ANCHORAGE - The Denali Commission last year received nearly $100 million for public works projects in rural Alaska.
Under a bill the Senate passed, the commission would get a $20 million increase to build more health facilities and train rural workers.
The Senate version of the appropriations bill for labor and health programs includes $40 million for Denali's health care projects, an increase of 46 percent over this year's level.
For the first time, the commission also would get money to train rural residents for jobs in their communities.
Jeff Staser, co-chairman of the Denali Commission, said it has been training villagers to work on the projects the commission brings to their towns.
"That has resulted in 1,600 people trained for actual jobs," he said.
But the $7 million now in the Senate bill would allow for more training and leave more for construction, he said. It also would keep more money in the villages.
"If we could have all of our health aides come from Alaska communities, and all the teachers, ... we could have a huge impact on the rural economy, the sustainability of that economy," he said.
Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, created the Denali Commission in 1998 to improve conditions in rural Alaska.
Its budget is divided among several federal spending bills, most of which have not gone before the full Senate yet this year. The health and labor appropriations bill must be reconciled with the House version before it can be approved by Congress and sent to the president, which means the figures may change.
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