Federal spending bill includes multiple provisions for Alaska

WASHINGTON — The $1.7 trillion federal spending package includes hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations for projects specific to Alaska and enacts legislation that will directly affect the state.

“There is literally no part of our state that this legislation doesn’t benefit,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee that helped negotiate the legislation.

Congress passed the bill on its last day of work Dec. 23, funding the government through September 2023. President Joe Biden signed the bill last Thursday.

The omnibus bill funds all corners of the federal government, with $773 billion for domestic spending, $858 billion for military spending and nearly $45 billion for assistance to Ukraine.

The House passed the bill just hours before the lack of a budget would have shut down government.

Murkowski was one of 14 Senate Republicans to vote for the bill. Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan opposed the 4,155-page bill, which was first released late evening Dec. 20. Sullivan acknowledged that the bill includes Alaska-related provisions he supports, but said a “broken budget process” and the roughly 48 hours between the bill’s introduction and the final Senate passage contributed to his no vote.

Rep. Mary Peltola voted to pass the bill, alongside most other House Democrats.

Here is some of what the spending package includes for Alaska:

$500 million in earmarks

About 130 Murkowski-requested, congressionally directed spending allocations — also called earmarks — made it into the spending bill, totaling close to $500 million. Nonprofit and government projects across the state will receive funding.

Some big-ticket items include $99 million to fund a fitness center annex at the Army’s Fort Wainwright; $63 million for an aircraft maintenance hangar at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson; and $33.9 million for abandoned oil and gas well remediation in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Murkowski noted in a statement that she “was the only member of Alaska’s congressional delegation to pursue congressionally directed spending projects.” Rep. Don Young died weeks before earmark requests were due, and Peltola was elected after the deadline.

Though the bill includes federal funding for military spending, water and sewer systems, floodwater projects, landfills and solid waste management efforts, food banks, behavioral health programs, domestic violence shelters, health care facilities and social service programs, none of the money is specific to Wrangell. The borough earlier this year received a $2.08 million federal grant for its water system.

Fisheries disaster assistance

The bill includes $300 million for fisheries disaster assistance, funding that the Alaska congressional delegation said the state’s fisheries, like the Bering Sea king and snow crab fisheries, sorely need. The U.S. Department of Commerce last month declared several fishery disasters in Alaska, making them eligible for the assistance, though the timeline to distribute that funding is unclear.

Alaska Salmon Research

Task Force

A Sullivan-led measure to study Pacific salmon was included in the omnibus bill. The Alaska Salmon Research Task Force, under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will be a 13- to 19-member body that reviews and reports on research about Alaska salmon, with the goal of supporting sustainable salmon runs.

The job of the task force will be “to review current research and applied research gaps on migration patterns and declining returns of Pacific salmon in Alaska to support sustainable management,” Murkowski said in a prepared statement.

“In recent years, Alaskans have witnessed shocking and unprecedented declines among some salmon species in parts of the state while, in other parts, runs have been strong and historic,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Many have speculated on the causes of these declines, but all Alaskans can agree — we need to identify and address research prioritization gaps with comprehensive data and the best scientific minds, including Indigenous communities that have harvested salmon for millennia.”

The spending also allocates $15 million for ocean and river studies by Alaska-based researchers.

Halibut quota shares

The legislation authorizes the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish a system so that Alaska halibut sportfishing charter operators can collectively pay a fee toward the purchase of commercial halibut quota shares for use by their industry. “For over a decade, the Alaska charter fleet has pushed the development of a mechanism to purchase and transfer commercial halibut quota shares to ease increasingly restrictive limits for charter anglers,” Murkowski explained.

Veterans

The bill directs the Veterans Administration “to appoint a single point of contact to coordinate federal tribal and veteran health care in areas where it may be difficult for a veteran to find proper representation of care due to the limited presence of VA facilities,” Murkowski said.

The measure also establishes a pilot program, Native VetSuccess, for tribal colleges and universities.

Another provision of the bill requires the Veterans Administration to provide service coordinators with training in delivery of “culturally appropriate mental health and suicide prevention services to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans,” the senator said. It also expands scholarship and loan programs for veterans pursuing degrees or training in mental health fields.

Land contamination cleanup grants

For the first time, the federal government will distribute $20 million in grants for the assessment and remediation of contaminated lands conveyed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to regional and village corporations.

Trails

The spending bill provides funding for the Interior Department to do a feasibility study on the Alaska Long Trail, a proposed 500-mile route from Fairbanks to Seward, to determine if it could be a National Scenic Trail. The bill also designates the Chilkoot Trail, a 16-mile long Tlingit trade route later used during the gold rush out of Skagway, as a National Historic Trail.

Alaska Native mental health

The package allocates $80 million to the Indian Health Service for prevention, recovery and treatment programs dedicated to mental health and substance abuse. The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can direct the funding to Alaska Native tribal health organizations.

Additional provisions

- Provides funding for an Arctic Ambassador.

- Appropriates $6.5 million to support municipal recycling programs and local waste management systems for marine plastic waste, a priority for Peltola.

- Establishes an assistant secretary of tourism within the Commerce Department, appointed by the president and required to collect and make public data on domestic travel and tourism trends. A priority for Sullivan, the legislation requires the department to develop a 10-year strategy to boost the industry and establishes the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.

The Murkowski-sponsored Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, or PUMP Act, was added to the bill during the amendment process. The measure mandates that employers provide hourly and salaried employees space and time to pump and store breast milk at work.

Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

 

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