Murkowski: Year-End Omnibus Packed with Good News for Alaska
The U.S. Senate yesterday passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, an omnibus package that contains all 12 appropriations bills and funds the federal government through September 30, 2023.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a senior Appropriator, helped write major parts of the bill and secured significant funding and assistance for Alaska throughout it. She championed provisions to strengthen Alaska’s economy, accelerate workforce development, and support military members and their families. She also directed funding to water and wastewater infrastructure, public safety, childcare, fisheries, military readiness, affordable housing, mental and behavioral health programs, contaminated lands cleanup, wildfire prevention, recreation on public lands, and much more.
Through her vote in favor of the measure, Murkowski supported funding authorized by major legislation passed in this Congress – including the National Defense Authorization Act, bipartisan infrastructure bill, CHIPS and Science Act, Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, and the PACT Act – while ensuring robust funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA’s disaster relief fund, mental health, child nutrition, rural housing assistance, energy development and lower energy costs, and many additional state priorities.
In FY 2023, Murkowski was the only member of Alaska’s congressional delegation to pursue Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) projects. Through this bill, she secured nearly $500 million for more than 130 projects across Alaska that were proposed by local communities to address their most pressing needs.
The omnibus also features a number of authorizing provisions sponsored by Murkowski, including her University of Alaska Fiscal Foundation Act, the PUMP Act, and emergency disaster assistance for Alaskan fisheries. The legislation includes a historic plus-up for the Department of Defense to benefit service members and protect national security, as well as critical emergency funding for Ukraine.
Murkowski released the following statement about the Consolidated Appropriations Act:
“This year-end bill contains a huge number of wins for Alaska and is the culmination of all the hard work my team and I put in for our home state throughout the 117th Congress.
“This measure supports our men and women in uniform and our veterans. It strengthens our economic opportunities and addresses some of our greatest challenges, from workforce and supply chains to the Denali Park Road. It makes major investments in mental and behavioral health, including initiatives to help address the growing issue of death by suicide. Nutrition, public safety, telecom, port and road infrastructure, ocean and coastal mapping, the clean-up of contaminated lands, climate research, natural disaster preparedness, the Arctic, and so much more—there is literally no part of our state that this legislation doesn’t benefit.
“On top of those major wins for Alaska, I secured funding allocations to directly benefit nearly 130 projects through Congressionally Directed Spending. This process continues to give Alaskans a voice in the federal budget by allowing them to identify their communities’ greatest needs, helping federal agencies identify spending priorities.
“As a year-end measure, I also worked hard to make sure the omnibus would be a vehicle for as many of Alaska’s outstanding legislative priorities as possible. We ultimately added more than a dozen bills and authorizing provisions focused on everything from the University of Alaska to healthcare in rural and underserved areas.
“This omnibus is very significant for Alaska. It builds on our successes over the past several years and will help create jobs, reduce costs, improve all types of care, protect our fisheries, bolster public safety, and more. Combined with all we have been able to deliver as a result of the bipartisan infrastructure law, I’m excited about the benefits this measure will provide across our state for a long time to come.”
Supports the Military and Veterans
The omnibus includes significant support to boost our nation’s defense capabilities and enhance military readiness by fully funding the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, which includes provisions of the Don Young Arctic Warrior Act to address service member well-being and Alaska’s unique strategic role in national security. The bill supports military construction projects, such as funding for an aircraft maintenance hangar for the Alaska National Guard, and significant projects on Fort Wainwright, Clear Space Force Station, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.
To support the health and well-being of military members and their families, Murkowski secured robust funding for mental health and suicide prevention programs, as well as a much-deserved 4.6 percent pay raise for troops, housing and food allowances, and childcare support.
In support of veterans, Murkowski included language to improve their quality of care and worked to expand access to mental healthcare and training for the VA workforce. She also secured significant support for individuals exposed to toxic chemicals during their service and for health-related research initiatives, such as peer-reviewed ALS research.
Bolsters America’s Arctic Presence
As America’s Arctic Senator, Murkowski secured funding for the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) first regional center in the Arctic. Murkowski previously introduced and helped usher into law the legislation to create this center. She also secured support for the 2024 Arctic Winter Games, which will be held in the Mat-Su Valley, the Arctic Youth Ambassadors Program, and the Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council. As part of her push for a greater diplomatic presence in the Arctic, Murkowski provided funding for an Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region, an initiative she advocated for until the State Department announced its establishment in August 2022. The bill also funds the Department of Energy’s Office of Arctic Energy.
Invests in Alaska’s Communities
The omnibus provides full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provides compensation to local governments throughout Alaska with federal lands that are not subject to state or local taxation. These dollars help local governments provide vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, search-and-rescue operations, and construction of public schools and roads. The bill also protects and robustly funds the Essential Air Service program, which maintains commercial air service for approximately 60 communities in Alaska. The bill includes a provision led by Murkowski and colleagues to allow unspent COVID relief dollars to be used for infrastructure investments and disaster relief, including providing a fix which will benefit Alaska’s unified municipalities who unfortunately were left out on relief funding intended to help address the economic impacts of the pandemic.
