In her first year in office as U.S. Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand traveled to all of New York's 62 counties, meeting with local business leaders, elected officials, community advocates, local law enforcement, educational leaders and everyday New York families -- listening to their concerns and pushing her agenda to create jobs and improve the lives of New Yorkers struggling in this difficult economy.
Senator Gillibrand spent her first year in office traveling from Buffalo to Brooklyn and Watertown to West Babylon, working hard every day to deliver what New Yorkers need most. As she traveled across the state, Senator Gillibrand held more than 200 events including 17 "Senate at Your Supermarkets", 17 economic development roundtables, and 28 visits to key military and manufacturing facilities and educational and cultural institutions.
Responding directly to the ideas raised by her constituents, Senator Gillibrand has sent out more than 741,000 letters to date, answering inquiries from e-mails, calls, letters and visits. The Senator has closed more than 1,200 constituent cases, cutting through bureaucratic red tape to assist New York seniors, veterans, students, and constituents on a wide range of issues, from fixing health insurance problems to accessing unemployment benefits.
Fighting to ensure that New York is getting its fair share from Washington, Senator Gillibrand secured more than $306 million in federal funding and $18 billion, with an additional $13 billion expected, from the President's Economic Recovery Plan for programs across New York.
"It is truly an honor and privilege to represent New York in the U.S. Senate," Senator Gillibrand said. "Even in the face of these difficult times, we are laying the foundation to rebuild our economy, creating new, good-paying jobs right here at home and protecting New York taxpayers. I am in public service to give voice to those who don't have one. Big corporations already have plenty of representation in Washington. I want to represent those who have the least, but need the most. Whether it be a family struggling to make ends meet, a veteran looking for work, or a small business unable to access the capital they need to grow, everyday New Yorkers need a Senator who is fighting on behalf of them. That's what I intend to do every single day."
Cutting Taxes to Create Jobs. Senator Gillibrand is introducing legislation that would create a job creation tax cut to help businesses expand and get New Yorkers back to work. The Congressional Budget Office reports that a tax cut for firms that create new jobs would be the quickest, most effective measure we can take right now to create new jobs. According to the Economic Policy Institute estimates, a measure like this could help create more than a million jobs within the next year. Specifically, Senator Gillibrand's legislation would provide businesses a tax cut worth 15 percent of the cost of a new job. Small businesses would receive an additional 5 percent -- allowing them to deduct 20 percent of their increased payroll costs. The tax cut would be structured based on a firm's quarterly payroll increase over the previous year, meaning companies would also have an incentive to expand part-time workers to full-time, or eliminate salary cuts.
Providing Loans to Small Business. In the past 15 years, small businesses generated nearly two-thirds of all new jobs created in the U.S. -- yet during the economic crisis, small business owners have struggled to access the credit they need to survive. Senator Gillibrand's Small Business Lending Enhancement Act would spur small business growth and create jobs by increasing access to loans from credit unions. By law, credit unions are required to limit member business lending to 12.25 percent of the credit union's total assets. Senator Gillibrand's bill would raise that cap to 25 percent of total assets, and increase the minimum business loan subject to the cap from $50,000 to $250,000. By increasing lending for the 461 credit unions across New York, this bill could help create more than 7,000 new jobs right here without costing taxpayers a dime.
Holding The Line On Property Taxes. One of the biggest concerns among families across New York is high property taxes. Community leaders express frustration about finding ways to finance expensive infrastructure projects and handling unfunded federal mandates. As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Senator Gillibrand is playing a leading role on the Water Infrastructure Financing Act. Senator Gillibrand helped secure $20 billion nationwide for the Clean Water Revolving Fund over the next five years. Last year, New York received just over $75 million from the Clean Water Revolving Fund. Under this legislation, New York would receive $244 million next year -- an increase of more than $168 million dollars. She is also fighting to have more federal infrastructure funding sent to New York through the upcoming jobs bill in order to reduce the local tax burden for things like water, sewer and transit costs.
Senator Gillibrand also introduced bipartisan legislation that would expand and make permanent federal property tax relief for New Yorkers who do not itemize their federal tax deductions. The enhanced deduction would offer new tax relief for up to 30 million homeowners across the country. The current tax code favors filers who itemize, because it allows taxpayers to take advantage of property tax deductions that are unavailable to non-itemizing taxpayers. The benefit of this legislation would vary according to the value of their home and their tax rate.
Fostering Innovation.Supporting entrepreneurs and business incubators is one of the best investments to grow our high-tech sector. According to the Economic Development Administration (EDA), every $10,000 invested in business incubators has the potential to create up to nearly 70 new local jobs. Senator Gillibrand introduced the Business Incubator Promotion Act, which would provide additional flexibility and funding to support incubators, particularly in areas where there is high unemployment.
