My First Telephone Town Hall
On Wednesday, March 5, I held a live telephone town hall meeting with constituents from all over his district. The telephone town hall enabled me to hear from and talk with constituents in a format much like a traditional public town hall setting.
It is essential that I am given every opportunity to hear from my constituents, and this telephone town hall was an excellent way to stay in contact with the people I represent, even while I am in Washington.
I spoke with over 5,500 constituents during the Town Hall. Over the course of an hour, we touched on several topics, including the rising cost of fuel, the mortgage crisis, Veteran's issues, wait times at the border, and education reform in the United States.
I am thrilled to be able to communicate with my district in such a personal manner. I look forward to events such as this in the future as I continue my work in Washington.
New Law Improves VA Health Care for America's Returning Service Members and Veterans
I am happy to announce that H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008 (NDAA), was signed into law by the President. The NDAA contains provisions improving the transition from active duty to veterans' status and improving VA health care for returning service members, especially those with traumatic brain injury (TBI) or mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Among the key provisions to improve care for veterans and their families, the NDAA:
* Provides an additional three years of access to free VA health care for returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan;
* Improves and expands VA's ability to care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with TBI, including research, screening, care coordination, and working with non-VA providers to provide the care needed by our veterans;
* Requires a comprehensive policy to address mental health conditions, including PTSD;
* Requires DOD and VA to streamline the records transmission process, including moving forward with fully interoperable medical records;
* Provides for a more seamless transition between active duty and veterans' status, including a single physical exam for DOD and VA benefits;
* Creates a Wounded Warrior Resource Center to serve as a single point of contact for service members, their families, and primary caregivers to report issues with facilities, obtain health care, and receive benefits information;
* Requires VA to provide age-appropriate nursing home care for our veterans;
* Allows members of the National Guard and Reserves that are eligible for Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) to use their education benefits for ten years after separation;
* Requires a study on the feasibility of streamlining statutory provisions addressing GI Bill benefits for active duty and guard and reserves.
H.R. 4986 represents a cooperative effort between the Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs Committees to address the problems facing wounded veterans and cut through the red tape often faced by our returning service members when they transition from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Helping San Diego Communities Prepare for Future Wildfires
Last month, my colleague, Congressman Mark Udall of Colorado, and I introduced legislation that would establish incentives for high-risk communities to minimize fire damage. The bill sets a national standard for at-risk communities and provides grants to develop better fire prevention and response strategies.
Over the past decade, we have seen the damage that wildfires have wreaked in Southern California. This legislation goes a long way toward preparing for future disasters.
The bill directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create a model ordinance with the U.S. Fire Administration, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. The ordinance will provide a baseline for communities to prepare for wildfires by recommending effective water supply, construction materials and techniques as well as defensible space, vegetation management, and infrastructure standards.
In order to ensure the safety of our families and homes, it is essential that we prepare our communities for future wildfires. Proper planning and construction will minimize damage and prevent loss of life and property.
Praising the Economic Stimulus Package
I was relieved and encouraged by the compromise reached to create an Economic Stimulus Package. American families have been hit hard by the rising cost of energy, healthcare, and education coupled with the economic downturn and deteriorating housing market. I believe that the package will provide relief to American families, and I hope that we will use it as a building block to further improvements.
We must remain flexible and responsive to the needs of Americans. Unfortunately, it took widespread adversity and hardship to unite Congressional leaders with the President. I hope that this new found collaboration will lead to increasingly successful bipartisanship and real action to improve the quality of life in the United States.
This comprehensive stimulus package will provide the following benefits:
Provide tax relief this spring of up to $600 for an individual and up to $1,200 for a married couple, plus $300 per child. A total of 117 million families will receive a check.
Include $28 billion in checks to 35 million working families who would not have otherwise been helped. More than 19 million of these are families with children.
Double the amount small businesses can write off their taxes for new investments to get our economy moving again and provide immediate tax relief for all businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.
Includes mortgage lending reforms--including a one-year increase in Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's conforming loan limits (from $417,000 to a maximum of $729,750), and a permanent increase in the FHA loan limit from the current $367,000 up to a maximum of $729,750. The legislation will also include other changes that immediately help families facing foreclosure refinance their loans and get the housing counseling they may need.
Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Dr. King's "Poor People's Campaign"
Last month, I co-sponsored H.Con.Res. 161, which commemorates the 40th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s launching of the Poor People's Campaign.
As we remember and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must honor what he called his "last and greatest dream,' which was to eradicate poverty in America. It is an absolute disgrace that 1 in 8 Americans live in poverty, while we spend between $11.7 billion and $15 billion every month in Iraq. Where are our priorities? We must do better on the fight against poverty.
