STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - February 25, 2008)
By Mr. KERRY:
S. 2658. A bill to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to extend from 90 days to one year the period after release of a member from the Armed Forces from active duty during which the member is protected from mortgage foreclosure; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, in the Congress and in Washington these last years, there has been a tragic disconnect between the words spoken about keeping faith with those who wear the uniform of our country, and the actions actually taken to make those words count.
From the tragic conditions at Walter Reed to the backlog of claims at the Veterans Administration, there has been a long list of problems unaddressed--and of problems that arose because someone, somewhere didn't plan ahead to prevent problems for those who sacrifice for all of us.
Today we know from VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and that nearly 400,000 veterans experience homelessness over the course of a year--a national disgrace to consider that in the richest country on the planet perhaps one out of every three homeless men sleeping in a doorway, alley or box once wore the uniform of our country.
We also know from the Bush administration's own U.S. Labor Department, that, for example, in 2006, the unemployment rate for young veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was 15 percent, more than triple the national average back then. We know that too many unemployed veterans are National Guard or Reserve troops who were called to duty but found when they came home that their old jobs were gone, that they'd lost their place in line in the local economy, or that the small businesses they'd left behind to serve overseas were in dire straits when they came home.
We know these two challenges--the homeless rates for veterans and the unemployment numbers for veterans--demand big solutions, and we are working to provide them.
But we should also know by now that the least we can do is stop these problems from becoming worse. We have seen a wave of foreclosures send a ripple effect across the economy. By late 2007, 2.5 million mortgages were in default--a 40 percent increase from just 2 years earlier. Last month, foreclosures in Massachusetts alone were up 128 percent from the previous January. In fact, in 2007 alone 1.6 million Americans defaulted on their home loans, and as many as 3.5 million more are expected to do the same by mid-2010.
Every U.S. Senator would agree that the thought of our men and women in uniform being thrown out of their homes because of mortgage foreclosures is miles beyond unacceptable. The question is, in the middle of a national housing crisis and a subprime mortgage collapse, what can be done--done at a minimum--to ensure that Washington acts to shield veterans from becoming the faces of the foreclosure crisis, and from making today's Iraq and Afghanistan veterans the faces of tomorrows' homeless and jobless populations.
We know that the soaring and staggering foreclosure statistics are directly affecting Americans from all walks of life, and our military is not exempt from the pain. The least we can do today is make it clear that we will pay some small measure of respect to veterans by helping them avoid foreclosure. They need more time and greater flexibility as they return to civilian life. The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves has urged us to take preventative action. The Commission found that the transition from military to civilian life extends well beyond the current timelines which forces many service members to focus their attention on imminent foreclosure instead of first locating a competitive job or addressing any mental or physical health concerns that they may be facing.
That is why today I am introducing commonsense legislation that would protect servicemembers and veterans involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by securing a longer grace period for payment. My bill would extend the time from 90 days to 1 year the time period that a servicemember is protected from foreclosure. By extending the deadline to 1 year, I hope we can take one small step to prevent future homelessness throughout the veteran's community.
If America's leaders truly support our troops, we owe them more than a polite thank you and best wishes. We owe them action. We cannot tolerate a pattern in Washington that has persisted for too long--provide lip service about supporting the troops but not the lifesaving body armor they need; talk a good game about veterans but cut funding for their healthcare. It is wrong, and it is time for it to end. We should act now to ensure that those saddled with the burden of the mortgage crisis are not those who have carried the greatest responsibility for America overseas in the fight for freedom. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
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