Our national park system faces a good problem. Record numbers of families, campers, and adventurers are spending time each year exploring these iconic landscapes. That’s put a strain on many of the roads visitors drive on, the centers that provide history and the trails themselves. I’ve put together a bipartisan plan for making sure our national parks remain well maintained for the next 100 years. This is personal for me because of where I was born.
When you grow up on the Olympic Peninsula, you develop a deep connection with our country’s most amazing outdoor playground. Piling into the car for a weekend of hiking or camping in Olympic National Park became a Kilmer family staple. But our roots to the park run deeper than that. Whenever I drive on the road up Hurricane Ridge I’m reminded that my grandfather helped pave a portion of it.
For folks like my grandfather and countless others, the park is a driver of our economy. It’s given opportunities to entrepreneurs who started restaurants in Port Angeles, or guided tours based out of Sequim, or small business owners who run hotels for visitors . . . or even road paving crews.
People are drawn to the hundreds of miles of trails and campsites because you truly won’t find any place like it. We are blessed with a park that gives you a chance to climb craggy peaks, walk through an old-growth rainforest, or take in an ocean view. These are the sorts of experiences that stick with you.
Increasingly, Americans have taken notice of how special a trip to a place like Olympic National Park can be. 2016 saw a record number of visits to the park. According to a National Park Service report 3,390,221 visitors in total spent more than nearly $280 million in the nearby community. That supported more than 3,000 jobs.
It’s good news that so many are exploring our national parks. But the explosion in the number of people hasn’t just brought occasional bumper to bumper traffic to places like the visitor center in Port Angeles. It’s also meant more wear and tear for the park. There are more than 60 miles of roads to drive in Olympic National Park. Some places have become almost inaccessible. Drivers wanting to head down Olympic Hot Springs Road have to navigate a single lane temporary bridge because of washouts.
Other stretches like the paved highway to the Hoh Rain Forest trailhead have experienced flooding that has made navigating it bumpy. And slow. In one area the roadway is so eroded that cars must go 10 miles per hour. Other areas of the park face challenges too. Many drinking fountains like the one you find at the Hoh visitor center are broken - leaving folks out of luck if they forgot a water bottle.
Photo credit: Peninsula Daily News
This problem is not unique to Olympic National Park. The National Park Service manages and protects all 58 national parks across this country along with historic sites or monuments. But the Park Service has seen its construction and maintenance budget severely slashed. This has led to a towering maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion.
As we see record numbers of people use the park system, it doesn’t make sense to neglect it. We want people to keep coming back. Local communities and jobs depend on it. But we can’t keep asking expert staff at our parks to keep things humming with less and less every single year.
That’s why I’ve joined with my colleagues to introduce a bill that will jumpstart overdue maintenance projects in national parks. The National Park Service Legacy Act is bicameral and bipartisan. In fact, my friend from Texas, Representative Will Hurd, stopped by the office to officially sign the bill!
Our act would address this backlog by distributing revenue the government receives from oil and gas royalties back into a new restoration fund.
Our hope is this will help better protect places like Olympic National Park for future generations. We created a park system that has served as an inspiration for so many while protecting our environment and creating opportunities for our economy. This park and others like it deserve our continued support.
Recently, Congress approved a bill to fund the government with broad, bipartisan support. It was a bill that averted another government shutdown.
But more importantly, it actually made progress for folks in our region. For a complete rundown of how it helps, check out my website here.
There were a lot of good initiatives in the law that was signed. But there was one that didn’t get much of any attention in the news. That’s a shame because it helps students succeed without breaking the bank. It all has to do with the Pell Grant program.
Making college, at any level, more affordable is important to me and something I’ve been working on since before I came to Congress. I also heard a lot about this issue during my recent town hall tour of colleges in our region.
One particular problem we are dealing with is the diminished purchasing power of grant-based financial aid, specifically Pell Grants. These grants have been used by millions of families in need of financial support to go to college and finish with a degree. I continue to push for a plan to restore the purchasing power of the Pell Grant program. Here is a quick refresher.
That’s not the only challenge related to Pell Grants. A few years ago Congress enacted a cost-cutting measure that ended year-round access to Pell Grants. That move was short-sighted. It didn’t save taxpayers much money and put an even bigger burden on students trying to finish school early.
