Moving One Step Closer to Equity for Filipino Veterans
I commend the Senate action to pass S. 1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007. I am grateful to Senator Akaka for his leadership in recognizing Filipino veterans for their contributions to the successful outcome of World War II.
For more than sixty years, a wrong has existed that must be righted. The Rescission Acts of 1946 took away rightfully earned benefits and the honor and respect due these veterans who served our country.
It is now up to the House of Representatives to do our part to pass legislation and send to the President for his signature.
I am hopeful that the 110th Congress will finally correct the grievous injustice inflicted on Filipino veterans.
Supporting Increased Unemployment Benefits
I recently cosponsored bipartisan legislation (H.R.5749, Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act) to provide an immediate 13-week extension of unemployment benefits nationwide. This legislation would extend unemployment benefits for 3.2 million jobless Americans who are looking for work, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Labor Department recently announced that the unemployment rate for California increased to 6.2 percent in March of 2008, up from 5.7 percent in February of 2008 and 3.7 percent in March of 2007. That is why I am supporting this legislation moving through Congress, which would provide much-needed relief to unemployed workers to assist them with rapidly rising gas and food costs, while they continue to struggle to find work in the slowing economy.
The strain of the economic downturn on middle-class families demands a second growth and relief package now. Yesterday, President Bush announced his interest in work[ing] with Congress on pieces of legislation that'll actually help people.' That announcement is a hopeful sign that the President will now agree to work in a bipartisan manner on a second package, which includes unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans. With projections that unemployment will continue to increase through the end of this year, economists agree that additional unemployment compensation will be the most cost-effective and immediate way to jumpstart the economy.
Over the last three months, the U.S. economy has lost 232,000 jobs and over the past year the number of unemployed has grown by over one million. The number of long-term unemployed workers is nearly twice as high as it was at the beginning of the last recession (March 2001).
Supporting Medicaid Safety Net
Last month, I joined a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve legislation that would place a moratorium, until March of 2009, on seven Medicaid regulations imposed by the Bush Administration. The 'Protecting the Medicaid Safety Net Act' (H.R. 5613) was approved by a vote of 349 to 62. H.R. 5613 would stop the pending cuts of Medicaid benefits for children, seniors and disabled Americans.
There are over 47 million Americans in the United States who do not have health insurance and many more with inadequate policies. At a time like this, I was extremely disappointed when the President tried to limit Medicaid services and outreach even further. The cuts would undermine the Medicaid safety net and imperil critical services for our most vulnerable citizens. Our bill protects states, beneficiaries, and providers from the harmful regulatory changes supported by the President. With the economy slowing and the cost of commodities like food and gasoline increasing, it would be unconscionable to allow the President's rules' to continue!
This bipartisan bill is supported by all 50 Governors, both Democratic and Republican, and by more than 2,000 organizations, including the National Governors Association, National Association of Counties, American Hospital Association, National Association of Medicaid Directors, National Association of Mental Health Program Directors, AARP, American Academy of Pediatrics, and National Public Health Association.
Calling for Closing the Wage Gap between Women and Men on Equal Pay Day
On April 22, 2008, Equal Pay Day, I stated that ensuring truly equal pay for equal work must be a top priority for American families. Equal Pay Day is the day when the wages paid to American women "catch up" to the wages paid to men from the previous year. In other words, because the average woman earns less, she must work longer for the same amount of pay.
Thirty-five years have passed since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963. And yet, in many cases, there is still not equal pay for equal work in this country.
In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was signed, women who worked full-time, year-round made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. In 2006, women earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. That is progress - but it is slow progress. It means that the wage gap has narrowed by less than half a cent per year.
Equal pay is not just a women's issue, it's a family issue. The wage gap hurts everyone - husbands, wives, children, and parents - because it lowers family incomes that pay for essentials: groceries, doctors' visits, and child care. When women earn more the entire family benefits, which is why closing the wage gap must be an integral part of strengthening America's families.
