Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Spending bill has rural resonance: keeps post offices open, funds parks, Amtrak, other programs

Post office in Bon Air, Ala.
The $1 trillion spending package drafted for passage by Congress this week includes funding for several rural programs with rural resonance, but omits funding for several others. The 1,665-page bill also ensures that several programs important to rural areas remain intact.

"The bill prohibits the nation’s mail delivery system from consolidating or closing 'small rural and other small post offices'," Kelsey Snell and Ed O'Keefe report for The Washington Post. The U.S. Postal Service has struggled financially for several years, reporting a loss of $5.1 billion in 2015. That has led to the closure of some post offices and put others in danger of being shuttered.

The bill also denies funding for President Trump's proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. "Trump didn’t get the wall money he wanted but Republicans did get $1.5 billion to spend on repairs to existing border fencing and new technology, such as drones and sensors to help agents keep an eye on parts of the border not protected by barriers," Snell and O'Keefe report.

When it comes to "funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main agency in charge of deportations and immigration monitoring," the spending bill "includes money for 100 new officers and approximately 5,000 more beds," far less than Republicans wanted, the Post reports. "Funding will bring the number of beds available for immigration detainees to about 34,560, far less than the roughly 43,000 beds the Trump administration requested."

"But a $1.5 billion spending increase for the Justice Department will help pay for 'short-term detention space' that Republicans say will help house undocumented immigrants and other federal offenders," the Post reports. "A $20 million increase for the Executive Office of Immigration Review will help pay for 10 more federal immigration judges," and the bill requires monthly reports on the performance of immigration judges.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will get $11 million more than last year "partly to whittle down the endangered-species delisting backlog," reports the Post. Money will "also help fight invasive species and illegal wildlife trafficking."

"The National Park Service would be fully funded, including a modest bump of $81 million for park maintenance and projects related to the agency’s centennial celebration," the Post reports. "The money is also designed to put a dent in an $11 billion maintenance backlog that includes much needed repairs."

  • The U.S. Geological Survey received $23 million more in funding, with nearly half for an early earthquake warning system.
  • The National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities would see a funding increase of $2 million, bringing each budget to $150 million for fiscal 2017.
  • The Food and Drug Administration would be allowed to continue reviewing electronic cigarettes, which are increasing in popularity.
  • Western states will receive $407 million in emergency funding to help fight wildfires this year
  • Amtrak gets $1.5 billion, a $105 million increase from the last budget year.
The bill does not include "assistance sought by cotton and dairy producers," Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. Democrats "were seeking to provide milk producers about $840 million over 10 years by reducng the cotton industry's proposal, which was estimated to trigger more than $4 billion in Price Loss Coverage payments."

Instead, the bill directs the Agriculture Department "to prepare a report within 60 days on the 'administrative options for financial relief and recommended legislative actions to provide the cotton industry with a viable safety net," Brasher reports. "USDA also is told to consider providing immediate, direct assistance to dairy producers using the department's existing Commodity Credit Corp. authority. Separately, USDA is urged to allow milk to be covered as a crop under revenue insurance policies."

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