Highlighting Our Region’s Priorities
Hello Friends -
I hope you all had a fantastic Labor Day weekend! Labor Day is an important time to honor the contributions workers have made to the well-being of our nation. It’s a day to talk about the progress we’ve made, and still need to make, to build strong working families. I’m happy to report that Congress this year has made progress on this front - passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to close the gender wage gap, the Raise the Wage Act to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15, the Butch Lewis Act to strengthen pension systems, the Equality Act to extend anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Americans, and measures to improve our nation’s health care system. But there’s still more work to do!
With Labor Day comes the start of school for a lot of families - including the Kilmers! In fact, I was excited to get Tess and Sophie back to school last week. I hope all the moms and dads out there are rejoicing that a new school year is underway - and I wish all the students, teachers, and faculty across the district all the best for the school year ahead!
If you’ve been following my activities on Facebook, you’ll know that I’ve been busy (my wife, Jen, finds the word “recess” a completely unfitting description of the past month). I’ve enjoyed running from pillar to post around our region during this “District Work Period.” Read on for details!
Highlighting Our Region’s Priorities to Appropriators
A critical part of my job is to elevate the issues important to our region - so it was an honor and privilege to host the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, Representatives Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) and Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), for a three-day visit across the district. The Interior Subcommittee holds the levers of funding for a number of important federal agencies and projects that impact our area, including the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Indian Health Service, and the Forest Service, among others.
It was a great opportunity to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities facing our region, including:
Climate Impacts on Tribal Communities
First, we traveled to Tahola to meet with four coastal tribes to discuss the impact of climate change and the threat of tsunamis on tribal communities in the Pacific Northwest. In recent years, these tribes have faced persistent flooding challenges and resource constraints in addressing those challenges.
To address this, in this year’s House appropriations bill I advocated for - and secured - increased funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Climate Resilience Program, coastal zone management grants, and pre-disaster mitigation funding. The delegation met with tribal leaders and discussed the resources and funding priorities needed to help coastal tribal communities build resilient coasts and move to higher ground, as well as the work the federal government could do to meet the federal government trust and treaty obligations.
The Importance of Collaborative Forest Management
The congressional delegation then met with members of the Olympic Forest Collaborative to discuss the importance of forest collaboratives to the environment and to local economies.
The group discussed providing additional incentives to the Forest Service to provide more support for this value-added collaboration. In this year’s House appropriations bill, I worked to include language highlighting the value of collaborative forest management and directing the U.S. Forest Service to prioritize resources to better leverage support from existing forest collaboratives to expedite project development and approval of forest treatments. The bill also included additional funding for collaborative restoration projects and direction for the Forest Service to pursue projects in wet forests like those on the Olympic Peninsula.
The delegation also met with the U.S. Forest Service to discuss some of the systemic staffing and resource challenges facing the Forest Service, and how the Appropriations Committee can ensure that the Forest Service has the resources necessary to fulfill its obligations.
The Need to Address the Maintenance Backlog at Olympic National Park
At Olympic National Park (ONP), the congressional delegation met with Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum and ONP staff to discuss maintenance backlog challenges and how those maintenance issues affect the visitor experience. We discussed the need to authorize mandatory, dedicated funding to address this backlog, including the need to pass the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, legislation I’ve been leading that now has over 300+ co-sponsors in the House.
The group also visited the site of the Elwha Dam removal and river restoration project. There, we visited with Chairwoman Frances Charles and members of the Lower Elwha Tribe who discussed the importance of the project to their tribe and to ecosystem recovery. This year’s appropriations bill in the House included additional funding for project completion and to enable the tribe to acquire some of the project land.
Ongoing Efforts to Protect Salmon and Restore Puget Sound
Next, the delegation traveled to Sequim to meet with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe where we discussed tribal treaty rights related to fish and wildlife. This year’s appropriations bill included additional funding for conservation and management of fish and wildlife co-management programs.
We then traveled to Quilcene, Hood Canal, and the Duckabush River to learn more about the ongoing efforts to restore the Sound. These visits highlighted the critical role that the Puget Sound Geographic Program (funded in the Interior Subcommittee) plays in supporting coordinated recovery efforts led by the state/local, federal, and tribal co-managers. While the President’s proposed budget called for the elimination of federal funding for Puget Sound recovery, I was happy to report earlier this year that the House appropriations bill increased funding by 18%. State, local, federal, tribal, and nonprofit leaders laid out the unique challenges to achieving recovery goals and explained why restoring federal funding levels are critical to achieving those goals.
Our region faces some unique opportunities and challenges, and I think it was valuable to my colleagues to see our priorities personally. I’m grateful that Chairwoman McCollum and Ranking Member Joyce took the time to visit our neck of the woods and hear from local community leaders, small business owners, tribes, and environmental advocates. And I was proud to show them just how beautiful our region really is.
Seeing the Humanitarian Crisis at the Southern Border
Since my last newsletter, I made a visit to Texas to see the humanitarian crisis at our southern border firsthand. As I’ve written in previous newsletters, I believe that our country can have a thoughtful approach that ensures a secure border and treats people seeking asylum with dignity. Part of developing policies toward that end means understanding the circumstances on the ground.
