Murkowski: Omnibus Bill Yields Benefits for Alaska

Directs Federal Resources, Provides Economic Opportunities

Today the Senate passed the omnibus bill to fund the government through the end of Fiscal Year 2017. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced a series of provisions within the bill that provides resources and supports programs with significant impacts in communities throughout Southcentral Alaska. As a member of the Appropriations Committee and Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Murkowski was able to give Alaskans a strong voice in crafting the bill.

“With our state in the midst of a fiscal crisis, this bill will provide a much-needed boost to our economy. The bill provides new investments for our military, increased funding for fighting wildfires, and it will help Alaskans who grapple with some of the highest heating costs in the nation,” Senator Murkowski said. “This bill empowers Alaskans to strengthen our economy and create safe and healthy communities at a time when we need it most.”

Click here for a comprehensive list and details of all Alaska-specific provisions in the omnibus.

Highlights of the Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Bill include:

Army Force Structure: Funds an active duty force structure of 476,000 which reverses the downward trend in active duty force structure and enables the retention of the 4-25 Airborne Brigade at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER).

Transportation Investment Generating Economic Development (TIGER) Grants: Provides $500 million for capital projects that generate economic development and improve access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation for communities.

Arctic Council: Supports the Arctic Council and directs federal agencies to focus on economic opportunities in the region, as well as science and subsistence issues.

Polar Icebreaker: Provides $150 million to the Navy procure materials needed for construction of a polar icebreaker. Directs $55 million to the Coast Guard for procurement of a heavy icebreaker. Also requires a report on polar icebreaker requirements, preferred design, overall acquisition strategy, and a breakout of funds necessary to support the acquisition within 90 days.

Opioids and Substance Abuse Prevention: Provides robust funding to combat the opioid abuse epidemic in Alaska and throughout the nation. This includes funding for pilot programs to address treatment gaps for pregnant and postpartum women with substance abuse disorders.

Wildfire Prevention and Suppression: The bill funds our nation’s wildfire suppression efforts at the historic 10-year average and includes additional emergency funds that will be available in the event of a catastrophic fire season.  Also included is increased funding for preventative measures that can be taken in advance of wildfire season, such as hazardous fuels reduction and mitigation.

Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): Allocates robust funds for the LIHEAP program – which acts as a crucial supplement for many Alaskans who face the highest energy prices in the nation. Over 11,000 Alaskan households received LIHEAP assistance in 2014. 

GE Salmon: After the FDA’s decision in 2015 to approve genetically engineered (GE) salmon for human consumption, Senator Murkowski promised to fight back for the health of both consumers and Alaska’s fisheries. Murkowski successfully included a provision in the omnibus that bans that blocks the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from introducing GE salmon into the market until it publishes labeling guidelines so consumers are aware of what is contained in the product they are purchasing.

State Water Revolving Funds: Provides funding to help local communities improve water infrastructure in both the wastewater and drinking water areas. Funding from this program can be used to address problems like lead content in water.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes: Fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program at $465 million, well above last year’s funding levels. The PILT program provides monetary compensation to local governments throughout Alaska that contain federal lands that are not subject to state or local taxation. The revenue helps local governments provide vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations.

21st Century Community Learning Centers: Directs resources to support afterschool programs to give working parents peace of mind and keep kids safe and engaged in learning after school.

Privacy of Student Data: Directs the Department of Education to adhere to the strictest and highest standards for protecting personally identifiable information (PII) and requires the Department to report to Congress on their actions taken to comply with this directive.

Impact Aid: Increases funds for Impact Aid – which reimburses school districts for the cost of educating students who live on properties that are tax-exempt due to federal law. This includes students who live on, or parents who work on, military installations, federally-designated low-income housing, and Native lands.

Essential Air Service: Funds Essential Air Service at $150 million, a program to maintain commercial air service in approximately 60 small communities throughout Alaska.

Suicide Prevention: Allocates resources for suicide prevention efforts including the Suicide Lifeline, Garrett Lee Smith Youth Suicide prevention funds, and the American Indian and Alaska Native Suicide Prevention Initiative.

3D Alaska Mapping: Includes additional funding for Alaska mapping initiatives that will help gather data to improve maps, enhancing safety for activities such as aviation. Just last August, Alaska surpassed the halfway mark in updating the state’s digital mapping and data collection. Currently much of the terrain data in Alaska is more than 50 years old and hand-sketched from photos shot from World War II reconnaissance craft.

Legacy Wells: Provides increased funding for the BLM to clean up exploration wells drilled at the direction of the federal government in NPR-A between 1944 and 1982. While Senator Murkowski secured significant funding to clean up these abandoned wells through the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, nearly 30 will still reportedly remain in need of remediation once that funding is exhausted. Murkowski’s bill nearly doubles the requested amount of funding for the clean-up of legacy wells, and also compels BLM to craft a long-term strategy to finally complete this effort.

Denali Commission: Provides $15 million for the Commission tasked with coordination of construction and infrastructure efforts in rural Alaska.

The Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Appropriation Bill also includes funding for additional programs supporting health, education and essential services for Alaskans including:

NIH: Provides robust funding for the National Institute of Health – which conducts state of the art biomedical research.

Community Health Centers: Language in this bill also directs increased funding to facilitate expansion into providing behavioral health and substance abuse treatment – addressing two critical issues prevalent in Alaska.

State Public Health Actions on Chronic Diseases: Directs resources to boost programs aimed at preventing chronic diseases – including obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, and strokes.

