On Dec. 22, Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06) voted to support an COVID-19 relief and omnibus spending bill (“omnibus”) consisting of all 12 fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills, coronavirus relief, and authorizations. The legislation passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Bipartisan COVID-19 Relief Package
Today’s legislation included $900 billion in emergency coronavirus relief to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people.
“Over the last nine months, I have spoken with folks across our region who have lost jobs, lost their small businesses, and lost loved ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People in our region need help. With that in mind, this new bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill is progress,” said Rep. Kilmer. “This bill will help make a down payment on giving our communities resources they need to help beat back this virus and distribute vaccines, and provide vital support to families and local employers. Having said that, we know more is needed to help people who are hurting. People shouldn’t have to risk losing their homes, going hungry, or having their utilities shut off, due to something that’s not their fault. I’ll keep working to make sure that the federal government steps up to have the backs of folks in our neck of the woods.”
Among its provisions, the bill provided billions in funds to accelerate the free and equitable distribution of vaccines to as many Americans as soon as possible, to implement a national testing and tracing strategy, and to support health care workers and providers on the frontlines.
The legislation also included critical support for Washington’s small businesses, including minority-owned businesses and nonprofits. The bill includes over $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters, key modifications to PPP to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and to better assist independent restaurants, and includes $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. The agreement also includes $20 billion for targeted EIDL Grants (with grants of up to $10,000) which are critical to many smaller businesses on Main Street. In addition, the bill includes dedicated PPP set-asides for very small businesses and support for small businesses in low-income and underserved communities that may be disproportionately impacted by the economic effects of the COVID–19 pandemic. To support workers, the agreement also extends and improves the Employee Retention Tax Credit to help keep workers in their jobs during coronavirus closures, or reduced revenue, and also provides a tax credit to support employers offering paid sick leave, based on the framework of earlier COVID relief legislation.
Additionally, the legislation included critical funding to help the American people make ends meet. This includes a new round of direct payments worth up to $600 per adult and child. The legislation also included a provision to avert the sudden expiration of Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits for millions and added a $300 per week UI enhancement for Americans out of work. The bill also included $25 billion in rental assistance for families struggling to stay in their homes and, importantly, included an extension of the eviction moratorium. In addition, the legislation made a $13 billion investment in increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and child nutrition benefits to help relieve the historic hunger crisis that has left up to 17 million children food insecure.
The legislation also included provisions to help working families by making improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit to help ensure that families who face unemployment or reduced wages during the pandemic are able to receive a strong tax credit based on their 2019 income, preserving vital income support for vulnerable families.
Additionally, the omnibus included critical funding for education, child care and students – including a $82 billion investment in colleges and schools, including support for HVAC repair and replacement to mitigate virus transmission and reopen classrooms, and $10 billion for child care assistance to help get parents back to work and keep child care providers open. The package includes the largest expansion of Pell Grant recipients in over a decade, reaching 500,000 new recipients and ensuring more than 1.5 million students will now receive the maximum benefit.
The omnibus also included a $7 billion investment to increase access to broadband, including a new Emergency Broadband Benefit to help millions of students, families, and unemployed workers afford the broadband they need during the pandemic.
Government Funding for Regional Priorities
Today’s legislation also included the 12 fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills, which make strong investments to provide pathways to better schools, expand access to housing, tackle food insecurity, protect the environment, and combat climate change.
“Today, I also voted to keep the government open and to fund critical priorities for our region that will create jobs,” said Rep. Kilmer. “As a Member of the Appropriations Committee, I am pleased that it includes vital investments in Puget Sound recovery and restoring our salmon, a much-deserved pay raise for our military and for civilian federal workers, support for Indian Country and veterans, investments in jobs at Naval Base Kitsap, and funding for broadband and rural economic development.”
Kilmer added, “This is not the agreement I would have written on my own – there are some provisions that I would have excluded, and others I fought to have included that weren’t. But, to avert a government shutdown we needed to reach an agreement with a Republican Senate and a Republican President whose values are different than those of a majority of folks in our region. While not perfect, today’s legislation responsibly funds our government, prevents another damaging government shutdown, and invests in our region.”
Among its provisions, the bill:
Provides Critical Funding for Puget Sound Restoration
The omnibus spending bill made important investments in restoring Puget Sound, including $33.75 million for the Puget Sound Geographic Program, which provides critical grant support to state, local, and tribal governments to implement projects to improve water quality, protect shorelines, and enhance fish passage and salmon habitat. The increase over the Fiscal Year 2020 enacted level, which Rep. Kilmer fought to secure as a member of the Appropriations Committee, rejects a Trump Administration proposal to eliminate the program altogether and represents an important investment in projects that will help recover iconic species, like salmon and orca, and continue to improve the health of the Sound.
“This vital increase in funding for the Puget Sound Geographic Program will drive conservation and restoration projects and help us achieve our twin goals of Puget Sound recovery and economic recovery. We know that every $1 million spent on watershed restoration produces $2.5 million in total economic activity and approximately 16 new or sustained jobs. Increased investment in Puget Sound restoration and salmon recovery yields real and lasting benefits for people and our economy. With this increase in federal funding, we will continue to make progress towards a healthy and vibrant Puget Sound,” said Laura Blackmore, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership. “We are thankful to our strong delegation for fighting for the protection and restoration of Puget Sound. Special thanks go to Congressmen Kilmer and Heck for leading the Puget Sound caucus and working to build bipartisan and national support for Puget Sound recovery. We are also grateful for the dedication and advocacy of our partners, who have worked to ensure that investing in Puget Sound recovery to achieve economic recovery remains a top priority for the federal government.”
