Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I strongly support the Harkin amendment to restore funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Program to its fiscal year 2002 level. I am concerned that the omnibus appropriations bill before us eviscerates the Byrne program. The Byrne program provides a flexible source of funding to State and local law enforcement agencies to help fight crime by funding drug enforcement task forces, more cops on the street, improved technology, and other anticrime efforts. Massachusetts received over $11.5 million in Byrne funding last year. On countless occasions I have heard from law enforcement officers from Massachusetts about the value of the Byrne program to their crime-fighting efforts.
The war against terror has placed unprecedented demands on State and local law enforcement to prevent terrorist attacks and to respond to an attack should one occur. But fighting the war on terror is not the only job that we expect police officers to do. We also expect them to combat the prevalence of drugs in our cities and rural communities, we expect them to keep our homes and families safe from thieves, and we expect them to make us feel secure when we walk through our neighborhoods. We are well aware that the States are facing a severe fiscal crisis, some $75 billion collectively, what priority does it reflect to cut back on support to local law enforcement in this budget and security environment? A wrong-headed one, in my estimation.
This amendment is supported by the National Association of Police Organizations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Governor's Association. I am proud to stand with these organizations in support of the Harkin amendment to restore funding to the Byrne amendment.
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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I strongly support Senator Schumer's amendment to add $150 million for port security research grants to the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2003. I cannot be here for the vote, but if I were I would vote in favor of this amendment. We passed a comprehensive maritime security bill at the end of the last Congress because in the aftermath of September 11 it became apparent that our Nation's ports were vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Our bill provided for the creation of a port security infrastructure that will significantly increase the level of security at ports and maritime facilities across the country. However, the bill was not funded through the appropriations process and a funding mechanism has yet to be been decided. The Schumer amendment would immediately release grant money to laboratories and universities for the research and development of technologies which will help detect the presence of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons at our Nation's ports, something we addressed in the Maritime Security Act but have yet to implement.
There is no doubt that we will need to develop new technologies and improve upon existing detection technology if we are to fully secure our ports against the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. There are simply not enough customs inspectors to search every piece of cargo that comes into the United States. We will need to have equipment that can scan large cargo containers and detect explosives, chemical and biological agents, and any other substance that could conceivably cause harm. We will also need improved technology that will help officials track, and keep track, of cargo containers from their point of origin to their point of destination. Calling upon our scientists and educators to develop new security technologies is essential if we are to effectively wage the war on terrorism. Given the inadequacies that we know exist in our port security, I do not believe that we can afford to wait around to act. Senator Schumer's amendment is critical to the future of maritime security, and I urge my colleagues to vote for its passage.
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Mr. KERRY. I strongly support the Byrd amendment to strike title VI of division N from the omnibus appropriations bill. Title VI includes a provision which would impose a 1.6 percent across-the-board reduction on all domestic spending. These cuts follow an earlier $9.8 billion reduction in domestic spending from the Senate Appropriations Committee passed spending bills. Together, these cuts will reduce domestic spending by more than $20 billion and will force punitive cuts in veterans health care, housing, education, homeland security, highway funding, Amtrak, the National Institutes of Health, Head Start, WIC and other important national priorities.
Today, we are not meeting our promises to our veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs, VA, has consistently received inadequate resources to meet rising medical costs and a growing demand for its health services. In November 2001, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Principi identified a $400 million funding shortfall for fiscal year 2002. As a result of this shortfall, more than 300,000 veterans throughout the country are on waiting lists for medical care, and many must wait 6 months or longer for an appointment to see medical staff. Although Congress provided $417 million for veterans health care as part of the fiscal year 2002 emergency supplemental spending bill, passed in July 2002, the President agreed to spend only $142 million of the approved funds. In addition to the fact that the VA health system must now overcome the severely inadequate amount provided in fiscal year 2002, the VA has also been operating at last year's funding level since the onset of the 2003 fiscal year in October.
This funding crisis has forced the VA health system to resort to short-term fixes, such as discontinuing outreach activities in an effort to reduce enrollment and instituting new regulations that require the rationing of health care. Moreover, the VA has already reduced services at a number of facilities throughout the country and has closed some facilities altogether. It is crucial for the VA to receive an increase in fiscal year 2003 medical care funding provided in both the Senate and House Appropriations Committee bills. Instead, the Republican majority has decided to impose an additional 1.6 percent reduction to the already inadequate levels of funding for veterans services.
Today, our Nation is facing an affordable housing crisis. For thousands upon thousands of low-income families with children, the disabled, and the elderly, privately owned affordable housing is simply out of reach. Recent changes in the housing market have further limited the availability of affordable housing across the country, while the growth in our economy in the last decade has dramatically increased the cost of the housing that remains.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, estimates that more than 5 million American households have what is considered worst case housing needs. Since 1990, the number of families that have worst case housing needs has increased by 12 percent, that is 600,000 more American families that cannot afford a decent and safe place to live.
Despite the fact that more families are unable to afford housing, we have decreased Federal spending on critical housing programs such as the Public Housing Capital Fund, elderly housing, and Public Housing Drug Elimination Grants since fiscal year 1995.
Earlier this month HUD also announced plans to dramatically reduce the amount of funding available for the operation of public housing by up to 30 percent. This would cost the city of Boston approximately $13 million in housing funding during fiscal year 2003. This additional across-the-board cut would impose even further cuts in the operation of public housing. This is simply unacceptable to those who depend upon housing assistance.
These are just two examples of the arbitrary cuts will be imposed on every domestic program, many of which already are inadequately funded. That is why I strongly support the Byrd amendment and urge my colleagues to support it as well.