Funding Package to Improve Border Security, Strengthen Infrastructure and Invest in Communities Heads to President

Fully Funds First Heavy Polar Security Cutter in 40 Years

Congress today passed a funding bill package that sets federal funding levels for Fiscal Year 2019, sending it to the president to be signed into law. The funding package combines the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Appropriations bills for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Commerce, Justice, Science; Financial Services and General Government; Homeland Security; Interior-Environment; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. As Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and a member of the Appropriations Committee, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) had a significant role in crafting the final product, which includes funding programs critical to Alaska.

“I am pleased that we were able to put our differences aside, work together in a bipartisan manner, to get the government back on track and do what’s right for our nation. Together, we avoided what would have been another harmful partial government shutdown by coming to an agreement on border security and the remainder of the Fiscal Year 2019 bills not yet enacted. The Appropriations Committee has worked hard to return to regular order, voting appropriations bills out of committee and the Senate with strong bipartisan support. I’m encouraged that we were able to finalize that good work,” said Senator Murkowski. “This funding package invests in communities and creates opportunities for Alaskans. I’m particularly proud of the provisions I secured that prioritize our nation’s security, Alaska’s fisheries, transportation and infrastructure needs, Native and rural programs, as well as initiatives to protect Alaska’s land, people, and wildlife. By fully funding the first heavy polar security cutter in more than forty years, we are making a significant step in the right direction to an icebreaker fleet.”

Previously Congress approved, and the President signed, five of the 12 appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2019. This included Appropriations bills for Defense; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education; Energy and Water; Military Construction-Veterans Affairs; and Legislative Branch.

Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food & Drug Administration

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The bill invests in agricultural research and rural development programs, including providing $550 million for a rural broadband pilot grant and loan program for areas that lack access to broadband. To meet the needs of food-insecure working poor, seniors, military families, and others, $73.476 billion is provided for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). $10 million is provided for the High Energy Cost Grant Program, for assisting energy providers and other eligible entities in lowering energy costs for families and individuals in areas with extremely high per-household energy costs. The bill also continues the current import ban of GE Salmon until final labeling guidelines have been set by the FDA as well as requires the Agency to review the “New Animal Drug” process currently used to approve GE salmon, and whether it is an appropriate evaluation process for genetically engineered animals for human consumption when it was created to approve drugs intended for use in animals.

Commerce, Justice, Science  

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To address the Immigration Court backlog, increased funding of $59 million over last year’s levels are provided for the Justice Department to hire additional immigration judge teams and for an electronics case management system upgrade. The bill provides $468 million for anti-opioid programs within the Department of Justice, including $102.5 million in support for Drug Courts and Veterans Treatment Courts to further combat the opioid and heroin epidemic.

Commerce and Science

The bill provides funding for addressing the impacts of ocean acidification as well as Oceanic and Atmospheric Research for the Arctic. Increased funding of $68 million is provided for the extension, outreach activities, education, and research that will support the growing coastal community utilization of key Sea Grant services. The bill also includes up to $1.5 million in addition funding for implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Language is included directing the NWS to continue to report on staffing concerns in Alaska and calls on the Service to share their plans to maintain and improve forecasting capabilities in Alaska, specifically in remote and rural areas. The bill also directs NOAA to accelerate acquisition of survey data to complement its own internal data and expedite comprehensive charting, especially in backlogged regions like the Arctic. Language is also included directing NOAA to efficiently conduct hydrographic surveys while taking into account the short seasons in the Arctic region.

Financial Services and General Government

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Combatting Drugs

The bill provides a total of $380 million to maintain the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and Drug-Free Communities (DFC) programs within the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Taxpayer Advocate Service Centers

Alaska and Hawaii taxpayers often face difficulties in receiving tax assistance by the national toll-free line due to the states’ remote distance from the U.S. mainland. To address this issue, the bill directs the IRS to appropriately staff Taxpayer Advocate Service Centers with experts capable of resolving taxpayer problems of the most complex nature.

Small Business Administration

Provides $715.3 million to provide assistance to small businesses, expand the economy, and increase job growth for unemployed and underemployed Americans, as well as funding business loans at $159.2 million, $131 million for Small Business Development Centers, and $12.7 million for veterans outreach programs.

Homeland Security  

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Border Security

Provides $1.375 billion for construction of new physical barriers along the southwest border in the Border Patrol’s highest priorities areas, including increased funding to support 800 new U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and new equipment and technology.

Polar Security Cutters

Funds the design and construction of a heavy polar security cutter at $655 million, as well as $20 million for long-lead time materials for a second polar security cutter.

