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 a 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.
The Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act will:
* Immediately provide up to 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits to workers exhausting regular unemployment compensation in every state.
* Provide an additional 13 weeks (for a total of 26) in States with high unemployment (six percent or higher).
* Run through January 2009 and be financed by the federal unemployment trust funds, which now have more than enough reserves to cover the cost.
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).
Sponsoring The Credit Cardholders'
Bill of Rights
Last month, I joined my colleague, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, to introduce the "Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2008" (H.R. 5244). This comprehensive credit card reform legislation is aimed at leveling the playing field between credit card companies and consumers. If passed, it will abolish major industry abuses that unfairly hurt consumers, while fostering fair competition and free market values.
A credit card agreement is supposed to be a contract, but in recent years cardholders have lost the ability to say no to unfair interest rate hikes and fees. This common-sense bill simply levels the playing field between card companies and cardholders while fostering fair competition and free market values.
There is no doubt that credit card companies provide a valuable service and deserve to earn a fair profit, but consumers deserve the right to understand their accounts and to control them. Regrettably, regulators and law makers have failed to adequately protect consumers in recent years. This bill would give cardholders the information and rights they deserve to make decisions about their own credit.
The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights:
Protects cardholders against arbitrary interest rate increases
Prevents cardholders who pay on time from being unfairly penalized
Protects cardholders from due date gimmicks
Shields cardholders from misleading terms
Empowers cardholders to set limits on their credit
Requires card companies to fairly credit and allocate payments
Prohibits card companies from imposing excessive fees on cardholders
Protects vulnerable consumers from fee-heavy subprime credit cards
Requires Congress to provide better oversight of the credit card industry
Contains NO rate caps, fee setting, or price controls
Lauding Passage of the Budget
The Democratic budget resolution passed today by the House of Representatives builds on the historical funding increases for veterans' programs last year, recognizes the needs faced by America's veterans today, and invests in our veterans for tomorrow. In this time of war, as we continue to send men and women into harm's way, we must be committed and prepared to fully provide the resources to care for these heroes upon their return - and this budget does that.
The Democratic budget resolution rejects the Bush Administration's plan to institute enrollment fees and increase pharmacy copayments - a plan that would effectively force many veterans out of the VA system. This budget also rejects the President's proposed cuts to new facility construction projects and cuts to medical and prosthetic research programs at the VA. The Democratic budget resolution provides needed funding to care for our returning service members and provide more comprehensive mental health care and resources to address the needs of homeless veterans.
Taking care of our veterans when they return home is a continuing cost of war. The Democratic leadership recognizes this truth and has provided for a budget that exceeds the veterans' own independent budget's request for veterans' funding. I am proud to have the support of the dedicated leaders and veterans service groups who produce the Independent Budget.
Supporting the National Day of Remembrance for Harriet Ross Tubman
I recently co-sponsored H.Con.Res. 310, legislation expressing the support of Congress for a national day of remembrance honoring Harriet Ross Tubman.
March is Women's History Month, and we should take this opportunity to celebrate the contributions made to this Nation by one of the first leaders in the fight for freedom and equality, Harriet Ross Tubman.
Born into slavery in Maryland, Harriet Ross Tubman escaped and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. In addition to becoming a leading abolitionist, Harriet Tubman served the Union Army during the Civil War by leading an armed expedition. She would later become a pioneer in the movement for women's suffrage. Known as a great humanitarian, her vision continues to serve and inspire all who cherish freedom.
Currently, several states celebrate a Harriet Tubman Day including New York, Texas, Georgia and Delaware. Given the contributions of Harriet Tubman, her legacy should be celebrated across the United States.
Being Awarded "A" Grade from Nation's Only Middle-Class Congressional Scorecard
I was recently awarded an "A" grade from the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI), which is widely recognized as America's middle-class think tank. This political season, no set of issues have garnered greater attention than those involving the struggles of America's current and aspiring middle class. Although attention has largely been focused on the Presidential race, DMI releases "TheMiddleClass.org 2007 Congressional Scorecard" to remind Americans that the next President's ability to advance his or her middle-class agenda will depend largely on cooperation from the 111th Congress.
With 470 Congressional seats up for election on November 4th, Americans who care about middle-class issues like health care, college affordability and the impact of free trade agreements need to know whether their representatives share these concerns. According to DMI, "one Representative, who demonstrated a sincere desire to strengthen and expand America's middle class and voted to prove it, was Congressman Bob Filner."
I am honored to be recognized by DMI, and I applaud their efforts to keep community members informed and to hold elected officials accountable. With increasing inequality of wealth across the United States, it is extremely important that we support legislation to reinforce the position of the middle-class and to provide additional educational opportunities, job skills and healthcare to everyone who aspires to join the middle class. Every time I vote, I vote with my conscience, and I vote to support America!
