Mar 23 2018
Early this morning, the Senate approved a bipartisan, $1.3 trillion bill to fund the federal government through fiscal year 2018. Along with my partner in the Senate, Chris Coons, and our counterpart in the House, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, we were able to secure a number of big wins for families and communities across the First State. As with any compromise legislation, this bill is not perfect, and there are a number of areas where I believe we didn’t go far enough. We missed an opportunity to do more to protect our communities from gun violence and provide certainty to Dreamers who continue to live in the shadow of deportation from the only home they’ve ever known. In the end, though, the final legislation delivered a number of big wins for Delaware, while also preventing harmful policies – like an effort to prevent Delaware from developing wind farms off our shore – from becoming law.
Funds to Fight the Opioid Epidemic
- Last year alone, we lost more than 233 Delawareans to deadly drug overdoses as the growing heroin and opioid crisis continues to grip our country. The final spending bill includes $3.3 billion to begin seriously combatting this crisis and ensure that more Delaware families are not afflicted by this epidemic. In addition to helping tackle the opioid crisis, this funding will also go toward supporting mental health services, including $75 million for the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program that Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children and other organizations across the country utilize to improve and expand access to substance use and mental health treatment services.
Taking an Important First Step to Protect our Communities from Gun Violence
- As Washington, D.C., Wilmington and communities around the country prepare to March For Our Lives against gun violence tomorrow, Congress has taken incremental steps to address the violence we’re seeing all too often in our communities. Included in the final spending bill is the “Fix NICS Act.” This common-sense legislation will take steps to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) used for those purchasing a firearm, working to hold federal agencies and states accountable for their proper use of the background check system. The final bill also expands the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research into gun violence for the first time in 20 years. Tomorrow, I’ll be in Wilmington at the March For Our Lives calling on my colleagues in Congress to take additional steps to reduce gun violence.
Caring for Our Veterans
- Today’s spending bill included $2.8 billion to rebuild and begin to address the $12 billion backlog of code violations and deficiencies at veterans health centers across the country. $1 billion will go toward minor construction projects and projects on the VA’s list of critical needs and an additional $685 million will go toward nearly clearing the backlog of construction needs for State Veteran long-term care homes. This funding will go a long way toward upholding our unending commitment to our veterans and their families.
Continuing the Success of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act
- Since my original Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) became law in 2005, this bill has helped update and replace tens of thousands of older diesel engines with cleaner technology, creating more than $12 billion in health benefits. The final spending bill included $75 million for DERA in 2018. With ninety percent of Delaware’s air pollution coming from other states, the First State sees outsized benefits from progress on clean air.
Reauthorizing EPA’s Brownfields Cleanup Program
- Delaware has also benefited from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields program. Since the program started, Delaware has received $11 million in grants, including funding to revitalize the Wilmington riverfront and the South Wilmington Wetland Restoration and Conservation Project. Bipartisan legislation I sponsored to reauthorize and improve the Brownfields program was included in the final funding bill and will help continue cleaning up the 450,000 Brownfields sites across the country and provide small communities, rural areas and disadvantaged areas better access to this community revitalization program.
Passage of the FARM Act
- The bipartisan FARM Act I introduced with Senator Coons will provide much-needed clarity on reporting requirements for Delaware’s hardworking farmers, while also ensuring the necessary data is available to protect our environment and keep the public informed.
Protecting the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River Basin
- We also secured full funding for one of Delaware’s most important environmental resources – the Chesapeake Bay. Despite President Trump’s proposed budget zeroing out all funding, we secured all $73 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program for 2018. We also secured $5 million to implement the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act that Senator Coons and then-Congressman John Carney and I worked to pass in 2016, creating a federal program to ensure that the Delaware River Basin stays clean and healthy.
Sometimes, we measure our success by the bad things we keep from happening, and the original funding legislation proposed in the House and Senate included nearly 100 proposals to weaken current environmental protections for clean air and clean water, endangered species and even a provision to stop Delaware and Maryland from developing clean-energy wind farms off our coast. But we fought hard and were successful in keeping the vast majority of those 100 provisions from making their way into the final bill signed by the president just a few hours ago.
While no compromise legislation is ever perfect, the final bill approved by Congress includes a number of important priorities for Delaware communities and families. While there’s still more work to be done, this bill, on balance, is good news for the First State and those who call it home.