Imagine this. Imagine you’re a student at a community or technical college working to get a professional certification so you can get a job and support a family. Many of these programs are year-long programs. So, you start in the fall quarter and you have financial aid through Pell Grants to help pay for school. That support continues in the winter and spring.
But when the student wants to complete that program in the summer, that financial aid isn’t available. As a result, students have to either take on debt, delay the completion of their program, or drop out altogether. As I’ve spoken to higher education leaders in our region, we’ve certainly seen a lot of people drop out due to this misguided policy.
Instead of being able to use aid they were eligible for to take summer school classes, students could only use it for the fall and spring semesters. If someone wanted to accelerate the time it took to get a diploma or certificate but used Pell Grants to pay for school, they were out of luck.
Congress realized the mistake and took action through the government funding bill. For the rest of this year and for 2018, students can once again use Pell Grants year-round. This is great news and means that some folks will be able to accelerate their studies and finish a degree sooner.
But our work is not done. We need to make this temporary fix a permanent one. To that effect I’ve sponsored legislation to reauthorize the use of Pell Grants year-round.
I’m glad students who need aid to finish their education will now have a more helpful Pell Grant tool. Going forward, we need to make sure it stays that way.
Staying accessible and accountable to the folks I represent is important to me. I work for you!
To that end, we started to keep a running tally of the money we’ve saved folks and the number of people who have contacted us for help. That’s because casework is one of the most important things my office does.
We are re-starting the count for 2017, but here’s a look back at what we did in 2016.
Statistics for 2016
$1,163,679 Dollars saved or returned through casework – One of the most important parts of my job is making sure you are treated fairly by our government. This statistic illustrates the number of hard-earned benefits you’ve earned that my office has helped return to your pocket this year. Whether you are having trouble with Social Security, Medicare coverage, the IRS, or your federal pension please contact us and we’ll look into it.
33,336 Letters, phone calls, and emails responded to – If you’ve called, emailed, or sent a letter to my office you may have noticed that the response you get back sounds a lot like me. That’s because I actually read, edit and approve every response that gets sent out from our office.It’s important to me that your voice is heard. That’s why I make it a priority for my office to keep up with who is contacting our office and when they do, what issue they would like more information about. I strive to get you an answer in a timely manner to your questions. This statistic shows how many folks we responded to last year.
387 Community events attended – I think members of Congress should be available, accessible and accountable to the folks they represent. It’s important to me to hear about what’s on your minds and also give you an update on what’s happening in Washington D.C. That’s why I run pillar to post when I’m back home working to stop by as many community events as I can. This indicates the number of visits this year at everything from parades to company visits. On top of that, we conducted town hall meetings in every county in the district I represent as well as a number of telephone town halls. If there’s a community event that you think we should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.
676 People helped through casework – One of the most important parts of my job is making sure you are treated fairly by our government. Whether you need help getting a passport, applying for a federal grant, or are grappling with a federal agency and having trouble getting the answer you need please reach out. This is the number of folks our office successfully assisted in 2016.
Before coming to Congress I spent a decade working in economic development, meeting with about two-hundred businesses a year to help them grow, succeed, and stay in our region. Because helping small businesses grow and create good jobs remains one of my top priorities, that’s a practice I’ve kept up with as your Representative. After all, our local employers are the backbone of our economy.
Despite spending about 30 work weeks every year in Washington, I was able to visit over 100 businesses during both my first term and second term in Congress. During these ‘Kilmer at Your Company’ visits I get to hear from local employers about how the federal government impacts their business (for good and for bad). What’s more, in my view it’s important to let local employers and their workers know that they’re appreciated. If there’s a company you’d like me to visit don’t hesitate to reach out to my office and we’ll try to schedule a visit.
Read on for a snapshot of some of the great places I’ve visited. These stops give me hope that the future of our region is bright and that more than anything, Congress needs to get focused on supporting the kind of job creation that I see when I’m out in our community.
A Few Kilmer at Your Company Visits:
Hesco Armor (Grays Harbor)
I was invited to join Joe Kawaky and Hesco Armor for what turned out to be my 100th Kilmer at Your Company. Hesco is growing steadily and now employs over 70 residents of Grays Harbor County. I can’t wait to see their continued success in the years ahead. Thanks for being a new staple of this community.