Invests in Rural Broadband
The omnibus invests over $7 billion in the expansion of broadband service to provide economic development opportunities and improved education and health care services, including $300 million for rural broadband and $250 million for telehealth.
The increase in investment, which Rep. Kilmer fought to secure as a member of the Appropriations Committee, also includes $635 million for the ReConnect program, which aims to increase access to broadband connectivity in underserved rural areas. These significant investments in broadband reflect a commitment to enabling Americans in rural communities to access digital tools necessary to improve health, educational, and economic outcomes.
The bill also included an effort by Rep. Kilmer to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take action to increase access to broadband on rural Tribal lands. That provision directs the USDA to work with tribal communities to better understand the unique infrastructure challenges they face and to ensure that tribal communities are not held at a competitive disadvantage when competing for broadband resources.
In addition, the bill called on the USDA to develop strategies that utilize telehealth technologies to help improve care options for seniors, expectant mothers, infants, and others in rural areas.
Supports Shipyard Workers, Defense Communities
The omnibus also included critical investments in our nation’s defense communities, including a $20 million investment championed by Rep. Kilmer to fund the Navy Facility Sustainment, Modernization, and Restoration Program, which will invest in critical infrastructure upgrades at the nation’s four public shipyards – including Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton – to improve resiliency to fires, earthquakes, and other natural hazards.
In addition, the legislation included a $60 million investment Rep. Kilmer advocated for to the Defense Community Infrastructure Program, which funds projects that address commuter workforce issues, school construction, and other local infrastructure that support military installations like Naval Base Kitsap and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Kilmer has worked with the City of Bremerton and Kitsap County in hopes of securing federal funds to reduce congestion into the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Finally, the bill includes a three percent pay increase for members of the armed forces and preserves a one percent pay raise for federal civilian employees next year.
Rep. Kilmer spoke in support of the provisions before the Appropriations Committee in July.
Advances Kilmer-led Priorities to Combat Climate Change, Invest in Resiliency
The omnibus also included several initiatives led by Rep. Kilmer to increase federal investments in climate resilience and help communities that are dealing with persistent flooding. The bill provides funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to support communities across the region that are working to manage flood risks and threats from coastal hazards. The $10 million included in the bipartisan agreement represents a $5 million increase over the current funding level. The bills also provides $78.5 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coastal Zone Management Grants and $34 million for the National Coastal Resilience Fund, rejecting the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate these key programs which provide critical planning and technical assistance to states and tribes to deal with persistent flooding.
Rep. Kilmer also successfully fought against efforts by the Trump Administration to defund the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (NW CASC) housed at the University of Washington (UW). He successfully worked to secure nearly $42 million to grow investments in the nation’s eight regionally-focused CASCs, which provide actionable science and research that directly address many of the climate-related challenges unique to different regions of the country. In addition, he fought to include $182 million for NOAA’s Climate Research programs, including funding to support cutting-edge research on climate, ocean, and fishery science.
Rep. Kilmer also ensured that the bill provided $17 million for the Tribal Climate Resilience program and included language directing the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to coordinate with federal agencies to leverage other federal resources to support a comprehensive approach to support coastal tribal communities – including the Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah tribes, – that are actively working to make their communities more climate resilient.
In addition, Rep. Kilmer worked to secure critical funding to support early warning capabilities for natural hazards and disasters, including: more than $28 million NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Centers and for the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program to support hazard identification and response; $25.7 million for the USGS for the construction, operation, and maintenance of a West Coast Earthquake Early Warning System; a total of $30.26 million for the Volcano Hazards program to maintain support for next generation lahar detection operations and infrastructure on Mount Rainier and other high-threat volcanoes; and, $8.04 million for the Landslides Hazards program, which will help to prevent human and economic loss through the development of methods and models for landslide hazard assessment, monitoring, and tools for landslide early warning and situational awareness.
Includes Kilmer-led Priorities to Support Timber Communities
The omnibus also included a measure led by Rep. Kilmer to support timber communities and the effort to grow rural jobs. Kilmer’s proposal highlights the value of collaborative forest management and directs the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to prioritize resources to expedite project development and approval of forest treatments developed by collaboratives.
In 2015, Rep. Kilmer helped launch the Olympic Forest Collaborative – an effort to bring leaders from the timber industry, environmental community, and local government to work together to create economic opportunity on the Olympic Peninsula. The Collaborative works to advance forest treatments that increase harvest levels while also achieving much needed environmental benefits like landscape restoration, watershed protection, and habitat conservation. The provisions Rep. Kilmer secured in the appropriations bill will help collaboratives – like the Olympic Forest Collaborative – to create more economic opportunity.
The omnibus also included investment championed by Rep. Kilmer to supply $27 million to the USFS Forest Products Laboratory to continue research to advance wood markets, including research on wood-based nanotechnology; advanced wood products that incorporate carbon fiber, and wood use in building construction, including research on the life cycle of impacts of wood as a building material. These funds could complement the work being done by organizations, like the Composite Recycling Technology Center in Port Angeles, to drive innovation in this arena with a goal of creating jobs on the Olympic Peninsula.
The legislation also included provisions to support public/private partnerships that provide assistance, education, and resources related to the design of non-residential and multi-family wood buildings, and that leverage research and technology investments to create new and expanded wood product markets.
Finally, Rep. Kilmer advanced a provision recognizing the benefits of utilizing Cross Laminated Timber and other mass timber products in military construction projects and directing the Secretary of Defense to expand the application of these innovative technologies in future projects.