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Riley Center funding gets OK from U.S. House

By Staff
from staff reports
July 26, 2003
WASHINGTON A $90 billion measure to fund federal veterans, housing and NASA programs including $350,000 for the Grand Opera House renovation project in Meridian was approved Friday by the U.S. House.
U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering said the bill, which passed 316-to-109 with all four Mississippi congressmen's votes, includes federal funding he sought for work at the Grand Opera House, the centerpiece of the Riley Education and Performing Arts Center.
The center is a collaborative effort among Lauderdale County, the city of Meridian, Mississippi State University and the Riley Foundation. Renovation work is currently under way.
Another project in Mississippi's Third District would earmark $400,000 for water and sewer needs for the Okissa Lake Community development in Franklin County.
Both the Meridian and Franklin County projects must still clear a conference committee following the Senate's action on its funding bill. The Senate is expected to write its version of the bill this fall.
Overall, Pickering said the measure as passed by the House would provide a $1.4 billion increase over last year for veterans' funding, making a total of $27.2 billion in total budgetary resources available for the Veteran's Health Administration. It would be the highest funding level in history.
The bill increases other veteran's benefits, including disability and pension payments on the mandatory side by $1 billion over last year. It also triples funding over last year to repair and replace aging VA medical facilities and fully funds the VA's request to expedite claims processing at the Veterans Benefits Administration, bringing total funding to $1 billion the initiative to reduce the backlog of claims for veteran's benefits.
The record level of funding will not result in the reduction of nursing home care for anyone and will ensure that all needy veterans receive the health care they deserve, Pickering said.
Backed by veterans groups, a phalanx of lawmakers of both parties tried to detail the bill, The Associated Press reported. It contains $25.7 billion in new spending for veterans health care, the same amount President Bush had proposed.
But, critics said it was $1.8 billion below that the GOP-led Congress had promised in its non-binding budget in April, and would leave thousands of veterans waiting six months or longer for treatment and beds.
Pickering also reaffirmed his support of a concurrent receipt measure important to many veterans.