Sullivan Votes for COVID-19 Relief, Government Funding Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) voted with 91 of his Senate colleagues on Monday for a COVID-19 relief package and an omnibus appropriations bill that funds the government through September 30, 2021. This critical piece of legislation—along with the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included the Coast Guard Authorization Act for the first time ever—makes great strides in supporting America’s front-line health care workers and the fight against COVID-19; providing relief to families, small businesses, and hard-working Alaskans; bolstering the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic; funding necessary infrastructure, including ports and harbors; and strengthening Alaska’s fisheries. 

Senator Sullivan, working hand-in-glove with Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young (both R-Alaska), and groups from across the state, played a critical role in these accomplishments, which are detailed below. 

“It’s been a very difficult time for our state and our country—and we are going to continue to face challenges in the months ahead,” said Senator Sullivan. “But there is hope in both the near term and in the long term. Through the remarkable triumph of science, a whole-of-government approach, and private sector involvement, Americans and Alaskans will soon be offered a vaccine, and this COVID relief bill will help ensure that Alaskans across our state have access to it, along with a surge of resources to medical professionals on the front lines. 

“This legislation also includes a second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding for the hardest-hit small businesses, including our seasonal businesses and our fishermen, and additional money to help schools reopen and safely operate. But Alaskans also need to know that we are working to ensure that our economy is set to come back strong once we get through this pandemic. The recently-passed NDAA authorizes more than $150 million for our state. Also, within the water and infrastructure portion of the omnibus bill, we authorized hundreds of millions of dollars for significant projects to improve our ports and harbors across Alaska. Finally, working with Alaska fishermen, we were able to pass numerous bills to strengthen our fisheries and clean up our oceans, ensuring that we remain the superpower of seafood for generations to come.” 

Below is a breakdown of some of the major sections of the omnibus and COVID-19 relief bill, aswell as other recent legislation championed by Senator Sullivan.

Health Care and COVID-19 Relief

Among the health care-related and COVID-19 relief measures, the legislation:

  • Provides $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines, making them available at no charge to all Americans who need them, $8 billion to distribute vaccines, and $20 billion to support state testing efforts.
  • Provides billions of dollars for hospitals.
  • Bolsters mental health by permanently allowing mental health services to be delivered through telehealth. This was a top priority for Senator Sullivan, author of the FRONTIER Community Act
  • Ends surprise medical billing, legislation that Senator Sullivan cosponsored, which will prohibit patients from receiving medical bills from out-of-network providers while receiving services from in-network facilities. This legislation empowers patients by requiring transparency from health care facilities and insurance companies, which must now provide patients with a clear and honest cost estimate at least three days prior to a medical procedure.
  • Extends the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program for five years.
  • Increases transparency in health care by banning gag clauses, requiring more transparency when there are kick-backs for referrals, and includes new reporting requirements about prescription drug prices.  
  • Extends, for three years, the public funding for federal health programs, like community health centers, the National Service Corps, and the Special Diabetes Program.
  • Approves $4 billion to support substance abuse programs, building on the significant legislation passed in recent years to combat the opioid crisis. This includes $1.5 billion for state opioid response grants and $50 million for tribal opioid response.
  • Protects seniors’ access to health care by allowing low-income seniors to enroll in Part D prescription plans sooner; phases out the Medicare coinsurance for positive colorectal cancer screenings; and promotes the use of a real-time benefit tool so providers can help seniors find the lowest drug prices.

Economic Recovery and Support for Families

The omnibus package and COVID-19 relief bill renew many of the programs in the CARES Act that were successful in ensuring small businesses, families and local governments could weather the economic challenges caused by the pandemic. The legislation:

  • Renews the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) at $284 billion, giving small businesses hardest hit by the pandemic—like bars, restaurants and Alaska’s tourism-reliant businesses—the opportunity to apply for a second PPP loan, and making 501(c)(6) organizations and faith-based organizations eligible for PPP relief.
  • Includes language giving seasonal and commercial fishing businesses the ability to increase their first PPP loan if they have not already done so.
  • Provides a new round of economic recovery stimulus checks, up to $600 for adults and their dependents.
  • Provides an additional $300 per week in federal pandemic unemployment relief, and extends the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, covering self-employed and gig economy workers for eleven weeks, from December 26, 2020 until March 14, 2021.
  • Provides $82 billion to help schools and universities reopen and return to in-person learning. 
  • Provides $25 billion in rental relief for Americans who lost their income during the pandemic, and extends the eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021.
  • Provides $15 billion to support theaters, entertainment venues, museums, and aquariums.
  • Provides $7 billion to expand broadband access, including $2 billion to replace vulnerable foreign-sourced equipment, $300 million specifically for rural broadband infrastructure, and $250 million for telehealth services.
  • Provides $10 billion to help child care centers and providers reopen safely. 
  • Increases Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15% for six months. 
  • Provides the U.S. Postal Service with the opportunity to have its $10 billion CARES Act loan forgiven.
  • Provides $2 billion to help the bus, motorcoach, and passenger vessel industry that has been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
  • Extends the Aviation Workers Payroll Support Program, providing $15 billion for passenger air carrier workers, and $1 billion for the employees of contractors that provide ground services directly to air carriers, such as catering services or on-airport functions.
  • Extends the deadline for which states, localities and tribes can spend original CARES Act funds until the end of 2021.
  • Includes a $200 million fund to support timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Bolstering America’s National Defense and Coast Guard 

