WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the support of U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, the U.S. Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Federal Appropriations bill, which funds the government through September 30, 2018 and includes funding for several priorities Senator King has advocated for that benefit Maine.
“Despite my frustration with the budget process over the last few months, the bill passed today funds important programs and initiatives that support hardworking men and women in Maine,” Senator King said. “From funding critical resources to combat the opioid epidemic, to supporting shipbuilding priorities at Bath Iron Works, to streamlining veterans’ services, to expanding rural broadband infrastructure, this legislation will help support the good work of people across Maine who are dedicated to strengthening the economy and improving the lives of others in their communities.
“As I’ve said before, however, our current budget process is no way to govern. With an average of about five Continuing Resolutions a year since the turn of the century, these spending bills do not provide the adequate certainty needed for people to do business and plan for the future, and continue to raise the national deficit, which will ultimately have to be paid off by future generations. I remain committed to working with members on both sides of the aisle to find common sense improvements to the budget process so Congress can pass these spending bills on time with broad bipartisan support.”
Below are provisions included in the bill that are important for Maine:
- Opioids and Mental Health: The legislation will increase funding to fight the Opioids and Mental Health crises by $3.3 billion, including an increase of $2.8 billion in treatment, prevention and research for programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. Senator King has made combatting the opioid epidemic and securing funding to treatment and prevention efforts one of his top policy priorities. Last month, Senator King wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee urging the committee to prioritize funding in the omnibus for states with high opioid overdose mortality rates, and to also ensure that this funding was set aside for tribes. Both of these stipulations were included in the omnibus.
- Shipbuilding Priorities: The legislation funds $3.4 billion for the DDG-51 Destroyer program that Bath Iron Works can compete to build, as well as more than $216,960,000 for the continued R&D and production of DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers, all of which are being built at Bath. The bill also adds $150 million for advance procurement of new Polar-class icebreaker for the Coast Guard in FY18. As co-chair of the Arctic Caucus, Senator King has been a vocal supporter of increasing the amount of resources devoted to polar icebreakers.
- Broadband Expansion: The omnibus includes $600 million to establish a USDA rural broadband grant-loan pilot program that mirrors the B-CROP Act, legislation Senator King cosponsored in August 2017. The inclusion of this funding also comes in response to a letter Senator King sent to the President with a bipartisan group of his co-chairs on the Senate Broadband Caucus urging stand-alone funding for broadband deployment in any proposed infrastructure package.
- Election Security: The bill includes $380 million for election technology grants to help states secure election systems and voting infrastructure. The states may use this funding for items to protect voter registration files and elections results reporting systems, in addition to any automated tabulation machines or software that may need to be updated. Senator King has repeatedly warned that Russia’s interference in the integrity of the 2016 election is deeply troubling and that the country needs to include election integrity in a comprehensive cyber strategy.
- Pay Raise for Servicemembers: The legislation fully funds a 2.4 percent pay increase for servicemembers and a 1.9 percent increase for civilian employees.
- Veterans Issues: The legislation includes a $500 million increase above last year’s funding levels at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for mental health care programs. This includes a 16 percent increase over last year’s levels for opioid treatment and prevention programs and $186 million in funding specifically for suicide prevention. Last year, Senator King advocated for, and helped secure three new VA positions in Maine including a specialist focused on veteran suicide prevention.
- Child Care and Working Families: The legislation includes $2.37 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, which aims to improve child care quality for low-income, This funding marks a more than 80 percent increase from last year’s funding, the largest single-year increase in the program’s history. Senator King has been deeply involved in lowering the cost of child care for working families, and was recently named a “YMCA Congressional Champion” for his Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone (PACE) Act.
- Low-Incoming Housing: The agreement expands availability of the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program for the next four years, resulting in an estimated additional 35,000 affordable housing units. Senator King has been a long-time supporter of affordable housing, and has introduced legislation to improve access to housing. The omnibus also provides new housing vouchers for non-elderly disabled individuals, veterans, and youth existing foster care, for a combined investment of more than $42 billion. Senator King sent letters requesting increasing funding for the HOME program and homelessness assistance, and the Community Development Block Grant program. The bill also increases funding for the LIHEAP program and Weatherization Assistance Program, which both help low-income families and people living on fixed incomes – like many Maine seniors – get through the winter and pay their energy bills.
- Workforce Development: The bill includes a $15 million increase in funding for Job Corps, up to $1.72 billion. The Administration had proposed a $407 million cut for Fiscal Year 2019 and last year proposed across-the-board cuts to enrollment at Job Corps centers. Senator King joined a letter to the Department of Labor raising concerns about the rationale for the enrollment cuts, which have since been withdrawn. The Loring Jobs Corps Center in Limestone and the Penobscot Job Corps Center in Bangor provide disadvantaged youth with the skills needed to obtain and hold a job, enter the Armed Forces, or enroll in advanced training or higher education. Their work is particularly important given Maine's historically-low unemployment rate and the need to expand the state's workforce.
- CDC Research on Gun Violence: The legislation clarifies the Dickey Amendment, which had previously been interpreted as a means to prevent gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control. The omnibus includes new report guidance clarifying that, as the Secretary of HHS has testified, gun violence research at the CDC can move forward.
- Strengthening Background Checks: The legislation includes the Fix NICS Act, a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senator King, which incentivizes states and requires federal agencies to annually report their compliance in submitting all information to the background check system.
- Ban on Tip Pooling: The bill includes language to prevent employers and managers from taking money from tip pooling arrangements at establishments that have a mix of tipped and non-tipped employees, such as restaurants and hotels. Senator King recently sent a letter to the Department of Labor to raise concerns with proposed regulation that would allow employers to keep employees' tips for themselves. The Economic Policy Institute estimated that allowing the rule to go forward unamended could result in Maine workers losing up to $31.7 million per year in tips.
- Environmental Programs: The omnibus includes the bipartisan BUILD Act, legislation Senator King cosponsored to assist states and local communities through grants and technical assistance as they assess, safely clean up, and reuse properties that contain a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant for economic development projects. The bill also reauthorizes the EPA’s Brownfields program until 2023, and makes numerous improvements to provide states and local governments with additional tools and flexibility to effectively clean up these contaminated sites. The omnibus also increases funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – a program Senator King has strongly supported – which has contributed to funding for Acadia National Park, the conservation of Maine’s vast forest lands for public use, and countless outdoor recreation projects.