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Begich Defends Lifeline for 44 Alaska Communities

Sen. McCain seeks to strip funding for Essential Air Services

Defending a vital lifeline that supports dozens of Alaska communities, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich led Senate colleagues from rural state in denouncing a proposal from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would eliminate the Essential Air Services (EAS) program.

EAS provides critical subsidies in support of commercial air service to 44 Alaska communities who rely on air transport as their primary source of goods, mail and medical supplies.

"This amendment is worse than political grandstanding, it's just plain reckless and seriously endangers thousands of Alaskans in dozens of communities from getting food on their tables, heating fuel for their homes, and medical supplies in their clinics," Begich said. "Eliminating EAS means driving up the price of air transportation which inflates the cost of milk, toilet paper, diapers and everything Sen. McCain's constituents can find in a box store or shopping mall."

Begich was joined on a letter to Sen. McCain opposing the elimination of EAS by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) all who represent significant rural populations that depend on EAS. Established in 1978 following the deregulation of the airline industry, EAS has grown into a vital, non-controversial program connecting Americans living in rural communities with the rest of the world. The program provides over $12 million in subsidies to air carriers in Alaska each year.

"Terminating the EAS program also means eliminating hundreds of jobs for Alaska's air carriers, many of which are small businesses. At a time when the economy is recovering, it makes no sense to pass an amendment which would put Alaska's small businesses out of work," Begich said.

McCain's proposal comes in the form of an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization legislation currently on the floor of the Senate. Dozens of local communities and air carriers in Alaska have contacted Sen. Begich about the issue, encouraging him to work to preserve the EAS program.

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