I am also an original co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by providing more effective remedies to women who are not being paid equal wages for doing equal work. The bill would also require the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training programs and work with employers to eliminate pay disparities. It would create a new grant program to help strengthen the negotiation skills of girls and women.
Ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work is a common-sense issue that affects all working women and their families. By eradicating unfair treatment in the labor market, we can help families gain the resources they need to ensure that their children have access to a better future.
An Investment Grant for the Imperial Valley and San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporations Has Been Awarded!
Recently, I announced that the San Diego and Imperial Valley Regional Economic Development Corporations have been awarded a $225,000 grant from the United States Department of Commerce. The grant funding will be used to develop a Regional Economic Adjustment Strategy.
San Diego and Imperial Counties are geographically adjacent to one another, and our economies are intertwined and interdependent. We need a strategy to help foster this relationship, and I am pleased to announce a grant that will serve that purpose. By harnessing the comparative advantages of each County, we can build a stable, sustainable and unique regional economy!
This joint investment in the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation supports development of a regional economic adjustment strategy for San Diego and Imperial counties. The funding will promote updated strategies to diversify the region's economic base which has been impacted by military base closures, corporate restructuring and natural disasters.
Celebrating Earth Day and Pledging to Protect the Environment and Fight Global Warming!
On April 22, 2008, I celebrated Earth Day and pledged to continue my work in Congress to protect the environment, fight global warming and spur a cleaner, greener, and more prosperous economy for the American people.
We have a solemn responsibility to protect our planet and to ensure that we all have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Democrats have taken key steps forward, but much more work remains. I will continue to fight to end global warming and protect our environment for future generations.
Democrats have passed landmark legislation that addresses the global warming crisis while creating new green collar jobs, cutting energy costs and helping end our dependence on foreign oil.
The historic and bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 has been signed into law and will increase vehicle fuel efficiency standards and help save American families $700 to $1,000 per year at the gas pump. New building, appliance and lighting efficiency standards included in the new law will save consumers $400 billion through 2030. Additionally, the new law will help save 5.3 billion metric tons in energy-related CO2 emissions from 2008-2030 and cut the growth in energy-related emissions of CO2 by 10 percent.
Democrats are also working to enact new legislation that will promote investments in renewable energy, create hundreds of thousands of good-paying green collar American jobs, and end multi-billion dollar subsidies to big oil companies. The Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008 would end unnecessary subsidies to Big Oil companies and invest in clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. The bill extends and expands tax incentives for renewable electricity, energy and fuel, as well as for plug-in hybrid cars and energy efficient homes, buildings, and appliances. The solar investment tax credit in this legislation alone will reduce carbon emissions by 240 million tons, or the equivalent of taking 52 million passengers cars off the road for one year.
While the House has passed this legislation, Republicans and President Bush oppose the Democratic effort to end subsidies for oil companies that are earning record profits.
Oil prices are skyrocketing and our dependence on foreign oil threatens our environment and our national security. It is time to abandon the failed energy policies of the past and invest in the future.
I have long supported environmental safety and health. I introduced H.R. 3366; the Military Environmental Responsibility Act, which would require the Department of Defense and all other defense-related agencies to fully comply with Federal and State environmental laws, including laws that protect public health and worker safety. Communities bordering military bases have less environmental protection than other cities in the nation just because they are hosts to the U.S. military. While these bases may bring economic opportunity or security to the region, it is important to ensure that the benefits do not come at the expense of public health.
I also supported Governor Schwarzenegger's lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requesting that they reverse their decision to deny California's petition to adopt more stringent greenhouse gas emission laws for cars and light trucks. I will also work with my colleagues to urge EPA Administrator Johnson to reverse the decision.
Halting global warming and saving our environment will not happen overnight. Every person must make an effort to eliminate his or her carbon footprint and negative impact on the environment. We must work together to look for alternative energy sources and to protect our planet and our children.