The year-end package strengthens Alaska’s infrastructure in many ways. It invests in restoring the Denali Park Road. It allocates significant resources to the EPA to construct and improve wastewater and drinking water systems throughout rural Alaska. New funding for the Denali Commission will boost roads, ports, and boat ramps, which will help the agency continue to build infrastructure in rural Alaska. The City of Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula Borough will receive funding for wildfire prevention activities in accordance with their community protection plans.
To address food security, Murkowski increased funding for her Micro-grants for Food Security Program, which she authored to help Alaskans grow more food in the state. The omnibus provides long-sought flexibility for Alaska’s rural Summer Food Service Program providers, allowing them to serve food in non-congregate ways to children in rural communities who cannot access program sites. It also increases funding for the Reimbursement Transportation Cost Program that helps Alaska’s farmers offset the high costs of importing seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs and transporting their crops out of Alaska.
The omnibus provides additional funding for Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant programs, which help low-income parents afford high-quality childcare and set the youngest Alaskans on the path to healthy and successful futures.
Capitalizing on Alaska’s Tourism Sector
Alaska is the crown jewel of America’s tourism industry. The omnibus finally cements a federal champion and planning role for the federal government to ensure that our nation makes the most of tourism-based economic opportunities. It establishes an Assistant Secretary of Tourism within the Commerce Department, who will be appointed by the President and required to collect and make public aggregate data on domestic travel and tourism trends. The provision also requires the Commerce to develop a 10-year strategy with annual goals to boost the industry and establishes the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. It also funds, for the first time, the Denali Access Program.
Finally, the omnibus requires Commerce to develop recovery strategies in response to the pandemic and future threats. Notably, it requires the Secretary to conduct a cost-benefit analysis between the economic and health effects of its strategies. It also contains Murkowski’s cruise ship and tourism reforms, which were adopted as part of the PREVENTS Pandemics Act.
Supports Workforce Development
To help Alaskans train for good-paying jobs, the year-end package invests in workforce development for veterans, youth, and adults through programs like Job Corps, registered apprenticeship programs, and the Young Fishermen’s Development grant program. The omnibus continues to require that timber sales in Alaska be economically viable and requires that Alaska sawmills be given the first right to process the timber to keep these jobs in the United States. In addition, the package includes several Murkowski-led efforts to help build out Alaska’s healthcare workforce, such as the Improving Access to Health Care in Rural and Underserved Area Act, the BIO-Preparedness Workforce Pilot Program, and the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act. Those measures will bolster the state’s primary care, allied health, and infectious disease workforce. Also included are Murkowski’s Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program Act, which reauthorizes a program to provide loan repayment in exchange for working in a local or public health department, and her bill to reauthorize a community health worker grant program to recruit, hire, train, and retain community health workers.
Addresses High Energy Costs
As Alaskans grapple with some of the highest home heating costs in the nation, the omnibus provides increased funding to help lower-income families cover the costs of heating their homes. It also funds the Weatherization Assistance and State Energy Programs, which help to improve the energy efficiency of low-income families’ homes and invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and emergency preparedness.
Prioritizes Alaska’s Lands
The omnibus features Murkowski’s University of Alaska Fiscal Foundation Act, which will provide long-term fiscal stability for the University of Alaska by fulfilling its promise as a land grant university to generate additional revenues that help support its students and operations.
Murkowski-led legislation designating the 16-mile-long U.S. segment of the Chilkoot Trail, which first served as a Tlingit trade route and then was used during the gold rush, as a National Historic Trail is included. Murkowski’s bill also requires and provides funding for the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the proposed 500-mile Alaska Long Trail, which will connect Seward to Fairbanks, should become a National Scenic Trail.
The omnibus prioritizes public lands, including investments in land cleanup. It increases funding for legacy well cleanup to support the next set of sites that need remediation. It likewise increases support for the Alaska Land Conveyance Program, to help fulfill legal requirements to transfer lands to the State and Alaska Natives under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).
The year-end package also establishes a new EPA ANCSA Contaminated Lands grant program with first-of-its-kind dedicated funding for the assessment and remediation of contaminated sites in Alaska. It recognizes the importance of Alaska Public Land Information Centers and encourages agencies to seek to strengthen partnerships with them. The measure also provides additional funding for critical operations and management of our National Park System.
Ensures Cleaner Air, Water, and Wastewater Infrastructure
The omnibus addresses drinking water and wastewater challenges in Alaskan communities by providing increased funding for the construction of new drinking water and wastewater systems and the improvement of existing systems. It also provides support for grant programs that help bring basic water and sewer infrastructure to communities in need.
To support communities such as Fairbanks in their efforts to reduce air pollution, the year-end package includes increased funding for Targeted Airshed Grants. It also prohibits EPA from implementing its small, remote incinerators rule in Alaska while Alaskans work with the agency to develop a rule that will work better to address the state’s unique rural needs.
