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Senators list Oregon transportation, agriculture funding


Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced Thursday that the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Committee bill has passed the full Senate as part of a 2019 funding package, providing billions of dollars for transportation and housing projects that are critical to both rural and urban Oregon.

“Every corner of Oregon is experiencing a housing crisis. I’m very pleased that this bill increases funding for rental assistance and other housing programs,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “And funding for TIGER grants and other infrastructure programs will help improve Oregon’s roads and bridges.”

“This legislation helps to answer the needs of Oregonians working to pay the rent and cover soaring housing costs,” Wyden said. “The bill also contains significant assistance for communities needing resources to maintain infrastructure that helps Oregonians travel safely on roads, bridges and mass transit. In all, this adds up to much-needed investments that help our state preserve our quality of life in rural, urban and suburban Oregon.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill.

The bill includes $47 million in additional funding for grants used by cities across Oregon for important transportation projects. Other investments that will benefit Oregon include:

Capital Investment Grant Program: The bill includes $2.5 billion for the program, which provides funding for major transit investments that support sustainable transportation and reduced congestion in Oregon’s growing cities. Merkley also successfully fought for report language highlighting the damaging delays caused the Trump Administration in awarding these grants, and directing the Secretary of Transportation to continue to advance existing projects and to not stall the awarding of grants.

TIGER Grants: The bill includes a $1 billion investment for 2019, building on the previous fiscal year’s investment of $1.5 billion. This critical transportation grants program, which the Trump Administration’s budget zeroed out for the second year, has helped fund projects like the repair and renovation of the North Santiam River Bridge — a major rural connector on a designated freight route near Mill City, which sits in Linn and Marion counties. This increased investment will help fund similar transportation projects across the state.

Transit Improvement Grants: The bill includes $9.93 billion, including $777 million for Bus and Bus Facilities Grants to help transit agencies purchase new buses and replace aging fleets, in particular transitioning to new low- or no-emission vehicles. Transit agencies in Oregon cities like Eugene, Salem and Portland, are leading on this transition. The Salem Area Mass Transit District, for instance, recently received grant funding to construct a new transit center and replace six low-efficiency buses.

FAST Act: The bill protects funding for rail programs authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, including $255 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grants and $300 million for Partnership for State of Good Repair grants, which support capital investment and maintenance projects for Amtrak routes and rail assets.

Essential Air Service and Contract Towers: The bill includes $315 million for the Essential Air Service, a $30 million increase. The Essential Air Service program supports flights between the City of Pendleton and Portland International Airport, a vital connection to support economic development across Eastern Oregon. Merkley and Wyden have also introduced a bill that would make the Klamath Falls airport, another small but critical regional hub, eligible for the program. Additionally, the bill increases funding for FAA Contract Towers by $3 million to $168 million. There are six contract towers across Oregon, and this funding ensures their continued operation.

Key housing appropriations that will benefit Oregon include:

Community Development Block Grants: Rejecting the Trump Administration’s request to eliminate the program, the bill includes $3.365 billion for the Community Development Block Grant Program. This program funds vital housing rehabilitation, supportive services, public improvements and economic development projects in communities across Oregon and the nation while encouraging local investment.

Affordable Housing: As rural and urban communities across Oregon continue to experience housing crises, the bill includes an increase for affordable housing programs for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable people — low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. The bill provides $22.8 billion to renew rental assistance for 2.2 million low-income households, a $765 million increase from 2018. The senator also protected funding for housing programs that benefit the elderly and people with disabilities.

Fair Market Rents: The bill includes a provision to require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to produce a report identifying the barriers that Public Housing Authorities face in conducting and receiving reimbursement for rent surveys. This is a significant step forward in the battle to address the affordable housing crisis, by ensuring that vouchers keep pace with the real cost of rent in competitive rental markets.

Rural Housing: The Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) and Rural Capacity Building Program received $10 million and $5 million, respectively. SHOP provides funds for non-profit sweat-equity homebuilders, such as Habitat for Humanity, to cover land purchases and infrastructure costs. The Rural Capacity funds are intended to build the capacity of rural low income housing non-profits by providing training, information, technical assistance, and financing.