Ensuring Continued Access to Federal Student Loans for American Families
I recently joined a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve legislation to ensure that the turmoil in the U.S. financial markets does not keep students and families from accessing the federal student loans they need to pay for college. The Ensuring Continued Access to Federal Student Loans Act of 2008 (H.R. 5715), which carries no new cost for taxpayers, was passed by a vote of 383 to 27.
Universal access to affordable education has made America great and helped create the middle class. Congress must fight to protect our values and ensure that every American family continues to have access to quality education. As the global marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, we must provide our children with a viable education, resources and job training to fill the most selective positions. This bill will help us do just that!
The Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 (H.R. 5715) would provide new protections, in addition to those that already exist under current law, to ensure that families continue to have timely, uninterrupted access to federal college loans in the event that the stress in the credit markets leads a significant number of lenders to substantially reduce their activity in the federally guaranteed student loan program.
Supporting the Civil Rights History Project
Last month, I co-sponsored H.R. 998, the Civil Rights History Project Act.
Over the last few years, our nation has lost many great Civil Rights pioneers, including Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks. We must record the memories and personal testimonials of those who participated in the Civil Rights movement before their personal stories are lost.
In conjunction with the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Library of Congress, the bill seeks to collect oral histories of individuals from the Civil Rights movement so future generations will be able to learn of their struggle and sacrifice from eyewitness reports.
The participants in the Civil Rights movement possess an invaluable resource in their firsthand memories of the movement, and the recording of the retelling of their stories and memories will provide a rich detailed history of our Nation during an important and tumultuous period.
Backing a Plan to Protect Taxpayers and Promising Reinvestment in America
As taxpayers in California completed their tax returns, I joined a majority in the House of Representatives in passing the Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act and vowed to fight to ensure American tax dollars are used to rebuild America, not Iraq.
Americans have already spent $45 billion rebuilding Iraq and the war costs our nation $10.3 billion a month, or about $4,000 a second. The typical American taxpayer's entire federal tax bill pays for less than one half of one second of the cost of the war in Iraq. Additionally, the Defense Contract Audit Agency believes that there have been more than $10 billion in questionable or unsupported costs in Iraq contracts.
Taxpayers in California know the tax dollars they sent in yesterday will be sent straight to Iraq. America has spent billions of dollars on the war in Iraq while our needs at home have been ignored. It's time to invest in America again.
In addition to continuing the fight for a new direction in Iraq, I backed legislation yesterday that will help put the tax code back on the side of middle class families. The Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act was passed by the House in a vote of 238 to 179.
The bill takes action on behalf of America's taxpayers. The legislation will stop taxpayer harassment by ending the private collection of federal taxes. The Washington Post reports that this practice costs the IRS $37 million more than it generates. The legislation also strengthens taxpayer protections from identity theft and tax fraud, simplifies cell phone tax reporting and expands tax help for low-income taxpayers.
The Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act also includes measures to make the tax code easier to use and understand. Currently, the tax code contains more than seven hundred provisions affecting individuals and more than fifteen hundred affecting businesses - a total of more than 1.4 million words. All told, tax laws are four times as long as the book War and Peace. The confusing tax code costs taxpayers more than $1 billion annually because taxpayers make the wrong decisions on tax forms. The bill passed today strengthens IRS outreach and assistance efforts to help ensure taxpayers know they are entitled to tax refunds or to payments under the Earned Income Tax Credit.
The legislation also takes steps to close egregious corporate loopholes and stop federal contractors from using foreign subsidiaries to evade Social Security and other employment taxes. Currently, companies, including KBR, avoid paying their fair share of Social Security and Medicare taxes by creating shell companies in the Cayman Islands. The Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification closes this loophole, which costs American taxpayers almost $100 million a year.
For too long, the tax code has given big businesses every advantage and left middle class families to fend for themselves. I was proud to back legislation that will make companies pay their fair share and help ensure taxpayers, who play by the rules, get the assistance they need and deserve.