The omnibus legislation passed on Monday also appropriates funds for the Department of Defense (DOD) and for the Coast Guard, which resides in the Department of Homeland Security. Both appropriations measures included several priorities and projects fought for by Senator Sullivan. The legislation: 

  • Provides a three percent pay raise for U.S. service members.
  • Provides $10 million for a new regional DOD Center, named after the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), which would be the first DOD regional center in the Arctic and the first new DOD regional center established since 2000. This provision was authorized in the FY 2021 NDAA.
  • Provides $50 million for Arctic communications, also authorized in the FY 2021 NDAA.
  • Provides $12.8 billion in overall funding for the U.S. Coast Guard
  • Provides $555 million for construction of the second heavy Polar Security Cutter, $260 million for construction of four Fast Response Cutters, $14 million for VHF (very high frequency) radio modernization of the Rescue 21 distress and response system in Alaska, $28.4 million for WLB Pier replacement project in Sitka, and $32 million for the construction of housing at U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak.
  • Provides more than $40 million for important Arctic-focused initiatives, including accelerating development of a new tracked Arctic vehicle, purchasing cold weather clothing for the Army and the Marine Corps, and funding counter-UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) technology in Arctic environments.
  • Provides robust funding for missile defense, including an additional $250 million for a service life extension program for the existing ground-based interceptors (GBI) at Fort Greely, an additional $150 million in new boosters, and an additional $200 million for the development of the Next-Generation Interceptor, the future replacement of the existing GBIs.
  • Provides $48 million in military construction for Alaska for a communications center at Fort Greely.
  • Provides $30 million for the Innovative Readiness Training Program, more than doubling the funding for the program, which is often utilized in Alaska.

Infrastructure, Water, Ports & Harbors

The omnibus legislation incorporates the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (AWIA), passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in May. Sullivan, a member of the committee, championed several provisions in the bill, including authorization of the nation’s first deep-water Arctic port at Nome, Alaska. Among other provisions, the omnibus bill:

  • Authorizes $379 million for the federal share of the Nome Deep Draft Port project, to be matched with $126 million in non-federal funds.
  • Authorizes $27 million to dredge the entrance channel of the harbor in Unalaska, Alaska to a depth of 58 feet, to be matched with $9 million in non-federal funds.
  • Authorizes $147.8 million for the St. George, Alaska harbor project, to be matched with $16.5 million in non-federal funds.
  • Directs $10 million to map the coastlines of areas that are experiencing rapid environmental changes, including Alaska.
  • Provides the Denali Commission with $15 million.
  • Extends the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain the damaged Lowell Creek Flood Diversion System in Seward, Alaska.

Bolstering Alaska’s Fisheries 

Among the fisheries and oceans-related provisions, the legislation passed on Monday: 

  • Provides an additional $300 million to help fishermen and coastal communities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Includes a $1.5 billion fund to purchase food and agricultural products, including seafood, and also includes loans and grants for small and mid-sized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and vessels, farmers markets, and producers to respond to and protect workers from COVID-19.
  • Provides $32 million for hydrographic surveys, including $2 million for the National Ocean Service to coordinate mapping and exploration for the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as well as the Arctic and sub-Arctic shoreline and near-shore of Alaska.
  • Provides $40.5 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) for regional observations.
  • Provides the NOAA Marine Debris Program with $9 million, and includes language prioritizing projects in rural and remote communities that lack infrastructure to address marine debris problems.
  • Provides $75 million for ocean plastic pollution prevention and clean-up through grants and programs outside of NOAA, which will bolster the efforts of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, Sullivan’s comprehensive marine debris legislation that was signed into law last Friday. 
  • Provides the Pacific Salmon Treaty with $31.5 million, an increase of $4 million beyond last year, to support obligations set forth in this agreement.
  • Provides $1 million for NOAA fisheries data collections, surveys, and assessments, along with direction to ensure that historical survey coverage levels are achieved in fiscal year 2021. The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to conduct no fewer than six fisheries surveys for Alaska this year.
  • Provides the North Pacific Observer Coverage Program with no less than $7.5 million, and includes language directing NOAA to identify and implement efficiencies that would mitigate the cost burden shouldered by small vessel operators in the fixed-gear fleet.
  • Provides $15.5 million to NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program, a $2.5 million increase, to help understand the growing impacts of ocean acidification on oceans and marine productivity.
  • Provides language directing active monitoring of Barry Glacier in Prince William Sound for tsunami preparedness in Alaska, along with an additional $500,000 beyond 2020 levels for the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program. 

Other recent legislation supporting healthy oceans and fisheries championed by Senator Sullivan include: 

  • Young Fishermen’s Development Act: This bill creates a national training program through grants awarded for training, technical support and apprenticeships to support entry-level fishermen establishing themselves in the industry.
  • Save Our Seas 2.0 Act: A bill to address the marine plastic crisis that is threatening coastal economies and harming marine life. The legislation builds on the success and initiatives of the 2018 Save Our Seas Act, and is the most comprehensive marine plastics bill ever signed into law.
  • Recreational Quota Entity: A provision authorizing the collection of fees from participating charter guides to purchase commercial halibut quota to transfer and use within the charter guide fleet, and for management of the program.

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