Wyden, Merkley Keeping Oregon and 2021 in Sight

Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley—who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee—and Ron Wyden today announced a wide range of investments that will benefit Oregon and are included in the fiscal year 2021 spending bill that has passed the Senate. The next step is for the president to sign the bill into law. 

Taken together, the investments announced by the senators impact virtually all communities in every corner of the state, addressing some of Oregonians’ biggest challenges. The provisions highlighted include only a fraction of those in the omnibus package that benefit Oregon, including health care, education, science and conservation, and more. 

“These bills include key investments to create jobs in the woods and reduce wildfire risk. They support stakeholders working on collaborative water solutions so family farms have the irrigation water they need to make it to the next generation. They will create new housing where it’s desperately needed, help modernize infrastructure without burdening ratepayers, support port dredging on the coast, and keep small airports open for business,” Merkley said. “Government is supposed to be how all of us—We the People—come together to solve problems and build a better future, and I’m trying to make sure Oregonians’ voices and priorities are reflected in our investment decisions.” 

“Oregonians in every nook and cranny of our state are hurting from the devastating blows delivered in 2020. I’ve heard their concerns throughout this challenging year over Zoom, virtual town halls and socially distant conversations, and I’m glad to report this bill will open doors for new jobs, housing, water solutions for small farms, and healthier and safer communities in our state—during a time when we need it most,” Wyden said. “Our efforts won’t stop here. The fight for a secure and healthy future for every Oregonian continues.” 

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield a generation ago to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making. 

U.S. Department of Interior funding includes support for wildfire management, following another year of unprecedented blazes, as well as support for Land and Water Conservation Fund projects all across Oregon, through the Great American Outdoors Act: 

  • Wildfire Management: In anticipation of the next fire season, the bill includes $3.74 billion for fire suppression at the Forest Service and Department of the Interior. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management received significant increases of an additional $25 million and $25.9 million, respectively, for hazardous fuels reduction—which makes forests far more resilient to wildfires—bringing the total funding level to $689.9 million. Fiscal year 2020 was the first year that the bipartisan “fire borrowing fix” went into effect; this fiscal year, $2.35 billion of additional funds are available for fire suppression and other priorities within the Interior bill. 
  • Forest Health Restoration and Collaboration: The bill provides $40 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). With the addition of the new CFLRP project in October, Oregon has three active CFLR projects: Northern Blues Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, and Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project. 
  • Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: In continued efforts toward a long-term solution in the Klamath Basin, the bill maintains the increase that Merkley secured last year, providing $6.5 million to support strategies to restore fish habitat and scale up ongoing efforts to restore healthy populations of shortnose and Lost River suckers. The bill also maintains the additional $5 million in funding that Merkley secured for habitat restoration in advance of the removal of Klamath River dams. 
  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $515 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. This funding goes to Oregon counties that have large tracts of federal land, which doesn’t pay property taxes. The investment approved by Congress is $73 million over the president’s request. 
  • Water Infrastructure: Critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Authority (WIFIA) Act received $65 million to leverage billions of dollars in investments, such as the new projects in Hillsboro and Portland. Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, working to ensure public drinking water and wastewater infrastructure are well-maintained—critical for public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. WIFIA was passed into law as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development Act. 
  • Tribal Programs: The Indian Health Service, which provides health care to thousands of Oregon Tribal members, received $6.3 billion, $189 million more than fiscal year 2020. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Bureau of Indian Education received $3.4 billion, an increase of $174 million to the fiscal year 2020 level. The BIA funding includes $1.5 million for Columbia River Treaty sites, advancing the ongoing effort to improve tribal housing at the site. 
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides $900 million, as required by the Great American Outdoors Act, which Merkley and Wyden helped pass into law this summer. For Oregon, that means projects will be funded at an estimated: $2.5 million for the Spence Mountain Forest Legacy project in Southern Oregon; $3.3 million for the Wasson Forest project in Siuslaw National Forest in Western Oregon; $2.18 million Crooked River Gorge in Ochoco National Forest in Central Oregon; and $1.1 million for the Elk Creek project in Wallowa Whitman National Forest in Eastern Oregon. For over 50 years the program has been the main source of funding for federal land and water acquisitions. Acquiring and protecting public lands not only provides environmental and recreational benefits, but also creates jobs in the tourism, recreation, timber, fishing, and other natural resource sectors. 
  • Earthquake Preparedness: The bill includes $85 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to support regional earthquake initiatives, including $25.7 million for the West Coast ShakeAlert early warning project. The bill also encourages the USGS to continue the development of a system for Cascadia that will help prepare for and mitigate the negative human and economic impacts of a major seismic event. 