Holding a Hearing to Examine the Effectiveness of the Department of Veterans Affairs Homeless Programs
As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I recently held a hearing to examine the effectiveness of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) homeless programs. The hearing focused on the need to improve direct service programs designed to help veterans with self-sufficiency and prevention programs that identify vulnerable veterans and service members.
VA recently announced the number of veterans homeless on a typical night has declined 21 percent in the past year. VA credits that decline to the services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and its partners in community and faith-based organizations, plus changing demographics and improvements in survey techniques. The homeless veteran population fell from 195,000 to about 154,000.
Homelessness in America is a national tragedy and the presence of homeless veterans today is a moral disgrace for this nation. There are many compassionate people across this country who are involved in successful treatment and service programs. But we are not solving this problem. We need to do more.
Research shows that veterans are overrepresented in the homeless population. VA is the largest single provider of direct service to homeless veterans, reaching 25 percent of homeless veterans a year through their various programs. VA relies heavily on its federal, state and community based partners to assure a full range of services for homeless veterans.
Prior to becoming homeless, a large number of veterans at risk have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder or have addictions acquired during or worsened by their military service. These conditions can interrupt their ability to keep a job, establish savings, and in some cases, maintain family harmony. Veterans' family, social, and professional networks may have been broken due to extensive mobility while in service or lengthy periods away from their hometowns and their civilian jobs. These problems are directly traceable to their experience in military service or to their return to civilian society without having had appropriate transitional support.
Approximately 1,500 homeless veterans are from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Witnesses expressed concern that such an early presence of these veterans at shelters does not bode well for the next generation of veterans. Advocates also believe that the intense repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable.
Panelists provided a number of recommendations to the Committee that would help end and prevent homelessness among the nation's veterans. Recommendations included increasing the appropriation of the Grant Per Diem program which is used to fund community agencies that provide services to homeless veterans. Panelists also discussed the need to improve access to mental health care, provide improved job counseling services and collaborate with the military to better identify at-risk veterans.
Testimony provided by Phil Landis, CEO of Veterans Village of San Diego, described the needs of homeless treatment facilities and service providers. "After becoming clean and sober, gaining life sustaining employment, and getting physically healthy, our veterans need affordable supportive housing, both transitional and permanent. Studies have demonstrated that the longer a person stays in a supportive environment, the greater the likelihood of long term success. We need additional funding to build or purchase additional transitional/permanent housing beds, not just in San Diego or California, but throughout the United States, in any city where there resides a veteran who for whatever reason must spend the night on the street, under a bridge or in a doorway. We also need additional funding to expand the supportive services that are provided, specifically weekly case management and therapy. The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to meet the challenge of providing services and treatment of our newest veterans head on. However, resources seem to be limited and the need continues to escalate. Though the VA budget for healthcare has steadily increased, more needs to be done."
The 110th Congress has taken action to prevent homelessness and provide improved services to assist homeless veterans. A January 2008 law provides returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan a total of five years of access to free VA health care. The following bills are currently pending in Congress and address the needs of vulnerable veterans:
* H.R. 5554, the Veterans Substance Use Disorders Prevention and Treatment Act of 2008; and
* H.R. 2874, the Veterans' Health Care Improvement Act of 2007.
We know what we need to do to prevent homelessness and we also know the repercussions of not doing something. The military should insist on mandatory screening when troops are discharged and the VA must be prepared to provide comprehensive services to prevent homeless veterans.
The opening statements of all the witnesses and a link to the webcast are available on the Committee website at http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?newsid=220.
A "Teaching American History" Grant for Imperial County Office of Education Has Been Awarded!
I recently announced that the Imperial County Office of Education has been awarded a $995,204 Teaching American History grant from the United States Department of Education. The grant will be used to provide professional, history-specific training for teachers in Imperial County. The program is designed to raise student achievement by improving their teachers' familiarity and understanding of American History.
