WASHINGTON, DC – June 26, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — U.S. Senator Jack Reed is warning that steep cuts to federal funding known as the sequester will take a real toll on America’s economy if the Republican leadership doesn’t take an interest in developing bipartisan solutions.
The full Appropriations Committee today approved a Republican spending proposal that would effectively provide $7.3 billion less than President Obama requested for key transportation and housing priorities and short-change critical investment in our nation’s infrastructure and could stall economic growth. However, as the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, Senator Reed pledged to work with the panel’s Chairman, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), and said he hopes they can help bridge the partisan divide and build consensus toward responsibly replacing sequester and strategically investing in essential transportation and housing programs.
In order to comply with the budget caps set by sequestration, the fiscal year 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations bill underfunds the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and related federal agencies, providing a total of $55.6 billion in discretionary budget authority, which represents an overall decrease of $1.9 billion below current levels when taking into consideration reduced Federal Housing Administration receipts and the $2.3 billion increase in the cost of maintaining existing rental housing assistance.
“Affordable, stable housing and a safe and efficient transportation network are vital to American families, our communities, and the success of our economy. The THUD bill is about making critical investments in our transportation and housing infrastructure that yield a high rate of return for the American people. I deeply appreciate Chairman Collins’ thoughtful leadership and am proud to have worked with her to strengthen this bill. There are many key provisions I support. However, the allocation that was largely dictated to us by the constraints of sequestration diminishes the committee’s ability to make needed investments,” said Reed.
During the full Committee markup of the bill today, Senator Reed offered an amendment to boost funding for transportation and housing programs, but it failed on a party-line vote. Senator Reed’s amendment would have provided funding levels consistent with the caps set by the Budget Control Act, but without the harmful effects of sequestration.
Reed stated: “If Congress neglects transportation and public housing responsibilities here it will overburden states and local communities and lead to more congestion on our road, more families in need, and more strain on the folks back home. We can’t cut our way to a safer transportation network. We need to make strategic investments. My amendment would have filled many of the holes left by the majority’s inadequate allocation. I will continue working with Chairman Collins to try to strategically leverage federal dollars for critical housing and transportation priorities that generate benefits for all Americans. Ultimately, the solution lies in a new, bipartisan budget agreement that allows the federal government to responsibly fulfill its obligations and help strengthen our nation’s infrastructure.”
Despite the fact that sequestration is overshadowing the appropriations process, Reed and Senator Collins were able to reach consensus on several key issues that impact Rhode Island.
The bill provides a modest increase for Amtrak and carries bipartisan report language directing the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak to assess the feasibility study of connecting intercity passenger rail services at commercial airports that are adjacent to the mainline of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC). This evaluation would help determine the feasibility of bringing Amtrak service to T.F. Green Airport.
“I am pleased we were able to get bipartisan support to conduct a study examining what it would take, in terms of logistics and ridership, to bring reliable, regularly scheduled Amtrak service to connect T.F. Green Airport to Boston, New York, and points in between. Creating a stronger trains-to-planes partnership at T.F. Green could enhance transportation options for consumers and build on some of the other infrastructure investments the state has already made,” noted Reed. “This study is a smart first step toward determining what the viability is and what the hurdles may be.”
Reed, who helped create the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program in 2009 to provide competitively awarded grants to states and projects that support economic growth and employ local workers, also noted that the bill includes $500 million for TIGER grants. Although less than Reed proposed in his alternative amendment, it is significantly higher than the $100 million approved by the House Appropriations Committee.
The bill also includes $5 million to restart the Small Shipyard Grant program, which has helped shipyards across Rhode Island recapitalize and become more competitive.
Reed and Collins also included report language on e-cigarettes pushing DOT to finalize regulations that prohibit smoking e-cigarettes on board an aircraft, and to work on stricter rules regarding e-cigarettes in packed baggage.
On the housing front, Reed noted that while he was disappointed the committee chose to freeze or cut several key HUD programs, the bill makes headway in preventing youth homelessness and veteran homelessness and includes: $2.235 billion in homeless assistance grants to fully meet renewal demand, including $250 million for Emergency Solutions Grants and $33 million to pilot targeted interventions for homeless interventions in 10 communities; and also restores housing assistance to homeless veterans (HUD-VASH) funding to $75 million.
The bill also includes $5.7 million for a pilot program that Senator Reed authorized in the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would support repairs and modifications, such as the installation of wheelchair ramps, to the homes of disabled and low-income veterans.
Now that the bill has been approved by the committee it must be considered by the full U.S. Senate and then reconciled with a version of the bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.