Merkley, Wyden lay out long list of Oregon programs in year-end funding package

Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Tuesday “a wide range of investments that will benefit Oregon” in the fiscal year 2021 package of spending bills that passed the Senate late Monday and headed to the president, to be signed into law.

Taken together, the investments announced by the senators impact virtually all communities in every corner of the state, addressing some of Oregonians’ biggest challenges.

The provisions highlighted include only a fraction of those in the omnibus package that benefit Oregon, including health care, education, science and conservation, and more, the pair said in a news release, which continues below:

“These bills include key investments to create jobs in the woods and reduce wildfire risk. They support stakeholders working on collaborative water solutions so family farms have the irrigation water they need to make it to the next generation. They will create new housing where it’s desperately needed, help modernize infrastructure without burdening ratepayers, support port dredging on the coast, and keep small airports open for business,” Merkley said. “Government is supposed to be how all of us—We the People—come together to solve problems and build a better future, and I’m trying to make sure Oregonians’ voices and priorities are reflected in our investment decisions.”

“Oregonians in every nook and cranny of our state are hurting from the devastating blows delivered in 2020. I’ve heard their concerns throughout this challenging year over Zoom, virtual town halls and socially distant conversations, and I’m glad to report this bill will open doors for new jobs, housing, water solutions for small farms, and healthier and safer communities in our state—during a time when we need it most,” Wyden said. “Our efforts won’t stop here. The fight for a secure and healthy future for every Oregonian continues.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield a generation ago 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.

U.S. Department of Interior funding includes support for wildfire management, following another year of unprecedented blazes, as well as support for Land and Water Conservation Fund projects all across Oregon, through the Great American Outdoors Act:

  • Wildfire Management: In anticipation of the next fire season, the bill includes $3.74 billion for fire suppression at the Forest Service and Department of the Interior. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management received significant increases of an additional $25 million and $25.9 million, respectively, for hazardous fuels reduction—which makes forests far more resilient to wildfires—bringing the total funding level to $689.9 million. Fiscal year 2020 was the first year that the bipartisan “fire borrowing fix” went into effect; this fiscal year, $2.35 billion of additional funds are available for fire suppression and other priorities within the Interior bill.
  • Forest Health Restoration and Collaboration: The bill provides $40 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). With the addition of the new CFLRP project in October, Oregon has three active CFLR projects: Northern Blues Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, and Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project.
  • Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: In continued efforts toward a long-term solution in the Klamath Basin, the bill maintains the increase that Merkley secured last year, providing $6.5 million to support strategies to restore fish habitat and scale up ongoing efforts to restore healthy populations of shortnose and Lost River suckers. The bill also maintains the additional $5 million in funding that Merkley secured for habitat restoration in advance of the removal of Klamath River dams.
  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $515 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. This funding goes to Oregon counties that have large tracts of federal land, which doesn’t pay property taxes. The investment approved by Congress is $73 million over the president’s request.
  • Water Infrastructure: Critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Authority (WIFIA) Act received $65 million to leverage billions of dollars in investments, such as the new projects in Hillsboro and Portland. Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, working to ensure public drinking water and wastewater infrastructure are well-maintained—critical for public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. WIFIA was passed into law as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development Act.
  • Tribal Programs: The Indian Health Service, which provides health care to thousands of Oregon Tribal members, received $6.3 billion, $189 million more than fiscal year 2020. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Bureau of Indian Education received $3.4 billion, an increase of $174 million to the fiscal year 2020 level. The BIA funding includes $1.5 million for Columbia River Treaty sites, advancing the ongoing effort to improve tribal housing at the site.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides $900 million, as required by the Great American Outdoors Act, which Merkley and Wyden helped pass into law this summer. For Oregon, that means projects will be funded at an estimated: $2.5 million for the Spence Mountain Forest Legacy project in Southern Oregon; $3.3 million for the Wasson Forest project in Siuslaw National Forest in Western Oregon; $2.18 million Crooked River Gorge in Ochoco National Forest in Central Oregon; and $1.1 million for the Elk Creek project in Wallowa Whitman National Forest in Eastern Oregon. For over 50 years the program has been the main source of funding for federal land and water acquisitions. Acquiring and protecting public lands not only provides environmental and recreational benefits, but also creates jobs in the tourism, recreation, timber, fishing, and other natural resource sectors.
  • Earthquake Preparedness: The bill includes $85 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to support regional earthquake initiatives, including $25.7 million for the West Coast ShakeAlert early warning project. The bill also encourages the USGS to continue the development of a system for Cascadia that will help prepare for and mitigate the negative human and economic impacts of a major seismic event.

