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Cochran Scores Victory to Maintain Wireless Telephone, Internet Access For Rural Mississippi

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on Thursday supported committee passage of a FY2016 spending bill that includes provisions protecting wireless broadband Internet service in rural Mississippi.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the FY2016 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations Bill, which funds the U.S. Treasury Department, the federal judiciary, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Small Business Administration, Internal Revenue Service and other independent government agencies.

The Senate bill, with support from Cochran, would prevent the FCC from making additional cuts to an important program used to expand internet service in rural areas of Mississippi and across the nation. Cochran pushed this effort on behalf of requests from the University of Mississippi Medical Center and citizens throughout Mississippi and its Delta region.

“The Universal Service Fund, as it stands now, is an important resource for maintaining and enhancing wireless broadband internet access in poor and rural areas of our state. This benefits Mississippi’s efforts to expand telehealth services, education programs, precision agriculture, weather monitoring and other capabilities in areas that would otherwise have inadequate wireless broadband availability,” Cochran said. “I am pleased that this appropriations bill would prohibit the Commission from diverting this funding for other uses until it comes up with a valid plan.”

In addition, the Senate bill includes policy provisions to rein in administration overreach, cut bureaucratic red tape, and protect the rights of the American people. To bring regulatory relief to small community banks, the appropriations bill incorporates the Financial Regulatory Improvement Act of 2015, which was approved by the Senate Banking Committee in May.

“The agencies funded by this bill touch the lives of every American household. This legislation makes responsible choices to help ensure that federal actions are helpful and not burdensome,” Cochran said.

Also of interest to Mississippi, the bill would prohibit the use of funding in the bill to implement the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, which would require higher base flood level elevations for federally funded investments, until the Congress is satisfied that the Administration has adequately considered public input. (http://1.usa.gov/16rmWiH)

“This action is being taken because the flood risk management order was issued without consultation with the public, despite a provision in a previous appropriations act requiring the administration to consult with the public,” Cochran said.

Other areas of interest to Mississippi in the FY2016 FSGG Appropriations Bill include:

Data Centers Consolidation – The bill contains language encouraging the General Services Administration to explore additional options for consolidation of existing data centers and available infrastructure to increase efficiency. In June, the committee approved the bill that funds NASA with instructions for that agency to continue to utilize and expand the National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage, which is a national model for successful data center consolidation. Currently, the Department of Homeland Security uses the center as its primary national data center and reports the center will save billions of taxpayer dollars. The center is also home to the Navy’s top supercomputer and other federal data assets.

Community Development Financial Institute (CDFI) – The bill provides $21 million in CDFI funding for the Bank Enterprise Award program, which supports FDIC-insured institutions that make significant investments in distressed communities. The measure includes language that encourages the CDFI to fund projects in non-metropolitan and rural areas, as well as those serving persistent poverty counties.

Small Business Administration (SBA) – The bill provides funding for the SBA to provide assistance to small businesses, expand the economy, and increase job growth for unemployed and underemployed Americans. The bill fully funds business loans and provides funding for disaster assistance. The bill also funds several valuable programs, including $115 million for Small Business Development Centers and $11.45 million for veterans outreach programs.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – The bill cuts IRS funding by $470 million, which will require the agency to streamline its activities and prioritize available resources, including user fees, to perform core agency duties. The bill increases funding for Taxpayer Services to significantly improve the handling of identity theft cases and IRS response rates to telephone calls and correspondence from taxpayers. To ensure greater IRS accountability and transparency, the bill also includes:
• A prohibition on funds for bonuses or to rehire former employees unless employee conduct and tax compliance is given consideration;
• A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs;
• A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights;
• A prohibition on funds for the production of inappropriate videos and conferences.

Other Legislative Provisions – The legislation contains several policy provisions, including:
• A prohibition on funds for an increase in pay for the Vice President and other senior political appointees;
• A prohibition on funding for grants or contracts to tax cheats and companies with felony criminal convictions;
• A prohibition against the use of funds to paint portraits of federal employees, including the President, Vice President, Cabinet Members and Members of Congress; and
• A requirement that departments and agencies funded by the bill link all contracts that provide award fees to successful acquisition outcomes, and a prohibition on funds to pay for award or incentive fees for contractors with below satisfactory performance.

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