Murkowski Lauds Alaskan Priorities in 2015 Funding Bill
Military, Arctic, Fishing Industry, Vets, Infrastructure
Several provisions championed by Senator Lisa Murkowski are included the federal spending bill that passed the Senate today and heads to the President’s desk. The bill to fund the federal government operations for Fiscal Year 2015 – with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded through March – includes vital items related to the Arctic, military rural infrastructure, transportation, energy, education, and veteran support.
“This bill is not perfect, but it is the product of bipartisan negotiations and directs resources critical to our state – protecting the health and well-being of Alaskans and our fisheries, prioritizing our defense and investing in infrastructure for our state’s needs and America’s Arctic future,” said Murkowski. “I thank my colleagues for coming together to avoid another unnecessary government shutdown, and I thank them for recognizing the importance of these provisions for Alaska.”
Provisions for Alaska in the bill:
Missile Defense in Alaska: With the momentum of June’s successful interceptor test, the bill allocates $50 million for improvements to interceptors, additional launch equipment and fire control, and stockpile reliability.
Long Range Discrimination Radar Project: A priority the Missile Defense Agency described as ‘absolutely vital’ to Senator Murkowski in June, the funding bill allocates $50.5 million to a Long Range Discrimination Radar project to be built within Alaska – with a construction timeframe of roughly five years.
Kodiak Launch Complex Funds: Alaska’s Kodiak Launch Complex and the Wallops Island Flight Facility are the nation’s only private space launch complexes with FAA licenses.
Murkowski worked with Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski to assure $6 million will go to fund their infrastructure and overhead, which will be evenly divided between the two facilities.
Life-Saving Combat Rescue Helicopters (CRH): Called a champion of the CRH by Air Force Magazine because it has been utilized by the Alaska Air National Guard to rescue 2,000 lives over the last twenty years, Murkowski was pleased to see a down payment included in the spending bill to recapitalize the aging HH-60 fleet.
(Combat Rescue Helicopters at work.)
Delivering Care for Alaska Veterans
Staffing of the Wasilla Community Based Outpatient Clinic: Senator Murkowski held a veterans’ listening session in Wasilla to hear firsthand the challenges faced by the military retiree community who seek care at the CBOC that has difficulty retaining staff. To get answers for Mat-Su Alaskans, she secured language in the bill to request a two-part report on staffing issues at the Wasilla CBOC. The report will look into ways to address the staffing shortage and a separate report will analyze the overall Community Based Outpatient Clinic program – both to be completed by February 1, 2015.
Lou Gehrig’s Disease Research: Military members are twice as likely to suffer from ALS than the average population rate, which led Senator Murkowski to help allocate $7.5 million specifically to research the devastating disease. Today’s bill also reflects a 5 percent increase in Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program for solutions and medical conditions that benefit our veterans.
Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS): VETS delivers job training to Alaska’s 70,000 veterans. This program received $270 million, an increase of $458,000 from Fiscal Year 2014. This funding increase reflects Senator Murkowski’s commitment to the VOW to HIRE HEROES initiative.
Alaskanizing VA Reimbursement Rates: With Alaska’s medical expenses being far higher than the national averages, Senator Murkowski is pleased to see a provision in today’s spending bill that allows the Alaska VA to set its own rates for reimbursements, and not be tied to Medicare rates. Taking this action will help support the successful implementation of the Choice Card program.
Alaska’s Fishing and Nautical Needs
Electronic Monitoring for Alaska’s Fishing Fleet: The budget includes $2 million to implement electronic monitoring systems on fishing vessels. Last year, Senator Murkowski told NOAA that using cameras could be more efficient and safer than placing an observer on-board. The bill also includes language from Senator Murkowski urging the agency to be flexible regarding waiver requests for the observer program, reading:
“Further, NMFS is encouraged to exercise reasonable discretion when evaluating requests by small boat fixed gear vessels seeking a release from the requirement to carry a human observer due to a lack of physical space or other physical constraint. The Committee is concerned with NMFS’s approach to granting observer relief based on hardship and therefore directs the agency to grant such releases based on the actual number of bunks on a vessel and reasonable assessment of vessel operations with due consideration for the well-being of the crew. The Committee encourages NMFS to support the use of experimental fisheries permits, to continue the expeditious development of electronic monitoring equipment and procedures, and to use the experimental fisheries permits as the bridge between cooperative research and the implementation of electronic monitoring technology by regulation as a component of the Observer Program for small boat fixed gear fleets.”
Aiding Alaska’s Federal Coastline Fight Against Tsunami Debris: Senator Murkowski has pressed 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. The 2015 spending bill includes $6 million to address this need, and Murkowski’s language:
“The Committee supports the requested level for NOAA's Marine Debris Program but is concerned that NOAA has placed insufficient emphasis to clean up and dispose of marine debris resulting from the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Within funds provided, NOAA shall give priority for clean-up and disposal activities on Federal lands within States inundated with debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.”
(Murkowski speaks on 2nd anniversary of the Japanese Earthquake—click image to watch video.)the sustainability of Alaskan seafood through this funding bill, inserting language that prohibits many federal agencies from using outside groups to certify the quality of fish caught in U.S. waters.
Seafood Economic Integrity: Given that the FDA has not worked as diligently as possible to address the mislabeling of species and seafood product weights, Senator Murkowski helped secure language that encourages FDA to work with states and NOAA to address potential fraud in these areas.
