Landmark Legislative Victory for Veterans!
Last month, President Obama signed H.R. 1016 into law. Public Law 111-81 secures timely funding for veterans' health care delivered through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I introduced the bill on February 12, 2009 in order to provide Congress greater ability to craft appropriation bills that provide sufficient funding to meet the best estimate of anticipated demand for VA health care services by allowing funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical accounts one year in advance.
Under this new law, Congress will write and approve two budgets for the VA this year: one to provide fiscal 2010 total funding and another to provide fiscal 2011 funding for certain VA medical accounts. Now, veterans' health care can be funded one year in advance of the regular appropriations process and will not be subject to political or legislative delays. This needed reform of the budget and appropriations process will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs a more effective way to provide the highest quality care earned by men and women who have served in defense of our nation.
H.R. 1016 authorizes Congress to approve Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year. An advance appropriation provides VA with up to one year in which to plan how to deliver the most efficient and effective care to an increasing number of veterans with increasingly complex medical conditions. Additionally, VA will be required to detail estimates in the budget documents it submits annually to Congress. Each July, the VA will be required to report to Congress if it has the resources it needs for the upcoming fiscal year in order for Congress to address any funding imbalances. This will help to safeguard against the VA facing budget shortfalls such as it faced just a few years ago.
What a great day for America's veterans! President Obama signed a law that will secure timely and predictable funding for the veterans health care system. I would like to thank the dedicated veterans advocates for their leadership on this issue. Together, we have worked to craft landmark legislation that will guarantee that our veterans have access to comprehensive, quality health care. Their advocacy efforts were heard by the New Democratic leadership in Congress and supported by the President. I am proud to witness this legislative victory -- a historic day where we can stand together united behind a solution to fix VA health care funding once and for all.
Applauding the California Coastal Commission Re-vote on Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant
The California Coastal Commission met last month to reconsider the federal consistency permit for the City of San Diego's permit for the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Commission voted 8 to 4 to approve the permit, allowing operations of the facility to continue.
I was very pleased that the California Coastal Commission has reversed its position on the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Commission's actions show that they have accepted the scientific findings of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Coastal Commission's own experts.
Earlier this summer, I appealed to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to weigh in on the California Coast Commission's decision to deny the City of San Diego's permit for the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Governor unequivocally agreed with me that the Coastal Commission made the wrong call.
Bold Next Steps for Climate Change
The impacts of the climate crisis are already being seen around the world through increasing hurricane intensity, melting ice caps, and refugees fleeing extreme weather conditions. Here in Southern California, we are particularly vulnerable to a variety of threats posed by unchecked global warming -- threats to our environment, our economic stability, and our overall quality of life.
While residents of San Diego are no strangers to drought and emergency water conservation measures, climate change will bring a new generation of drought's stranglehold on our communities as we see our water supply shrink from increasing average global temperatures. Local Scripps researchers concluded in an April 2009 report that if human-induced global warming continues to reduce runoff from the Colorado River, San Diego will be unable to deliver a regular water supply to the region (The press release can be found online at http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu/Releases/?releaseID=977).
The impacts of permanent drought span from the health of individuals living in a climate of intensifying heat, to the prosperity of our agricultural industry. Unchecked global warming could bring a permanent alteration of growing seasons that could cripple California's status as the fifth largest agriculture and food supplier in the world. The effects would be felt tremendously in my district, which the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture census ranked 9th in value of total agricultural products sold out of California's 53 congressional districts. Imperial County -- which recently topped the Associated Press' Stress Index of counties hit hardest by the current recession -- cannot afford a threat of this level to an industry that supplies one fourth of the county's jobs. The University of California estimates that the total economic impact of vegetable crops to communities in Imperial County is around 1.5 billion dollars.
California led the way in tackling climate change by adopting the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (A.B. 32), the first state-wide law in the U.S. that commits the Golden State to the essential emissions reduction targets outlined by scientists. Cities all over the State, including Chula Vista and San Diego, also are implementing localized plans to tackle climate change.
Not only the government, but also the San Diego industrial sector is recognizing the incredible potential for a clean, green economy that can come from implementing climate solutions. In a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors last October, San Diego ranked 9th in the top 25 metro areas for green jobs. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 569 is responding to this tremendous opportunity to protect the environment, create career pathways out of poverty and help strengthen our middle class. Thousands of skilled workers throughout our region are trained and ready to implement everything from energy efficiency retrofits to wind and solar power systems. IBEW Local 569 continues to train new apprentices to power the clean energy economy and usher in a new era of prosperity for San Diegans.
Unfortunately, the efforts of citizens in San Diego and our lawmakers across California, while significant, are not enough to seriously tackle rapid global climate change -- our federal government must follow suit. In fewer than 100 days, world leaders will unite at the United Nations (UN) climate talks in Copenhagen to negotiate a new global warming treaty. It is imperative that President Obama commit to emissions reduction targets that are based in science, not political compromise. According to the latest findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN's research body on climate change, industrialized nations like the U.S. must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at least 34 percent below current levels by 2020 in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Recently, I voted for federal legislation known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). However, ACES does not sufficiently reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions -- it is just the beginning.
