Protecting Public Lands, Supporting Our Veterans
Hello Folks –
One of the best parts of my job is getting to hear from you. Your voices matter. In fact, I work for you, so I appreciate our continued conversations about how we can make progress together for our region. Each day, I receive thousands of phone calls, emails, and letters from folks across our region – and since the beginning of 2019, I’ve responded to over 208,000 messages! It’s a huge priority for me.
I also value the opportunity to have as many face-to-face interactions with as many folks as possible, as often as possible. Obviously, that’s been challenging during this public health emergency. So, I’ve been committed to finding new ways to answer your questions. In addition to three telephone town halls, I’ve held over 15 Facebook Live question and answer sessions to make sure I get you the information you need and get a chance to hear from you. By working hard and knowing what matters to the folks I represent, I’m making sure your voices are heard in Congress.
I know folks have a lot of questions about what’s going on with COVID-19. That’s why this Wednesday evening, I’ll be joined by Dr. Anthony Chen, the Director of Health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, for a Facebook Live conversation to answer your questions!
Join the conversation at Facebook.com/Derek.Kilmer/LIVE
In addition to hearing from Dr. Chen, I’ll talk about what Congress needs to do to support our communities and our economy. Ten weeks ago, the House passed the HEROES Act to provide much-needed coronavirus relief. Unfortunately, the Senate leadership has kept things on “pause,” adding additional risk into these public health and economic crises. Now, enhanced unemployment insurance and eviction moratoriums are set to expire this week, while tens of millions of people are still out of work. Congress shouldn’t let that happen. In addition, the jobs of nearly 1.5 million state and local government workers have been put in the crosshairs. Congress should have their backs. And according to Moody’s Analytics, in the absence of additional federal action, America will see double-digit unemployment through the year 2022. Again, Congress should work to prevent that. In the days ahead, I’ll keep pushing for a bipartisan coronavirus response that helps folks who are struggling and helps our economy recover.
OK – now on to the news!
Protecting Our Public Lands
Like many of you, one of the reasons I enjoy living in our region is because I value the richness of our environment. Growing up in Port Angeles, there wasn’t a summer of my childhood that didn’t involve going hiking in the Olympics or fishing with my dad and my brothers.
Those experiences had a profound effect on me. As a dad, I’ve tried to share those experiences with my own kiddos.
In addition, as I got older, I realized how important our parks and public lands and the outdoor recreation industry is to our region’s economy – supporting nearly 200,000 jobs and contributing $20.5 billion every year to our state’s economy.
While our national parks are the crown jewels of our region, unfortunately those jewels have gotten a little rusty. In fact, there’s currently more than an $11 billion backlog of repairs and maintenance on roads, buildings, utility systems, and other structures and facilities across the parks. Sadly, we see some of those maintenance challenges facing Olympic National Park, too. That’s why I’ve been leading the charge in Congress to provide dedicated funding to address these much-needed repairs at Olympic and throughout our National Park system.
Last week, by passing the Great American Outdoors Act, Congress finally stepped up to the plate - heeding the bipartisan calls I’ve been leading to ensure the incredible natural assets in our region can continue to provide amazing visitor experiences and serve as economic drivers for rural communities.
I’m proud that this bill not only provides funding to fix the maintenance backlog at our National Parks, but will also fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund – which is critical to helping states leverage their own funds to establish local, state, and national conservation areas and outdoor recreation facilities. It’s been a big deal in our region – helping to protect iconic outdoor places, ensuring open access for outdoor activities, and investing in local parks – like Blueberry Park in Bremerton and Shane Park in Port Angeles. This investment will help Washingtonians enjoy safe recreational facilities, while conserving and protecting public lands.
I was proud to vote for this bipartisan bill, which is headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law, and, last week, I spoke on the House floor about what it will mean to our region. I’ll keep working to support our parks and our public lands so we can drive tourism, grow jobs, and support local economies.
