Washington, D.C. – With funding for federal government operations set to expire at midnight on Friday, the U.S. Senate this afternoon approved two spending bills to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2020, which began on October 1, 2019. Both bills are expected to be signed into law before the Friday night deadline.
The spending bills include key Colorado priorities championed by Senator Michael Bennet, including:
Election Security Grants
The spending package appropriated $425 million in new federal grants for election security. The package also includes an additional $6 million for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency charged with promoting security standards and best practices for voting machines and election administration. Last month, Bennet led a letter with 38 senators urging increased funding for election security and the Election Administration Commission in line with the House-approved levels. Recently, he shared with Senate leaders a letter he received from the nonpartisan Colorado County Clerks Association calling on Congress to increase federal funding for election security.
Expansion of H-2B Visas
The package gives the Department of Homeland Security the discretion to expand the number of H-2B visas authorized annually. The H-2B visa program is critical for filling workforce gaps across all four corners of Colorado. Bennet, who has long championed relieving the cap on the number of H-2B visas, recently joined the entire Colorado delegation in urging Congressional leaders to include cap relief in the year-end spending package.
Extension of Secure Rural Schools Program
Based on legislation cosponsored by Bennet, the spending package includes a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program. This program supports public schools, public road, forest health projects, emergency services, and other essential county services in more than 775 counties around the country, including 43 in Colorado. Bennet has long supported reauthorizing and funding the Secure Rural Schools program.
Reauthorization of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program
The package reauthorizes the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, a cooperative agreement among the governors of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Secretary of the Interior Department to achieve Endangered Species Act compliance on the Platte River. Bennet is a coauthor of bipartisan legislation to extend the program, which was scheduled to expire December 31, 2019.
Full Funding for PILT Program for Rural Communities
Bennet has long called for reauthorizing and fully funding the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provides long-term financial security for rural counties, through bipartisan legislation and leading annual letters calling for the allocation of funds. The spending packaged passed today includes $500 million, which fully funds the PILT program for fiscal year 2020.
Increased Funding for LWCF
The package includes $495 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), more than was allocated in fiscal year 2019 and the highest level in more than 15 years. Bennet, who helped secure permanent reauthorization of LWCF in February, has long-championed full funding for LWCF and will continue to push Congress for full and permanent funding.
Funding for Arkansas Valley Conduit
The package includes funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a project being planned by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation to bring clean drinking water to an estimated 50,000 people in the region. Bennet, who has been fighting for the project since coming to the Senate, previously secured federal funding for the project in prior budgets and spending bills.
Resources to Implement Fire Funding Fix
Bennet has long worked to secure a long-term fix to end fire borrowing and improve how the Forest Service budgets and pays to fight wildfires. The spending package implements the fix, including more resources to fight wildfires and funding to reduce hazardous fuels and restore our forests across the west.
Increased Funding for National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), headquartered in Golden, will receive $130 million for the laboratory’s facilities and infrastructure fund, a $33 million increase from fiscal year 2019. Bennet and Senator Cory Gardner requested an increase in NREL’s funding through the appropriations process.
$10 Million for Nationwide CDC Study on PFAS Contamination
Bennet again secured $10 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to carry out its nationwide study on the health effects of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) contamination in drinking water sources. Bennet, an author of the PFAS Action Plan Act, called on the CDC to include communities in Colorado near Peterson Air Force Base in the nationwide study. In September, the CDC announced Colorado would be one of seven states included in the study.
Over $1 Billion in Funding for Landmark Gun Violence Research, Efforts to Reduce Gun Violence
For the first time in decades, Congress will invest $25 million into research on gun violence through the CDC and National Institutes of Health. The package also allocates $1.3 billion to government agencies to fund efforts to reduce gun violence.
Over $1 Billion in Infrastructure Grants
The spending package includes $1 billion for the Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program. These grants help communities make transformative investments in surface transportation infrastructure. Aurora and Colorado Springs are both recent recipients of these grants. The package also includes $2 billion for Amtrak, helping to support the National Network long-distance trains, including the Southwest Chief line, which provides vital services to Colorado’s rural communities. Bennet advocated for robust funding of both the BUILD program and Amtrak’s long-distance rail lines.
$7.6 Billion for the 2020 Census
Bennet, who has long advocated for shoring up efforts to promote the Census and ensuring it remains a fair process, cheered the increase for funding to promote and carry out the decennial census.