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House approves defense bill that includes Higgins' amendment authorizing maritime heritage grants

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Tue, Jul 16th 2019 10:00 am

Program would increase grants available to maintain vessels like those at Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park

Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, announced the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2500, the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill authorizes $733 billion for the Department of Defense, and Overseas Contingency Operations, as well as certain activities within the Department of Energy.

The NDAA included an amendment put forward by Higgins that authorizes the secretary of defense to provide up to $5 million for the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program. The program makes grants for education and preservation projects focused on historic maritime resources, funding for which the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park would be eligible. Currently, the program is funded by proceeds from the sale of obsolete vessels; but Higgins’ camp said that, despite a great need to maintain these aging maritime museums, the program has not offered any grants recently due to lack of available funds. This amendment allows for the contribution of an additional $5 million.

The amendment was supported by the Navy League.

Higgins said, “At the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park in Western New York and destinations across the country, battleships, submarines and other vessels serve as floating museums that allow visitors to be immersed into a piece of military history. The experience is like none other, delivering an appreciation for hard-fought battles and the men and women who serve. Our amendment authorizes additional resources to keep these historic treasures afloat.”

The bill authorizes appropriations for DoD activities, including procurement of equipment such as aircraft, weapons, vehicles, military construction, operations and maintenance.

NDAA represents an appropriations increase of $16 billion over fiscal year 2019 for defense.

Also included in the NDAA is a provision that eliminates the survivor benefit plan (SBP)/indemnity compensation offset, also known as the widow’s tax, which affects an estimated 64,000 survivors by reducing their SBP benefits by an average of $1,250 per month.

The standalone bill to fix the widow’s tax had 365 bipartisan cosponsors, including Higgins.

Other highlights of the NDAA include:

  • Authorizes a 3.1% pay raise for service men and women
  • Requires the DoD to report on the progress of plans to meet previously set goals addressing climate change
  • A bipartisan amendment that prohibits federal funds from being used for military force against Iran without prior congressional authorization
  • Authorizes $121.3 million for FY 2020 to clean up perfluorinated (PFAS) chemicals in drinking water on or near military bases, which have been linked to adverse health conditions.
  • Multiple provisions improving military housing
  • An amendment overturning the transgender military ban
  • Prevents the president from pulling funding away from the military to fund construction of a wall along the southern border

The final bill passed by a vote of 220-197 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

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