Senator Fighting to Prioritize Workforce Development; Health Care; Support for Children, Families, and Seniors; Rural Development; & Law Enforcement and Support for Tribal Communities

As the Senate works on this year’s federal spending bill—often referred to as the appropriations process—U.S. Senator Tina Smith is fighting to prioritize investments in Minnesota families, seniors, and communities. The bill is expected to be released later this month.

In a letter sent to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Smith said “I look forward to working with you throughout the appropriations process to provide strong funding for programs that support the health, education, safety, and prosperity of Minnesotans.”

You can read a full list of her priorities here or below:   

Dear Chairman Cochran and Vice Chairman Leahy:

As the Senate Committee on Appropriations considers the fiscal year (FY) 2018 appropriations legislation, I respectfully request that you support important investments in programs vital to Minnesota.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Workforce training programs are critical to fostering economic success in our states and have wide, bipartisan support. As our nation’s economy continues to evolve, employers increasingly face a shortage of skilled workers, and workers face a mismatch between their current skills and available jobs. I urge you to fully fund the Department of Labor’s workforce development programs authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Second Chance Act of 2007, and the National Apprenticeship Act in Title I of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. Job training and apprenticeships funded through the Department of Labor are an important resource to help bridge the “skills gap” and strengthen the economy. 

HEALTH CARE

Every person deserves access to affordable, high-quality health care. That’s why addressing the high cost of health care is one of my top priorities in the Senate. We also need to address the urgent public health crises, like the opioid epidemic, facing families and communities across Minnesota.

One of the most devastating impacts of the opioid crisis has been its impact on women and children, and we need to ensure that pregnant women and parents—especially in tribal communities, which have been hit particularly hard in my state—are able to get the treatment they need. I urge you to fully fund the State Targeted Response Grants program, which expands and enhances prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts by providing funding to states to fight the opioid epidemic. I also urge you to support Rural Physician Training Grants, which help our nation address the current health care workforce shortage and make sure those in high-need, rural, and underserved areas have access to quality health care. Additionally, I urge you to fund the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, which addresses the growing epidemic of diabetes in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Along with the Special Diabetes Program, this program has become the nation’s most strategic, comprehensive, and effective effort to combat diabetes and its complications. These programs help keep our families healthy and our communities strong.

SENIORS

Minnesota has a growing population of senior citizens who rely on quality and affordable health care and the critical federal programs that provide them the coverage that they need. Protecting coverage for Minnesota seniors and other Americans includes defending vital programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Cuts to these programs or efforts to undermine them hurt seniors, particularly those living in rural or underserved communities. I urge you to block any effort to jeopardize these vital programs now and in the future.

Prescription drug costs are rising and are expected to outpace all other health care costs—and seniors shoulder much of the burden. I urge you to fully fund the 340B Drug Pricing Program, which requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient prescription drugs to certified safety-net health care providers like children’s hospitals and critical access hospitals—both of which are Federally Qualified Health Centers. Through this program, participants are able to provide prescription medications to vulnerable patients who otherwise may not be able to afford or access them.

SUPPORTING CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

One of the most important investments that can be made are those in a strong public education system—especially in early childhood. A high-quality education system enables people of all ages and from all backgrounds to reach their full potential, support their families with good-paying jobs, and become well-informed and engaged citizens. It also presents an opportunity for a return on federal investment, as an investment in childhood education means long-term savings. I request that you provide the highest possible funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, Early Head Start, Preschool Development Grants, and early intervention services provided through Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C (Grants for Infants and Families) and Part B (Preschool Grants). Funding for early childhood education programs helps children overcome the many barriers to education that occur outside the classroom, and it’s vital to the success of our nation’s children and families. 

RURAL DEVELOPMENT

We need to make smart investments in our nation’s infrastructure, so that we can get to work rebuilding our roads and bridges, building out broadband infrastructure, and modernizing our schools and hospitals. Investing in infrastructure makes economic sense—it creates jobs and leads to prosperity for Minnesotans and our entire nation.

Perhaps one of the most important economic drivers is the internet—and having access to it. I request that you appropriate a significant amount of the $20 billion infrastructure investment promised during the recent budget deal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be used to deploy broadband networks across the nation in rural and unserved areas.

I request that you prioritize funding for rural water projects administered by the Bureau of Reclamation that are already approved and underway, but are still waiting for federal funding to be completed. These projects are necessary for supplying clean drinking water to rural communities, and they are proven job creators. One example is the Lewis & Clark project in my state, which connects many water-scarce communities in southwestern Minnesota with clean water diverted from the Missouri River. The Minnesota partners—including the state government—have already paid 100 percent of their share of the project. In addition to completing the project, the federal government must also pay back the state for the additional funds it has expended on the project when the federal portion did not come through.

I also respectfully request that you fully fund water construction projects through the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) and the Upper Mississippi River Restoration (UMRR) Program under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Funding NESP will allow us to build modern and cost-effective transportation routes that connect our waterways—and the goods they transport—to our highways, railroads, and other surface transportation. The UMRR Program integrates a broad range of restoration innovations that strive to enhance and protect important fish and wildlife habitats. There is clear evidence that the program’s habitat restoration projects have improved the ecosystem with cleaner water, more vegetation, and increased fish and wildlife populations.

LAW ENFORCEMENT

Law enforcement leaders in Minnesota are concerned about the effects of budget cuts, which may cause agencies to downsize their forces or to stop hiring new officers. I urge you to fully support the COPS Hiring Program. Not only will fully funding this program keep our communities safe, but it will also create and save jobs. I urge you to support the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, which plays a crucial role in local communities’ abilities to fight crime and improve public safety by funding innovative and cost-effective solutions to improve the criminal justice system. To assist law enforcement investigations and the prosecution of offenders, I request that you include full funding for the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) Program, which allows law enforcement access to federal information and intelligence. Lastly, violent crime is a major problem in Indian Country, including Minnesota’s many tribal lands. American Indians and Alaska Natives experience violence at more than twice the rate as the general population. I urge you to fully fund the Tribal Law Enforcement program in order to provide essential training and resources for Native American law enforcement entities to protect their communities. 

Thank you for considering my requests. I look forward to working with you throughout the appropriations process to provide strong funding for programs that support the health, education, safety, and prosperity of Minnesotans. 

Sincerely,

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