In 1968, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the Poor People's Campaign, resulting in a march on Washington D.C. demanding economic justice for the poorest communities in the United States. As a student at Cornell University, I joined the march.
I have always been committed to helping alleviate the socioeconomic conditions that cause poverty, and I will continue this fight until every American has the resources to live with dignity!
Calling on the Federal Government to Help Solve Air Pollution Problems!
The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that Imperial County failed to attain the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). NAAQS is a standard set to limit the presence of pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment, including carbon monoxide, lead, ground-level ozone and many others. The EPA decision requires the State to submit a plan to EPA, which would bring the County back into compliance.
Our communities should not be penalized for living near international borders. Air pollution does not stop at political boundaries! Imperial County needs federal help to develop and implement bi-national plans to improve air quality.
I have introduced legislation, H.R. 3365; the Foreign Air Impact Regulation (FAIR AIR) Act, which would stop the EPA from punishing Imperial County and other areas suffering from the impact of foreign pollution until a comprehensive plan is implemented, one that would require both federal and local action!
Addressing Rising College Prices &
Remove Barriers to College Enrollment
By an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 354 to 58, the House approved the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (H.R. 4137), which would reform and strengthen the nation's higher education programs to ensure that they operate in the best interests of students and families. The legislation is the second major step that the new Democratic Congress has taken to make college more affordable and accessible for all qualified students. Last year, Congress enacted into law a $20 billion increase in college financial aid over the next five years, the largest increase in student aid since the G.I. Bill of 1944.
It is absolutely necessary that we provide every student with the opportunity to attend college. In the 21st Century, a college education has become as important as a high school diploma was just one generation ago. Unfortunately, the cost of college has also grown rapidly, and more students then ever before graduate with incredible debt, or are unable to go to college due to the high cost. We must put our money where our mouths are and make college education a reality for every American!
An October 2007 report from the College Board showed that, over the previous five years, tuition and fees had increased across the board, at public and private colleges and at two-year and four-year colleges. In California, tuition and fees at public, four-year colleges grew by 9 percent between 2006-07 and 2007-8. The bill would address these rising prices by encouraging colleges to rein in price increases, ensuring that states maintain their commitments to higher education funding, and providing students and families with consumer friendly information on college pricing and the factors driving tuition increases.
The legislation also strengthens provisions previously approved by the House to avoid conflicts of interest in the student loan programs. The bill's new provisions include requiring better consumer disclosures and protections on private student loans. Together these protections form a Bill of Rights for college consumers.
Our nation's global standing and economy is dependent on the investments we make in our children. This legislation will provide students with the tools and resources necessary to be competitive in an international economy.
In addition, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act would:
Streamline the federal student financial aid application process;
Make textbook costs more manageable for students by, among other things, helping them plan for textbook expenses in advance of each semester;
Allow students to receive year-round Pell Grant scholarships;
Strengthen college readiness and support programs for minority and low-income students;
Increase college aid and support programs for veterans and military families;
Improve safety on college campuses and help schools recover and rebuild after a disaster;
Ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities; and
Strengthen our nation's workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology, and foreign language educational opportunities.
H.R. 4137 is a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the primary federal law aimed at expanding college access for low- and middle-income students. The bill is supported by a broad coalition of students, colleges and universities, consumer rights advocacy groups, minority organizations, and more.
A Plan to Invest in Renewable Energy and Create New Jobs
Last month, my colleagues in the House of Representatives and I passed landmark legislation that will make significant new investments in renewable energy sources, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, help end our dependence on foreign oil and slash taxpayer funded subsidies to oil companies. H.R. 5351, the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008, was approved by a vote of 236 to 182.
With oil prices reaching another record high of $102 per barrel today and families paying $3.34 a gallon for gasoline, the time for action on renewable energy and American energy independence is now. This bill is good for our environment, good for our economy and good for our national security. Ending our dependence on foreign oil and using renewable energy to help fight global warming will make our nation stronger. And at a time when our economy is struggling, these investments will help create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
The Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act makes new investments that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, increase renewable electricity production, create jobs and protect our environment. 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. Additionally, the bill includes solar energy tax credits that could reduce carbon dioxide pollution by 240 million tons.
The new investments in wind, solar, geothermal and fuel cell technology will also create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and help strengthen the American economy. The Geothermal Energy Association estimates that the geothermal provisions alone could create tens of thousands of new jobs and stimulate tens of billions of dollars of new investment in geothermal energy production.
Additionally, the legislation approved today repeals $18 billion in unnecessary tax subsidies for big, multinational oil and gas companies. The vote comes shortly after the big five oil companies recently reported record profits for 2007, with ExxonMobil earning $40.6 billion - the largest corporate profit in American history. While oil companies have profited, consumers have felt the pinch. The average cost of a gallon of gasoline in California is $3.34.
