SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (Senate - June 26, 2008)
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Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, the spending bill we consider today contains many provisions that address urgent needs facing our Nation's economy, our Nation's families, and our Nation's troops.
Among the most important, this legislation extends unemployment insurance benefits at a time where too many Americans are struggling to find jobs, it postpones six Medicaid regulations that would have impeded access to health care for those who need it most, and it provides veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with a new level of educational benefits that will cover the full costs of an education at a State institution.
We have an obligation to respond to the growing economic crisis and the needs it has created for American families. People are losing their homes and their jobs, and along with those jobs, their health care. Since March 2007, the number of unemployed has increased by 1.1 million workers. We learned a few weeks ago that the unemployment rate in our country shot up by a half a point, from approximately 5 to 5.5 percent. The Baltimore Sun reported last week that the Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake's Baltimore center has seen an estimated 50 percent increase in clients seeking job placement assistance.
This bill includes provisions that respond to these growing needs. It extends unemployment benefits by 13 weeks for all the Nation's workers. Extending unemployment insurance this way helps families. That is critically important. But it will also help our economy. Economists estimate that every dollar spent on benefits leads to $1.64 in economic growth. With this extension, we will provide critical stimulus to our slowing economy.
The bill also extends a freeze on six Medicaid rules issued by the administration that would have put a tremendous burden on State and local budgets already under pressure and affected access to services for many Marylanders and Americans all around the country.
I want to talk about the impact of just two of those rules: one that would eliminate Medicaid coverage of transportation services required by students with special needs and the second that would change benefits for case management services that help some of our most vulnerable individuals access needed medical, social, and educational services. In addition to impeding access to care, these two rules alone would have cost Maryland $67 million in their first year. I was a proud cosponsor of S. 2819 that would have prohibited the Secretary of Health and Human Services from implementing these rules and am glad to see that a moratorium on these rules will become law.
I am especially pleased to support provisions that provide veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with a new level of educational benefits that will cover the full costs of an education at a State institution. Some of my colleagues have argued that the benefit is too generous. But this country provided our troops a similar opportunity after World War II. That investment created a generation of great leaders and an economic boom that transformed our country.
A new GI bill allows a new generation of brave men and women to fulfill their dreams and adjust to civilian life. Just today a young man came into my office, a Maryland National Guardsman, who had served two tours of duty in Iraq. While overseas on his second tour, he missed the birth of his first child. Now that he is home, he wants to pursue an education. Although interested in a program at my State's flagship institution, the University of Maryland at College Park, the tuition was beyond his means and he enrolled in a community college instead where he will shortly complete his associate's degree program. He came into my office to explain his situation and ask whether there was any way we could help him continue his education at a 4-year institution.
That is an opportunity we owe the service men and women, including activated reservists and National Guard, who this administration has asked to serve extended and repeated combat tours. I am so proud that we will live up to that obligation today. But a new GI bill is also a wise investment; it allows our economy to fully benefit from these veterans' talent, leadership, and experience.
There are other critical provisions in this bill. It provides funding to address the devastating Midwest flooding and other natural disasters. It addresses critical quality of life and medical care issues for our troops including funding to improve barracks, build VA hospitals and polytrauma centers, and create new military child care centers. It provides the funding we need to implement the 2005 BRAC recommendations.
The bill makes critical investments to improve our competitiveness by funding research and other programs at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Energy. At a time we are all avoiding tomatoes, this bill makes a major investment in food safety by providing additional resources to the Food and Drug Administration.
I want to commend my colleagues who refused to give up on these priorities even in the face of initial opposition and a veto threat from our President. I am encouraged that we may have a chance in the near future to act on other domestic priorities including increased energy assistance to low-income Americans facing skyrocketing fuel prices and commercial fishery disaster assistance that could help Maryland's watermen.
Former President John F. Kennedy said, ``To govern is to choose.'' In this bill, this Congress is choosing to prioritize those issues that affect Americans' lives every day, our access to jobs, to health care, to education, to safe food. I am proud to offer this bill my support.