Senators help secure funding for veterans, wildfire, public defenders
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich today announced that the budget agreement to end the government shutdown will provide additional funding over the previous fiscal year’s levels for a number of programs important to New Mexicans. The bill – a continuing resolution to fund the government through Jan. 15 – was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president late Wednesday night.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Udall successfully fought during the negotiations over the bill to increase resources for veterans, wildfire restoration and public defenders, among others. The additional funding will provide badly needed help for programs that have been hindered by across-the-board sequestration cuts. The bill also ensures retroactive pay for federal employees who were furloughed during the shutdown through no fault of their own, a measure both senators fought to include.
Additionally, Udall secured enough resources for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to allow it to adequately function for the first time since it was created in the wake of the Patriot Act. The board was intended to be an independent watchdog over executive branch surveillance activities, ensuring Americans’ constitutional rights are balanced with counter-terrorism efforts, but was never adequately funded. Udall fought to give the board resources to hire staff, and he has urged it to investigate the many recent reports of the widespread domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency.
“Keeping our trust to veterans who served and those who serve today, protecting our communities from wildfire, ensuring justice for all citizens, preserving our constitutional rights – those are basic functions New Mexicans expect from their government. I was proud to fight for New Mexico priorities,” Udall said. “That being said, I share New Mexicans’ frustration that Congress couldn’t agree on a bill to fund the government for more than three months. We’re holding back our economic recovery by lurching from crisis to crisis, and I’m pushing for Congress to do better.”
Temporary funding bills that continue across-the-board sequestration cuts are hurting New Mexico families, and taking a toll on the economy and our national defense. For example, without a long-planned increase in funding, Sandia National Laboratories will not be able to meet critical milestones for the B61 life extension project. The president’s stockpile stewardship program, carried out by our national labs, is important for our national security and for maintaining the long-term capabilities of the national labs.
“New Mexico families know responsible budgeting requires planning and investments,” Udall said. “It’s time to put middle-class families and our economy first and replace the across-the-board sequestration cuts with a sound budget strategy that will strengthen our nation’s economy and help businesses create good-paying jobs.”
“This additional funding will help provide important services New Mexicans rely upon and will help our state with necessary fire restoration projects," Heinrich said. "Our economy desperately needs long-term stability. I hope that the bipartisan agreement reached Wednesday, and the willingness shown by reasonable minds to work together, will mark the end of governing by manufactured crises and open the door to broader budget discussions. We must replace damaging across-the- board cuts that are a drag on our economy with smarter spending cuts and revenues and continue to bolster the middle class.”
The Continuing Resolution provided additional funding for (nationwide levels):
Veterans – $294 million over last fiscal year to reduce the backlog in claims that have left veterans waiting years for benefits they have earned.
Wildfire – $636 million to repay accounts for the cost of fighting wildfires in 2013. The bill also extends authority that expired on Sept. 30, for the U.S. Forest Service to contract with public or private entities to perform forest restoration and timber projects.
Public defenders – $26 million over last fiscal year for court-appointed public defenders, a program that has been especially hard hit by sequestration.
Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board – $2.3 million over last fiscal year to enable the privacy board to finally hire staff and perform its duties.