The Energy and Water bill includes vital funding for Oregon’s small ports on the coast and irrigators across the state: 

  • Small Ports and Army Corps Navigation: The program, which is vital to help Oregon ports pay for dredging and other necessary infrastructure projects, received $580 million for deep-draft harbor and channel improvements, $60 million for inland waterways, $41 million for navigation maintenance, and $65 million for small ports, which supports the small ports that are the lifeblood of Oregon’s coastal economy. 
  • Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The WaterSmart program received a $21million increase, to $55 million, to fund projects that will help irrigation districts comply with the Endangered Species Act. The WaterSmart program has supported the collaborative process that is underway within Central Oregon to conserve water, improve habitat for endangered steelhead and the spotted frog, and keep Central Oregon family farms in business. 
  • Expanding Renewable Energy: The bill includes $110 million—a $10 million increase—for wind energy and $10 million for distributed wind. The bill also includes $150 million for water power research, which will support ongoing research at OSU, and $273.5 million for solar power programs. 

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill includes support for affordable housing and homelessness services—which are of particular importance as the state grapples with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic: 

  • Community Development Block Grants: The bill includes $3.5 billion for the Community Development Block Grant Program. This program funds vital housing rehabilitation, supportive services, public improvements and economic development projects in communities across Oregon and the nation while encouraging local investment. 
  • Affordable Housing: As rural and urban communities across Oregon continue to experience housing crises, the bill includes additional funding for affordable housing programs for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable people—low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. Merkley led 37 of his colleagues, including Wyden, in a successful effort to provide an additional $895 million to support continuing rental assistance for 1.2 million low-income households. Funding for housing programs that benefit the elderly and people with disabilities were also preserved. 
  • Rural Housing: The Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) and Rural Capacity Building Program received $10 million and $5 million, respectively. SHOP provides funds for non-profit sweat-equity homebuilders, such as Habitat for Humanity, to cover land purchases and infrastructure costs. The Rural Capacity funds are intended to build the capacity of rural low income housing non-profits by providing training, information, technical assistance, and financing. 
  • Homeless Assistance Grants: The bill includes $3 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, a $179 million increase that will benefit organizations across Oregon. Within that appropriation, rapid rehousing programs for victims of domestic violence received $52 million; homeless youth programs received $82 million; and Emergency Solutions Grants—particularly important to the Portland metro area—received $290 million to support street outreach, emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing assistance. 
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program: The bill includes $1.35 billion for the program to provide states and localities with flexible resources to respond to their affordable housing challenges, including rental housing and paths to homeownership for low-income families. 
  • HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing: The program received $40 million to provide new rental assistance vouchers for homeless veterans, along with case management and clinical services. These vouchers have been critical to reducing veterans’ homelessness by 49 percent since 2010. 
  • Capital Investment Grant Program: The bill includes nearly $2 billion for the program, which provides funding for major transit investments that support sustainable transportation and reduced congestion in cities like Portland, Eugene and Salem. 
  • BUILD Grants: Formerly known as TIGER, the program received a $1 billion investment for 2021. This critical transportation grants program has helped fund projects across Oregon such as the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge replacement project. 
  • Essential Air Service and Contract Towers: The bill includes $142 million for the Essential Air Service. The Essential Air Service program supports flights between the City of Pendleton and Portland International Airport, a vital connection to support economic development across Eastern Oregon. Additionally, the bill increases funding for FAA Contract Towers to $172.8 million. There are six contract towers across Oregon, and this funding ensures their continued operation. 

Additionally, the omnibus package includes renewable energy and conservation provisions that the senators fought for: 

  • Marine Energy Research and Development Act: The package includes Wyden and Merkley’s bill, which reauthorizes marine renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy (DOE). Those programs include the national marine renewable energy research, development and demonstration centers found around the country, including one operated by Oregon State University. The legislation also directs the DOE to research ways to build a stable marine energy supply chain in the United States, as well as ways to ensure marine energy development does not interfere with ocean navigation, fisheries and critical infrastructure such as undersea cables. 
  • Water for Conservation and Farming Act: The package also includes key elements of Wyden and Merkley’s bill, including provisions to: 
  • Create opportunities, through the Community Watershed Management Program, for disadvantaged communities, primarily in rural areas, to work with the Department of the Interior to plan conservation projects that improve drinking water quality and supply; 
  • Establish an aquatic ecosystem restoration program at the Department of the Interior at $15 million annually for 5 years that will help fund projects to improve the health of fisheries, wildlife or aquatic habitat; and 
  • Increase funding for the WaterSMART program by $150 million, and allow non-profit organizations—in addition to farmers and ranchers—to access this additional money.