Every day, families in California are feeling the pain at the gas pump, and home heating oil costs are skyrocketing. All the while, big oil companies are making billions of dollars and receiving handouts from the government. It simply isn't fair. I am proud to back legislation that will slash subsidies to oil companies, create jobs and help make our nation energy independent.
Criticizing EPA Denial of California's Improved Emission Standards
Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied California's petition to adopt more stringent greenhouse gas emission laws for cars and light trucks. EPA Administrator Steve Johnson stated that California does not have the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" required for a waiver under the Clean Air Act, because the rest of the nation also suffers from the effects of global warming. However, the EPA has granted California such Clean Air Act waivers in the past.
This is outrageous and unacceptable! The EPA is obligated to protect the public from dangerous air pollutants that jeopardize our health and endanger public welfare, and they are failing to fulfill their duty. Global warming is a very compelling reason to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and we cannot let the Bush Administration play politics with the environment. California has taken the first step and we must address these issues NOW!
Governor Schwarzenegger has already filed a lawsuit against the EPA to reverse the decision. I fully support the lawsuit and will work with my colleagues to urge EPA Administrator Johnson to reverse the decision.
Honoring Vietnam Veteran, Anthony LaFalce
I was honored to present Vietnam Veteran, Anthony LaFalce, with his Purple Heart Medal. Anthony was also previously awarded the Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medal in recognition of his honorable service in the United States Army.
The Purple Heart is a U.S. Military medal awarded in the name of the President to service-members who have been wounded or killed while serving on active-duty. The Purple Heart is the oldest award still given to members of the U.S. military and is one of the most respected of all military decorations. The Purple Heart, originally called the "Badge of Military Merit," was established by General George Washington at Newburgh, New York, on August 7th, 1782, during the Revolutionary War.
Although the Purple Heart was awarded to Anthony in 1971, the actual award was not presented to him. Now, 37 years later, he will finally receive the proper recognition.
I want to thank Anthony LaFalce for his courageous service to our nation. His honor and dedication have made our country what it is today. He will always serve as a positive example for us all!
Presenting Purple Heart Medal to Anthony LaFalce
Citizen of the Month
This month, I honored the Economic Development Summit Committee, as Citizen of the Month for their positive impact within our region and for jump starting the theme for today, "investing in ourselves."
Through their work they have been able to inform community members and decision-makers of demographic, economic, and social trends in the Imperial Valley and the western U.S.-Mexican border region. This year's 9th Annual Imperial Valley Economic Development Summit brings together individuals who will discuss what the Imperial Valley has and needs to enhance the local quality of life for all residents.
BF Purple Heart
Presenting Citizen of the Month to Economic Development Summit Committee
Constituent Mail Bag
From San Ysidro:
I am not satisfied with my cell phone service. The wireless industry enjoys a market free of true competition in many parts of the country. The result has been spotty service that I can't improve by changing companies without sacrificing my phone or paying a hefty early termination fee. Three simple reforms will encourage real competition for my business.
Early Termination Fees. Some carriers charge as much as $200 if I want to leave before my contract is up. If I find that the service is not what was promised, I can't afford to vote with my feet. Some companies, like Verizon, say they will pro-rate these fees, but consumers have yet to see how this will be implemented and many carriers have not taken this pro-consumer step. Congress should establish a clear ETF policy and require all cell phone carriers to pro-rate their early termination fees.
Handset Locking. When companies "lock" my phone, I can't take it with me when I switch. My phone carries information I need about my contacts, my calling history and much more. In Europe, phones work seamlessly between networks, and carriers do not exercise control over which phones subscribers can use. This has created a robust, independent market for mobile phones and users have far greater choice than U.S. subscribers. Congress should require carriers to accept all phones that can function on their network.
Encourage innovation. Sub-standard service quality is unfortunately the norm for some carriers in certain cities. Although there are multiple carriers operating across the country, each city gets quality coverage from only one or two carriers. Congress should ask the carriers to establish a clear process by which handset developers can easily get functional phones, which work across networks, into the hands of consumers.
These three reforms will improve competition, encourage innovation and bring the U.S. cell phone market up to par with the rest of the developed world. I appreciate your efforts.
Congressman Filner replies:
Thank you for contacting me about wireless service.
I wholeheartedly agree! We should encourage innovation and true competition in the wireless industry that would enable customers to receive quality service regardless of location. Wireless carriers should accept all phones that are capable of working on their network, and customers should not be subject to outrageous early termination fees when switching to a carrier that provides better service. I will keep your letter in mind should this issue come before the House of Representatives.
I appreciate your advocacy 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.