WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger yesterday joined a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives in passing bipartisan funding bills that would protect funding for rural broadband projects, block a proposed congressional pay raise, and strengthen investment in apprenticeship programs.
The package includes funding Spanberger fought to include for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect Loan and Grant program. Across the country, this program partners with rural communities to expand high-speed internet infrastructure. In October 2019, Spanberger called for U.S. House and U.S. Senate appropriators to include ReConnect funding in the final budget legislation after the U.S. Senate zeroed-out funding for the program in its fiscal year (FY) 2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
The legislation also includes a provision Spanberger helped spearhead to block a proposed congressional pay raise. Earlier this year, Spanberger was part of a small group of Democrats and Republicans who successfully pushed to block a pay raise for Members of Congress in the FY2020 Legislative Branch appropriations.
“Across Central Virginia’s rural communities, a lack of access to high-speed internet impedes the ability of our students, businesses, and farms to stay competitive in an increasingly digitally-based economy. Many counties in our district have applied for ReConnect grants to expand access to reliable high-speed broadband internet, and I’m pleased that after pushing for continued ReConnect funding, this vital program will continue into next year,” said Spanberger. “A budget should reflect our priorities—and this budget deal includes many wins I helped secure for Central Virginia—including additional support for Alzheimer’s disease research, the repeal of the Health Insurance Tax, and strong investments in career-focused apprenticeship programs. And at a time when Congress has many priorities it should be focused on for the American people, I’m glad we were able to block a proposed congressional pay raise yet again. As we approach the holidays, I’m encouraged that we are on a pathway toward keeping our government open and giving our federal employees peace of mind—and I encourage the Senate to move quickly on advancing this bill to the President’s desk.”
Yesterday, the U.S. House passed this bipartisan package of federal appropriations bills as part of a bicameral funding agreement. This past week, Spanberger called on Democrats and Republicans to work together to responsibility fund the government and prevent another reckless shutdown. Government funding is currently set to expire on Friday, December 20, 2019.
Spanberger successfully fought to include additional provisions in the bipartisan bill to advance Central Virginia’s healthcare, environment, child nutrition, and veterans priorities, including:
- Boosting federal funding to combat and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Spanberger helped secure a $350 million funding increase for Alzheimer’s disease research. Last week, Spanberger met with the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Richmond to discuss the potential positive impacts of this additional funding.
- Repealing the Health Insurance Tax (HIT). Earlier this year, Spanberger called on her colleagues to repeal the HIT—a fee that she believes imposes unnecessary increases to healthcare costs. The funding package includes a provision that would repeal the HIT.
- Strengthening federal support for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Spanberger requested $41.6 billion for the National Institutes of Health, and this bill provides $41.7 billion for the NIH’s cutting edge research. This amount is $2.6 billion above the FY2019-enacted level.
- Preventing children from going hungry. Spanberger’s advocacy led to a 25 percent increase in funding for the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program, which keeps children from missing meals when schools are not in session. In addition to signing onto a letter requesting increased funding, Spanberger sent her own letter to appropriators advocating for the Summer EBT Program and highlighting its importance to Central Virginia—especially in rural communities in Virginia’s Seventh District. Virginia previously received Summer EBT funding, but USDA changes to the program and funding constraints resulted in support for Virginia being discontinued.
- Increasing federal funding for apprenticeship programs. The bipartisan package includes $175 million for registered apprenticeships, which is an increase of $90 million above last year’s level. In a letter sent to appropriators earlier this year, Spanberger requested additional support for these work-based learning programs.
- Protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The bipartisan funding package includes additional funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program. Spanberger successfully advocated for a 16 percent increase in funding, compared to FY2019. This additional investment would allow Virginia and other states in the Watershed to improve or advance environmental sustainability, collaborate with state and local governments, support farm conservation initiatives, and advance shared public health goals.
- Conserving natural resources and protecting outdoor recreation opportunities. Spanberger—Chair of the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee—repeatedly requested strong funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Her push helped bring about an increase of $57 million from FY2019—the highest funding level for the LWCF in 15 years.
- Supporting specialized medical services for women veterans. The bipartisan package includes $585,000,000 for gender-specific care for women veterans. Earlier this year, Spanberger sent a letter requesting strong funding for Medical Support and Compliance and Medical Services within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) budget, which funds patient care services and women’s health services at VA healthcare facilities.
Earlier this year, Spanberger introduced and passed an amendment to secure millions of additional dollars in funding for the ReConnect program. Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to expand high-speed broadband internet access across Central Virginia’s rural communities, including by:
- Bringing awareness to the issue of rural broadband access. In August 2019, Spanberger held her Rural Broadband Summit in Louisa County to hear about how a lack of reliable broadband internet access is impacting families, farmers, first responders, and small business owners across Central Virginia.
- Amplifying and collecting the stories of Central Virginians. Spanberger has worked to amplify and collect the stories of Central Virginians who are currently facing unnecessary challenges due to the absence of broadband internet in their community. Earlier this year, she collected these stories through her 2019 Rural Broadband Survey, in which she asked Central Virginians to describe how a lack of reliable broadband access has personally impacted them, their families, or their businesses.
- Bringing the eConnectivity concerns of Central Virginians directly to USDA leadership. During her first House Agriculture Committee hearing, Spanberger asked USDA Secretary Perdue about his thoughts on expanding rural broadband. Spanberger also invited Secretary Perdue to visit her district to hear directly from Central Virginia farmers and dairy producers, and get their feedback on current USDA policies and 2018 Farm Bill implementation. He accepted her invitation. Click here for a full video of her remarks.
- Working with colleagues to find common ground on rural broadband policy. Earlier this year, Spanberger announced her appointment to a new task force focused on expanding high-speed internet access in rural communities. The House Task Force on Rural Broadband will provide coordination and leadership to increase investment in rural broadband internet infrastructure across the United States, and it will operate under an overarching goal to make sure all Americans have reliable access to high-speed internet by 2025. And as Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition’s rural opportunity task force, she co-authored an op-ed on Fox News online to highlight the need to pursue smart, bipartisan rural broadband infrastructure policies.