To foster regional economic growth, Senator Gillibrand is pushing the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act that would award competitive industry or sector partnership grants from $250,000 to $2.5 million to eligible entities to develop cluster-based economic development strategies. This funding is critical to connecting regional businesses, suppliers, research and development entities, education and training providers, and associated institutions in a particular field to fulfill regional workforce needs and grow regional economies.
Science parks hold the potential to make major breakthroughs in academic research that translate to promising new business ventures and new jobs. Senator Gillibrand cosponsored the Building a Stronger America Act that would increase federal grants to $750,000 and guarantees of up to 80 percent on loans exceeding $10 million to build new science parks and expand existing ones. Additionally, Senator Gillibrand is calling for a permanent extension to the Research and Development tax credit to spur private investment in research and innovation to grow our high-tech sector for the long term.
America faces a stark shortage of math and science teachers. In fact, the U.S. will need an additional 283,000 math and science teachers in secondary schools by 2015. Senator Gillibrand introduced the National STEM Education Tax Incentive for Teachers Act that would provide STEM teachers who work in low-income, high-need schools a tax credit to cover 10 percent of their undergraduate tuition - up to $1,000 each year. STEM teachers in schools serving children with disabilities would be able to deduct up to $1,500 each year. To graduate the amount of students we need in math and science to compete in the high-tech economy, Senator Gillibrand is introducing the Undergraduate Scholarships for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Act that would establish a new program under the National Science Foundation to award 2,500 undergraduate scholarships each year for students' full tuition during their last two years at a state institution.
Protecting A Woman's Right To Choose. Senator Gillibrand was a leader in the effort to defeat the Stupak Amendment in the Senate health care bill. The Stupak provision included in the House version of health care reform would have banned reproductive coverage in all plans with subsidized customers, going way beyond existing law and would effectively prevent many women from purchasing insurance with reproductive care even with their own money. This would have put the health of millions of women and young girls at grave risk.While proponents of the measure say it is a continuation of current federal law, the amendment would, in fact, bring about significant change and dramatically limit reproductive health care in this country. This is government invading the personal lives of many Americans, establishing for the first time restrictions on people who pay for their own private health insurance.
While Senator Gillibrand believes it is important to reduce abortions in this country, decrease unintended pregnancies and promote adoption, the Stupak amendment would effectively ban reproductive coverage in all health insurance plans in the new system, whether they be public or private. This anti-choice measure poses greater restriction on low-income women and those who are more likely to receive some kind of subsidy, and less likely to be able to afford a supplemental insurance policy. Denying low-income women reproductive coverage in this way is discriminatory and dangerous. Senator Gillibrand was disappointed by the Nelson compromise language, but defeating Stupak in the Senate version mattered.
Fighting To Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. Senator Gillibrand is committed to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell.In July, Senator Gillibrand built support for an 18-month moratorium on enforcement of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." This set off weeks of intense discussion within the Senate on the merits of such a proposal. Several Senators came out publically in support of repealing the policy, including the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Senator Gillibrand assessed support among her colleagues for the measure, but did not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
However, due to her work, Senator Gillibrand secured a commitment from the Chairman Carl Levin of the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold a hearing on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on Tuesday, February 2, 2010. This was the first Senate hearing on the policy since 1993 -- a major step toward the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Nearly 13,000 service members have been discharged for their sexual orientation since 1993 when the policy was first instituted. The Government Accountability Office estimates that the policy cost the Armed Forces approximately $95.4 million in recruiting costs and $95.1 million for training replacements for the 9,488 troops that were discharged from 1994 through 2003.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama renewed his pledge to repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell." And in Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, the nation's top two Defense officials, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, both stood with Senator Gillibrand calling for the repeal of this unjust, harmful policy.
Tackling Child Obesity. As the first New York Senator in 40 years to sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Gillibrand is providing New Yorkers a strong voice as Congress debates how to improve the health of children and the food they eat each day. Senator Gillibrand authored legislation that would ban trans-fats in public schools. Any school that receives federal reimbursements would be required to remove food containing trans fat from the school.
Senator Gillibrand introduced legislation that would expand USDA authority to regulate all food served in schools, including vending machines. Senators Gillibrand's bill would force all food served on school grounds during school hours to meet federal nutritional standards. This legislation will strengthen regulations to enable the USDA to eliminate sugary sodas and candy from school during school hours, so that children are more likely to eat the fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious food served in cafeterias.
Senator Gillibrand also introduced legislation to increase the federal reimbursement rate for schools participating in the National School Lunch program. The current reimbursement rates schools receive do not even keep pace with the rate of inflation. With the Child Nutrition Act set to expire, Senator Gillibrand will work to increase school reimbursements by 70 cents - from $2.57 per meal to $3.27 per meal - helping schools afford healthier meals. By providing more funding for school lunches, schools would have more resources to improve the nutritional content of meals and provide more fresh fruits and vegetables to children. Senator Gillibrand's plan would also provide targeted relief to high cost areas like New York City and other communities around the state, including Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Ulster, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Dutchess Counties.
