Funding Bills Head to Full Senate for Consideration
Supports Alaskan Agriculture, Food Security, and Infrastructure Development
The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved the Fiscal Year 2020 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food & Drug Administration, & Related Agencies Appropriations Act and the Financial Services & General Government Act, sending both to the full U.S. Senate for consideration. The first bill funds programs and services important to Alaskans including nutrition, food safety, rural development, agricultural research, conservation, and more. The second includes the Departments of the Treasury, White House agencies, federal courts, the District of Columbia, and a host of independent federal agencies.
Both bills include a range of priorities secured by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a member of the Appropriations Committee, that will support America’s growing interest as an Arctic nation, Alaska’s world-class fishing and growing agriculture industries, address hunger, improve water and wastewater systems in rural Alaska, and help ensure access to Alaska’s historical documents. Building on her previous efforts, the legislation also includes a provision to ensure clear and effective labeling of genetically engineered (GE) salmon.
“This bill is a big win for the state of Alaska. It makes significant investments in our unique and growing agriculture industry and provides support for infrastructure development and education. I’m proud to have helped secure funding that allows Alaskans to have safer, more affordable housing and ensures families, including students, face less anxiety about where their next meal will come from,” said Senator Murkowski. “This legislation also continues my years-long effort to protect consumers and Alaska’s wild salmon industry by preventing the introduction of genetically engineered salmon into the U.S. market until the FDA can prove it has adequate labeling guidelines to inform consumers what they are purchasing.”
(Note: Numbers are nationwide program funding levels.)
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food & Drug Administration, & Related Agencies Appropriations Act
Nutrition and Food Security
The bill includes $2 million for the Micro-Grants for Food Security Program to help support Alaskans’ ability to grow their own food. This unique program, created by Senator Murkowski in the 2018 Farm Bill, allows state agricultural agencies in non-contiguous states and territories to provide grants of up to $5,000 to individuals and up to $10,000 to tribes, nonprofits, schools, job training programs, and communities for the purpose of increasing local food supplies. The bill also provides over $69.1 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), $6 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and $526.3 million for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to help ensure no child goes hungry when school is out. Murkowski also secured language directing USDA to allow program providers to implement innovative methods for delivering meals to children who cannot access a SFSP site, to encourage USDA to include more healthful fish in the WIC program, to include more traditional foods like salmon and caribou in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
Farmers and Ranchers
The bill includes support for Alaska’s Farmers and Ranchers, including $2 million to reimburse farmers and ranchers in geographically remote areas of the United States, including Alaska, for the high costs of transporting agricultural commodities. These payments assist farmers in these areas to help them compete on a more level playing field with producers in the Lower 48. In support of Alaska’s growing floriculture industry, the legislation also includes an increase of $500,000 to allow the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to produce the Floriculture Crops Report, and directs the agency to include data from Alaska. This is a high priority for Alaska’s peony farmers across the state.
Education and Research
Senator Murkowski included language encouraging USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to provide direct, place-based assistance to universities in states like Alaska that do not have ARS facilities to address priorities such as invasive plants and insects, aquaculture, and the development of crops to increase food security and expand farmers’ marketing opportunities.
GE Salmon and Seafood
Building on her previous efforts to inform consumers they are purchasing genetically engineered (GE) salmon, Senator Murkowski secured a provision which prevents any food containing GE salmon from entering the U.S. market until a consumer study is completed to determine the effectiveness of USDA’s recent labeling guidelines. Murkowski’s goal is to provide consumers with clear and understandable labeling for GE salmon. The bill includes report language directing USDA to begin engaging with stakeholders to determine the feasibility and framework for establishing organic standards for wild caught seafood. It also includes language again directing FDA to revise and reissue its flawed seafood advice document so that it accurately reflects FDA’s own nutrition science on the benefits of eating fish.
Energy and Water
The legislation includes a range of priorities to help address some of rural Alaska’s unique challenges, including $1.45 billion for rural water and waste program loans to further develop rural areas. The bill also includes $10 million to help offset the high costs of energy in remote communities. This is vital funding for villages whose energy costs exceed the national average by 275 percent, or more. In the past, this funding has been used to construct wind and small hydroelectric power system upgrades and transmission upgrades in remote villages that are still dependent on diesel fuel.
Rural Housing and Infrastructure
The bill funds several initiatives to help low-income individuals and families afford rent, including the $1.3 billion for the Rural Rental Assistance program and $45 million for the Rural Housing Assistance Grant. The bill also includes $45.7 million for Community Facilities Loans and Grants, to help develop essential community infrastructure in rural Alaska and Native villages to help ensure these communities are able to reach the same basic quality of life of those living in urban areas. The bill also provides $6.9 billion for rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans and $64 million for Distance Learning, Telemedicine and Broadband grants. Senator Murkowski included language to address unique challenges in Alaska when it comes to rural broadband by urging the Rural Utilities Service to consider ways that unserved areas in Alaska could receive substantial benefits of the ReConnect program.
E-cigarettes and Vaping
Dovetailing Senator Murkowski’s longstanding efforts to protect youth from becoming addicted to e-cigarettes and vaping products, the bill includes language directing the FDA to work with the CDC and other agencies to investigate the recent outbreak in pulmonary illnesses likely caused by low quality or adulterated vaping products that contain THC. To help address this public health crisis, which is impacting both children and adults, the bill requires the FDA to collect information to help determine the next steps to respond to the uptick in these illnesses.
Click here for audio of Senator Murkowski discussing vaping during the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food & Drug Administration, & Related Agencies Subcommittee markup.
Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act
Alaskan Peony Industry
Senator Murkowski included language encouraging the White House to adopt an American-grown policy for cut flowers and greens displayed at the White House to support American farmers, retailers, wholesalers, florists, and the employees who rely on the American-grown cut flower industry.
The bill again includes language Senator Murkowski has authored since 2014 directing the National Archives and Records Administration to continue to digitize and post online records that were transferred from Anchorage to Seattle when NARA closed their Anchorage facility. This year, her language also directs NARA to post on their own website documents that were digitized by outside organizations, such as Family Search. These documents include records relating to Alaska’s public lands, fisheries, mines, Native village census records, records related to ANILCA and ANCSA, correspondence related to the creation of ANWR and national forests, and much more.
Rural Post Offices
The bill also includes a provision prohibiting the U.S. Postal Service from closing small and rural post offices, which are so crucial to Americans’ ability to engage in commerce, receive prescription medications, and communicate.
The legislation includes $250 million to states for the improvement of federal elections, including efforts that enhance election security.