A basic knowledge of American history is absolutely necessary to understanding our institutions, the political and judicial systems, as well as the national decision making process. I believe that by providing teachers with better curriculum options and a more complete understanding of history, they will enrich our students' learning experience and help them achieve success throughout their lives!
John Anderson, Superintendent of the Imperial County Office of Education, stated, "We are pleased to receive this opportunity to build capacity in the area of history for our local teachers. For the past several years we have focused on reading and mathematics. This project enables us to expand our services in the area of history. We are excited and will begin teacher recruitment soon!".
Presenting a Congressional Award to Community Leader and Volunteer,
Kimberly Marie Swierenga!
On Friday, April 11th, I presented a Congressional Award Gold Medal to local leader Kimberly Marie Swierenga at Marina View Park in Chula Vista. Kim was awarded the medal in recognition of her extensive community service and personal development.
Congressional Award recipients represent America at its best. They are dedicated to bettering themselves and to giving back to our communities, and Kim has these qualifications in abundance. I am extremely proud to have a woman with dedication, personal strength and perseverance live in my congressional district! I know that she has educated and inspired others to commit selfless acts and to engage themselves.
There are six levels of Congressional recognition that can be awarded: the Congressional Award Certificates in bronze, silver or gold; and the Congressional Award Medals, also in bronze, silver and gold. Kim will be recognized with the highest honor, the Congressional Award Gold Medal!
The program is based on four areas of excellence: voluntary service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration. Each enrollee is required to make a proposal of what they are going to achieve and to keep a record of what they do. Kim far exceeded the necessary qualifications!
Kim invested over 400 hours of Volunteer Public Service through Circle Kiwanis International. She also served as an elementary school tutor and has always been available to help out in the community. For Personal Development, Kim attended ground school for her private pilot's license and improved her vocabulary, public speaking and leadership skills through enrollment in Toastmasters. Kim reached her physical fitness goals by learning to play racquetball and jogging 2.5 miles in 30 minutes. She also stepped out of her comfort zone by exploring the Mormon religion and culture. She even moved to Logan, Utah for a semester to expand her understanding and appreciation for Mormonism!
Constituent Mail Bag
From San Diego:
No person in this nation should ever be hungry. I urge Congress to include a strong nutrition title in the Farm Bill including support for the Food Stamp Program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). I ask that you support the House bill which includes $11.5 billion in new ten-year funding.
Because in California we have overly stringent restrictions on food stamps, I also ask that you support flexibility in the Food Stamp Program that allows local charitable organizations to increase outreach and assistance to people registering for the Program.
As Catholics, we take seriously our teaching to care for the poor and vulnerable. In our tradition, society is judged by how it treats the poorest among us. Please make sure that no one in this great nation goes hungry.
Congressman Filner replies:
Thank you for contacting me about supporting the Food Stamp Program and Emergency Food Assistance Program in the Farm Bill.
I wholeheartedly agree! Tragically, soaring food costs and stagnant benefits challenge families to keep food on the table. The Farm Bill is a unique opportunity to not only address that concern but to help our working families. I will work with my colleagues to ensure that these programs are part of the Farm Bill.
I appreciate your advocacy on this important issue.
Useful Website: Find Out When You Will Get Your Economic Stimulus Rebate!
The IRS has begun to transfer economic stimulus rebates to millions of Americans. People who opted for direct deposit on their 2007 tax return will get paid first. The IRS will mail paper checks beginning May 9th. Checks will be deposited or mailed in order of the last two digits of your social security number. Click on the following link to find out to find out when your check will be deposited or mailed: http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=181972,00.html
Other helpful contacts:
Internal Revenue Service
Refund Status: 1-800-829-4477
General Federal Tax Questions: 1-800-829-1040
Online Assistance: Visit www.irs.gov
Be Aware of Scams
Scam artists are using the recovery rebates to try to steal your identities. It is important to know that the federal government does not call taxpayers requesting personal information. If you get calls like this, hang up, and report such activity to the IRS at 1-800-366-4484.