Rewriting The Nation's Outdated Food Safety Laws. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year an estimated 87 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food, 371,000 are hospitalized with food-borne illness, and 5,700 die from food-related disease. Senator Gillibrand is working hard to strengthen inspection and surveillance, improve recall response, and improve public education.
To reduce the risk of E. coli ending up in the hamburgers and other food we eat, Senator Gillibrand authored the E. Coli Eradication Act that would require all plants that process ground beef to test their products regularly before it is ground and again before it is combined with other beef or ingredients, such as spices, and packaged. If ground beef is found to be contaminated, the bill requires the company to properly dispose of the contaminated batch, or cook the meat to a temperature that destroys the E. coli. Senator Gillibrand's legislation will include appropriate penalties for companies that fail to implement testing mechanisms at their facilities. Ground beef isn't the only food infecting people with E. coli and salmonella -- fruits and vegetables can also be contaminated. Senator Gillibrand is pushing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act which would make comprehensive improvements to the safety of fruits and vegetables, and help prevent outbreaks before they start.
To make sure that tainted food items being pulled from grocery store shelves never end up on cafeteria lunch trays, Senator Gillibrand introduced the Safe Food for Schools Act whichthat would protect the 31 million schoolchildren who participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs by requiring federal agencies to issue proper alerts to schools. For additional improvements to our food recall processes, Senator Gillibrand is working to give the FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of a food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall the produce upon FDA's request. Right now, recalls are only voluntary.
To make sure information about food-borne illnesses and recalls is distributed accurately and efficiently, Senator Gillibrand authored the Consumer Recall Notification Act that would direct the Secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA, as well as the Commissioner of the FDA to improve communication among states, state and local health departments, food distributors and vendors to provide consumers with faster and more complete information.
Securing Emergency Relief For New York's Family Dairy Farms. Senator Gillibrand joined 28 of her colleagues in successfully lobbying to include $350 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help New York farmers struggling during the diary crisis in the final Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The agreement included $60 million in cheese and dairy product purchases for food banks and other nutrition and feeding programs, and $290 million in direct payments to dairy farmers that was paid out in December 2009. Senator Gillibrand fought to retain a low poundage cap, and was able to achieve a big win for family-owned dairy farms in New York.
Senator Gillibrand also worked with other dairy leaders in the Senate, including Senators Kohl (D-WI) and Leahy (D-VT) to convince USDA to take emergency action to increase dairy product support prices. This has helped to stop the price of milk from falling further, and put more money in farmers' pockets.
Senator Gillibrand is committed to changing the way the U.S. sets milk prices. As the chairwoman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Domestic & Foreign Marketing, Inspection, & Plant & Animal Health, Senator Gillibrand held a field hearing in Batavia, New York that focused on identifying the major problems of the current dairy pricing system and determining effective solutions moving forward. She also held a second hearing in Washington, D.C. to bring the issues in the dairy industry to the attention of her colleagues. Senator Gillibrand hopes to work with stakeholders and economists to develop a proposal before the next Farm Bill is written in 2012.
Cracking Down On Illegal Guns. This fall, Senator Gillibrand and Representative McCarthy unveiled the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2009, which will empower local, state, and federal law enforcement to investigate and prosecute gun traffickers and their entire criminal networks, while protecting responsible, law-abiding gun owners. The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act makes it illegal to traffick or assist in the trafficking of a firearm, making it unlawful to deliver or receive two or more firearms where the individual knows or has reason to believe that the firearms are being, or will be, used in a felony. The legislation establishes stiff penalties that are a much-needed deterrent to gun trafficking. Under this bill, traffickers could face up to twenty years in prison and be fined a significant sum of money.
The Attorney General of the United States and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are empowered to impose heightened restrictions, levy tough financial penalties, and suspend or revoke the license of any corrupt gun dealer. Corrupt gun dealers will be subject to a license suspension of up to six months and a fine of up to $2,500 per violation. This is the first time that the levying of civil penalties will be widely available as a deterrent for corrupt gun dealers. This bill also provides ATF with the resources that it desperately needs to inspect all federally licensed gun dealers and further investigate high-risk gun dealers.
Finally, the legislation upholds the Constitution and protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Specifically, the bill provides a defense for an individual seller who obtains a background check on the person to whom he or she is selling prior to the sale. This serves to protect individual gun owners who make a good faith effort to ensure that they are not selling their firearm to a person who is prohibited from possessing those guns. This bill does not provide any new regulations on individuals who wish to sell or give their firearms as a gift to law-abiding family members, friends, or neighbors. It creates an incentive to conduct a background check before the gun is exchanged. It also exempts executors from prosecution under this legislation if they are carrying out the provisions of a will.