Preventative Health and Health Services Block Grant: Funds the Preventative Health and Health Services Block Grant, which is used in Alaska to address basic health concerns related to chronic disease, rape prevention, and unintentional injuries.

Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant: Increases funds for the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant, to improve the health of mothers and children, including children and youth with special health care needs.

Title X Family Planning/Teen Pregnancy Prevention: Directs funds to ensure access to a broad range of family planning and preventive health services.

ALS: Secured an additional $7.5 million to study the prevalence of ALS among service members and veterans.

Zero Suicide Initiative: Increases funding for an IHS program aimed at preventing suicide by providing tools and support for organizations with patients receiving care. The initiative’s main belief is that suicide deaths for people receiving care are entirely preventable. In December 2015 the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium received training from the Zero Suicide program, providing tools and instructions for healthcare staff who treat and support suicidal patients.

Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative: Supports an IHS initiative that promotes culturally appropriate prevention and treatment approaches to domestic and sexual violence from a community-driven context. This includes funding projects that provide victim advocacy, intervention, case coordination, policy development, community response teams, sexual assault examiner programs, and community and school education programs. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, Chugachmiut, Copper River Native Association, Kodiak Area Native Association, Maniilaq Association, Norton Sound Health Corporation, Southcentral Foundation, and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium all receive funds through this initiative to continue efforts in addressing domestic violence and sexual assault in their communities.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Provides an increase to IHS alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs to focus on tribal youth and the incorporation of more holistic healthcare models to improve outcomes. Programs within tribal communities to combat alcohol and substance abuse include inpatient and outpatient treatment, and rehabilitation services in both urban and rural settings. 

Behavioral Health: Supports IHS programs to address issues such as substance use disorders, mental health disorders, suicide, violence, and behavior-related chronic diseases among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Similar to the NUKA model at Southcentral Foundation, the program is a comprehensive system of care, which encourages community support and strong collaborative relationships with other agencies.

Contract Support Costs: Fully funds the contract support costs in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service to ensure tribes have the necessary resources they need to deliver programs and services. This is especially important to Alaska because all health care for Alaska Natives is directly provided by tribal organizations.

ESEA Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants: Provides reliable, sustained funding to enable schools to provide a well-rounded education, to support safe and healthy students, and to support the effective use of technology.

Title VI Indian Education Formula Grants: Allocates funds to address the unique education and culturally related academic needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students.

Food and Nutritional Services:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): $78.5 billion
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations: $151 million
  • Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant, and Children (WIC): $6.35 billion
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Storage and Distribution: $59.4 million
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP): $236.1 million to help low income elderly individuals by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA foods.
  • Section 32 Funds: A transfer of $20.7 million to purchase commodities from producers affected by adverse market conditions and donate them to schools, food banks, and food pantries.
  • Child Nutrition Programs:
    • National School Lunch Program: $12.4 billion
    • School Breakfast Program: $4.5 billion
    • Child and Adult Care Food Program: $3.5 billion
    • Summer Food Service Program: $627 million
    • Farm to School Program: $4.2 million 
    • School Nutrition Equipment Grant: $25 million

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Grant Programs: The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) administers multiple grant programs designed to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault by strengthening services to victims and holding offenders accountable. The VAWA grant programs are funded at $481.5 million.

Legal Services Corporation: Provides $385 million to strengthen civil and criminal legal assistance programs for low-income Americans.

Victims of Child Abuse Act: $21 million has been allocated to support victims of child abuse and help them cope psychologically. This is an increase of $1 million from last year.

Taxpayer Services: 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.

Domestic Violence: Provides funds to the Alaska State Resource Center on Domestic Violence.

Civil Air Patrol: Secured additional funds to support the lifesaving work of Civil Air Patrol squadrons in Alaska and throughout the nation.

Home Investment Partnerships (HOME) Program: Allocates $950 million to fund the HOME Investment Partnerships program—a critical program to support affordable housing needs.

Native American Housing Block Grants: Provides $654 million for the Native American Housing Block Grant, to provide a range of affordable housing activities on Indian reservations and Indian areas.

Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Fund: Provides $7.2 million for the Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Fund, a home mortgage specifically designed for American Indian and Alaska Native families, Alaska Villages, Tribes, or Tribally Designated Housing Entities.

HUD-VASH Demonstration Program for Homeless and At-Risk Native Vets: Allocates $7 million for a demonstration program to offer a permanent home and supportive services to Native American Veterans who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.

Special Olympics: Supports the work of Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Over 1,500 athletes are empowered by Special Olympics Alaska, training and competing in 16 different Olympic-type sports.

Small Businesses: Allocates funding to the Small Business Administration to provide assistance to small businesses, expand the economy, and increase job growth for underemployed and unemployed Americans.

USGS Earthquake and Volcano Hazards: Provides funding for earthquake and volcano monitoring, with specific funds allocated to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Mineral Resources Program and Geophysical Studies: Funding is restored for Alaska geological mapping. Also, directs USGS to conduct studies that would significantly expand the public’s knowledge of the minerals resource potential in Alaska, and to begin studies on oil and gas resources in low permeability reservoirs.

Army Corps of Engineers Operations and Maintenance Funding:

  • $10.7 million for Anchorage Harbor
  • $462,000 for Homer Harbor
  • $591,000 for Lowell Creek Tunnel (Seward)
  • $345,000 for Ninilchik Harbor

Army Corps of Engineers Investigations Funding:

$400,000 for Lowell Creek Tunnel flood diversion