Promotes Safer Communities
The omnibus supports state and local law enforcement and includes funding for Bipartisan Safer Communities Act programs, legislation passed earlier this year to address gaps in the law that have enabled mass shootings at schools. One example is additional resources for mental health and school safety. Significant increases are included for Violence Against Woman Act programs, legislation shepherded into law by Murkowski in March 2022. Increased funding is included for Public Law 280 states, such as Alaska, to help them develop tribal court systems for communities.
Community safety is also bolstered through funding for wildland fire management and wildfire suppression as well as important programs that help emergency responders react to natural hazards and to quickly inform the public about those hazards. Funding for the earthquakes hazard program and volcano hazards program will allow Alaska to develop and upgrade monitoring capabilities to keep Alaskans safe. The omnibus retains Murkowski’s report language directing the USGS to expand its landslide work in Southeast Alaska.
Builds Safer, Healthier Communities
The year-end package makes significant investments in mental and behavioral health, including through a Murkowski-led provision to improve the identification, assessment, treatment, and transition to follow-up care for individuals in emergency departments who are at risk of suicide. This dovetails with Murkowski’s provision to reauthorize the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which supports numerous suicide prevention programs for youth and children.
The omnibus includes a Murkowski-led provision which supports grants for states, tribes, and tribal organizations to establish and maintain maternal mental health and substance use disorder programs, codifies the maternal mental health hotlines, and supports a pilot program for pregnant and postpartum women.
As a result of an amendment adopted during floor debate, the omnibus includes the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill Murkowski helped lead that would ensure that pregnant women receive reasonable accommodations in the workplace needed to have healthy pregnancies. Murkowski’s bipartisan Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act was also included, which expands breastfeeding protections for workers.
In light of the rising number of overdoses and deaths caused by substance misuse in Alaska, the year-end measure funds numerous programs for substance use disorder treatment and recovery for homeless individuals, access to treatment in areas with high rates of opioid use, efforts to prevent and respond to underage drinking, and increased access to emergency treatment for opioid overdoses.
In support of Alaska’s most vulnerable communities, the bill package includes a number of housing-related initiatives to help support quality, accessible recovery for those in need. Murkowski’s bipartisan legislation to help health care providers more effectively treat patients suffering from substance use disorder—the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act—is also incorporated.
Supports Alaska’s Fisheries and Oceans
In addition to fishery disaster funding, the omnibus supports this foundational industry through investments in surveys, management, electronic monitoring, and research. It includes $15 million in CDS for research on our oceans and rivers that will be performed by Alaskans. Murkowski’s requests also support citizen science, co-management, data collection, and the addition of new technologies to Alaska’s tool chest like eDNA monitoring. Murkowski’s legislation with Senator Sullivan, the Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act, was included and directs NOAA to convene a task force to review current research and applied research gaps on migration patterns and declining returns of Pacific salmon in Alaska to support sustainable management.
To protect and invest in our oceans, the year-end package provides funding to address ocean acidification and for data collection and treaty obligations. Language authored by Murkowski will maintain and service the Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) Array, which provides tsunami prediction capacity and directs the National Weather Service (NWS) to ensure that all DART buoys in Alaska, especially those in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska, are deployed and fully operational. Additional funding for the NWS will support staffing efforts in Alaska. Also included are funding for mapping the nearshore and shoreline of Alaska, as well as language directing NOAA to continue coordinating and implementing an interagency mapping, exploration, and characterization strategy for the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. The omnibus also requires a strategy for mapping the Arctic and sub-Arctic shoreline and nearshore of Alaska.
Enhancing Retirement Benefits & Access
This year-end omnibus builds off provisions enacted in 2019 by including the package known as Secure 2.0, which will provide Alaskans greater access and an easier path to strengthening their retirement savings. As 401k and 403b plans make up a greater share of Americans’ retirement savings, the Secure 2.0 package works to ensure they are participating and maximizing the benefits of employer-sponsored retirement plans. Murkowski supported the package as it advanced through the committee process and worked to ensure parity for all populations.
Specifically, the Secure 2.0 package:
- Automatically enrolls employees into an employee sponsored retirement account;
- Allows for increased “catch up” contribution limits for individuals aged 60-63;
- Creates a federal savers match of up to $2000 for those in qualifying income brackets;
- Expands access to retirement plans for part-time workers;
- Expands access to the Saver’s Credit (a tax credit for contributions) for lower- and middle-income employees; and
- Allows employers to offer emergency rainy day savings accounts through their retirement plans.
The package includes bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Murkowski, the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, which reforms and modernizes the Electoral Count Act of 1887. The measure ensures that electoral votes tallied by Congress accurately reflect each state’s vote for President. It replaces ambiguous provisions within the original law with clear procedures that maintain appropriate state and federal roles in selecting the President and Vice President of the United States as set forth in the Constitution. If there is more than one apparent successful candidate for President, each candidate must be provided with equal access to federal government resources and information.