May 19, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the support of U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), the Senate today passed bipartisan spending legislation that will fund critical support services for Maine veterans, construction projects at military facilities like Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, efforts to fight the spread of the Zika virus, transportation infrastructure across the state, and critical housing construction and safety programs. The legislation also includes an amendment authored by Senator King that would help more disabled American veterans obtain the student loan forgiveness benefits they are entitled to under current law.
“By passing this bill today, the Senate has stepped up to support a wide range of programs that make a big difference in the lives of Maine people,” said Senator King. “This legislation will strengthen our military infrastructure, better support our veterans, and help begin to rebuild our country’s transportation system. I’m encouraged that my amendment to help more disabled veterans receive the student loan forgiveness they deserve passed with this package, and I also want to recognize Senator Collins for her work as the Chairman of the THUD Subcommittee in managing and shepherding this legislation through the Senate.”
As part of the legislation passed today, Senator King and his colleagues Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) were able to secure their bipartisan amendment that would help more disabled American veterans obtain the student loan forgiveness benefits they are entitled to under current law. The Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, the American Legion, Student Veterans of America, and Veterans Education Success have all endorsed the amendment, which was added to the funding package with unanimous support. More information on the amendment is available HERE.
The funding package includes numerous other provisions that are beneficial to Maine, many of which were directly advocated for by Senator King:
Along with the provision relieving disabled veterans of unnecessary student loans, the legislation includes a King-backed provision to improve mental health services for rural veterans; $250 million to support the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Rural Health; $735 million for caregivers who support our wounded, ill, or injured warriors; $535 million for women veteran’s health care services; and more than $1 billion to prevent and reduce homelessness among veterans.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
The bill funds $17.8 million for unaccompanied housing at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY) to provide housing for the crew of submarines; $30.1 million for utility improvements of nuclear platforms at PNSY; and $27 million to construct a replacement medical/dental clinic at PNSY. Senator King successfully secured the authorizations for this funding in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation that authorizes the actual spending and is expected to come to the Senate floor next week.
The legislation would dedicate $1.1 billion to combating the spread of the Zika virus. Senator King has advocated for increased Zika funding, having sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee calling for increased funding to support local, state, and national efforts to fight the virus.
Included in the legislation is $1.42 billion for Amtrak; $525 million for TIGER grants that support state and local governments as they make investments in roads, bridges, public transit, ports, and passenger and freight railroads; $16.4 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which helps to support operations at airports across Maine, and $43.2 billion for the Federal-Aid Highway Program that supports state highway systems by helping to fund construction, maintenance, and operations projects.
Senator King specifically requested strong funding for both the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. The CDBG program is funded in the bill at $3 billion, and the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes at $135 million for grants. The CDBG program has helped local governments in Maine with housing, infrastructure, and revitalization projects. As Maine implements the new childhood lead poisoning prevention law, additional funding through the Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes would be critical to support necessary initiatives to allow for lead-based paint hazard reductions in our nation’s low-income housing stock.
The legislation combined two appropriations bills – the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) appropriations bill and the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill – into one larger funding package that passed the Senate with overwhelming support.