Update on Fight for Veterans Rights
The cost of providing for America's heroes, our veterans, must be included in the cost of war. Just as we fund the war, so to must we fund the warrior. Congress understands this fact and is working hard to ensure that service members receive the very best care, honor and respect that a nation can bestow. Congress will continue to build on last year's historical funding increase, when we increased VA funding by 30 percent, successfully adding $12 billion more than the President's request and $39 billion more over five years.
Recently, the House of Representatives and the Senate approved the new GI bill, which will restore full, four-year college scholarships for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, on a par with the educational benefits after World War II, covering up to the cost of the most expensive in-state public colleges and universities and also providing transferability of unused education benefits to spouses and children.
I have also introduced legislation to help veterans hit hard by the home foreclosure crisis. My bill would protect veterans from predatory lending, increase opportunities for homeownership, and provide protection from foreclosure.
Key aspects of my bills were incorporated into the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008, H.R. 3221, which contains two provisions to assist veterans affected by the mortgage and foreclosure crisis. The first provision prohibits foreclosure of property owned by a service member for one year following a period of military service. The second provision provides a temporary increase to VA home loan limits. H.R. 3221 has passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and law makers are currently reconciling differences between the two bills.
While we have made much progress, the challenges continue to mount. Tens of thousands of service members are being discharged from the military without adequate diagnosis or treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Refusing to face this challenge, leaders at the VA have attempted to manipulate suicide data to portray a lesser problem. In addition, the claims backlog for VA benefits now totals well over 600,000. The VA also failed to protect our veterans when it became more involved with research than providing treatment - When Chantix, an anti-smoking drug, was linked to suicidal thoughts and aggressive and erratic behavior, the VA failed to immediately eliminate testing of veterans, placing them under increased risk.
It is obvious that my work has just begun, and I will continue to fight to hold the VA accountable for its actions and insists that it provide the very best care to our nation's veterans. I will work to transition the VA from Veterans Adversary to Veterans Advocate!
Backing the Democratic Budget Plan
Last month, I voted for a Democratic budget plan that charts a New Direction for our nation. It makes investments in energy, education, and infrastructure; provides tax relief for the middle class; keeps our promise to our veterans; and returns the budget to balance in five years. The plan, a budget conference agreement for fiscal 2009, won approval by the House of Representatives.
Democrats have a plan to rebuild our economy and reclaim our fiscal future. Our budget cuts taxes for middle income families, invests in new businesses and creates jobs. It restores our infrastructure and funds the educational tools needed to help our children succeed. We do all of this and more, while returning the budget to balance.
The Democratic budget:
rejects the failed fiscal policies of the Bush Administration. It returns the budget to balance - reaching a surplus of $22 billion in 2012 and $10 billion in 2013.
responds to soaring energy costs by helping promote renewable energy, clean fuel technology, and energy efficiency.
makes education and innovation investments that will generate economic growth and jobs, make college more affordable, improve student achievement, and reverse the Bush Administration's under-funding of education.
invests in our nation's infrastructure - repairing crumbling roads, bridges, transit, airports, and schools.
does not include any tax increase. To the contrary, it supports significant tax relief, including extension of marriage penalty relief, the child tax credit, and the 10 percent bracket, as well as allowing for estate tax reform. It includes an additional year of Alternative Minimum Tax relief. And it provides for property tax relief, energy and education tax relief, and extenders.
makes our country safer by providing robust funding for national defense and ensuring that resources are available to address the most critical threats facing the nation. It ensures that veterans get the quality health care they need and deserve. It also protects the homeland and rejects the President's cuts in law enforcement, the COPS program, firefighters, and other first responders.
Our nation cannot afford to continue the policies of record deficits and debt. American families are struggling. This budget begins the process of recovery. I am proud to support a plan that returns the country to a sound fiscal and economic path.
Supporting Tax Relief for Military Families
In June, President Bush signed comprehensive legislation to provide tax relief to military families. The bi-partisan Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act (HEART Act) will make permanent essential tax relief for our military families, including tax relief under the Earned Income Tax Credit. The bill also ensures military families receive their recovery rebate checks.
Our troops are risking their lives thousands of miles from home, and many of their families are struggling through tough economic times. This legislation will help ensure that our troops and their families get a portion of the tax relief they need and deserve, including over one million military families here in California.
The legislation requires that combat pay be treated as earned income for purposes of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). At the end of the year, many soldiers' families working to enter the middle class will be denied needed tax relief if combat pay is not counted for purposes of receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit. The legislation also ensures military families receive recovery rebate checks that were approved by Congress as part of the bi-partisan economic stimulus package. The bill clarifies that a military service member on active duty who files a joint return is eligible for a recovery rebate, even if their spouse does not have a Social Security number.
The HEART Act also helps ensure that reservists who are called up for active duty do not suffer a pay cut. A recent Department of Defense survey found that 55 percent of married Guard members and Reservists suffer a loss of income when being called to active duty. The HEART Act provides a tax credit of up to $4,000 for small businesses who continue to pay their National Guard and Reserve employees when they are called to active duty.
Big corporations should not be able to cheat the tax code while hardworking families play by the rules. Our bill shuts down these unjustifiable loopholes and makes tax relief for our troops a priority.
Supporting Legislation to Extend Unemployment Benefits
In June, I joined a bipartisan majority in Congress to approve legislation that will aid workers who have lost their jobs as a result of an economy on the brink of recession. The Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act will immediately provide up to 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits to jobless workers in every state and was approved by a vote of 274 to 137.
Hard-working Americans have lost their jobs and need help supporting their families and making ends meet. Republicans and Democrats did the right thing and passed a bill that will give Americans who have lost their jobs some of the relief they need.
Americans across the country are facing rising costs of living--and we have just seen the largest monthly increase in unemployment in 20 years. For the fifth straight month, the economy lost jobs and unemployment rose from 5.0 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May. The economy has lost nearly 325,000 jobs this year, and 8.5 million Americans are unemployed.
The legislation approved in the House would benefit 3.8 million unemployed Americans -- providing up to 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits in every state to workers exhausting the 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits. In states with higher levels of unemployment (six percent or higher), an additional 13 weeks would be available, for a total of 26 weeks of extended benefits. The legislation will be paid for through the federal unemployment trust funds, which have more than enough reserves to cover the cost.
While extending unemployment benefits is one of the most cost-effective and fast-acting ways to stimulate the economy, the Bush Administration opposed the legislation considered in the House.
The White House should not stand between unemployed workers and the relief they need. After presiding over an economic collapse, President Bush and his Republican allies should work with us to turn the economy around.
Announcing the Picturing America Awards for Schools in San Diego and Imperial Counties
I am pleased to announce five Picturing America Awards for schools and libraries in the Imperial Valley and fifteen awards in southern San Diego. Picturing America is a free initiative provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to help teach American history and culture by bringing some of the country's great art directly to classrooms and libraries.
Picturing America is a unique program that helps promote awareness of history and inspires Americans to become involved in art. By bringing great art into public and private schools, libraries and communities like ours, this program offers people of all ages the opportunity to learn about our history in a fresh and engaging way.
Gilbert Barraza, Principal of Calexico High School, said, "We are honored to receive the Picturing America Awards. The culmination of courage and sacrifice captured in poignant portraits for Calexico students and staff to learn from is truly phenomenal."
Bernard M. Balanay, Principal of Bonita Vista Middle School, added, "Schools are always looking for ways to create connections with students and their education. Thanks to Congressman Filner and Picturing America, our students will have this terrific opportunity to view American history through art."
In Imperial County, five institutions have been awarded Picturing America Awards, including: Calexico High School, Lincoln Elementary School, Holtville Middle School, the Southwest High School Media Center and the Imperial Public Library.
In Southern San Diego County, fifteen institutions have been awarded Picturing America awards. Recipients include: Bell Middle School, Bonita Vista Middle School, Castle Park Middle School, Chula Vista Public Library - South Branch, Clear View Charter Elementary School, Eastlake Elementary School, Feaster Charter School, Olympian High School, Rancho del Rey Middle School, Palmer Way Elementary School, Mar Vista Middle School, San Diego Public Library - Mtn. View/Beckwourth Branch, O'Farrell Community School, Porter Elementary School, and San Ysidro High School.
Successful applicants will receive forty large, high-quality reproductions of great American art and a comprehensive teacher's resource book to assist educators using the works of art in core subjects. Delivery of these materials is scheduled for August, 2008.
Backing Plan to Prevent Tax Hike on
Middle Class Families
Recently, I voted for legislation to prevent a tax hike on middle class families. The AMT Relief Act of 2008 will protect more than 25 million Americans nationwide and 37,000 in the 51st Congressional District from paying the Alternative Minimum Tax. The bill was passed by a vote of 233-189.
The economic downturn is hurting Californians, and middle class families are struggling to make ends meet. I was proud to back legislation that will help ensure families are not forced to pay higher taxes under the Alternative Minimum Tax.
The Alternative Minimum Tax was originally designed to ensure that very wealthy individuals do not avoid paying income tax. The tax threatens to impact middle-class families and now threatens to impact teachers and firefighters - a far cry from its original intent.
The AMT Relief Act of 2008 will not add to the deficit. The bill is fully paid-for and closes tax loopholes that allow Wall Street hedge fund billionaires to avoid paying their fair share, cracks down on tax cheats, and ends massive government subsidies for oil companies earning record profits.
The bill we passed is fiscally responsible and helps bring some fairness back to the tax code. Oil companies and the folks on Wall Street shouldn't get an unfair advantage over hard-working families.
Announcing Funds for Imperial County
I am very pleased to announce that the Department of Interior has released $1,801,781 to Imperial County, California under the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program.
PILT payments help local communities pay for important services, including emergency response, public schools, and roads. I have long supported the PILT Program because it helps communities offset the foregone revenues to counties for federal lands within their jurisdiction.
Imperial County is the second-largest recipient of PILT payments in California, after Riverside County. Nationwide, the Department of Interior will pay $228.5 million to compensate nearly 1,850 local units of government.
My Thoughts on the GI Bill for the 21st Century
As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I am charged with ensuring that our veterans receive the very best care, honor and respect that a grateful Nation can bestow. I am pleased that Congress made good on one of our promises to veterans when we recently passed a GI Bill for the 21st Century. The bill updates veterans' education benefits to meet current demands. Congress will soon be sending the GI Bill to the White House, and President Bush has promised to sign the bill.
The GI Bill for the 21st Century will cover the costs of a four-year college education for the brave men and women returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - on a par with the educational benefits available after World War II. This bill will give our returning troops the tools to succeed after military service, strengthen our economy in the face of increasing global competition, and make military service more attractive as we work to rebuild our military. We owe our veterans a future that is equal to the first-class service that they have given to our country.
The original GI bill sparked economic growth and expansion for a whole generation of Americans. It made a free college education available to more than 15 million war veterans after World War II. The original GI bill paid the full cost of tuition at any public or private college or university. By 1956, about 8 million World War II veterans had taken advantage of the GI bill education and training benefit, including some of our nation's greatest leaders. According to a congressional study, the original GI bill returned $7 to the economy for every $1 spent.
The GI Bill for the 21st Century will make America's veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan part of a new American economic recovery. In order to compete in the global market, we must continue to support investments in higher education and job training, and this bill does just that. Educated veterans have higher income levels, which increase our national prosperity.
In recent decades, educational benefits for veterans have not been as expansive as the original GI bill - and no longer fully cover the costs of a four-year college education.
Currently, veterans' educational benefits are administered under the Montgomery GI Bill - a program designed primarily for peacetime, not wartime, service. Indeed, current educational benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill pay only about 60 percent of a public college education and 30 percent of a private college education. Furthermore, Reservists and National Guardsmen, who have made an unprecedented commitment with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, get only a fraction of that.
The GI Bill for the 21st Century increases education benefits for all those who have served at least three months on active duty since 9/11. Under the bill, those who have served for three years or more would qualify for the full educational benefit - i.e., the costs of a four-year education up to the level of the most expensive in-state public college. Those who have served between three months and three years of active duty would qualify for a proportion of that full benefit.
Also, for those servicemembers with six years of service, coupled with an additional service agreement of at least four years, the new GI Bill allows them to transfer unused educational benefits to their wives and children. This plan also recognizes the sacrifice of our 1.8 million Reserve and National Guard troops by better aligning their educational benefits with their length of service.
My greatest concern is that this bill does not include a vital part of the original GI bill, the home loan guarantee program. I will continue to work to address the housing concerns that are not addressed in this legislation, and I hope that my colleagues will join me in fulfilling this pledge.
Last year, Congress made the largest increase in veterans' health care funding in American history, when we increased VA funding by 30 percent, successfully adding $12 billion more than the President's request and $39 billion more over five years. The new GI Bill is an even larger fiscal commitment to our nation's veterans - providing a quality educational benefit for those to whom we owe so much.
Proudly Celebrating the Appointment of New U.S. Military Academy Appointees
I recently celebrated the appointment of new U.S. Military Academy Appointees and presented them with Congressional Certificates.
I nominated Marcus Alexander Stephens for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Marcus graduated from Mountain Empire High School (MEHS) with a GPA of 4.06! He became a leader at MEHS serving as President of the Honor Society; Sophomore Class President; Varsity Football Captain, Quarterback, 2006 Offensive MVP, and 2007 Team MVP; Varsity Basketball All-academic Team and Captain; and Baseball All-academic Team; as well as Vice President of the Pep Club, Member of Erebus Writer's Club and Key Club Volunteer.
I nominated Daniel Gutierrez for the U.S. Naval Academy. Daniel graduated from Mar Vista High School (MVHS) with a GPA of 3.61! He has always been motivated to serve and protect our nation, participating in numerous activities, including the National Junior ROTC Youth Physical Fitness Team, Color Guard and Armed Drill Team. Daniel also joined the Varsity Soccer Team, Baile Folklórico, Varsity Cross Country Team (Captain), and the Varsity Academic Team. In addition, Daniel has always been generous with his time, assisting in beach cleanups, helping war veterans, and volunteering with his church.
And I nominated Roman Calvin Owens for the U.S. Air Force Academy. Roman graduated from Mater Dei Catholic High School (MDCHS) with a GPA of 4.01! While attending MDCHS, he joined the National and California Honor Societies, and he was awarded Most Valuable Player for Football and Track, as well as MDCHS Freshman Athlete of the Year. He spent many hours volunteering for local non-profits, and he received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award.
I was honored to nominate these young individuals. They have shown a deep dedication to democratic ideals and public service, and I know that they will become a valuable part of our Armed Services and that we will see great things from them!
Constituent Mail Bag
From El Centro:
On behalf of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), AFL-CIO, representing more than 600,000 federal and District of Columbia employees, I urge you to support the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2008, H.R. 5781, when it comes before the House for a vote. H.R. 5781, which would extend paid parental leave to all Executive and Legislative Branch federal employees, provides an opportunity for parents to bond with newborn infants or newly adopted children and sets an example for private sector employers. Thank you!
Congressman Filner replies:
Thank you for contacting me about supporting H.R. 5781, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2008.
You will be happy to know that I not only voted for the bill but I am also an original co-sponsor. Paid parental leave allows working parents to take care of and bond with their newborns and newly-adopted children, without having to worry about their paycheck. This bill is an issue of fairness for working families, and I strongly believe that we need to protect the rights and benefits of all of our employees!
Thank you for your advocacy on this important issue.
Useful Website:Travel Tips from the Transportation Security Administration
With the busy travel season upon us, the Transportation Security Administration has provided a Traveler and Consumer Center on its Web site. The Web site provides travel tips, passenger resources, and information about security conditions.c