Earlier this week, the House voted on additional investments for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration in the wake of devastating hurricanes hitting states like Texas. I was hopeful we could move quickly on this because FEMA was about to run out of money and they help pay for things like shelter, food, clothing, and medicine.
Yesterday, the Senate took up the bill we passed, approved it, and also added on short-term measures to raise the debt ceiling and fund our government through December 15. Today, I joined the House in voting to pass this legislation and get it to the President for a signature. The good news is that we can get emergency money to victims of natural disasters, we won’t default on our debt, and we won’t have a government shutdown. America should pay its bills while at the same time getting a handle on our long-term fiscal challenges. We also know how damaging a government shutdown was to our region last time.
That being said, I’m disappointed we will be dealing with the debt ceiling and a potential government shutdown yet again in December. I spent 10 years working in economic development. No business I ever worked with would run its operations this way. In the coming months I’m going to push for a longer-term budget that focuses on growth and can pave the way to help us address our fiscal challenges. It’s past time to bring a little certainty and predictability to this Congress.
Natural disasters cause significant damage to residents and businesses across our state and the country. Folks who have to pick up the pieces after their property is damaged need a helping hand – no matter where they live. That was on the minds of many members of Congress today as we took a vote on approve disaster relief for Texas and Louisiana after they were struck by Hurricane Harvey.
It’s why I voted to approve the FY17 Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief to provide additional investments for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration. Already we’ve seen reports that FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund could run out of money as soon as Friday without additional support. That’s not good because money from FEMA helps provide shelter, food, clothing, medicine while restoring public roads and buildings. We’ve seen the massive damage this has caused, we know how many lives have been upended. I’m glad the House came together today to pass this bill and I’m hopeful we can get it quickly to the President’s desk for his signature.
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.