n June 7, I signed onto a letter to the Committee on Agriculture, urging them to include provisions in the upcoming Farm Bill which encourageand support rural farms and farmers. Among these provisions are the immensely popular Farm to School Program, as well as the EBT system (which allows individuals to use nutrition benefits when purchasing food directly from farmers), rural development programs, organic crop insurance, and livestock policies which make it easier for small farmers to access appropriate slaughterhouses. These provisions make important investments in small and midsize farm businesses, as well as having positive environmental and public health benefits and I will continue to urge their inclusion in the Farm Bill.
On June 7, I also signed on as a cosponsor of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which would make ending violence against women an integral part of US foreign policy. The bill would increase funding for programs that advance this goal and would particularly strengthen the State Department's ability to prevent and respond to violence against women in conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies.
The same day, I joined 63 of my colleagues from both houses of Congress in writing to the Department of Health and Human Services, urging them to continue their pilot project assessing alternative blood donor deferral criteria for men who have sex with men. Policies in place since the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s currently ban any man who has had sex with another man (even once) from donating blood for life -- an overreaction in this day and age. Advances in blood screening techniques and increasingly desperate calls from the nation's blood banks have chipped away at the need for this ban, and finally rendered it unsupportable. The alternatives which this pilot project will advance open the possibility of allowing healthy gay and bisexual men to donate blood while maintaining the safety of our nation's blood supply.
Also on June 7, I became a cosponsor of H.R. 5749, the Arms Sales Responsibility Act, which would only allow arms sales to foreign governments if the President certifies that the purchasing government is not committing gross violations of human rights or supporting armed groups that recruit or use child soldiers. I believe that this is a principle every country should observe, which is why I joined 22 colleagues in a letter about this matter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Ambassador the UN Susan Rice on June 11. The letter urges the US to take a stand for human rights at the UN's upcoming negotiations for a global arms trade treaty by banning the sale of weapons and ammunition to countries that are likely to use them to commit human rights abuses.
On June 8, I became a cosponsor of H.R. 3352, which would establish a Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund and allow individual taxpayers to designate on their tax returns a portion of any overpayment on their part to be given to the Fund to provide services to homeless veterans. Massachusetts has seen a 21% decline in veteran homelessness over the last five years, but we must make every effort to eliminate it completely.
On June 13, I became cosponsor of H.R. 4287, which expands the definition of homeless veterans to include those fleeing from domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or other dangerous or life threatening conditions in their current housing situation. This small adjustment to current law would be an important step towards protecting veterans and their families from domestic violence, as it would allow these families to receive the same benefits that other homeless veterans are eligible for.
On June 19, I joined my fellow members of the Massachusetts delegation in a letter to the House Committee on Agriculture, urging them to protect the current level of funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2012 Farm Bill. SNAP not only helps hungry families, it is an extremely effective form of local economic stimulus -- for every $1.00 invested in benefits, SNAP generates $1.73 in economic activity. I will continue to support funding for this most essential program as the House considers the Farm Bill.
On June 19, I also voted for the inclusion of the Moran Amendment in the Agriculture Appropriations bill. This amendment prevents funding for USDA inspections of horse slaughter facilities, effectively eliminating horse slaughter in the United States. More than 80% of the American public opposes the industrial slaughter of horses, and I will work with Congressman Moran to see that this language remains in the final Agriculture Appropriations bill.
On June 22, I joined a bipartisan group of 58 members of Congress in sending a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission urging them to release rules on conflict minerals and resource extraction. By mandating more disclosure, the SEC can provide much needed transparency which will help developing countries to fight corruption and American consumers and investors to make more informed choices about what to buy and where to invest. These rules were called for in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform act, and were supposed to be released back in April of 2011.
On June 29, Congress passed a Highway bill with a provision included to keep the interest rate on subsidized student loans at 3.4% for another full year. Had Congress not acted, rates would have doubled. I was pleased to see a resolution reached which protected students and their families during these difficult financial times. I also pleased that the bill reauthorizes surface transportation programs for a full 27 months, which will help states to plan and to make badly-needed repairs to their local roads, rail and transit systems. In addition to putting construction workers back on the job, these monies help all of us get to work safely and in a timely manner.