Consistent Funding for Salmon Management Activities: This year’s budget maintains funding at $30.2 million, rebuffing the Obama administration’s attempt to cut funding by $3 million.
Support for the National Data Buoy Center: $28.2 million for the project, along with Murkowski language prioritizing the need to curb the amount of outages among the buoy network.
Consistent Funding for Fishery Stock Assessments: This year’s bill includes $72 million in expanded stock assessments and $24 million for survey and monitoring projects within the Fisheries Research and Management Account.
Denali Commission: The Denali Commission is tasked with coordinating construction and infrastructure efforts in rural Alaska. Though the President attempted to cut the Commission’s budget by more than 25 percent, Senator Murkowski was able to hold funding steady at $10 million.
High Energy Cost Grant Program: Senator Murkowski successfully had $10 million included for high energy cost grants. According to the Department of Agriculture, the program benefits the Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority, Gwitchyaa Zhee Utility Company and Alaska Village Initiatives.
Office of Indian Energy Policy: The Office of Indian Energy Policy is an Energy Department initiative that assists tribes with energy needs and projects on their lands. Though the President’s budget allotted no funds for this program, Senator Murkowski successfully added $16 million to help consolidate policy and grant functions in one office within DoE.
Rural Infrastructure: Senator Murkowski requested funds for the Tribal High Priority Projects program in order to ensure that essential road, bridge and safety and bridges receive support. The THPP will continue to be funded at a $450 million.
Resources for an Arctic Agenda
Boosting Arctic Navigation: $25 million is included for hydrographic surveys – or sonar mapping – of the nation’s coastline. Senator Murkowski also secured report language emphasizing the need for Arctic mapping:
“The Committee directs NOAA to report within 60 days of enactment on progress made to survey and prepare navigational information for the Bering Straits region and the Arctic. NOAA is further directed to report on hydrographic activities planned for fiscal year 2015, including: vessels to be utilized, the areas to be surveyed, and the remaining gaps in the Arctic region.”
Chairing the Arctic Council: Senator Murkowski consistently emphasizes America’s need to prioritize Arctic issues. Murkowski requested $2 million, funding included in this bill, to prepare the U.S. to assume the role of chair of the Arctic Council in 2015. The language reads:
“The Committee recognizes the strategic importance of the Arctic region to the long-term economic and national security interests of the United States and notes that the United States will assume the Chair of the Arctic Council in May 2015. The Committee recommends $2,000,000 for preparation and support for the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and encourages the Department of State to increase the number of personnel assigned to Arctic Council issues. The Committee also encourages the Department of State to establish the position of U.S. Ambassador to the Arctic in order to enhance engagement with other Arctic nations.
The Committee strongly supports the participation of American indigenous communities in the Arctic Council, and section 7034(t) of this act provides up to $500,000 for grants to support the application of science and technology to foreign policy issues in the Arctic region, including to facilitate the participation of indigenous communities in the Council.”
Arctic Awareness and Icebreakers: Demonstrating her continued Arctic focus, Senator Murkowski also added language to the bill expressing concern about the nation’s slow pace in addressing Arctic investment, and directing the Department of Defense to conduct a study of the nation’s satellite coverage of the Arctic region as activities increase. The spending plan also requires the Department of Defense to work with the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard to address our nation’s shortage of polar icebreakers and Arctic class vessels.
Tactical Technology – Arctic Operations: The Defense Advanced Projects Agency within the Pentagon will receive $7.25 million to develop technology to enable maritime domain awareness in the Arctic – over double what the administration proposed.
Resources for Those in Need
Funding for FASD Center for Excellence: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is the number one most preventable cause of developmental disabilities and birth defects. As a champion for the awareness and prevention of FASD, Senator Murkowski is pleased that $1 million is being directed to the FASD Center for Excellence.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): Senator Murkowski is committed to ensuring that Alaskans never face the harsh choice between paying for household energy or other basic necessities. Although President Obama proposed a $50 million decrease in LIHEAP’s budget from Fiscal Year 2014, Murkowski was able to help secure $3.39 billion to fund this critical program’s future.
Access to Healthy Food: Alaskans know first-hand the health benefits of eating salmon, and the federal government has come to recognize this as well. Senator Murkowski inserted language in the omnibus, requesting a study of the effects of putting low-mercury salmon in Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food packages. The language reads:
The Committee understands the Department is working with the Institute of Medicine to make recommendations for the fish species to include in the WIC food packages that scientific evidence shows to be low in mercury and in other respects nutritious, including wild salmon, for pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women. The Committee requests a report, within 120 days of enactment of this act, on this effort.
Head Start: Head Start provides educational and health services to over 3,000 young Alaskans in 100 communities, and funding will remain at last year’s level: $8.598 billion. 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.
Job Corps: Senator Murkowski is an advocate for this important program that provides free career and technical training to young Alaskans. $1.7 billion is directed to this nationwide program.
Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG): Senator Murkowski strongly supports the increase in CCDBG funding from $2.36 billion to $2.435 billion, to assist states, tribes, and providers in improving the quality of child care for America’s working families. This increase could trigger language Murkowski added to the CCDBG Act earlier this year, and allow tribal grantees’ allocations to increase.