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Congressman Higgins Announces Approval of National Defense Authorization Act Conference Agreement

Dec 11, 2019
Press Release
Legislation Includes Higgins’ Maritime Heritage Grant Amendment, Parental Leave for Federal Workers, Repeal of the “Widow’s Tax” on Military Spouses

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced approval by the House of Representatives of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report, authorizing national defense funding and related programs for fiscal year 2020. 

The legislation included an amendment submitted by Congressman Higgins earlier this year which 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 despite a great need to maintain these aging maritime museums, the program has not offered any grants recently, due to lack of available funds. Higgins amendment, supported by the Navy League and National Maritime Alliance as well as Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, allows for the contribution of $5 million toward the national grant program.

Congressman Brian Higgins said, “Our floating museums immerse visitors in the stories of U.S. military missions and the brave men and women who served.  The inclusion of this continuous funding source for the Maritime Heritage Grant Program provides resources which the Buffalo Naval Park and other historic military exhibits could access to preserve this incredible history.  The leadership at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park are to be credited for bringing this issue to our attention during a veteran event this summer, inspiring the amendment we submitted in July.”

The House first passed the NDAA in July following Senate approval in June.  The conference report approved by the House this week represents compromise agreement between the House and Senate.

Additional highlights of the National Defense Authorization Act conference report:

The package provides funding for military bases, including the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, prohibits a new round of base realignment and closures (BRAC) and provides a 3.1% pay raise for servicemembers.   It directs the Defense Department to develop and strengthen policies related to military sexual assault and establishes a process that could result in a change in discharge status for those receiving other than honorable discharge due to sexual orientation.

Under the legislation, federal employees with at least one-year of employment would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child effective October 1, 2020.

Also included in the NDAA is a provision that phases out the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)/ Indemnity Compensation (DIC) Offset, also known as the “Widow’s Tax,” which affects an estimated 64,000 military families by reducing their survivor benefits by an average of $1,250 per month. The standalone bill to fix the Widow’s Tax had 365 bipartisan cosponsors, including Higgins.