandatory appropriations for the Forest Service—including the President’s discretionary budget requests—over the last five years, from FY2010 to FY2014.

CRS — Table Egg Production and Hen Welfare: Agreement and Legislative Proposals

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Table Egg Production and Hen Welfare: Agreement and Legislative Proposals/strong> (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The United Egg Producers (UEP), the largest group representing egg producers, and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the largest animal protection group, have been adversaries for many years over the use of conventional cages in table egg production. In July 2011, the animal agriculture community was stunned when the UEP and HSUS announced that they had agreed to work together to push for federal legislation to regulate how U.S. table eggs are produced. The agreement between UEP and HSUS called for federal legislation that would set cage sizes, establish labeling requirements, and regulate other production practices. As part of the agreement, HSUS agreed to immediately suspend state-level ballot initiative efforts in Oregon and Washington.

CRS — Bee Health: Background and Issues for Congress (updated)

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Bee Health: Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

Bees, both commercially managed honey bees and wild bees, play an important role in global food production. In the United States alone, the value of insect pollination to U.S. agricultural production is estimated at $16 billion annually, of which about three-fourths is attributable to honey bees. Worldwide, the contribution of bees and other insects to global crop production for human food is valued at about $190 billion. Given the importance of honey bees and other bee species to food production, many have expressed concern about whether a “pollinator crisis” has been occurring in recent decades.

CRS — Health Benefits for Members of Congress and Certain Congressional Staff (updated)

April 16, 2014 Comments off

Health Benefits for Members of Congress and Certain Congressional Staff (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The federal government, as an employer, offers health benefits to its employees, including Members of Congress and congressional staff. Prior to 2014, Members and staff had access to many of the same health benefits as other federal employees. For example, Members and staff were eligible to voluntarily enroll in employer-sponsored health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), and they could choose to participate in other health benefit programs, such as the Federal Flexible Spending Account Program (FSAFEDS).

CRS — Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for Congress

April 14, 2014 Comments off

Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Department of Defense (DOD) development work on high-energy military lasers, which has been underway for decades, has reached the point where lasers capable of countering certain surface and air targets at ranges of about a mile could be made ready for installation on Navy surface ships over the next few years. More powerful shipboard lasers, which could become ready for installation in subsequent years, could provide Navy surface ships with an ability to counter a wider range of surface and air targets at ranges of up to about 10 miles.

CRS — Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections (updated)

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides the results of recent elections in Latin America and the Caribbean. Below are three tables organized by region, including the date of each country’s independence, the name of the newly elected president or prime minister, and the projected date of the next election. Information in this report was gathered from numerous sources, including the U.S. State Department, the CIA’s Open Source, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and other news sources.

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