U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) Washington, D.C. today released the following statement in anticipation of the State of the Union address tonight by President Barack Obama.
"Tonight we reflect on a year of legislative changes spearheaded by our President and championed by many of our Democratic leaders in Congress. In one year this country has taken a big step in moving forward and out of one of the worst economic crises this country has seen since the Great Depression.
"Taking action right away, this Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This is a $787 Billion program which has been used to build infrastructure and create jobs in communities all over our country, including south Texas. Putting money back into Main Street was and is the goal. Stopping the loss of jobs and creating new ones is of the utmost importance. This program will continue to help our country come back from this deep recession that was left at this country's doorstep by the previous administration.
"I supported the "Jobs for Main Street" bill passed by the House this past December because it will fund infrastructure projects that both put Americans to work and spur growth in the broader economy. It will also increase unemployment insurance, health care assistance, and other emergency programs for families struggling the most this winter--programs that are a direct and powerful economic stimulus.
"We must always invest in our children for they will be the ones who will keep our country great. But they can only do that by receiving a good education. President Obama said he would like to see our country lead the world in college graduates by the year 2020. As you know, we have an alarming dropout rate in the Rio Grande Valley and across the state of Texas. In some schools, we are losing up to 50% of our students. To address our nation's dropout crisis, I have been working closely with Chairman George Miller and my colleagues on the Education and Labor Committee on the "Graduation Promise Act" and the "Graduation For All Act". Investing much needed resources in our lowest performing and high-need schools is critical if we are to close the achievement gap.
"In the past year, our committee has done tremendous work to make higher education more affordable and accessible. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness, I have been working with Chairman Miller and my colleagues on the Education and Labor Committee on H.R. 3221, The "Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act". I am pleased to say this very important bill was passed by the House of Representatives this past September. This landmark legislation embraces President Obama's education priorities and will be the largest investment ever in higher education when enacted. The "Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act" provides mandatory funds to expand federal financial aid programs and increases Pell Grants to $6,900 by the year 2019. The bill also invests $10 Billion for our nation's community colleges to prepare students and workers with the skills to access 21st century jobs. Money should not be a barrier for your children to attend college. H.R. 3221 makes a landmark investment of $2.55 Billion in Minority-Serving Institutions, including $1 Billion for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) like UT Pan American and Coastal Bend College and provides students with the support they need to stay in school and pursue degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.
"To help students who have taken out student loans, the President is proposing to cap borrower's monthly federal student loan payments from the current 15% to 10% of their discretionary funds and forgiving any remaining debt after 20 years of payments, rather than the current 25 years. This proposal improves a program called Income Based Repayment (IBR). Two- thirds of four-year college graduates in 2008 left school with an average of more than $23,000 in student loan debt.
"While there will be necessary freezes on spending this coming year, President Obama has made it clear there will be no spending freezes when it comes to the education of our children.
"In Congress, I have worked with my colleagues on the Education and Labor Committee to make investments in high-quality education programs for low-income students. I am quite pleased that President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have made early childhood education a high priority for the administration. Reportedly, $4 Billion is proposed for the next fiscal year to revamp programs such as "No Child Left Behind" and "Race To The Top". Overall this would be a 6.2% rise in spending on education.
"Congress is ready to pass legislation that will strengthen our middle class families. This means voting for child care tax credits for families who make less than $85,000 a year. This is a time when most families are having to take care of their children and their parents. There must be new initiatives to support elder care for seniors, and respite for their caregivers. We must make it easier for hard working people to save for their retirement through voluntary Automatic IRAs for workers without access to existing retirement plans through their jobs, larger tax credits to match retirement savings for millions of additional workers, and new safeguards to protect retirement savings.
"We are ready to continue to beef up our economy by creating more jobs through investments, tax cuts, and incentives for small businesses.
"One of the most important matters challenges remaining is health care reform. 47 percent of the residents living in my district do not have health insurance. Healthcare in critical condition in south Texas. I feel we must move forward on Heathcare Reform and I am hopeful that the members of Congress will agree a plan that will be an improvement over the current system that is not working for the people of South Texas.
"I do want to mention that Congress passed the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in February of 2009 to cover 4 million more lower-income children. This is a start in the right direction for Healthcare reform.
"We as a nation must stand strong against those who wish to harm our country and U.S. citizens around the world. I support President Obama in his decisions to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and to wind down the conflict in Iraq. We are all in full support of our nation's servicemen and women who are protecting us worldwide.
"We were dealt a heavy blow coming into this year. We inherited what some thought was an insurmountable debt, but we have emerged under new leadership with a new direction and with a set plan to make our country strong again. I do want to make mention of another very important accomplishment that happened in President Obama's first year in office. He successfully nominated Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice to serve on the Supreme Court. Not too long ago this could never have happened. President Obama promised changes, and they are all changes for the good of our country and our citizens. I look forward to working with President Obama and my colleagues to build on our efforts and get our nation through these challenging economic times."