Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, released a statement on the 2018 federal funding bill, which was recently approved by Congress.
Priorities for serving Americans’ needs were addressed in this funding package, including opioids, veterans, child care, infrastructure and college affordability.
The $1.3 trillion bipartisan appropriations bill includes an $80 billion increase in defense spending, which will allow for investments in training, equipment and benefits that service members have earned. It will also help the military confront rising national security challenges posed by international terrorist groups, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. The bill also includes a total of $3.3 billion in increased funding to fight the opioids and mental health crises for fiscal 2018, including an increase of $2.8 billion in treatment, prevention and research, an additional $2 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs to address its hospital maintenance and construction backlogs, a $3 billion increase for the National Institutes for Health, more than $10 billion to help communities throughout America build new infrastructure and more. The bill also includes $2 billion in additional funding for college affordability programs, spread across increased investments in Pell Grants, federal work-study and supplemental educational opportunity grants.
“When Congress is gridlocked, the annual spending bill is one of the best opportunities we have to authorize and fund key programs that Delaware and our entire country rely on. While this bill isn’t perfect, and both parties had to compromise to reach an agreement, I believe this bill provides important investments in our military and domestic programs that will make a real difference across the country,” said Coons. “I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to include stronger gun safety legislation or a fix for Dreamers in this bill, but I’m going to keep fighting to get both of those things done as soon as possible.”
Coons helped to secure key investments in the federal spending bill for fiscal 2018 that will have a direct impact on Delaware. In addition to Coons’ work to secure $380 million in election security funding for states, Coons fought for investments in state and local law enforcement and fire services, national service, Delaware’s National Guard, Amtrak and other passenger rail programs, the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program and more.
Coons fought for funding for fire and local law enforcement support. The bill includes $700 million for the nation’s fire services, $350 million for assistance to firefighter grants and $350 million for staffing for adequate fire and emergency response grants. The bill also includes critical support for state and local law enforcement, including $22.5 million for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program and $415.5 million for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program.
The federal funding bill also includes the Fix NICS Act, which Coons co-sponsored. Fix NICS ensures essential information is provided to law enforcement when conducting firearms background checks. The funding bill also permits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research into gun violence.
Every year, Coons fights for full funding for the Victims of Child Abuse Act, which helps fund Children’s Advocacy Centers in the U.S. He is pleased that the bill appropriates $21 million for programs authorized by VOCA. Delaware has three centers, one in each county that investigate about 250 cases and conduct more than 1,400 interviews a year. Additionally, for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the agreement provides $415 million, an increase of $27 million above the fiscal 2017 enacted level and $47 million more than the budget request, to help reduce drug trafficking and drug use. For the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, the agreement provides $280 million, a $26 million increase more than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $33 million more than the budget request. New Castle County was designated as part of the Liberty Mid-Atlantic HIDTA in late 2014.
Coons fought to fund key federal programs that support the manufacturing sector. Notably, the Omnibus includes a $10 million increase for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, which helps small manufacturers across the country improve their operations to remain competitive. The bill also includes a nearly 200 percent increase in funding for the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program, $29 million, which is a manufacturing workforce development program that was established through legislation authored by Coons. Finally, the Omnibus includes full funding to continue the Department of Commerce’s commitment to the University of Delaware’s National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing. In 2016, the Department of Commerce awarded the University of Delaware $70 million over five years to establish a Manufacturing USA institute focused on developing innovations in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.
Coons secured an additional $33.6 million investment in the Corporation for National and Community Service to expand the number of AmeriCorps members serving in communities across the country. AmeriCorps members help meet a wide range of local and national needs, including providing recovery assistance after natural disasters, tutoring and mentoring struggling students, addressing public health crises like the opioid epidemic and providing job-training and other services to returning veterans. Currently, more than 220 AmeriCorps members can be found working in Delaware at a number of nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, Reading Assist, Delaware State Parks and the Ministry of Caring.
Coons helped to secure $15 million in additional funding for C-130H aircraft modernization, a $120 million increase for the National Guard Counterdrug Program and $36 million for an Army National Guard maintenance shop in New Castle. This money will ensure the Delaware National Guard has the funding necessary to continue its missions and keep Delawareans safe.
Coons fought for funding for Amtrak and other passenger rail programs, including $1.941 billion to support Amtrak and $250 million for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair, which will help Amtrak address the $38 billion maintenance backlog on the Northeast Corridor. The bill also includes $1.5 billion for the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery Program, which has helped build important projects in Delaware like the Claymont and Newark train stations.
Additionally, in the final spending bill, HBCUs will receive a 14 percent increase in federal funding, from $244.7 million in fiscal 2017 to $279.6 million in fiscal 2018. This includes key investments in programs such as Strengthening HBCUs, HBCU capital financing and HBCU loan subsidies, among others. Delaware State University, Delaware’s Historically Black College and University, will be able to apply for many of these funds, which will contribute in helping their students succeed.
Another program that Coons fought for is the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This program, created as part of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act in 2016, was funded at $5 million for the very first time this year. This money will support clean water and other conservation projects throughout the whole Delaware River watershed, including in Delaware. Coons led a bipartisan and bicameral letter, signed by many of his colleagues from the watershed, to ensure that this funding would be included in the Omnibus.
The Omnibus also includes an increase in the allocation of low income housing tax credits, which will support the construction of more affordable housing across the U.S. This was a top priority for Coons, who has fought to expand this highly successful program. This provision is based on the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which Coons co-sponsors.
Coons has fought for affordable housing programs and, for the fiscal 2018 Omnibus, he helped secure an increase in funding for the HOME Investment Partnerships Program at $1.362 billion, which is $412 million above fiscal 2017, and $3.3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant Program, which is $300 million above fiscal 2017. Additionally, he helped secure level funding for the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program at $10 million. During Coons’ career in public service and when he served in New Castle County government, he has seen the impact that these programs have had on neighborhoods throughout Delaware.