federal funding

Fed budget deal has record Corps of Engineers funding; $19M for Chickamauga Lock

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1, 2017 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), vice chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, today announced that the fiscal year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill provides $6.038 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – a record funding level in a regular appropriations bill – allowing up to $19.3 million to continue construction of Chickamauga Lock.

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Alexander, Corker, Duncan seek fed focus on alleged defective guardrails

Three Tennessee congressmen – Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, along with Rep. John Duncan Jr. – are asking federal officials to consider revoking their approval for the use of highway guardrails linked to four fatalities in Tennessee, reports WJHL-TV.

In the letter, they asked FHWA Acting Deputy Administrator Butch Waidelich, Jr. to consider revoking its letter of eligibility for the X-Lite Terminal Guard rail issued in 2011.

The eligibility letter indicates the product has been tested and is eligible for federal reimbursements for states that use it.

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TN submits new education plan with letter grades for schools

The state Department of Education has released its plan for bring Tennessee into compliance with the new federal education law called Every Student Succeeds Act.

Under the plan, all public schools will get a letter grade from A to F, making it easier for parents to evaluate how their local schools are doing.

Last year the Legislature passed a bill that called for schools to be given letter grades, notes the AP, but the new state education plan goes even further under the measurement system that takes effect in the fall of 2018.

The Department of Education news release is HERE.

Trump budget ax would slash lots of fed spendng in TN

Dozens of programs that provide funding or services in Tennessee are targeted for elimination or drastic cuts under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, reports Michael Collins.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Delta Regional Authority all would be impacted by Trump’s spending plan, released early Thursday and dubbed “America’s First” budget by the White House.

Other programs that reach into the state yet would get no funding under Trump’s budget include Community Development Block Grants, which provide resources to cities for a variety of activities such as affordable housing and anti-poverty initiatives; the Meals on Wheels food-delivery program for the elderly; the Minority Business Development Agency, which works to help minority-owned businesses grow and stay competitive; and heating assistance for low-income residents.

“The list of important programs cut or eliminated is huge,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis. “President Trump’s budget will thrust America into social and cultural deterioration, a new Dark Ages.”

 

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Roe doesn’t expect Congress to go along with Trump eliminating ARC

The Appalachian Regional Commission is one of 19 current federal agencies that would be defunded under President Trump’s proposed budget, but Republican Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District says that’s probably not going to happen, reports the Johnson City Press.

The president’s proposal, subtitled “A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” provides increases to defense spending and law enforcement while eliminating the ARC’s $120 million appropriation, $3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program — used by rural communities to provide housing, build infrastructure and stimulate job growth — and a slew of other domestic agencies and programs.

… In an emailed statement… Roe, R-Tenn., applauded the Trump budget proposal’s support for national defense and assured the safety of programs benefitting rural Appalachia.

… “In the weeks and months ahead, Congress will decide whether or not to adopt the president’s recommendations. Programs like the Appalachian Regional Commission, which does tremendous good for rural Appalachia, have bipartisan support in Congress and I don’t expect they will be eliminated. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the president to work toward getting our fiscal house in order and balancing our budget.”

Note: The Atlantic has a list of the 19 defunded agencies, including in its report this observation on eliminating the ARC: Its inclusion is notable, because it serves a region that largely supported Trump, and which he has promised to revive economically.

TN hospitals oppose GOP’s Obamacare replacement plan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Hospital Association has come out against a new plan in Congress to repeal and replace the Obama health care law, saying the proposal poses “a dark forecast for the future of hospitals in Tennessee.”

THA, which represents 147 acute-care hospitals and health-care facilities across the state, said in a statement Friday that Obamacare has been a challenge. Obamacare is the informal name for the Affordable Care Act.

But the organization said it believes more will lose coverage under the new House GOP bill because it reduces the amount of federal aid people would get to help them pay for their insurance.

“Primarily, we believe a significant number of the roughly 230,000 Tennesseans currently covered could lose their coverage because of an inability to pay for insurance due to significantly reduced federal subsidies,” said THA president and CEO Craig Becker.

THA is affiliated with the American Hospital Association, which announced its opposition to the new proposal earlier this week.

In Tennessee, THA is concerned that the new plan would mean hospitals are going to have to provide free care for more uninsured people while getting even less money to treat Medicaid patients.

Note: The full AP story is HERE; the THA press release is HERE.

DUI enforcement cut by governor’s ‘open container’ proposal

As proposed, Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation funding package would eliminate 57 positions dedicated to enforcing drunken driving laws by district attorneys general staff across the state. The Times-Free Press reports the governor is open to address the resulting concerns of prosecutors.

The provision in question in the governor’s legislation, which would also raise fuel taxes, would outlaw open containers of alcoholic beverages in cars on the road. Because Tennessee doesn’t already have an open container prohibition, $18 million in federal highway funds cannot be used for road construction and maintenance and instead goes to other programs – including $6.5 million now used for special DUI prosecutors, training and police overtime for DUI enforcement. With passage of the governor’s plan, all $18 million would be shifted to road construction.

