WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump last night signed into law a bipartisan fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding deal — as well as an emergency COVID-19 relief package — that contains several wins for Central Virginia small businesses, working families, and veterans that U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger fought to include.
In addition to the COVID-19 relief provisions she pushed to include in the overall legislation, the year-end funding package incorporates many of Spanberger’s key priorities and pieces of legislation – including increased funding for broadband internet projects through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect Program, her legislation to lower drug prices and increase access to generic drugs, and her bipartisan bill to fix the federal financial aid process for veterans and their families.
Additionally, the government funding deal includes permanent tax relief for Central Virginia craft breweries and distilleries – something Spanberger pushed to include in the FY 2021 funding bill and heard about directly from Central Virginia distillers earlier this year. Without congressional passage of this legislation, craft distillers in Virginia would have faced a potential 400 percent tax increase in 2021, which would hinder the local industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
“As our communities look to rebuild and recover from ongoing crisis, the federal government must make smart investments and reforms that allow families and businesses to succeed long into the future. While I fundamentally disagree with the procrastination and repeated shutdown threats that characterized this recent funding process, I am relieved to see an agreement cross the finish line as we prepare for a new Congress and a new administration,” said Spanberger. “This package includes several priorities I pushed to include – such as continued, increased funding for high-speed internet infrastructure and a commonsense fix to help the families of veterans afford a high-quality higher education. Additionally, I’m glad to see our local breweries, distilleries, and vineyards will receive some much-needed tax relief in this uncertain economic time. And as we look forward to our priorities in the next Congress, my legislation to knock down barriers for biosimilar drugs makes me hopeful that we can achieve additional progress in lowering prescription drug costs over the next few years. I was proud to support this agreement – combined with COVID-19 relief, as it is a necessary component of maintaining government operations, funding critical services, and keeping millions of Americans employed. Nothing could be more critical in a moment of nationwide crisis.”
“The impending FET Relief expiration on Dec. 31, 2020 was the single greatest threat to our industry, and we thank Representative Spanberger and other Members of Congress for stepping up with support,” said Gareth Moore, President, Virginia Distillers Association. “We were looking at a 400 percent federal tax hike, which would have been catastrophic to our industry even without the setbacks of the pandemic this year. We’ve been making trips to Washington for several years now, to not only plea for Congress to support distilled spirits FET relief, but to make it permanent. Imposing the same federal tax load on small businesses as multinational corporations was counterintuitive to growing our industry here in Virginia, which is predominantly craft in scale. Now that relief has passed, we expect our industry will be able to focus on growth opportunities. In the past, with FET up for renewal each year, it set a tone of not being able to plan for the future. How could any business plan with the uncertainty of a looming 400 percent federal tax increase potentially going into effect each year? Now that relief is permanent, we can focus on investing capital in our businesses, our employees, the Commonwealth – and growing the spirits industry as a signature industry for Virginia.”
“After my husband, Matthew Ruzicka, retired from the United States Army and began to collect Disability Payments for his service-connected injuries, the amount of financial aid our children received for college was reduced dramatically. To our surprise, the reason for this drop in aid was because my husband’s disability benefits were considered income in calculations for financial aid,” said Annette Ruzicka, Midlothian. “I am grateful to Representative Spanberger for her tireless work on rectifying this injustice and making sure that these earned benefits don’t end up actively hurting student veterans and veteran families like my own.”
“Electric cooperatives are deeply invested in the health of America’s rural economies and elevating underserved people around the globe who lack access to electricity. As a member of the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs Committees, Representative Spanberger has a unique perspective on both those essential challenges,” said Jim Matheson, CEO, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “The USDA ReConnect program and other new broadband programs included in year-end legislation will work to connect rural Americans who lack access to high-speed internet. And the USAID Cooperative Development Program is critical to connecting people around the world to affordable, reliable electricity. We are grateful for Representative Spanberger’s commitment to the health of rural communities, domestically and abroad.”
