C ongress recently made real progress on several Oregon priorities in the government funding measure that President Trump signed into law. And we’ll see the results right here in Union County.
Most important, we finally began a serious effort to rebuild our military for the first time in 15 years, and gave our men and women in uniform the biggest pay raise they’ve had in eight years. We increased help for our veterans to improve their timely access to care and to quicker resolution of their claims. We also provided funding for opioid abuse treatment, mental health services, suicide prevention, affordable housing and rural health initiatives for those who’ve worn our nation’s uniform. Last year alone, my office helped nearly 600 veterans in our district get answers and help.
I worked hard to get real reforms to forest policy, including how we pay to fight wildfires. Rather than forcing the Forest Service to use funds intended for forest management and fire prevention to pay for firefighting, for the next decade the government will pay for fire costs much like they pay for other disasters. That will allow the Forest Service to get more projects done in the forests to reduce fuel loads and put people back to work.
We also got a big win on new authorities to treat larger areas of the forest quicker, and to more easily establish fire breaks. In short, there will be more active management to reduce the fuel loads that build up in our forests. That should help reduce the cost, size and severity of forest fires over time.
We also restored payments to Oregon counties through the Secure Rural Schools program (SRS). As Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I found a way to pay for two years of SRS, which provides money for essential local services such as schools, roads and law enforcement in our rural, forested communities. Union County alone will receive an estimated $692,504 in SRS funding for fiscal year 2017, and likely even more in the following year.
To boost our response to the opioid crisis, we approved unprecedented resources to help end this scourge. That includes support for the Rural Communities Opioid Response program, which aids rural communities like ours that have been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis. This continues to be a top priority of mine in Congress, and these resources will help in this critical effort to save lives.
We are improving our mental health programs within the landmark 21st Century Cures Act. Programs like the National Traumatic Stress Network, the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, Mental and Behavioral Health Training Grants, Assisted Outpatient Treatment and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will receive resources to boost access to mental health care and improve community and school safety. I’ll continue to work hard to make sure our local communities get the help we need.
This builds on our recent efforts to support important public health priorities for our state and country, such as the longest and most generous extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in history, and two years of full funding for community health centers.
I am proud that this law includes the Ray Baum Act — named after my friend and La Grande native — to modernize the Federal Communications Commission for the first time in 28 years and boost development of next generation broadband across rural America. For the 23 million Americans without access to broadband, we devoted resources toward building out broadband infrastructure in rural areas.
Ray shared my passion for improving access in rural areas to the most modern communications possible, and he played a key role moving this legislation forward as the staff director of the Energy and Commerce Committee until his untimely passing in February.
We’ve also secured critical funding to support agriculture research, which is essential to keeping pace with farming and ranching needs in Eastern Oregon.
To help make Oregon’s communities cleaner and more prosperous, we reauthorized the Brownfields program, which has been used successfully in Oregon to redevelop old industrial sites and put them back into active use. Nationwide, the program has created more than 129,000 jobs.
I’ve highlighted only a few of the important successes we worked together to achieve in this legislation. These new laws and appropriate funding levels will make Oregon and America stronger in the years ahead.