Coast Guard in Alaska

Includes funding to secure new Coast Guard cutters, including $400 million for Offshore Patrol Cutters and $240 million for Fast Response Cutters. Alaska will be home to a total of six Fast Response Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters.  The bill also provides $53 million— including $22 million for Kodiak and $31 million for Seward— to build housing and shore-side infrastructure facilities in Alaska to accommodate increases in personnel associated with the new assets that will be homeported in Alaska. The bill also includes language requiring the Coast Guard to report on its needs to improve shore-side infrastructure and housing in Alaska.

Arctic Security and Safety

In an attempt to better address the challenges and mission capabilities of the Coast Guard as it implements its Arctic Strategy, language was included directing the Coast Guard to report what additional resources are needed for the Arctic Program Office to further its mission.

Directs the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to continue working collaboratively with Canada to explore options to improve the situational awareness and access to information of U.S. law enforcement along our northern borders. The bill requires the Coast Guard to provide a plan to provide communications capability throughout coastal western Alaska to improve waterway safety and mitigate close calls, collisions, and other dangerous interactions between large ships and subsistence hunter vessels.

Interior and Environment Appropriations

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Note: Senator Murkowski is chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.

Safer Communities

Fully funds the 10-year average cost of our nation’s wildfire suppression needs, and provides additional resources to the Forest Service in the event of a catastrophic wildfire season. The bill also provides increases for the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service to $623 million for preventative measures that can be made in advance of wildfire season, such as hazardous fuels reduction and fuel breaks.

Health and Wellness

The bill establishes a new grant program through Indian Health Service (IHS) which provides $10 million to help tribes fight back against opioid abuse, $8.2 million is provided through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), to fight opioid addiction. To help address the problem of opioid over-prescription, the bill requires a report on both federal and tribal pharmacy compliance with state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

The bill also contains significant resources that will help combat domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide. Increased funding, totaling $245 million, is included for alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs aimed at increasing behavioral health services and prevention programming for tribal youth and incorporating more holistic healthcare models. Funding increases included in the last fiscal year’s funding bill are maintained for substance abuse disorders, mental health disorders, suicide, violence, and behavior-related chronic diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure

The bill provides $2.8 billion to improve wastewater and drinking water systems through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) State Water Revolving Funds program and $25 million for a new grant program, to help bring basic water and sewer infrastructure to communities in need. The bill also includes $25 million for EPA’s Alaska Native Villages Water program for the construction of new drinking water and wastewater systems, or the improvement of existing systems in rural Alaskan communities. In an effort to provide infrastructure upgrades for tribal communities throughout Alaska, funding is maintained at $192 million for the Indian Health Service’s (IHS) Sanitation Facilities Construction program, providing American Indian and Alaska Native homes and communities with essential water supply, sewage disposal, and solid waste disposal facilities. 

Commission on Native Children

For the first time, the bill provides funding for the Commission on Native Children created to identify the complex challenges facing Native children in Alaska and across the country, by conducting an intensive study on issues such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and dire economic opportunities. Senator Murkowski, along with former Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota, sponsored legislation creating the Commission.

State and Foreign Operation

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Provides $200 million for the Relief and Recovery Fund for assistance for areas liberated from Islamic State of Iraq, Syria, and other extremist groups as well as $6.1 billion for Embassy security to ensure the safety and security of U.S. diplomats and development specialists. Substantial funding, $275 million, is directed to assist partners and allies in countering Russian influence and aggression. To support Global Health Programs, $8.8 billion is provided to protect the U.S. from contagious infectious disease outbreaks and to support global HIV/AIDS assistance, nutrition, and maternal and child health.

Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development  

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Provides $175 million for Essential Air Service, to support access for rural communities otherwise isolated from the National Air Transportation System. Provides level funding of $80 million under the FAST Act to maintain a national ferry boat database and improves construction of ferry boats, acquiring right-of-way, and constructing ferry terminal facilities. Previously known as TIGER grants, the bill provides $900 million for capital projects that generate economic development and improve access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation for communities, such as investing in road, rail, transit, and port projects to maintain transportation networks critical to Alaska.

Housing and Urban Development

Allocates $4 million for HUD-VASH vouchers, a demonstration program offering permanent homes and supportive services to Native American Veterans who are experiencing or risk experiencing homelessness. Community Development Block Grants, a program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of community development needs is funded at $3.3 billion.

Related Issues: Budget, Spending, and the National Debt