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Federal spending bill includes $70 million for Kern projects

5th District Drive-Thru Testing Site Press Conference

Sen. Melissa Hurtado addresses members of the media during a press conference for the soft opening of the 5th District drive-thru testing site in east Bakersfield in May.

The roughly $900 billion pandemic relief bill passed by Congress Monday night would set aside at least $70 million for projects in Kern County, with most of the local money earmarked for construction work at Edwards Air Force Base.

Assuming President Donald Trump signs the bill, which passed by a 92-6 vote of the U.S. Senate, $40 million would be apportioned to build a flight-test engineering complex at Edwards, plus $16.7 million for a new vehicle and aerospace ground equipment maintenance facility at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center at the military installation in eastern Kern.

Also funded by the spending bill would be a new, $9.3 million Army National Guard vehicle maintenance shop in Bakersfield and $4 million to support research on valley fever and other mycotic diseases by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There remains some question, however, about whether President Donald Trump will sign the bill. According to the Associated Press, Trump criticized the package Tuesday and signaled he may not sign it.

The AP reported the president complained in a video Tuesday night that the bill would give too generously to foreign countries but not enough to Americans. Trump said he wants Congress to double the $600 the bill would give individuals, potentially reaching $4,000 for a couple.

As it stood late Tuesday, the bill would devote $125 million for repair and modernization work at prisons such as the Taft Correctional Institution and $206 million toward repairing subsidence damage along the Friant-Kern Canal.

That canal money would be a long-term loan by the federal government that covers less than half the estimated cost of fixing a conveyance system serving farmers and residents in Kern and other Central Valley counties.

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, quickly pledged to again introduce legislation in Sacramento that would help make up the difference so work on the canal can be completed.

"This is great news for not only the Central Valley farms that feed the world, but also our hardworking farmworker families who power this economy and who deserve the clean drinking water that will come as result of this investment," Hurtado said about the federal bill in a news release Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, took credit for helping secure several of the localized funding commitments, which he asserted are part of an effort to "provide additional relief to Californians and small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic."

“I am grateful this relief will be signed into law by President Trump soon," the House minority leader said in a news release provided early Tuesday. "The legislation includes many important provisions that will support our families and small businesses in our community and across the State, including COVID vaccine delivery so that we can restore our way life before the virus."

Rep. T.J. Cox, D-Selma, posted a brief statement to his Facebook page Monday night announcing he had just voted in favor of the stimulus package and that hopes were high.

"Working families deserve more but I’m so glad to tell you help is on the way," he stated.

Cox added later in a news release many of his priorities were included in the spending bill as well as the government funding bill also passed Monday.

He elaborated in a short video on his Facebook page.

"It puts money right in the hands of individuals and families," he said. "It helps those workers who have been laid off because of the coronavirus. It puts more money right into the pockets of the small businesses that have been struggling. But most of all it makes sure that there's lots of investment and capital and money available so everyone can get a vaccine as quickly as possible."

Nick Ortiz, president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, said by email the bill was not perfect but that it offers hope for small business owners.

He said the chamber urges the president to sign the legislation and "immediately start the process of identifying other ways to support small businesses and ensure they survive."

"The expansion of the paycheck protection program, and clarification of issues including tax deductibility, represent a lifeline to local firms," Ortiz wrote.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf