Equipping Communities To Support Our Soldiers and Their Families
In an effort to improve the way returning soldiers are reintegrated into our communities following months of difficult combat duty, the leaders of the Minnesota National Guard developed a unique program that focuses on supporting soldiers and their families throughout the entire deployment cycle. Last week, I was pleased to join Dakota County citizens and Hastings community leaders for a "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" community equipping event.
The "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" program is so-named to remind us all that support for our veterans cannot end when they return from deployment and the yellow ribbons are untied. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program represents the best ideas of Minnesota and other states and territories throughout the nation that have stepped in to provide reintegration services for our troops.
Minnesota's model "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" reintegration program is a multifaceted plan that includes elements such as Family Reintegration Academies, which help prepare family members for their soldier's return and inform them how to make the transition as easy as possible. The program also provides assessments for soldiers at 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day intervals following their demobilization.
Earlier this year, I was deeply humbled when the National Guard Bureau honored me with one of their highest civilian awards, a "Heritage painting," for championing legislation - signed into law this year - that would make the Minnesota Guard's reintegration program available to units nationwide. To read more about this legislation, please click here.
Comprehensive Solutions Would Curb Rising Home Energy Costs
With the Minnesota summer travel season in our rearview mirror, it is encouraging to see the price of gasoline dip below $3 per gallon at many stations across the south metro. While we still are paying too much at the pump, the drop in price has provided Minnesotans with some relief.
Last week, the Energy Department announced that home heating costs will skyrocket even further this winter. The cost of heating a home with an oil heater will average approximately 23 percent more than last year. Homes using natural gas will face cost increases of approximately 18 percent more than last year. Propane and electricity costs are expected to rise between 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively, over last year.
Accordingly, I will continue to push for a comprehensive solution to lower your gas and energy prices and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I am a proud cosponsor of the "American Energy Act," legislation that would address every area of energy: conservation; alternative sources - such as wind, solar, and biomass; nuclear power, clean coal technology, and oil and natural gas. We need American companies recovering American energy for the American people - and providing American jobs. No one approach is a silver bullet - and I will continue to fight this battle on every front.
Congress Missed Opportunity to Ensure Military Personnel's Votes Are Counted
The 2008 election is quickly approaching, and our men and women in uniform are being disenfranchised because of a flawed system for counting absentee ballots. Last month, I signed a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting that House leadership work in a bipartisan manner to quickly move and pass the "Military Voting Protection Act of 2008."
The Election Assistance Commission assesses that only 5.5 percent of eligible overseas and absentee voters in uniform actually had their votes counted in the 2006 mid-term election. In that election nearly one million ballots were requested, but only 330,000 ballots were cast or counted. More than 48,000 uniformed and overseas ballots were rejected in 2006 because many were filled out incorrectly. We can - and must - do much better to ensure our troops are able to successfully exercise this fundamental right.
This Military Voting Protection Act, of which I am a proud cosponsor, requires expedited ballot delivery from overseas locations using private express delivery with full tracking capability. This is a critical first step toward getting these overseas ballots counted on time. Two days before adjournment, the U.S. Senate passed an identical bill. Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi and House leadership never allowed this vital bill to come up for a vote. Our soldiers deserve better from Congress.