e-News 6/8/2018

Funding Government Operations: Getting Our Appropriations Work Done!
Toward a Modern, State-of-the Art Department of Veterans Affairs
In the Spotlight: Thank you, Rodney!
Another Appropriations Bill Advances New Jersey Priorities
Chinese Navy, Militia Have “De Facto Control of the South China Sea”
Salute: The voters of New Jersey!


Funding Government Operations: Getting Our Appropriations Work Done! 

The House of Representatives made tangible progress this week toward funding all of the operations of the federal government by approving the first three of twelve annual appropriations bills.  House passage of a package of the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Legislative Branch and Energy and Water Development appropriations bills occurred this morning after two days of debate on the House floor. 

All three of these bills are unique in their own right, providing critical funding for many significant programs.  But they also mark an important step as my Appropriations Committee works to complete its work on all twelve appropriations bills well before the start of the next fiscal year on October 1.

The Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill includes strong funding for the Army Corps of Engineers – $451 million more than last year. Projects supported by this funding are vital to keeping our local port, the New York-New Jersey harbor, open for business, and to protect people, businesses, and infrastructure from damages caused by floods and coastal storms. 

Army Corps funding also supports:

  • Construction funding for the Green Brook Sub-Basin flood control project ($5 mil) and funds for monitoring of the Passaic River Flood Warning System;
  • Requires the Army Corps to update Congress with regular status updates on the Passaic River Basin Mainstem project, the Peckman River project and the Rahway river project;
  • $2.1 billion to support public health and safety by funding flood and storm damage reduction activities, an increase of $190 million above fiscal year 2018 and $647 million above the President’s budget request; 

In addition, the legislation includes $590 million for Fusion Energy Sciences, which is $57 million above current levels. This funding supports work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.

The bill makes critical targeted investments to protect our nation’s energy infrastructure against cyber and other attacks.

Learn more about the Energy and Water Appropriations bill here

The Military Construction - Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill includes a total of $194.5 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for VA, an increase of $9 billion above current levels. This funding will help address many of the problems currently facing VA, and provide for better and increased access to care for our veterans at the Lyons and East Orange VA Medical Centers.

These additional funds will provide resources for important priorities within the VA, such as health care access, suicide prevention outreach, claims processing, homeless prevention and care, opioid addiction, rural health, and medical research.

The bill also contains $1.2 billion for the new VA electronic health record system. This will ensure the implementation of the contract creating an electronic record system for VA that is identical to one being developed for Department of Defense (DOD). These two identical systems will help ensure our veterans get proper care, with timely and accurate medical data transferred between the VA, DOD, and the private sector.

Reducing the disability claims backlog is essential to ensuring adequate compensation and care for the more than 450,000 veterans still wading through the VA bureaucracy to get a final decision on their claims. The bill will help speed this process and get these veterans the decisions they are awaiting by providing $53 million above the  request for the Veterans Benefits Administration, and $14 million above the 2018 level for the Board of Veterans Appeals, to be used for hiring additional claims and appellate staff, digital scanning of health records, and overtime pay. In addition, the bill continues rigorous reporting requirements to track each regional office’s performance on claims processing and appeals backlogs.

And we’re making progress in reducing the backlog: as of May 27, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals had signed more than 53,650 decisions to date in fiscal year (FY) 2018, which is approximately 86 percent more than the 28,839 decisions signed through the same period last year.  Increased Congressional funding in recent years has allowed the Board to hire additional staff, primarily more than 200 decision-writing attorneys and 24 Veterans law judges. The increase in staff, along with streamlining several processes, contributed to the result.

In addition, New Jersey’s largest military bases will receive new construction funding under the legislation which includes $41 million to build a “Munitions Disassembly Complex” at Picatinny Arsenal and $10.2 million to replace a “Hot Cargo Hydrant System” at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL).  

This new military construction funding for both the New Jersey’s Joint Base and Picatinny is an endorsement of these installations’ current and future military value. Ensuring that the proper resources are available to conduct successful missions from New Jersey is vital. 

