Honoring America's Veterans
Last Monday, I joined Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) in backing legislation to set up a new, discounted National Parks pass for America 's veterans. Under our proposal, veterans could purchase a $10 annual pass to all national parks, forests, monuments, and other federal lands charging an entrance fee. This kind of pass usually costs $80. In our state, Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks charge entrance fees. Northwest National Forests also charge a usage fee, as do many of the most popular parks and recreation areas elsewhere in the country. All of these destinations are free to pass holders. The men and women who served in our Armed Forces and sacrificed for our country deserve broad access to the land they defended. We owe our veterans a tremendous debt of gratitude, and this is just one of many ways we can thank them.
Preserving Affordable Housing Opportunities
To stop deep cuts to a key federal affordable housing initiative, I've written Senate appropriators asking them to restore full funding for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The CDBG program, which faces a 20 percent cut in the president's budget proposal, supports housing rehabilitation, public services, and economic development in more than 1,000 cities nationwide. It also helps low-income families buy a first home. It's an indispensable community revitalization tool with a proven record of success. In 2006, CDBG housing projects aided almost 180,000 households. The program helped create and retain more than 55,000 jobs, and supplied public services to over 11 million individuals.
I'm also asking appropriators to reinstate a program to replace affordable housing lost when the units are demolished or contracts expire. Until last year, lost units were replaced on a one-to-one basis using federal tenant protection vouchers issued to low-income families. A new policy, implemented last year without Congressional approval, only replaces housing occupied by tenants immediately before the units are lost. However, because normal housing turnover leaves a portion of units empty at any given time?even though demand remains strong?this new policy will lead to a significant decrease in the number of available low-income housing units. With so many of our communities facing a severe affordable housing shortage, I'm going to do all I can to undo CDBG cuts and replace lost housing units. To keep our communities strong, we must preserve affordable housing opportunities for families in need.
Strengthening Equality in Afghanistan
At my constituent coffee last week, I met four law professors from Afghanistan participating in the University of Washington Law School's Afghan Legal Educators program. This program, supported by a State Department grant, helps train the new generation of Afghan law professors in civil and criminal law as well as academic and legal English. During our meeting, I heard how these professors plan to use what they learn at UW to help rebuild their country's legal system?an important priority for Afghanistan . Right now, the country's parliament includes well over 60 women, and a strong legal system is critical to maintaining and increasing equality in Afghanistan . We need to recommit to our efforts in Afghanistan . This includes supporting our troops there, backing infrastructure improvements, and ensuring opportunity, a sound legal system, and the rule of law.
Celebrating Women's History Month
In celebration of Women's History Month, we honor the countless individuals who have fought to make our nation strong. Women like Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Sandra Day O'Connor have led the way. Generations of Americans have joined them?unsung heroes in the push for equality. Today, as women continue to redefine what it means to be a woman in America , we strive to build on their success and persevere because of our proud history.