But there’s even MORE good news when it comes to protecting our public lands! Last week, the House passed the Wild Olympics and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as an amendment to another bill. This Wild Olympics bill, which I introduced with Senator Patty Murray, permanently protects some of our most environmentally sensitive areas - designating more than 126,000 acres of public land on the Olympic Peninsula as wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
The legislation evolved through extensive engagement with tribes, conservation groups, timber communities, business leaders, shellfish growers, and everyone in between. Because of that public dialogue, the bill is formally supported by more than 800 community leaders, including Democrats and Republicans, business owners and outdoor enthusiasts, local mayors and tribal leaders.
What’s more, these protections will also play a critical role in benefiting our local economy. It will ensure that our waters are clean for the local fishing and shellfish industries. It will help us draw people from all around the world (and their pocketbooks) to enjoy hiking, hunting, and fishing opportunities. It will create new opportunities for small business in the recreation and tourism industries. It will draw new companies and entrepreneurs to our region. In fact, I believe this can be a key component in revitalizing our region’s economy.
Just as important as what the bill does is what it does not do. Based on input from local and regional timber leaders, thousands of acres were removed from the initial proposal to ensure the legislation would have no impact on the harvestable timber base in the Olympic National Forest. In addition, language was added to the bill to ensure that the proposal will have no impact on how the Washington Department of Natural Resources manages state-owned lands either. The legislation will not close, decommission, or otherwise restrict access to any existing forest service roads or trailheads. It will not affect any private property rights.
All of these changes are a testament to the folks in our region who reached out and shared their input. I’m sincerely grateful for that.
The Wild Olympics and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is a win-win for our region – and I’ll keep pushing to get it signed into law.
Supporting Our Veterans
When it comes to serving our veterans, I think the government should follow a few basic truths: if you serve our country, the government ought to have your back. You shouldn’t have to fight for the benefits you’ve earned and deserve. And, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, every brave veteran should have a home and should have quality health care.
There’s a lot of work to do to make sure the government keeps its promises to veterans. And as a Member of the Appropriations Committee, I’m working hard to make that happen.
Last week, the House moved to pass its annual funding bill to support the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and bolster veterans’ benefits, healthcare, and other critical programs.
In the middle of a global pandemic, I worked to ensure that the bill that came out of the Appropriations Committee made unprecedented VA medical system investments to ensure that veterans have access to the top-notch health care that they deserve. In addition, the bill included historic investments for women veterans’ health, mental health, suicide prevention, and homeless prevention. And, the bill provides robust funding to improve servicemembers’ and their families’ quality of life.
I’m proud that it passed the House – and that we’re taking another step toward delivering the support that our veterans have earned and deserve.
As I mentioned in newsletters the previous few weeks, I was also able to secure additional funding for Puget Sound recovery, salmon recovery, and deployment of rural broadband in the appropriations process. The funding for these local priorities also passed the House last Friday.
Working for You
Answering Your Questions
Between votes last week, I jumped on Facebook Live to answer a few questions I’ve received over the past few days from folks across the region. I talked about the ongoing work to help folks with housing, my work to secure more support for teachers and our education system, and the effort to extend unemployment insurance. You can catch the conversation here:
Working to Build More Housing
Thank you to the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance for your tireless work - and for your partnership. I was moved in our conversation last week by the stories of so many who are being so critically impacted by COVID-19. Our state had challenges with housing and homelessness before this crisis. Those challenges have only increased due to this pandemic – and we can’t afford to leave people behind. We need more workforce housing, more senior housing, more homeless housing, and more affordable housing. We need more housing units, period. I’ll keep working to make that happen.
Ending Childhood Cancer
It was inspiring to meet with advocates from our region who are fighting to end DIPG and childhood cancer. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I’m committed to doing all I can to ensuring the federal government is a strong partner in this fight.
Finally, as we continue to see a resurgence in COVID-19 in some areas of our state, we all have to do our part to help slow the spread. Just a reminder: Please wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands!
OK, that’s it for now folks. Take care of yourselves – and one another.
As always, I’m honored to represent you.
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