Metagenics (Gig Harbor)
Another great visit I had was at the Gig Harbor campus of Metagenics. I got to tour their facility, got to wear a fashionable lab coat, and had an awesome conversation with the team regarding health care policy and the Food & Drug Administration. Metagenics is at the leading edge worldwide in dietary supplement nutrition, and they employ over 200 people locally. I look forward to seeing their continued growth.
Sierra Pacific (Shelton)
A great thing about spending time meeting and listening to businesses is you get to see projects go from a hole in the ground to a new plant, factory or store. In the past two years I’ve visited Sierra Pacific’s Shelton mill a few times and am excited about the progress it’s been making. So much has changed over the past year.
On one stop I met with the Shelton Sierra Pacific team at their new mill site downtown for a conversation and tour of their operations. When this new state of the art mill opens it’ll produce 500 million board feet of lumber, employ up to 200 people and will run with the highest standards of efficiency and environmental cleanliness.
This year I was also honored to join Senator Cantwell at the new mill site in Shelton to discuss innovative new wood products. We have a fantastic group of energetic thinkers working to move forward an initiative that I like to call “Timber 2.0”, so we can connect rural economic health with green building practices in a 21st century economy.
SAFE Boats (Bremerton and Tacoma)
We are lucky to have companies like SAFE Boats that provide hundreds of local skilled workers with good jobs and do so much to support the community. Thank you for building some of the greatest boats in the world for our the Coast Guard, Customs & Border Patrol, the Navy, and other law enforcement agencies and congratulations on producing a boat that was named one of the 10 best of the year in Work Boat Magazine.
State Farm (Tacoma)
I’ve gotten to hear firsthand how businesses are expanding too. Earlier this year, State Farm announced that they’ll be hiring another 200 folks in downtown Tacoma. We talked about that among other things when I visited with employees to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly in our nation’s capital.
FKC Screw Press (Port Angeles)
This year I spent some time in my hometown with FKC Screw Press. They are a great local company about to undertake an expansion. I even learned about a chemical process called flocculation. Putting that on the list of “Big Words Derek Learned in Congress.” Thanks to the FKC team and Mayor Downie for taking time to discuss the company’s success.
Olympic Medical Center (Clallam County)
In places like the Olympic Peninsula, access to quality and affordable health care is incredibly important, but can pose some unique challenges. Thankfully, we are blessed that Olympic Medical Center in Clallam County is continuing to step up with innovative solutions and facilities to meet the needs of the community. I was honored to chat with a few of the nearly 1300 professional staff that are the heart and soul of OMC. In addition to the fact that I was born at the OMC hospital in PA just a few decades ago, I cannot thank OMC employees enough for their role in this community.
Again, I’m committed to doing all I can to support job growth in our region. If you know of a local employer that I should reach out to, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We want to see employers grow, succeed and stay here in our region.
Generally as Thanksgiving approaches, we usually get a little excited. Some dream about the delicious food they are going to pile high on their plate. Maybe you look forward to a steady stream of football games and family time with uncles, aunts, and cousins you haven’t seen in a while.
I’ve found that nothing brings people together better than heaps of food and family. As America moves past a deeply divisive election season, Thanksgiving came at just the right time. In the past few weeks I’ve found I believe more than ever we lose something bigger if we forget that we are all in this together. That we all must stand up for our shared values as Americans.
In our neck of the woods and across our nation it’s important for those of us who are blessed with gatherings and meals of our own to give back too. So leading up to this year’s big dinner I spent time with service organizations across the region to hear about the great work they are doing, and to lend a hand of my own.
The local food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters are a real reminder of the extraordinary need that still exists in our region and of the vital work being done by so many outstanding people. This season, it’s worth noting that at the heart of gratitude, there should also be a call to responsibility and generosity. Regardless of who you supported this election season, I think that’s a notion that all folks?—?left, right, and center?—?can get behind.
I spent a great couple hours with the Tuesday volunteers at Coastal Harvest in Hoquiam last week. We re-packed 4800lbs of fresh corn for needy families in our region! This Thanksgiving season it’s important to remember that volunteering and community service are part of our civic culture. I’ll be joining organizations in my district for volunteer work this week, and I encourage you to join me!
I’m grateful for the Cathers family for leading the charge on the Gig Harbor Basket Brigade each and every year. This year, nearly two thousand baskets were delivered to families. I enjoyed working with the other volunteers to load up the trucks. Awesome to see so many young people helping!