‘I worked to achieve Florida’s funding goals — and succeeded’ - Diaz-Balart

U.S. Rep Mario Diaz-Balart is ready to help find more federal money to help Miami-Dade’s traffic problems.
U.S. Rep Mario Diaz-Balart is ready to help find more federal money to help Miami-Dade’s traffic problems. MIAMI HERALD

Improving infrastructure and access to affordable housing are two critical challenges in South Florida. As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, I tackle these key issues and work to secure vital federal dollars to meet our community’s needs.

In the recently passed funding bill, our work focused on prioritizing important programs, while scrubbing the legislation for waste, fraud and abuse from government programs to protect your hard-earned tax dollars.

I obtained significant increases to improve infrastructure, by which our community will reap benefits. I added $1 billion dollars in new funding for airport infrastructure, supporting local airports including Miami International, Miami Executive and Opa-locka Executive. I also included $834 million to help communities and Miami-Dade County modernize and maintain their bus and transit systems. I funded improvements to provide greater safety and efficiency for passenger and freight rail. I gave a major boost to our federal highways, bringing additional funding directly to Florida. There is also money to continue raising Tamiami Trail, allowing a more natural water flow into Everglades National Park. Though my subcommittee does not choose TIGER grantees, it does provide funding so that the Department of Transportation (DOT) may select grant awardees. This funding was increased by $1 billion this year.

I also included $2.64 billion for the Capital Investment Grants program, the same program for which Miami-Dade County’s SMART Plan would be eligible if, and when, it provides DOT with concrete solutions to our community’s transit deficiencies. I have said several times that I am ready and willing to help county leaders solve our local infrastructure issues. The federal funds are available. Now it is time for Miami-Dade to step up with a viable transit plan. The county should not let this historic opportunity go to waste.

It is no secret there is a shortage of affordable housing in South Florida. Miami-Dade County has approximately 9,200 public-housing units that house thousands of families, yet many still find themselves in need. I am proud that housing vouchers will be increased to $22 billion, expanding access to public and affordable housing for the most vulnerable, particularly the elderly, the disabled, and those living with HIV/AIDS. Homeless Assistance grants, like those that aid the Homeless Trust of Miami-Dade County, were increased by $130 million. Money for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) was increased, providing critical infrastructure dollars to states and local communities to address economic development and housing needs. Funding for the HOME Investment Program, which is the largest block grant to state and local governments exclusively for affordable housing, also received a substantial increase.

All of this funding is in addition to the emergency dollars secured after last year’s destructive hurricanes that decimated much of our state. Working with my colleagues, I was able to bring historic levels of funding to those recovering from these disasters. Many communities were left in total devastation, and I am grateful that we could provide these funds to help the rebuilding and recovery process.

Additionally, we were able to obtain unprecedented funding to improve school safety, fight the opioid epidemic, support our troops and national security and continue Everglades restoration. We worked to ensure that taxpayer dollars go straight to states and local governments, rather than to unelected, unaccountable Washington bureaucrats.

Particularly in these critical times of need, I am thankful to be in a key position to direct billions of dollars to Florida. Now that we have achieved our goals this year, I look forward to continuing to deliver results for our community.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart represents the 25th District in Congress.