Rep. Scott Garrett offered an amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act yesterday.
The Garrett-Adler-Lance amendment to H.R. 5822, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, would prioritize funding for veterans by increasing the Grants for Construction of State Veterans Cemeteries account by $7 million.
Garrett gave the following remarks on the floor to advocate for his amendment:
"This amendment would increase the amount of funding for grants for construction of states veterans cemeteries by $7 million while reducing funding for grants for construction of minor projects by an equal amount.
"The VA provides funding for state veterans cemeteries through the grants for construction of state veterans cemeteries program. All pending projects are evaluated by the VA and ranked in order of priority. This is not an earmark program. It is a competitive ranking process.
"The current priority list shows that there are $121 million worth of projects where the state matching funds are already in place. More than half of these projects--totaling $70 million--are still awaiting Federal matching grants. Yet the appropriations bill we are considering today provides only $46 million for grants for construction of state veterans cemeteries.
"The first priority for the state cemetery program is to provide funding for the expansion of existing cemeteries. The second priority is for the construction of new cemeteries according to geographical need. The third is for improvements to existing cemeteries. So what this means is that existing cemeteries which require improvements do not receive the necessary funding.
"For example, my state of New Jersey is home to the BGWC Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery. This cemetery is the busiest state veterans cemetery in the Nation. On average, it has seven burials per day. For the past 2 years, the cemetery has had two important improvement projects with state grants in place, but there hasn't been sufficient funding for matching Federal grants.
"The following states also have a state matching grant but have at least one unfunded project: Tennessee, Minnesota, Kentucky, Alabama, California, Idaho, South Dakota, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, Virginia, Nevada and Maine.
"To make matters worse, the state veterans cemetery grant program has been underfunded over the past several years, even though the number of World War II veterans that are needing interments is rapidly increasing. VA and VFW officials at both the state and national level agree that there is a need for an overall increase to the annual budget of the grants to state cemeteries program. In fact, it is one of their top priorities.
"This bipartisan amendment would increase the amount for this program by $7 million. This amendment would simultaneously decrease by $7 million the amount for the minor projects. However, the construction of minor project account is already fully funded at a level that is $40 million above both the VA and the President's budget requests.
"Last year, during consideration of the FY10 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, I introduced an almost identical amendment. The only difference was that the amount of increase/decrease was $4 million rather than $7 million. That amendment passed this House by voice vote.
"In conclusion, I will end where I started, and that is to say, there is a need for the cemeteries not just in the state of New Jersey but across the country as well. In a bipartisan manner we passed this bill with the support presumably from the chairman last year in a similar manner as we are doing this year. As was stated already, the amount of money that is already appropriated is $40 million more than not only what the White House wants but also what the VA wants.
"I do find it curious that the chairman is able to come to the floor and cite specifically what programs would be cut when our staff tried diligently through the committee to ask them to identify exactly which ones would be cut and we could never get an answer from them as to what would be cut whatsoever with regard to priorities. Now the chair comes and says, well, this program, this program, and this program will be cut.
"How can anybody say it's being cut when we're already spending $40 million more than what the VA and the administration is asking for? This is a duty that we owe to our veterans, and we should do it in a proper manner, and we should do it now. We should not be pointing fingers saying that we want a cut from this or a cut from that. We have set out the program this year as we have done in the past. And we should meet that moral obligation."
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) gave the following remarks on the floor to advocate for the Garrett-Adler-Lance amendment:
"I rise in support of Congressman Garrett's amendment also sponsored in a bipartisan capacity by Congressman Adler on the other side of the aisle and by me. This is bipartisan in nature, and, of course, we believe that across the country, veterans and their families are dealing with the hardships of overcrowded and unkempt state cemeteries.
"For example, in New Jersey there is only one state veterans cemetery that is currently available for new burials--the Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown, in southern New Jersey, not in my district and not in Congressman Garrett's district, but this is bipartisan in nature on our side of the aisle; and certainly we think that this amendment will help fund these projects and reduce existing backlogs in the state veterans cemetery grant program.
"I certainly concur with Congressman Garrett's point of view that the funding is already over what has been requested by the administration and we believe strongly that this is in the best interest of the United States."