The Energy and Water bill includes vital funding for Oregon’s small ports on the coast and irrigators across the state:

  • Small Ports and Army Corps Navigation: The program, which is vital to help Oregon ports pay for dredging and other necessary infrastructure projects, received $580 million for deep-draft harbor and channel improvements, $60 million for inland waterways, $41 million for navigation maintenance, and $65 million for small ports, which supports the small ports that are the lifeblood of Oregon’s coastal economy.
  • Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The WaterSmart program received a $21million increase, to $55 million, to fund projects that will help irrigation districts comply with the Endangered Species Act. The WaterSmart program has supported the collaborative process that is underway within Central Oregon to conserve water, improve habitat for endangered steelhead and the spotted frog, and keep Central Oregon family farms in business.
  • Expanding Renewable Energy: The bill includes $110 million—a $10 million increase—for wind energy and $10 million for distributed wind. The bill also includes $150 million for water power research, which will support ongoing research at OSU, and $273.5 million for solar power programs.

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill includes support for affordable housing and homelessness services—which are of particular importance as the state grapples with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Community Development Block Grants: The bill includes $3.5 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 additional funding for affordable housing programs for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable people—low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. Merkley led 37 of his colleagues, including Wyden, in a successful effort to provide an additional $895 million to support continuing rental assistance for 1.2 million low-income households. Funding for housing programs that benefit the elderly and people with disabilities were also preserved.
  • 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.
  • Homeless Assistance Grants: The bill includes $3 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, a $179 million increase that will benefit organizations across Oregon. Within that appropriation, rapid rehousing programs for victims of domestic violence received $52 million; homeless youth programs received $82 million; and Emergency Solutions Grants—particularly important to the Portland metro area—received $290 million to support street outreach, emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing assistance.
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program: The bill includes $1.35 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.
  • HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing: The program received $40 million to provide new rental assistance vouchers for homeless veterans, along with case management and clinical services. These vouchers have been critical to reducing veterans’ homelessness by 49 percent since 2010.
  • Capital Investment Grant Program: The bill includes nearly $2 billion for the program, which provides funding for major transit investments that support sustainable transportation and reduced congestion in cities like Portland, Eugene and Salem.
  • BUILD Grants: Formerly known as TIGER, the program received a $1 billion investment for 2021. This critical transportation grants program has helped fund projects across Oregon such as the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge replacement project.
  • Essential Air Service and Contract Towers: The bill includes $142 million for the Essential Air Service. 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. Additionally, the bill increases funding for FAA Contract Towers to $172.8 million. There are six contract towers across Oregon, and this funding ensures their continued operation.

Additionally, the omnibus package includes renewable energy and conservation provisions that the senators fought for:

  • Marine Energy Research and Development ActThe package includes Wyden and Merkley’s bill, which reauthorizes marine renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy (DOE). Those programs include the national marine renewable energy research, development and demonstration centers found around the country, including one operated by Oregon State University. The legislation also directs the DOE to research ways to build a stable marine energy supply chain in the United States, as well as ways to ensure marine energy development does not interfere with ocean navigation, fisheries and critical infrastructure such as undersea cables.
  • Water for Conservation and Farming ActThe package also includes key elements of Wyden and Merkley’s bill, including provisions to:
    • Create opportunities, through the Community Watershed Management Program, for disadvantaged communities, primarily in rural areas, to work with the Department of the Interior to plan conservation projects that improve drinking water quality and supply;
    • Establish an aquatic ecosystem restoration program at the Department of the Interior at $15 million annually for 5 years that will help fund projects to improve the health of fisheries, wildlife or aquatic habitat; and
    • Increase funding for the WaterSMART program by $150 million, and allow non-profit organizations—in addition to farmers and ranchers—to access this additional money.

Earlier, the two lawmakers announced the details of a Senate-passed fiscal year 2021 agriculture spending bill they said will benefit Oregon’s farms and families.

That news release continues in full below:

“In every corner of our state, I’ve heard about the need for investments in our farms and rural industries, affordable housing, and good-paying jobs—especially as the coronavirus crisis’ toll on our health and economy continues to deepen,” said Merkley, who who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and rural development and co-authored the agriculture appropriations bill. 

“I fought hard to ensure that those insights, and the specific ideas and priorities Oregonians have shared with me, would make it into this bill, so we can strengthen the vitality of our communities and keep delivering the world-class agricultural products Oregon is known for.”

