Murkowski Champions Alaska Priorities in Year-End Budget Bill
Today the U.S. Senate approved the year-end budget package, known as the omnibus bill, to fund the federal government for the upcoming fiscal year. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) secured a number of initiatives important to Alaska outside of the jurisdiction of the subcommittee on Interior Appropriations, which she chairs. A summary of Alaska-specific provisions in the omnibus bill appears on the following pages.
Click here to view the Alaska priorities Senator Murkowski was able to secure as Chairman of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.
(Murkowski discusses year-end budget bill—Click image to watch video.)
Strengthening Alaska’s Communities
- Supports suicide prevention programs by allocating $35 million for Garrett Lee Smith prevention grants and $2.9 million for the American Indian and Alaskan Native Suicide Prevention Initiative.
- Includes $9 billion in funding for Head Start, which provides educational and health services to over 3,000 young Alaskans in 100 communities. Language in this bill also encourages the Department of Health and Human Services to consider the unique challenges faced by Head Start providers in remote and frontier areas.
- Increases funding by $77 million for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), for a total of $751 million. The purpose of CSBG is to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty. In Alaska, funding is provided for RurAL CAP
- Murkowski strongly supports the increase in Child Care and Development Block Grant funding from $2.435 billion to $2.761 billion, to assist states, tribes, and providers in improving the quality of child care for America’s working families.
- Provides $286 million for Title X Family Planning Grants, which supports ten family planning facilities in Alaska.
- Provides $638 million for the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant, to improve the health of mothers and children, including children and youth with special health care needs.
- Funds the Preventative Health and Health Services Block Grant at $160 million, which has historically been used in Alaska to support state health programs.
- Allocates $22 billion for Child Nutrition programs including School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service.
- Funds Job Corps at $1.7 billion, to provide free career and technical training to young Alaskans.
- Allocates $950 million to fund the HOME Investment Partnerships program—a critical program to support affordable housing needs.
Bolstering Alaska’s Role in our Nation’s Defense
- Fully funds three military construction projects in Alaska:
- $37 million for the F-35 simulator building at Eielson;
- $34 million for the Eielson Central Heat and Power Plant, and
- $7.8 million for fitness facilities at Fort Greely.
- Allocates $156 million for Combat Rescue Helicopter development, which will replace the HH-60s flown by Alaska Air National Guard search and rescue teams.
- Provides strong funding for the nation’s ground base midcourse interceptors at Fort Greely, research and development money for improvements to the interceptors, and requests funding to support development of the Long Range Discrimination Radar to be built at Clear Air Force Station.
- Senator Murkowski secured a $5 million increase in the Defense Department’s Innovative Readiness Training Program, through which military reservists construct infrastructure and provide healthcare in remote parts of Alaska to fulfill their annual training requirements.
- Senator Murkowski secured another $2.5 million for research and development into new Arctic camouflage to support U.S. Army Alaska.
- Murkowski also helped to secure an additional $10.5 million to support the lifesaving work of Civil Air Patrol squadrons in Alaska and throughout the nation.
- Protects commissaries by rejecting the administration’s proposed $300 million cut, and notes that defense appropriations subcommittees are willing to consider efficiencies proposed by the administration in the future, but the commissaries “must be kept open, affordable and accessible to military families.”
- Requires the Secretary of Defense to report on the analytics and factors that are considered in determining Basic Allowance for Housing rates in rural states and regions.
Taking Care of Alaska’s Veterans
- Includes a provision inserted by Senator Murkowski mandating a report on the nationwide implementation of the Veterans Choice Program, specifically how and why it has become an “unmitigated disaster” in Alaska.
- Also requests a report on how provisions of the 2015 Choice Act, requiring the consolidation of all VA care in community programs, will be implemented in Alaska.
- Expressly authorizes the VA to purchase care from the Alaska Native healthcare system to service the needs of rural veterans.
Keeping Alaska’s Waters and Coasts Safe
- Allocates $27 million for hydrographic surveys (sonar mapping) of the nation’s coastline. Attached to that funding is a provision from Senator Murkowski emphasizing the need for Arctic mapping and setting hard deadlines with the federal agencies responsible in the region.
- Funds the National Weather Service (NWS) at $988.8 billion, and requests the following reports:
- A report requiring the National Weather Service to identify any disparity in forecasting occurring in Alaska compared to the Lower 48, as well as to identify what resources are necessary to correct it. Alaska and the Arctic have some of the harshest weather in the nation, but also less forecasting than the Lower 48.
- A report requiring NOAA to identify the gaps in Arctic weather and sea ice observations as well as a strategy to minimize buoy outages in the future. Alaska suffers buoy outages that can take months if not years to correct. These buoys are needed for commercial fisherman, recreation, tourist vessels, and international commerce.
- Requests the National Science Foundation provide a biennial report on federal activities in the Arctic so lawmakers and the public can better understand the work being done in the Arctic to identify information gaps and opportunities for greater coordination.
- Senator Murkowski has stressed that since thousands of miles of Alaska’s coastline are federally managed, the federal government should adequately fund clean-up efforts on the lands that it owns. She supported the following language to bolster marine debris clean-up:
“The Committee supports the requested level for NOAA’s marine debris program. In addition to the ongoing efforts to fully address marine debris created by the 2011 Japanese tsunami in the Pacific, consideration should be given to the marine debris projects in urban communities that include removal of abandoned vessels and piling that harm the ecosystem and hinder recreational fishing.”
Boosting U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Resources
- Funds the USCG at $10.8 billion, $1 billion more than the President’s request, to improve readiness, modernize vessels and aircraft, and improve the quality of life for service members.