DMI Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger said, "The middle-class squeeze isn't inevitable. It is the result of decisions made by those we elect to represent us. Important legislation was voted on this year, ranging from health care and education bills that were aimed at alleviating middle-class burdens to misguided trade agreements and tax policies that were skewed towards wealthy Americans and hurt the middle class. Simply put, how Congress votes matters."
When asked about the most important function of the annual DMI middle-class scorecard, Schlesinger responded, "Accountability. Members of Congress cannot tell the public they support the middle class but then cast votes against them. Thanks to TheMiddleClass.org, every American has access to their Senator's and Representative's voting records on the most important middle-class legislation. Without question, those who kept their word, like Rep. Bob Filner, deserve every accolade they receive."
My Statement Regarding Blackwater USA
Blackwater USA recently announced that it will not proceed with its proposal to build an 824 acre paramilitary training camp in Potrero, CA.
The decision by Blackwater to stay out of Potrero is an impressive victory for our community and shows that grass-roots organizations can still make a huge impact in our world.
I hope that the example set by the Potrero Planning Commission, local organizations, vigilant community members and elected officials will encourage other communities to work together to refuse land for dangerous mercenary training facilities!
Strongly Supporting Head Start!
I recently requested adequate funding for Head Start, the most successful, longest-running, national school readiness program in the nation. I joined 56 of my colleagues in the House of Representatives in sending a letter to the House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt and Ranking Member Paul Ryan, requesting $7.8 billion for Head Start in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget, $800 million over the President's budget.
While understanding the constraints of the federal budget, I believe it is unwise to penalize one of the best performing federal programs with a budget that is lower than what is needed to keep up with inflation. More funding is needed, not less! Head Start currently serves only 42 percent of the children who are eligible for this program.
Created in 1965, Head Start provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parental involvement services to low-income families. Its purpose is to improve the readiness of low-income children for their entrance into kindergarten by enhancing their development in language, mathematics, science, social and emotional functioning, creative arts, and physical skills.
Nearly 25 million pre-school children and their families have directly benefited from Head Start. Year after year, Head Start programs have transformed the lives of children and their families in dramatic ways. Enrollment in Head Start can break the cycle of poverty that affects too many American families.
Because of the comprehensive range of services offered to these families, for every dollar spent on Head Start, the nation realizes almost nine dollars through participants' increased earnings and decreased welfare dependence.
Endorsing the Expansion of Mental
Last month, I joined a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives in support of landmark legislation that will help end discrimination against patients requiring treatment for mental illnesses. H.R. 1424, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, was approved by a vote of 268 to 148.
Mental illnesses are treatable diseases that impact millions of Americans each year, including minorities who are less likely to receive the necessary mental health services. Unfortunately, many group health plans currently do not provide the same coverage for mental illnesses as they do for physical ailments. I'm proud to support important legislation that will help end this practice and ensure more Americans get the care they need and deserve.
Sponsored by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN), the bipartisan bill approved today prohibits insurers and group health plans from imposing limitations by offering mental health benefits that are more restrictive than those applied to medical and surgical services.
The legislation applies only to insurers and group health plans that provide mental health benefits, and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this legislation will have a miniscule impact on health insurance premiums.
Over the last eight years, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) has made "parity" coverage for mental health care available to Members of Congress and 8.5 million other federal employees. Research has shown that there has been no significant cost increase attributable to this new coverage. Now, this bill makes available to all Americans the access to affordable mental health services already available to Members of Congress.
Reducing the stigma in mental health coverage is critical, especially to Latinos. Latinos are at high-risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Fewer than 1 in 11 Latinos with mental health disorders contact mental health specialists, while fewer than 1 in 5 contact general health providers. With the passage of this bill, Democrats have sent a clear message about the importance of mental health treatment.
The bill is backed by a diverse group of organizations including the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, American Nurses Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Hispanic Medical Association, American Counseling Association, Families USA, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, National Mental Health Awareness Campaign, and Mental Health America.
Being Recognized for My Voting Record
I was recently recognized by The American Association of University Women (AAUW) with a 100 percent voting rating in their recently published Congressional Voting Record for the 110th Congress, First Session.
I am honored to be recognized by the American Association of University Women for my constructive voting record, and I will continue to fight to eliminate discriminatory practices and to make college more affordable, healthcare more accessible and wages higher for every American!
Lisa M. Maatz, Director of AAUW Public Policy and Government Relations, said the following regarding my rating: "The Congressional Voting Record for the 110th Congress, First Session scores the votes on several pieces of legislation that became law, including bills that provided for an increase in the minimum wage; the largest increase in student aid since the G.I. bill; and investment in science, technology, engineering, and math education. In addition, the publication scores legislation that reflects other AAUW priorities such as improving pay discrimination law, expanding hate crimes prevention, and protecting access to reproductive health care. Holding Congress accountable to the needs of their constituents is extremely important to us, and AAUW appreciates Congressman Filner's consistent support on AAUW's priority issues."
