Vice Chairwoman Mikulski Statement on the FY17 THUD & Military Construction-VA Appropriations Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, submitted a statement for the record on the fiscal year 2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. Subsequently, the Senate passed the bill 89-8.
Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s statement follows:
“I rise to voice my full support for the fiscal year 2017 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (THUD) which includes the fiscal year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs (VA), and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. Each of these bills was passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 30-0 last month. I urge all my colleagues to support this bipartisan package of bills.
“I commend Senators Collins and Reed for their hard work on the THUD bill and their collegiality on the floor this week managing this bill. THUD is our annual jobs bill making investments at the state and local level, delivering on America’s physical infrastructure needs and America’s compelling human needs. The bill before us will keep our roads and transportation systems safe and in good repair while preserving housing assistance for our nation’s most in need.
“I am especially proud of Senators Collins and Reed for making renewed investments in lead paint poison prevention. As the Maryland Senator from Baltimore, this is an issue I know all too well. Senator Kit Bond and I worked together on the VA-Housing and Urban Development (VA-HUD) bill to first bring attention to this crippling public health problem. April 19th marked the anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death. Freddie was a young man who grew up in Baltimore’s low-income housing. Before Freddie’s second birthday, his blood lead levels were seven times the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) suggested level, leaving Freddie severely and permanently brain damaged. Today, there are still half a million children under the age of six with lead poisoning.
“This bill increases lead prevention funding in three programs. First, the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes is funded at $135 million, an increase of $25 million to support lead-based paint hazard reductions in 1,750 additional units. This program provides safer homes for more than 6,200 people. Second, the Mikulski-Bond Lead Hazard Reduction Demo Program is funded at $55 million, an increase of $10 million. This program provides competitive funds to state and local governments to implement lead hazardous reduction programs in privately-owned and owner-occupied housing. Third, the Public Housing Capital Fund is funded at $1.9 billion, an increase of $25 million. This will remediate 1,500 public housing units.
“This bill also includes a number of reforms to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) lead programs. Among these is the requirement for HUD to update its blood level standard to the stronger CDC standard. HUD’s standard hasn’t been updated since 1999. In addition, the bill makes studio and efficiency apartments eligible for remediation grants for the first time. It is estimated that 34,000 zero-bedroom dwellings house children under six years old.
“The transportation portion of this bill makes significant investments in Maryland’s highways, byways and transit systems. It cuts the first check under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act passed last December. This means more formula funding for every state. For Maryland, that’s an increase of $62 million.
“For transit, this bill provides increased funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) totaling $575 million. It includes the Job Corridor – Purple Line project in the Washington suburbs of Maryland. A total of $125 million is provided for the construction of this light rail project.
“For the D.C. Metro system, this bill provides the eighth installment of $150 million in federal dedicated funding. This is the fully authorized level and will be matched dollar for dollar by the three jurisdictions. Fighting for this annual appropriation was the promise I made and have kept since the deadly Fort Totten crash in June 2009. This funding must be used on capital improvements relating to safety, including buying new rail cars, track improvements and signal upgrades.
“I included bill language requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary to do three things before this funding money can be spent. First, the Secretary must approve each expenditure. Second, the Secretary must certify Metro is making progress on implementing FTA’s safety and financial management corrective actions. Third, the Secretary must determine that Metro is using this money for top safety priorities.
“In addition to this dedicated funding, I am proud of the safety amendment I introduced with Senators Shelby, Cardin, Warner, Kaine and Brown that was passed earlier in the week. This amendment provides additional funding to FTA to expand its safety oversight workforce for a total increase of $5.25 million above the current year funding level. It will enable FTA to hire six full time employees for Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center, four more investigators seven additional inspectors, and six more contractors.
“This additional funding means FTA will now have more inspectors to watch as Metro crews work to complete SafeTrack, the year-long plan to accelerate repairs on the system. Inspectors will be there to make sure the track work is fixed the right way for good. FTA also will have safety staff at the Rail Operations Control Center 24 hours a day and seven days a week, making sure emergency procedures are followed to prevent future incidents. FTA staff will help Metro implement the National Transportation Safety Board’s recent recommendations to overhaul the Center’s emergency operations and training. FTA staff will make sure these reforms remain in place and are followed. Finally, more investigators will help FTA tackle approximately 100 Metro investigations conducted each year.
“I also want to say a few words about the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill. This is another bipartisan bill funding vital programs for the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans, troops and their families developed by Senators Kirk and Tester. Overall, this bill provides $83 billion in discretionary funding, which is an increase of $3.2 billion above the current year funding level.
“This bill fully funds VA Medical Services at the President’s request of $52.8 billion. This is $1 billion over what we advanced last year to address increased demand for VA medical care both within and outside the VA health care system.
“The bill provides additional funding for disability claims processing. Significant progress has been made to eliminate the backlog in processing initial claims, but unfortunately, the backlog in appeals is rapidly building. This bill includes $2.9 billion for claims processing, $30 million more than the request to hire 300 new claims processors and 240 additional employees for the Board of Veterans Appeals. Also included is an increase of $46 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals, bringing their total funding to $156 million. This will provide for hiring an additional 240 new employees focused on appeals processing.
“For our women veterans, this bill makes significant strides to bring parity between male and female veterans. This bill mandates that the VA research and acquire prosthetic devices specifically designed for women. It includes $5.3 billion overall to treat more than 500,000 female veterans who get care through the VA. This bill targets $535 million for gender-specific healthcare, which is $20 million more than the request and nearly $70 million more than the current funding level. This includes gynecological, reproductive health and mental health care for women. I was also proud to support Senator Murray’s amendment in Committee, allowing the VA to cover the cost of reproductive services for veterans who suffered service-related injuries that prevent them from starting families.
“The military construction part of this bill fully funds all seven Maryland projects included in the President’s budget request. This means a total of $340 million for construction jobs at Fort Meade, Pax River, Joint Base Andrews and Bethesda Medical Center.
“Finally, this package also includes $1.1 billion in emergency spending to combat the urgent Zika crisis. The CDC, National Institutes of Health and U.S. Agency for International Development need this funding on the ground today. The $1.1 billion level is a bottom line, not a starting point for negotiations with the House. I am committed to sending a Zika supplemental to the President as soon as possible.
“I urge all of my colleagues to support this package of bills. It meets many of the compelling human needs and physical infrastructure needs of our nation and does not include poison pill riders. It is an example of how working together, we can solve problems and put America to work.”
Contact: Mara Stark-Alcalá (202) 224-2667
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