I urge my colleagues in the Senate to strengthen ACES, the federal Climate Bill, by removing giveaways to polluters, by strengthening the emissions reduction targets, and by increasing the renewable energy standard to at least 20 percent by 2025 so that the U.S. truly invests in a green economy.
Bold legislation in the U.S. is the only way we can send a signal to the world that we are committed to a global effort to address the climate crisis. Without significant action on our part to account for our centuries of industrial pollution, we cannot expect the rest of the world to act with the sense of urgency required to make real headway on this critical issue. While Congress works to create policies at home, I urge President Obama to show the world at December's climate talks in Copenhagen that the U.S. will commit to nothing short of what scientific facts dictate we must do.
Providing Affordable, Quality Care for Americans Living with HIV/AIDS
Last month, I voted to provide life-saving care, treatment, and support services to nearly half a million Americans living with HIV and AIDS. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act makes vital investments in research and care to ensure that Americans living with HIV and AIDS can maintain the highest quality of life as we strive to find a cure.
"The Ryan White Program has been serving Americans living with HIV and AIDS for nearly 20 years. This bi-partisan bill makes key investments to improve the quality and affordability of care for HIV and AIDS patients for years to come.
First established in 1990, the Ryan White Program has made it easier for HIV/AIDS patients to afford the costly medical treatments they need to survive. Today's extension will increase the authorization level for each part of the program by 5% a year for the next 4 years to ensure that we continue to provide access to vital health benefits for low-income, uninsured, and underinsured Americans. It also makes investments to improve care in regions of the country with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS, and helps to eliminate disparities in access to care among racial and ethnic groups by funding the Minority AIDS Initiative -- a program that ensures minority populations receive uninterrupted, quality care for HIV/AIDS.
This program is a lifeline for some of our most vulnerable populations. I am proud to stand with my colleagues in the House and Senate in support of this life-saving initiative to ensure that Americans living with HIV and AIDS receive the care they need.
Each year, over 50,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS are reported in our communities. 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV or AIDS.
Honoring San Diego Veteran at World War II Memorial in Washington
Last month, I greeted 90-year-old Robert Jensen LCOL U.S. Army (Ret.) and his daughter, Lisa Jensen LT U.S. Navy (Ret.), in Washington, D.C. at the World War II Memorial. The Jensens, who are residents of San Diego County, are participating in Honor Flight, the non-profit organization that provides free transportation to veterans to visit Washington, D.C. and reflect at their Memorials.
I was honored to meet Lieutenant Colonel Jensen at the World War II Memorial. I am grateful to him for his service to our nation and so thankful that he saw the Memorial built in his honor.
Top priority is given by Honor Flight to World War II veterans and to those who may be terminally ill, followed by veterans of Korea and Vietnam and other veterans. The Honor Flight volunteers raise the funds to take World War II veterans to Washington. The trip costs the veterans nothing -- the only money they need is for souvenirs. Honor Flight members accompany the veterans to assist them and ensure their safety.
With veterans dying every day, Honor Flight members do everything needed to bring hundreds of veterans to Washington, D.C. who otherwise would never see the Memorials built in their honor. We are humbled by the service of these brave men and women, and I thank Honor Flight for the meaningful experiences they provide.
Announcing $2.8 Million Federal Grant to Improve Border Safety
I am pleased to announce a $2.8 million Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) federal grant for the San Diego based Institute for Public Strategies. The BJA grant category is "Comprehensive Data Driven Approaches to Preventing and Reducing Violent Crime" through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Edward Byrne Memorial Competitive Grant Program.
These resources will allow law enforcement to improve strategic relationships within border communities to prevent crime, drug abuse, and violence. The Institute for Public Strategies has consistently demonstrated knowledge, skill, and professionalism while implementing innovative solutions to critical challenges.
The BJA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. Its mission is to support crime prevention initiatives that strengthen the nation's criminal justice system by providing leadership, services, and funding to communities throughout the United States.
Delivering $1 Million for Chula Vista University and Research Campus
Last month, I was joined by students and teachers at High Tech High charter school to deliver a giant check for $1 million to Deputy Mayor Rudy Ramirez and Chula Vista City Council Members Steve Castaneda and Pamela Bensoussan for the University Park and Research Center planning and development. Chula Vista High Tech High is located on the city-owned site where community leaders are working to establish a California State University satellite campus along with a new technology park.
This is a hard time for the educational system, but our future prosperity depends on our ability to provide the best opportunities for our youth. Our community will grow stronger when more local students can stay in San Diego's South Bay to further their educations!
Deputy Mayor Ramirez added, "The City has been working diligently on various elements of this project including land use and acquisition, student demographics, transportation, and economic development issues. All of these elements are integral to the project's ultimate success. These federal resources undoubtedly will assist us in bringing the Chula Vista University Park and Research Center to life."
I was able to secure the $1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant through the FY2010 federal appropriations.