“Building the strongest possible quality of life throughout Oregon requires robust investment to support signature job-creating state industries such as agriculture and fishing, while also ensuring rural residents have housing they can afford,” Wyden said. “I’m glad this bill helps to achieve all those goals that Oregonians have shared with me on Zoom calls, virtual town halls and socially distanced conversations during this most challenging year.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield a generation ago 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 to benefit Oregonians in the spending bill are:

Wine Grape Smoke Exposure Research: This year’s unprecedented wildfire season blanketed much of the state of Oregon with dense, hazardous smoke, which has significantly impacted Oregon’s wine grape harvest. To better understand the challenges facing Oregon’s wine growers, the bill includes $3.5 million for research into smoke-impacted grapes at Oregon State University (OSU) and other West Coast universities, building on $2 million secured the prior appropriations cycle.

Rural Housing: The bill includes $1.41 billion for rental assistance and $40 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, which will help address the urgent housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities.

Rural Development: The bill protects funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including rural housing and business development programs that President Trump proposed eliminating. These programs make billions of dollars of investments in rural America every year.

National Scenic Area: The bill includes $2 million to help Oregon’s rural communities promote economic development through the Oregon and Washington Investment Boards, rounding out a $10 million commitment that was authorized when the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area was created.

Soil Health: The bill includes $1.5 million for the establishment of a Soil Carbon Research Center at OSU focused on research into current and future dryland production practices to increase profitability and yield, conserve soil, enhance soil water storage, and promote sequestration of carbon for soil health.

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes a $30 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations in Oregon. Funding is included 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 processes underway across the state working to conserve water and keep Oregon’s family farms in business while improving the habitats of endangered species. Construction has begun on several key projects to address water resource interests in Central Oregon, including in the Tumalo Irrigation District and Central Oregon Irrigation District, and funding announced today will allow further expansion across the state, such as the East Fork Irrigation District project that has broken ground in Hood River.

Pacific Shellfish: The bill includes $3.5 million of federal funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the Pacific shellfish agricultural system. This research is critical to efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate chaos on the health and economies of Oregon’s coastal communities.

Western Rangeland Livestock: The bill includes $3 million for the establishment of a Western Rangeland Precision Livestock center to develop precision-based nutrition strategies for rangeland-based livestock, as well as technology-based rangeland and livestock management strategies to optimize the health and productivity of Western rangeland-based livestock and the rangeland ecosystem. This funding will be split among land grant universities in Oregon, Montana, and Wisconsin.

Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of $77 million in funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, Merkley was able to secure funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast. Other research funding victories include research for alfalfa, barley, tree fruits, pear, wheat, hops, hemp, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and rangeland ecology.

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.

Summer EBT:  The bill continues funding the Summer EBT program at $42 million. This program has provided much-needed nutrition for Oregon families during the summer months when schools are not in session.

Food Corps: The bill provides an increase of $1 million for Food and Agriculture Service Learning.  This program helps improve education resources for healthy eating especially among children.

Hemp: The bill provides $16.5 million to implement provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of commercial hemp, which can be used to make everything from cloth and rope to oil and soap. Hemp has already quickly become one of Oregon’s leading cash crops, and many feel has the potential to bring in more than $1 billion in sales to Oregon in the coming years, but only with a fair and reasonable regulatory framework.

In addition, the explanatory statement highlights several concerns raised by Oregon hemp producers over the USDA’s proposed testing and sampling regulations, and directs the USDA to ensure that the final rule for the Domestic Hemp Program is based on science and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for commercial hemp producers. The bill also:

·       Extends the 2014 hemp pilot program until January 1, 2022, providing hundreds of Oregon farmers clear operating guidelines as the USDA smooths out regulatory challenges;

·       Encourages the USDA to study the usage and impact of energy and water in hemp cultivation and to make recommendations on best practices and standards;

·       Directs the agency to establish and maintain a hemp germplasm repository for hemp breeding purposes;

·       Provides $2 million for the agency to conduct regionally-driven research, development, and stakeholder engagement to improve understanding of how to effectively integrate hemp into existing agricultural cropping, processing, and marketing systems; and

·       Directs the USDA to work with institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA): The bill provides $3.2 billion in discretionary funding for FDA. As FDA continues to be on the frontlines of addressing COVID-19, the bill ensures the agency continues to have adequate funding to respond to this urgent need. The bill also includes an additional $5 million for FDA to continue work on a regulatory pathway for CBD, a product derived from hemp.