Key elements of the bill that seek to address homelessness in Oregon include:

Homeless Assistance Grants: The bill includes $2.6 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, a $99 million increase that will benefit organizations across Oregon. Within that appropriation, rapid rehousing programs for victims of domestic violence received $50 million; homeless youth programs received $80 million; and Emergency Solutions Grants — particularly important to the Portland metro area — received $270 million to support street outreach, emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing assistance.

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: The bill includes $3.6 million for the program to continue its coordination of federal agencies working to combat homelessness.

HOME Investment Partnerships Program: The bill includes $1.36 billion for the program to provide states and localities with flexible resources to respond to their affordable housing challenges, including rental housing and paths to homeownership for low-income families.

Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation: The program, also known as NeighborWorks America, received $147 million, a $7 million increase. The national nonprofit offers support for affordable housing and community development through public-private partnerships. President Trump’s proposal would have eliminated this program, crippling its six locations across Oregon.

HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing : The program received $40 million to provide rental assistance vouchers for homeless veterans, along with case management and clinical services. These vouchers have been critical to reducing veterans’ homelessness by 46 percent since 2010. For instance, in Central Oregon, 80 vouchers are used each month to house veterans.

The senators also announced that the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that will help Oregon’s rural communities has passed the full Senate as part of a 2019 funding package.

“Even in this polarized era, we’re working on a bipartisan basis to invest in rural America and rural Oregon,” Merkley said. “Between bolstering rural broadband, investing in rural wastewater systems; delivering energy savings opportunities to folks in rural America, and more, we can make a real difference for rural America.”

“Dependable, affordable and high-speed broadband is a must for rural Oregon families and businesses working to compete globally in the digital world and create good-paying jobs at home,” Wyden said. “This bill takes a much-needed step toward achieving that broadband goal as well as meeting other key rural goals, such as protecting clean water, allowing Oregon farmers to grow hemp, encouraging new uses for timber products and fighting for farmers and ranchers by improving soil health and conserving critical resources.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

Key elements of the legislation that will impact Oregon include:

Rural Broadband: The bill includes an additional $425 million investment for 2019, building on the previous fiscal year’s investment of $600 million. Together, Congress has provided $1.25 billion for grants and loans to expand broadband in rural areas that don’t have sufficient access or service. The funding is expected to leverage billions more in grants and loans.

Rural Development: The bill protects funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including rural housing and business development programs which President Trump proposed eliminating. These programs make billions of dollars of investments in rural America every year. In addition, Merkley was able to secure a $6 million increase for grants for rural business development for 2019.

Rural Water and Waste Disposal Systems: The bill includes an additional $400 million for 2019, building on last fiscal year’s investment of $500 million. Together, the program has received approximately $900 million in additional funding to support loans and grants for clean water and sanitary waste disposal systems in rural communities. Over $2.2 billion in loans and grants are provided, which will assist over 4.2 million rural residents.

Mass Timber Products: The advanced wood products program at USDA received $3.5 million for work on mass timber products that would enhance Oregon State University’s cutting-edge research.

Organic and Sustainable Agriculture: The bill includes significant increases to funding for organic and sustainable agriculture programs. The USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program received $37 million, a $2 million increase from last fiscal year. The National Organic Program received $15 million — a $3 million increase — to develop and enforce the country’s standards for organically produced agricultural products. The Organic Transitions Program, which is dedicated to helping farmers transition from conventional to organic farming practices, received $6 million — a $1 million increase.

Rural Energy Savings Program: Funding for the program, which Merkley created, was increased by $2 million and will leverage an additional $14 million for energy efficiency retrofits to buildings in rural communities, bringing the total leveraged amount to over $71 million. The bill also continued language from last year that allows the program to offer low-interest loans for replacing existing manufactured housing with new, energy-efficient manufactured housing in rural communities.

Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of almost $100 million in funding to for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, the bill includes funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on alfalfa, pear, wheat, hops, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast.

Industrial Hemp: The bill protects Oregon’s growing hemp industry by prohibiting the federal government from interfering with hemp research projects or with legally produced hemp products, and encourages the USDA to support industrial hemp research by informing researchers of their eligibility for funding. Oregon has enacted laws allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp, which can be used to make everything from rope and cloth to oil and soap.

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: For the third consecutive year, the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program received $150 million, including funding for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative process underway in the Deschutes Basin to conserve water and improve the habitat of the spotted frog, helping to keep Central Oregon family farms in business.

The bills passed the floor on Wednesday. The next step for the bills is to be merged with a counterparts from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.

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