- Includes $640 million for the construction of a ninth National Security Cutter.
- Includes $7.2 million to continue the development of a new Polar icebreaker.
- Senator Murkowski included a provision to examine the benefit that electronic navigational buoys would provide to vessels the transiting the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea.
- Requires a report to ensure consistent USCG presence in the Bering Sea, particularly as Arctic activities increase.
Supporting Alaska’s Fisheries
- Murkowski successfully included a provision that blocks the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from introducing genetically engineered (GE) salmon into the market until it publishes labeling guidelines so consumers are aware of what’s contained in the product they’re purchasing. Further, Murkowski directed the FDA to develop and implement a program to inform consumers whether or not the salmon for sale is genetically engineered.
- Senator Murkowski included language that expresses the interest of the Appropriations Committee’s to include fish species shown to be nutritious and low in mercury (especially wild Alaska salmon) in WIC Food Packages that serve children age 1 to 4 years and pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women.
- Includes a provision directing the FDA to ensure that pregnant women receive consistent and understandable nutrition advice on what seafood is safe and healthy to consume that based on the FDA’s latest scientific review of the net effects of seafood consumption.
- Includes language in this year’s bill prohibiting federal agencies from using outside groups to certify the quality of fish caught in U.S. waters.
- Funded at $5.6 million dollars, NOAA and NMFS are directed to provide a report to the Senate detailing cost estimates for an electronic monitoring program and to apply practical cost saving measures in the new estimates.
- Includes a provision that allows only pollock caught in Alaskan waters and U.S. waters out to 200 nautical miles to be marketed as “Alaska Pollock”, to prevent any future low-quality Russian pollock from being falsely marketed as “Alaska” in U.S. stores nationwide.
- Murkowski secured a provision supporting the J-1 Visa program through 2016 the next fiscal year. This is an important program relied on by many Alaska seafood processors who struggle to fill large numbers of seasonal jobs locally, in-state, or domestically.
- Additionally, Murkowski was able to secure language to provide additional resources for the prompt processing of foreign labor certificates for the H-2B Visa program, to allow businesses to hire workers from foreign countries for positions and jobs they otherwise cannot, often providing the staffing that is crucial to Alaska’s seafood industry.
- Funds the Pacific Salmon Treaty at $10.9 million.
- Provides for $65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery fund, which aims to restore Pacific salmon populations.
- Senator Murkowski secured robust funding levels for:
- Data collection, surveys and assessments: $163 million
- Regional councils and fisheries commissions: $33.5 million
- Salmon management activities: $33.5 million
- Electronic monitoring and reporting: $5.6 million
Improving Alaska’s Ports, Harbors, and Roads
- Corps of Engineers General Investigations Funding:
- $480,000 for Kotzebue Small Boat Harbor
- $500,000 for St. George Harbor
- Corps of Engineers Operations and Maintenance Funding:
- $11,904,000 for Anchorage
- $3,615,000 for Chena River Lakes
- $400,000 for Chignik Harbor
- $950,000 for Dillingham
- $462,000 for Homer
- $334,000 for Ketchikan
- $2,286,000 for Lowell Creek Tunnel
- $1,550,000 for Ninilchik Harbor
- $4,000,000 for St. Paul Harbor
- Increases funding to $7 million for the Corps to construct small projects without Congressional authorization.
Spurring Energy Development and Affordability
- $11 million is allocated for the Denali Commission, which is tasked with coordinating construction and infrastructure efforts in rural Alaska.
- Includes nearly $20 million to further research the production of natural gas from methane hydrates. Alaska’s Arctic contains an estimated 32,600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas locked in ice crystals – enough energy to power the entire nation for 1,000 years.
- Allocates $211 million for weatherization assistance nationally. The program helps improve energy efficiency in rural Alaska where high energy prices take a larger percentage of household budgets.
- Funds the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program at $3.39 billion. These funds act as a crucial supplement for many Alaskans who face the highest energy prices in the nation.
- Provides $16 million for the Office of Indian Energy Policy, an Energy Department initiative that assists tribes with energy needs and projects on their lands.
Recognizing Alaska’s Unique Needs
- Funds ferry boats and related facilities at $80 million.
- Funds the Tribal Transportation Program at $465 million, the first programmatic increase in five years.
- Provides $716 million for the Indian Housing Block Grant Program and the Indian Community Development Fund.
- Allows earmarked funds not expended in the last ten years to be used for projects within a 50 mile radius of the previously identified project, which will help rural areas that have not been able to proceed yet with their earmarked project.
- Prohibits the FAA from increasing airport facilities fees unless it can justify that all fees are related to aeronautical navigation products.
- Allocates $5.5 million for the Unmanned Centers of Excellence, to develop technologies and policies for the use of unmanned aerial systems.
- Directs the IRS to maintain adequate staff in Taxpayer Advocate Service Centers in states such as Alaska and Hawaii, where it might be difficult to receive needed tax assistance through the national toll-free line.
- Includes language directing the FCC to increase broadband access on tribal lands, and recommends $300,000 be spent to support consultation with federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native villages and corporations.
- Directs the U.S. Postal Service to maintain six day delivery and rural delivery without reduction, and prohibits consolidation or closure of rural and other small post offices.
Providing Relief for Taxpayers
- The implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac tax” will be delayed for two years. This tax on high-cost insurance plans hits Alaska harder than anywhere else in the nation, simply because health care is more expensive in a rural, low population state.
- The ACA-mandated tax on medical devices on pacemakers, joint replacements, defibrillators, and other items will be delayed for two years as well.
- Provides for a permanent extension of certain business expenses found in section 179 of the tax code that are particularly beneficial to small businesses.