Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) helped pass a major funding package out of the House of Representatives that would strengthen our nation by protecting and investing in America’s hardworking families.
The $259.5 billion package is a four-bill minibus and includes the following four Appropriations bills: Agriculture; State-Foreign Operations; Interior-Environment; and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
“As a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, I have an opportunity to be an advocate for Northwestern and Central Illinois and fight for our communities,” said Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. “From responding to the pandemic, to helping rural America, to investing in our infrastructure, to supporting our veterans, this package delivers.”
The legislation will provide emergency appropriations for coronavirus preparedness, response, and relief efforts; make bold, future-focused infrastructure investments, strengthen food security; protect the environment and public lands and combat the climate crisis; and support America’s veterans and military families.
Congresswoman Bustos successfully worked to secure a number of provisions that would:
- Invest in Water Infrastructure: Significantly invests in water infrastructure to help small towns and rural communities.
- Support USDA Research: Provisions from Congresswoman Bustos’ America Grows Act were included in this package.
- Incentivize the Next Generation of Agricultural Programs: Including support for the next generation of digitally sophisticated agricultural extension programs, through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the USDA will develop a framework to encourage schools to develop more advanced agricultural programs, which would help the University of Illinois’ Extension program.
- Deliver Robust Funding for Broadband Infrastructure: The legislation includes $990 million for the USDA’s ReConnect program and more than $1 million for the Rural Broadband Loan and Grant Program.
- Increase Mental Health Support for Farmers and Ranchers: The package includes mental health support for farmers and ranchers through a USDA study on farmer and rancher mental and behavioral health support, in coordination with the Rural Health Liaison, a position established last year, thanks to Congresswoman Bustos’ efforts.
- Bolster the Use of Biofuels to Reduce Emissions: By encouraging the USDA to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to update the Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulator (MOVES) system, which is used to estimate emissions for mobile sources of air pollutants, greenhouse gases and air toxins.
State and Foreign Operations
- Support Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs: Fund programs such as the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, which provides scholarships for high-school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to study for one academic year in the United States. Earlier this year, students participating in the YES foreign-exchange program from Illinois’ 17th Congressional District visited the Congresswoman’s Washington, D.C. office.
- Fund International Basic Education: Fund the International Basic Education program that includes multilateral partnerships to improve access to education. This includes $100 million for the Global Partnership for Education and $25 million for Education Cannot Wait, both of which work to make education a top priority for young students across the world.
- Humanitarian Assistance: Provide over $7 billion for humanitarian assistance, which funds overseas relief to refugees and disaster-struck areas.
- Deliver Support for Clean Water: $13 million in funding for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act Compliance grants, a $1,000,000 increase from last year. This includes funding for a new competitive grant program that would provide small and rural communities with help with improving water quality, public wastewater treatment utilities, and other technical assistance. More than $15 million in additional funding to help rural communities improve water quality and provide safe drinking water.
- Fund Sewer and Stormwater Municipal Grants: $400 million in funding for EPA’s Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Control Grant program, which would provide support to states and cities for the planning, design, and construction of water treatment works for sewers and stormwater management. At least 20 percent of these funds would be dedicated to green infrastructure, water and energy efficiency.
Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA)
- Modernize VA Forms: Rural veterans often have to overcome difficult travel obstacles to visit VA facilities and reduce in-person contact amid COVID-19. Last month, Congresswoman Bustos sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie requesting information on how the agency plans to modernize all forms to make them both electronically transferable and available via mobile devices. Today’s bill includes this request, which was outlined in the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) and requires the VA to make forms used by the public available in digital form.
- Improve Transportation for Rural Veterans: In rural districts, it’s not uncommon for veterans to face an hours-long drive to receive certain types of care – many must travel out-of-state to Iowa or Wisconsin. For veterans receiving services at Vet Centers, generally for mental health and readjustment services, not only do they have these barriers, but they are also unable to be reimbursed for travel to their local Vet Center. In response, Congresswoman Bustos included a request on the likelihood of expanding beneficiary travel privileges for veterans receiving care from Vet Centers in rural areas. This request comes after Congresswoman Bustos recently asked VA officials about travel reimbursement directly in a hearing where they indicated support for expanding this program.
- Fully Staff VA Providers: VA health systems have had trouble maintaining Primary Care team staffing, which is required to support timely access to care for veterans and is especially important in rural areas where there is a lack of health care providers. A fully staffed team is important to retain providers and prevent burnout. In today’s bill, Congresswoman Bustos included a requirement that would direct the VA to report the extent of how the Primary Care Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) model is being implemented. A PACT provides veterans with a team of health care professionals to coordinate care and plan for overall health and wellness
- Invest in VA Infrastructure: VA research is critical to supporting innovation that improves care and life for veterans. As VA research continues to innovate, this will require adequate physical facility infrastructure to support research programs. For that reason, Congresswoman Bustos included language directing the VA to submit a report assessing research facilities as well as plans to correct any deficiencies identified.
Adequate support for Information Technology (IT) infrastructure to support research programs will also be required. The prioritization of research IT program requests is imperative to perform the vital research veterans need and deserve. To address this issue, Congresswoman Bustos directed the VA to submit a report analyzing and assessing research related IT allocations in relation to all VA IT allocations.
- Ensure Proper Burial for All Veterans: Members of our communities, and folks across the country, have expressed challenges burying unclaimed veteran remains. In response, Congresswoman Bustos co-sponsored the Burial Rights for America’s Veterans’ Efforts (BRAVE) Act which would increase the funeral and burial reimbursement rates.
To ensure our nation’s veterans are properly laid to rest, Congresswoman Bustos requested a report explaining what the VA has done to help alleviate some of these challenges.