“There is a tremendous need for policies to help biosimilars developers navigate through the significant patent estates constructed by brand name drug companies,” said Christine Simmon, Executive Director, Biosimilars Council, a Division of the Association for Accessible Medicines. “Section 325 is a step in the right direction, and we look forward to working with Rep. Spanberger on further initiatives to enhance patient access to more-affordable biosimilars.”
Spanberger successfully fought to include many provisions in the FY 2021 funding deal – in addition to her COVID-19 relief priorities passed as part of the package, including:
- Strengthened funding for broadband internet projects. The bipartisan funding deal includes $635 million for USDA ReConnect Program, which partners with businesses and local officials to expand high-speed internet infrastructure and increase e-Connectivity in rural and underserved communities across the country. Earlier this month, Spanberger led a bipartisan effort calling on appropriators to prioritize funding for high-speed broadband internet infrastructure projects and reject proposed cuts to the ReConnect Program included in the Senate version of the FY 2021 funding bill. In February 2020, Spanberger announced $28 million in ReConnect funding for broadband internet infrastructure in Central Virginia — including in Louisa, Orange, Goochland, and Powhatan Counties. Last year, Spanberger successfully led the fight to protect ReConnect Program funding from elimination in the FY 2020 funding deal.
- Spanberger’s bipartisan legislation to fix a flaw in the federal financial aid system for veterans and their families. The bipartisan package includes legislation Spanberger introduced on Veterans Day 2020 to fix an issue in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that has unfairly penalized disabled veterans and their families. Currently, Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits, including VA Disability Compensation, must be reported in the FAFSA and is taken into consideration when calculating an applicant’s Estimated Family Contribution. Because these tax-free payments remains a factor in the FAFSA process, this requirement has caused many veterans and their families to take on an additional financial burden when sending their children to college. Spanberger’s Honor Our Nation’s Oath to Remember (HONOR) Our Veterans’ Sacrifice Act would fix this issue by excluding veteran benefits, including VA Disability Compensation, from the list of benefits required to be reported in the FAFSA.
- Spanberger’s bipartisan legislation to lower prescription drug costs and allow cheaper, generic alternatives to enter the consumer market. The funding package includes major provisions from Spanberger’s Biologic Patent Transparency Act, which will take a first step in stopping this practice of “patent gaming” and seek to level the playing field for biosimilar drugs. By increasing patent transparency in the prescription drug market, this law will help stimulate competition between biosimilars and established biologic medicines — and these provisions will likely deliver biosimilar treatments to patients faster and help lower drug prices for Central Virginia consumers. Spanberger introduced the bipartisan legislation in October 2019.
- A permanent extension of the craft beverage tax credit. Spanberger is a cosponsor of the bipartisan Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, which is included in this funding deal and makes permanent the federal excise tax cut on distilled spirts that was enacted in 2017. Earlier this month, Spanberger joined a bipartisan group of her colleagues in urging Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy to pass this legislation in the FY 2021 funding agreement – particularly as brewers and distillers would’ve faced a significant increase in their federal excise taxes at a time when so many are struggling to stay open and keep employees on the payroll. In August 2020, Spanberger hosted a discussion in Powhatan with Central Virginia distillers to learn more about how they are innovating in response to the COVID-19 crisis – as well as to hear about the need for the extension of this crucial tax credit.
In addition to Spanberger’s funding deal wins for Central Virginia, the legislation includes many critical COVID-19 relief priorities – such as extended unemployment benefits, strong funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, additional loans for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), direct payments to individuals, telehealth investments, and assistance to independent entertainment venues. Additionally, the legislation extends the deadline for state and local governments to use Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) awards beyond the end-of-year deadline, allowing Central Virginia communities to continue ongoing COVID-19-related projects.
Click here to read more about Spanberger’s COVID-19 relief priorities included in the overall emergency and omnibus package.