While in Texas, I met with officials from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and toured the Brownsville Port of Entry. I was briefed by CBP on the systems in place for migrant processing at the border and toured the immigration hearing facilities located there to get a better picture of the conditions facing migrants.
I then crossed the Gateway International Bridge into Mexico with volunteers from Team Brownsville (a group focused on providing humanitarian assistance for asylum seekers). They showed me the very challenging conditions migrants face on the Mexican side of the border. While there, we talked with families that had fled Central America. I heard heartbreaking stories about gangs and cartels putting these families at risk. I also learned more about the state of their immigration proceedings and how recent policy changes by the Administration are affecting them.
Next, I met with folks in Brownsville, Texas at the Good Neighbor Settlement House - which provides migrant families with food, showers, clothing, and help with communication and health care. I heard about some of the difficult journeys people have taken - and the distressing challenges families have dealt with in the face of violence and dire conditions in Central America.
I then joined my colleague, Rep. Filimon Vela, for a meeting with local advocates and community leaders that are on the ground and helping to address the humanitarian situation. The conversation was wide-ranging - we discussed the influx of migrants at the borders and what it means for local communities who are providing support. We talked about the conditions that migrants are facing - and the work being done by hundreds of volunteers to try and provide the most basic elements of support to those seeking refuge. Importantly, we also discussed some of the policies Congress and the Administration should develop to make the situation better.
Finally, I traveled to McAllen, Texas, to visit the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center, an organization that has been instrumental in providing community resources to respond to the surge of Central Americans seeking asylum. It was impressive to see the work that goes into helping so many families at once - and you can understand why their efforts have earned recognition from Pope Francis.
Overall, the visit to our southern border was informative and reinforced the need for Congress to move forward with some of the bills I’ve sponsored to address this crisis. I’ve sponsored a bill called the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act - which would establish basic health and medical standards for people in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). It would require access to emergency care, medications, and medical equipment and would establish standards for nutrition, sanitation, and shelter in line with international humanitarian norms. I’ve also sponsored the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act to end the use of private prisons and county jails to detain immigrants, set humane standards for detention facilities, and protect immigrant detainees from abuse. Sadly, this crisis is not over, and it’s clear that Congress has work to do to ensure our nation’s policies are consistent with our nation’s values.
Town Hall Tour Underway
Last week, I kicked off another series of town hall events, meeting with folks in Westport and Kingston to hear what’s on the minds of folks across the region. There have been some great questions and I’ve really enjoyed seeing so many folks come out. When you show up, it matters!
Tonight (Tuesday, September 3), I’m headed to Peninsula High School for our Gig Harbor town hall, which starts at 5:30pm. Then tomorrow (Wednesday, September 4), I’ll travel to Forks for my fourth town hall at 5:30pm in at the Rainforest Art Center.
In addition, I’ll be hosting a telephone town hall next Monday, September 9 at 5:00pm for all of you who haven’t been able to make it to one of my town halls in person! Residents of the 6th District who would like to join the call can send an email to kilmer.teletownhall@mail.
Forks Veterans Pinning
Also - this upcoming Wednesday, September 4, in partnership with the City of Forks, Peninsula College, the American Legion Post 106, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9106, I’ll be hosting a Congressional Vietnam Era Veterans Pinning Ceremony in Forks to say thank you to our veterans on behalf of a grateful community and nation. I hope you can join us at 4pm at the Peninsula College Forks campus!
Working for You
Partnering for More Affordable Housing
We had an important discussion last week on affordable housing with Pierce County leaders, including Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, County Executive Bruce Dammeier, Tacoma Housing Authority Executive Director Michael Mirra, and UW-T Director of Urban Studies Dr. Ali Modarres. We had a serious and exciting conversation with advocates and stakeholders in the community about the challenges, pains, hopes, and unique ideas that we each have related to the crisis of homelessness and housing affordability in the region. It’s clear that leaders in our region are committed to building out a larger supply of housing, creating more living wage jobs, and increasing access to behavioral health care.
Matching Employers and Potential Employees in Grays Harbor
A huge shout out to WorkSource Grays Harbor and the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council for being great partners in putting on last week’s job fair in Aberdeen! It was fantastic to speak with employers and job seekers who are passionate about creating and finding more economic opportunity for folks in our region.
Fighting Chronic Disease
I was humbled to meet with the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease last week to receive recognition as a 2019 Champion for Healthy Seniors! I promise to keep up the fight to lower the cost of prescription drugs and increase access to high-quality health care for all Americans.
Building Together for the Future
Everything I learned about roofing and siding came from my time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. I am a big fan of the work they do to ensure more folks have access to a decent place to live. Thanks to the folks at the Habitat for Humanity Clallam County for the important work they do in our community - and for showing me the new homes they’re working on!
Ok - that’s it for now, folks. As always, I’m honored to represent you.
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