Out of Washington D.C.
Begich hosts Native financial leader at meeting
With the goal of providing an Alaska specific perspective on rural issues facing Alaska Natives and Native Americans nationwide, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich invited Hugh Short, an Inupiaq Eskimo from Bethel and President and CEO of Alaska Growth Capital, to a July 25 meeting with Native organizations at the U.S. Capitol. Short offered his professional and first-hand knowledge of ways to improve educational opportunities, spur energy development, and increase economic development for Native populations across the country.
Short spoke at the meeting on the importance of additional funding and development to expand broadband internet in rural Alaska, public and private investment in under-served rural communities through extension of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), and government guaranteed lending programs like Rural Development Business and Industry programs.
“Much work is being done locally and within the State of Alaska, but there are steps that can be taken at the federal level that will enhance the ability of Alaska Natives to succeed and thrive. These are not expensive, new programs. These are programs that exist today that need to be extended, enhanced and expanded. I’d like to thank Sen. Begich for inviting me here today and for his work and advocacy of these issues,” said Short.
Comprehensive veterans bill passes house
A comprehensive bill to improve veterans’ health care, housing, education, and care for homeless veterans, including a provision sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to waive telehealth co-payments, passed the Senate July 24 and is on its way to the House of Representatives.
The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 passed the Senate by unanimous consent last week combining a number of important provisions of the Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011 and the Honoring American Veterans Act of 2011, both supported by Begich, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011 was a bill introduced by Sen. Begich authorizing the waiver of the collection of copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits of veterans. It also included provisions to end homelessness among veterans; establish centers of excellence for rural health research, education and clinical activities; and a provision to promote the VA and the Social Security Administration to streamline processes for providing survivor benefits.
BBNA receives USDA funding for jobs project
Bristol Bay Native Association will receive a grant of $405,023 to fun the Bristol Bay Jobs Accelerator Project, USDA-Rural Development Alaska State Director Jim Nordlund on Aug. 1. The funds are a combined grant from USDA-RD and U.S. Economic Development Administration.
“The national initiative seeks to support rural partnerships by identifying and leveraging local assets and strengthening linkages to industry clusters. Strong industry clusters promote robust economic ecosystems and the development of a skilled workforce, both of which are critical to long-term regional success in rural areas. Last year’s 20 challenge winners–both rural and urban public-private partnerships–generated millions in matching funds and their projects are expected to help create hundreds of new businesses and thousands of new jobs,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“The areas served will include the Bristol Bay Region in Southwestern Alaska. The BBNA will provide technical assistance to the Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center (SAVEC) to build training capacity in the Bristol Bay fisheries and seafood processing industry cluster,” said Nordlund. In addition, funds will be used to provide technical assistance services, organization and management of an industry conference event, and development of a regional fisheries business cooperative. The project will accelerate job creation in the fisheries and seafood industry through boosting workforce skills, growing seafood manufacturing and developing effective marketing linkages.”
Details on the USDA Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge are outlined at www.rurdev.usda.gov/ruraljobsaccelerator.html.
Murkowski pushes for more rural doctors
Sen. Lisa Murkowski urged Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on July 25 to enforce existing law on rural medical training — and create an environment that will boost rural medicine nationwide. Last month The Senator wrote a letter with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) — co-signed by a bipartisan group of 18 other Senate colleagues – that was sent to the HHS Secretary.
Congress passed a bill in 1999 that included a provision called the Rural Training Tract (RTT) to boost rural medical care nationwide by requiring a certain amount of training physicians to be assigned work outside of urban areas — but that policy has not been utilized. Senator Murkowski’s recommendation to the secretary is to enforce and practice this policy to alleviate a glaring statistic: 20 percent of the U.S. population resides in rural areas, but less than 9 percent of physicians practice there.
House reauthorizes Marine Debris Act
Alaskan Congressman Don Young spoke on the House floor Aug. 1 in support of H.R. 1171, the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2012, a bipartisan bill that ultimately passed the House by voice vote. The legislation will appropriate $4.9 million annually to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for marine debris reduction activities through FY 2015.
“The issue of marine debris cleanup is crucially important to Alaska — especially in light of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami,” said Rep. Young. “This is a problem that is not going away anytime soon and will only get worse as more tsunami related debris wash ashore. Reauthorizing this program is critical to the Alaskan economy and ecosystem — particularly our fisherman and cargo ships. While I would have preferred more financial support for this program, today’s passage is a significant step towards protecting Alaska’s beaches and shores from marine debris.”