By Carol Vaughn —
Rep. Elaine Luria answered constituents’ questions and gave an update on her recent work in Congress at a town hall-style meeting Wednesday at Eastern Shore Community College.
ESCC President Jim Shaeffer moderated the event, which drew a full house in the Great Hall of the Workforce Development Center.
Luria, a Democrat, represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where she is vice chair; the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where she serves as chair of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee; and on the House Committee on Homeland Security, as well as on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
Luria spoke about the $11.2 million in community project funding, formerly called earmarks, brought to the Eastern Shore this year, including $8.2 million for a regional public safety communications system — the largest single award in the country — along with $2.5 million for the first leg of the Rails to Trails project and $500,000 to build additional homes in the New Road community in Exmore.
“The majority of the projects I’ve put in this year are again on the Shore,” Luria said, noting rural communities like the Shore have fewer resources available to them than large urban centers.
Of more than 60 requests, 15 were able to be submitted for possible federal funding, including sewer lines for Wachapreague and Exmore and funding for the Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence campus expansion, among others.
Luria urged constituents with needs related to federal agencies — including issues with the IRS, immigration, passports, Social Security, or veterans’ claims, among others — to contact her office, which this year has recovered more than $1 million for constituents on the Shore and $4 million for constituents in the entire district.
On the national level, Luria spoke about the Armed Services’ Committee’ work on national security issues, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the threat of China invading Taiwan within the next five years.
“We really need a strong defense, a strong military, a strong Navy to be able to defend our nation,” she said, adding this year’s budget had included decommissioning 24 ships and only building eight.
“To me the math doesn’t add up. That’s going in the wrong direction,” she said.
Luria said she helped get $24 billion added to the Department of Defense budget, noting the military accounts for 42% of Hampton Roads’ economy.
In her work on the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Luria said she helped get healthcare benefits extended to Bluewater Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, as well as adding coverage for additional presumptive conditions from Agent Orange exposure.
Additionally, legislation to get help for more recent veterans frequently exposed to burn pits “is one of the top priorities in this administration,” she said.
The January 6th committee investigation “is a large task and a very important task,” Luria said, adding, “I take that work very seriously.”
Hearings will start June 9.
“That will be an opportunity for the committee to present to the American public the information that we have learned,” Luria said.
Luria spoke about the infrastructure package Congress passed, noting it includes significant funding to make the Port of Virginia the deepest East Cost port.
One in nine jobs in Virginia are related, directly or indirectly, to the Port of Virginia, according to Luria.
Luria also spoke about the district’s “unique geographical advantage in the fact that we are an unobstructed port” for offshore wind projects, which could bring jobs as well as filling the need for renewable energy.
“We are poised to become the launching point not only for the Mid-Atlantic but the whole East Coast for offshore wind development,” she said, noting she started an offshore wind caucus in the House.
Luria also spoke about funding for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.
“I was able last Congress to work with Congressman Rob Wittman from the 1st District to pass the Chespeake Bay reauthorization funding — that hadn’t been done since 2013,” she said.
The town hall included an update on broadband expansion given by Maria Stevens, accounts manager for the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority.
Since the broadband fiber backbone down the Shore was completed in 2010, the ESVBA has progressed to adding fiber-to-the-home starting in 2016 and taking out a $5 million loan in 2018 to expand from 350 miles to over 600 miles of fiber, increasing the number of homes passed to 12,000.
In fall 2021, the ESVBA was awarded federal funding of more than $12 million through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant program.
That will pay for 250 more miles of network, passing by another 11,000 homes.
Additionally, the grant includes $2 million to assist with connection and installation costs, including for more remote homes.
Stevens thanked Luria “for her support in getting broadband to all of the residents on the Eastern Shore.”
It will take efforts from “every level of government — federal, state, and local — to get broadband to every person on the Shore and I will continue to fight for those resources on the federal level,” Luria said.
Luria answered questions about the decommissioning of Navy cruisers; the rail trail project; the climate crisis; housing needs on the Shore; the need for mental health services; Chincoteague’s need for centralized sewer; agriculture and aquaculture priorities; the national power grid; the proposed Tangier seawall; and the status of moving the beach on Assateague Island, among others.
Answering a question about the climate crisis and the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, Luria, in addition to mentioning offshore wind development, spoke about her support for increased investment in advanced nuclear energy, eliciting applause.
She noted Dominion Energy, which serves a large part of Virginia, “is already 40% nuclear.”
“It’s not only an issue about greener, cleaner energy by investing in nuclear, but it’s also a national security issue because we’re really not leading the world in developing new nuclear,” Luria said, noting Russia and China are exporting nuclear power technology to other nations.
“They are leading us in all of this,” she said.
Luria introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act in the House, similar to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s bill in the Senate. Interest in the legislation is increasing in Congress, including approval of appropriations to build two nuclear reactor demonstration projects using new technologies.
Luria will return to the Shore Monday for a housing tour with participants including developers, officials, and community leaders, to discuss challenges related to affordable housing.
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