“We’re aware of that,” the governor said last week. “We fund some DUI [enforcement], DAs through that. We’re willing to look at other ways to make sure that function gets paid for. We realize that’s critical.”

…Jerry Estes, former 10th Judicial District attorney general and now executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, recently said DAs in 25 of the state’s 31 judicial districts rely on the funding. He said prosecutors are hoping to work something out.

“Our concern is 57 positions that would be lost if they’re not funded another way,” Estes said. “And what those 57 positions do, they’re very involved, of course, in prosecuting DUIs and vehicular homicides.”

Moreover, Estes said, the money also helps train sheriffs, police departments, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and other enforcement agencies to combat DUI and impaired driving.

“Tennessee’s DUI deaths on the highways have gone down greatly since these programs have been in place,” said Estes, who called them “very crucial” to that success.

…Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, a former prosecutor, said the $18 million, including the $6.5 million that now goes to prosecutors, needs to be replaced.

“If we can take $18 million out of the general fund and allocate that towards safety, specifically toward 57 positions in the district attorneys’ offices, officer overtime, roadblocks and advertising to combat intoxicated driving, I think that’s a great solution,” Lamberth said.

 

Haslam said “not having the open container law has meant that the federal government’s telling us how we can spend that $18 million.”

 

“I think we should choose how we spend that and then to decide do we want to fund DUI, DAs another way,” the governor said. “But in the meantime, money that should be going to roads should be going to roads.”

Secretary of Interior nominee backs more money for Smokies

At a confirmation hearing Tuesday, Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to become U.S. secretary of the interior, committed to more funding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reports WPLN.

While the Smokies attract twice as many visitors as Yellowstone, the Tennessee park gets only half of the federal money. It’s also prevented from charging an entrance fee due to the way it was acquired by the federal government.

Zinke acknowledged this disparity during his hearing and said he hopes to work toward solving it.

“The Smokies is different than other parks, it should be recognized,” he said. “Working forward with this committee on the infrastructure bill, we’re hoping we can take a big bite out of the deferred maintenance on infrastructure. There’s a number of roads and facilities in there.”

Zinke was also questioned about the deadly wildfires that started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and burned through Gatlinburg. He said he would work with Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander to learn from the tragedy and implement prevention strategies.

Note: Alexander’s news release on the hearing is below.

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Rep. Butt drops bill to ban buying sweets with food stamps

News release from Rep. Shelia Butt

NASHVILLE, Jan. 17, 2017– Last week, State Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) introduced legislation seeking a waiver from the federal government to change the way public assistance dollars are spent on food. Due to ongoing discussions regarding this very issue in the newly GOP controlled federal government under an incoming Trump administration, Butt is pulling the legislation in hopes of federal action.

“Last week I introduced a Bill, (HB43) for the Tennessee State Legislature to consider this sJession that, if enacted, would have limited the “junk food” or non-nutritional caloric foods that could be purchased with what we call SNAP (or food stamp) benefits on an EBT card. (Note: Previous post, somewhat expanded from the original version, is HERE.)

Just this past week the USDA published a detailed report showing that the number one item being bought with SNAP benefits are soft drinks,” said Butt. “The report shows that the No. one purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which account for 5% of the dollars they spend on food. The category of ‘sweetened beverages’ which includes sugar-added juices, energy drinks and sweetened teas, accounted for almost 10% of the dollars spent on food.”

“In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

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New TennCare waiver could mean ‘whole new ballgame’ in fed funding

After six months of operating under temporary extensions, state and federal health care officials have reached a new long-term agreement on continuing federal funding of TennCare that will change the way money is distributed to hospitals in two years.

From a Modern Health Care article:

 Under the new agreement, the CMS will continue the uncompensated-care payments through June 30, 2017, at current levels, which have averaged around $500 million a year.

During a one-year transition period, the total possible payments will ramp up to $708 million.

After that, Tennessee must submit a revised methodology for distributing the money that limits the subsidies to care provided to people who wouldn’t be eligible for Medicaid if the state agreed to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act.

“Coverage is the best way to assure beneficiary access to healthcare for low income individuals, and uncompensated care pool funding should not pay for costs that would otherwise be covered in a Medicaid expansion,” Eliot Fishman, director of the CMS’ State Demonstrations Group wrote in a letter to the state in November 2015.

Tennessee hospitals are nervous about how the allocations will change. It’s “a whole new ballgame with a new distribution system of funding for hospitals,” said Craig Becker, CEO of the Tennessee Hospital Association. “We have some concerns about precisely how this will work, but we have a couple of years to work with state and federal officials to nail down details and secure needed funding for hospitals in the state.”

The CMS has increasingly resisted paying for healthcare for the uninsured now that most of them have access to coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That issue has been an obstacle to renewing waivers in other states, including California, Florida and Texas.

See also The Tennessean, HERE

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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