Learn more about the Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill here

Toward a Modern, State-of-the Art Department of Veterans Affairs

Four years ago, our nation was shocked and outraged by stories of neglect, abuse, fraud, and mistreatment of our veterans by the agency charged with their care – the Veterans Administration (VA).  Since then, Congress has significantly increased appropriations for the VA and passed several major reform bills. So, we have been working to transform the VA into a modern, state-of-the-art service organization. 

On Wednesday, the President signed into law long overdue legislation designed to consolidate the complex, bureaucratic web created by seven different veterans community care programs into one unified program, simplifying and strengthening healthcare opportunities for America’s veterans.  The new consolidated program will:

  • increase accountability to ensure that veterans receive the right care at the right time with the right provider;
  • removes barriers for telemedicine, provides additional resources for hiring and retaining healthcare professionals, and establishes mobile deployment teams to support underserved facilities;
  • accelerate the processing of claims by community providers so that they are addressed in a prompt and timely manner;
  • allows access to walk-in community clinics, so that veterans have immediate, local access to non-emergency convenience care;
  • strengthens the process between the VA and the community healthcare providers who prescribe opioids to veterans;
  • allows the VA to modernize its assets and infrastructure to serve our veterans in the best possible way.

Those who serve our nation, who risk life and limb for our country, must never be denied care, access, or treatment that they need and were promised. 

To learn more about the VA Mission Act, please visit

In the Spotlight: Thank you, Rodney!

“On behalf of Jersey Battered Women’s Service, we thank you for your leadership in advancing services to domestic violence victims.  Your letter in support of our applications to OVW and your inclusion of $492 million for OVW programs in the Fiscal Year 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act is most appreciated.”

Judy O’Hagan
Board Chair and Interim President
Jersey Battered Women’s Service

Another Appropriations Bill Advances New Jersey Priorities

My Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2019 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill on Wednesday and included provisions important to New Jersey communities:  

The legislation supports many programs important to New Jersey:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- Under this legislation, the EPA’s key Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, which states and localities use for water infrastructure projects,  are funded at $2.6 billion.

Superfund - A $40 million increase in the Superfund hazardous waste clean-up program.  New Jersey has more Superfund sites than any other state.

Chemical Safety Board– The bill increases funding for the Chemical Safety Board, a program slated for elimination by the Administration, by $1 million to $12 million.

National Park Service (NPS) – The legislation includes $3.25 billion for the NPS, an increase of $53 million above the fiscal year 2018 level. Within the total, the bill provides an additional $50 million in funding for park operations and a $175 million increase above current levels to address longstanding deferred maintenance needs.  Funding will support operations at Morristown National Historical Park and Thomas Edison National Historical Park. 

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)– The bill provides $360 million for the LWCF, a program previously slated for elimination.  Specifically, the Highlands Conservation Act (HCA) is funded at $10 million. A major source of drinking water and in the most densely populated metropolitan area in the country, the New Jersey Highlands is a critical area in need of protection.

National Wildlife System– including the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge, would be funded at $488.8 million, a $2 million increase above current levels.

The Committee also directs $5 million in funding to continue implementation of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act signed into law in 2016 to coordinate existing public and private efforts to protect water quality, improve flood control, manage fish stocks, and enhance public access in the region including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Delaware Bay.

National Heritage Areas – The NHA program, which the Administration had proposed to eliminate, is increased to $20 million.  NHA supports the Crossroads of the American Revolution Area in New Jersey.

National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities– The bill includes $155 million for each of the endowments, $2 million above the fiscal year 2018 level for each endowment. The Administration had proposed to terminate both programs. 

Worth a Read:  From the United States Naval Institute Press: “Chinese Navy, Maritime Militia Has Given Beijing De Facto Control of the South China Sea”: Read it here

Salute: To the voters of New Jersey who turned out on Tuesday to cast their vote.  Elections are so important and I strongly encourage citizens to participate in the electoral process over the next few months, educate themselves and prepare to vote in November!