The AAUW was founded in 1881 and represents over 100,000 bipartisan members from all over the United States. They are dedicated to advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research.
Declared as One of the "Best Representatives for Children"
Last month, I thanked the Children's Defense Fund Action Council (CDFAC) for naming me among the "Best Representatives for Children." The CDFAC today released its 2007 Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard, which grades every Member of Congress based on key votes affecting children, and I voted to protect the health and well being of California's children 100 percent of the time. I achieved this distinction by voting to support the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade, access and quality improvements in Head Start, and additional funds for student loans.
I am honored to be recognized as one of the Best Representatives for Children, and I truly believe that providing for our children will create a better future for us all. Universal education and equal opportunity for children are central elements of the American dream, and without them our nation would not be what it is today. I will continue to fight to ensure that every child has the security, opportunity and resources to flourish and that every parent is able to provide the necessary support!
"I applaud Congressman Filner for his commitment to improving the lives of children," said CDFAC President Marian Wright Edelman. "With 9.4 million uninsured children in America and nearly 13 million living in poverty, it is critical that we elect Representatives committed to making children a priority. Filner is a dedicated advocate for children and has truly earned the distinction of being one of the best Representatives for children."
The Children's Defense Fund Action Council educates the nation about the needs of children and encourages preventative investment before they get sick or into trouble, drop out of school, or suffer family breakdown. The CDF Action Council began in 1969 and is a private, non-profit organization that has never taken government funds.
Expressing My Gratitude for the Fund for Veterans' Education
This month, I recognized the Fund for Veterans' Education (FVE) for their dedication to educational opportunities for veterans.
After World War II, the GI Bill gave many veterans the opportunity to attend college, virtually creating the Middle Class in the United States. Over the years, the value of these benefits has continuously declined. Programs, like the Fund for Veterans' Education, have stepped in where we failed, and although I am grateful for their work, it also shows that we are not fulfilling our promises to the heroes returning from overseas. As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I will fight to increase education benefits for our Veterans. In the meantime, I applaud the efforts of FVEif everyone in the United States shared their principles, we would have no problem funding Veterans' Education!
Congressman Filner Recognizing FVE
Pictured here with me are (from left): Evan Aanerud, FVE Scholarship Recipient; Jerome Kohlberg, FVE Founder and Chairman; and Joseph Nannery, FVE Scholarship Recipient.
Constituent Mail Bag
From Chula Vista:
As a concerned constituent and oncology nurse, I am writing to ask you to help address the nursing shortage by signing the Dear Colleague letter currently being circulated by Representatives Capps and LaTourette in support of $200 million in FY 2009 for the nursing workforce development
programs at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
The nation is facing a serious nursing shortage as the number of people requiring high-quality health care continues to increase. HRSA predicts that the nation's nursing shortage will grow to more than one million nurses by the year 2020. I am very concerned that in 2006, more than 42,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing school due to
inadequate numbers of faculty to teach them. The number of full-time nursing faculty required is approximately 40,000 and currently there are less than 20,000 full-time nursing faculty members in the system. Additionally, significant numbers
of faculty are expected to retire in the coming years with insufficient numbers of candidates in the pipeline to take their places.
The federal nursing workforce programs play an integral role in supporting individuals entering into nursing as well as allowing registered nurses to continue their training and education to become advance practice nurses and nursing faculty members. I appreciate that our nation faces many challenges and that Congress has limited resources to allocate. However, during the 1974 nursing shortage, Congress appropriated $153 million to nursing education programs-translated into today's dollars, that
appropriation would total $615 million, more than four times the current (FY 2008) level. The Capps-LaTourette letter calls for $200 million - a reasonable and necessary amount to invest in strengthening and expanding the nation's nursing workforce.
I look forward to hearing back from you regarding the steps you have taken to provide the resources necessary to help ensure we have the nursing workforce we need to care for the patients of today and tomorrow.
Congressman Filner replies:
Thank you for contacting me about funding for nursing workforce development programs at the Health Resources Services Administration.
I wholeheartedly agree with you that these important programs must be fully funded! Our nation is facing an enormous shortage in qualified nurses and nursing assistants. You will be glad to know that I have joined my colleagues in signing a letter to the House Appropriations Committee, requesting they provide $200 million in funding for these programs. Rest assured, you can count on me to continue fighting to support nurses everywhere!
I appreciate your advocacy and share your concern on this important issue.
Useful Website: Track Your Tax Return!
Have you already filed your tax return for the year? Does the Federal Government owe you money? Are you tired of waiting for your return without knowing when it will be sent? This year, the IRS has provided a website for you to check the status of your refund while it is processing. Additionally, the IRS website is a great resource for preparing your tax returns, paying your fees, and getting information for your returns.