federal funding

Most TNGOP congressmen vote no on debt ceiling/disaster relief

Most Republicans in Tennessee’s congressional delegation voted against a bill that raises the national debt ceiling and provides $15 billion in hurricane Harvey disaster relief — legislation finalized after President Donald Trump reached an agreement with Democratic congressional leaders.

The bill was approved 80-17 in the Senate on Thursday with Sen. Lamar Alexander voting yes and Sen. Bob Corker voting no.

The House approved the bill today on a 316-90 vote. Tennessee’s two Democratic representatives, Steve Cohen of Memphis and Jim Cooper of Nashville, both voted yes. So did two East Tennessee Republicans – Reps. Phil Roe of Johnson City and Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga.

But five Tennessee Republicans voted no. They were Reps. Diane Black of Gallatin, Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg, John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. of Knoxville and David Kustoff of Memphis.

In response to an inquiry, a Corker spokeswoman emailed this comment on his vote:

“We continue to kick the can down the road on our fiscal issues instead of changing the trajectory of spending,” said Corker. “This bill added $7.4 billion in Community Development Block Grant money that the president did not even request that should have gone through the normal appropriations process.”

Note: A Washington Post overview story (one of many in national media) is HERE. The Senate roll call vote is HERE and the House roll call vote HERE.

McPeak pushes continued fed subsidies to U.S. senators

Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak urged Congress on Wednesday to continue federal cost-sharing payments to insurers, arguing the subsidies are the key to strengthening insurance markets and potentially bringing down costs next year.

Further from Michael  Collins’ report:

Appearing before a Senate panel, McPeak insisted the payments should not be seen as an “insurer bailout.”

To the contrary, she said, cost-sharing funding “ensures that some of our most vulnerable consumers receive assistance for copays and deductibles that are required to be paid under federal law.”

McPeak’s testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee came during the first of four hearings focused on strengthening the individual health insurance market after the collapse of the GOP’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the panel, said he hopes lawmakers will reach a consensus by the end of next week and approve bipartisan legislation by the end of the month to stabilize the individual health insurance market and guarantee that affordable coverage is available for those who want it.

Note: Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to the panel today.

McQueen to DeVos: Fed education budget cuts will hurt ‘some of your biggest supporters’

In letters to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is opposing the proposed elimination of a federal program for teacher training and retention that sent $38 million to Tennessee last year, reports The Tennessean.

McQueen wrote two letters – the first in June, saying the budget cut would hurt students in public schools across the state, especially in rural areas where President Donald Trump had strong support in the 2016 election. A second letter sent Friday says 42,000 students in private schools would be hurt, too, by the elimination of Title II, part A funds in the upcoming federal budget. DeVos has been an active supporter of charter schools and school voucher programs.

She emphasized her point in an interview Friday with the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee.

“Our tone here is: We want to make sure you understand, this is going to be very impactful for our rural counties in ways that maybe you haven’t thought through,” McQueen said. “We are at a point where these decisions will probably impact some of your biggest supporters.”

…The state recieved $38 million in Title II funds from the federal government in 2016-17, according to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. That money also goes to the recruitment and retention of educators.

DeVos’ office responded (to the first letter) by saying that states had not used those funds well in the past, McQueen said.

“We would disagree with that because in Tennessee we don’t believe we have misused that by any stretch of the imagination,” McQueen said in the interview.

New ECD initiative: Build a call center, hoping jobs will come to TN’s most economically-distressed county

News release from Department of Economic and Community Development

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) announced today the launch of an open search for a company to establish operations in Hancock County as part of Project 95, a new initiative designed to bring resources from multiple state agencies to bear on Tennessee’s most economically distressed county.

Beginning with Hancock County, Project 95 is part of TNECD’s long-term strategy to eliminate all federally designated distressed counties across Tennessee by 2025.

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Memphis picked for program providing more federal aid in fighting crime

Memphis is one of 12 cities picked for a new anti-crime program being launched by the U.S. Department of Justice, reports Politico.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the coordinated help Tuesday from various branches of the Justice Department, including federal prosecutors in U.S. Attorneys offices, agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, and officials who oversee law-enforcement-focused grants.

“Turning back the recent troubling increase of violent crime in our country is a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration, as we work to fulfill the President’s promise to make America safe again,” Sessions said as the Justice Department kicked off a two-day summit in Bethesda, Maryland, spotlighting strategies for cracking down on violent crime . “The Department of Justice will work with American cities suffering from serious violent crime problems.”

The initial round of cities selected for the newly-created Public Safety Partnership are Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Jackson, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Lansing, Michigan, and Springfield, Illinois.

The new program will include “diagnostic teams” aimed at identifying crime-fighting strategies for cities experiencing serious violent crime issues and “operations teams” that will embark on a three-year effort involving training, coaching, and increased collaboration between prosecutors, law enforcement and probation agencies.

Note: The announcement comes a week after Trump announced he has chosen Michael Dunavant, now a district attorney general in West Tennessee, to become the new U.S. attorney for the region. Previous post HERE.

Commission Trump wants to abolish announces $15.7M in grants to help coal miners losing jobs

The Appalachian Regional Commission, which would be abolished under President Trump’s proposed federal budget for the coming year, announced almost $16 million in grants intended to help communities losing jobs in the coal industry in seven states, including Tennessee.
The only Tennessee grant is $500,000 for Knoxville-based LaunchTN for its Entrepreneurial Education and Workforce Development project. The Tennessee startup support initiative will target the coal-impacted counties of Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Cumberland, Fentress, Grundy, Marion, Morgan, Scott and Sequatchie. A list of the projects is HERE. The ARC press release is below.
 

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Memphis storm damage pegged at $17M — enough to qualify for fed disaster funding

Memphis officials now estimate damages from last weekend’s severe storm at more than $17 million, well over the $9 million threshold that could trigger a federal disaster declaration leading to reimbursement of up to 80 percent of funds spend on repairs, reports the Commercial Appeal.

In early estimates, the city plans to spend $9.97 million on the storm cleanup, mostly to remove debris and repair public facilities, while MLGW (Memphis Light Gas and Water) plans to spend $7 million clearing debris and restoring service.

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On Trump budget cuts for local governments in TN (where fed grants average $2,000 per person)

Tennessee is cited as an example of the negative impact of President Trump’s budget-cutting plans on state and local governments in a Politico story. Former Republican state Sen. Micheal Williams, now mayor of Union County and a self-described fiscal conservative, says he was stunned when he read the proposal.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” Williams said. “I don’t know if they really thought this through.”

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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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‘Open container’ bill dies despite Haslam’s support

Legislation prohibiting open containers of an alcoholic beverage in moving vehicles is dead again this year even though Gov. Bill Haslam made it part of his official legislative package for 2017.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who has pushed the idea for years, had hoped Haslam’s backing would make a difference, reports WJHL-TV, and is disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (sponsoring SB1219 for the administration) pulled the bill without a vote.

Norris said there’s not enough support among legislators for passage and debating the matter would be “a distraction” from the push for passage of the governor’s priority bill of the year — a package of tax legislation including increases in gas and diesel fuel taxes.

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