Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Oct. 25, 2007
Location: Unknown




S. 2230. A bill to amend title VIII of the Public Health Service Act to expand the nurse student loan program, to establish grant programs to address the nursing shortage, to amend title VII of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide for a nurse faculty pilot project, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, today I am honored to introduce the Nursing Education Opportunities Act. This bill seeks to help alleviate both the nursing shortage faced in hospitals and clinics throughout the country, as well as the faculty shortage in nursing schools that constrains the number of new nurses who can be trained to fill the vacancies in our health facilities.

As most people who have heard me talk about health care know, nurses have a soft spot in my heart. In 1987, I was stricken with a brain aneurysm and spent months recovering at Walter Reed Hospital. The surgeons who operated on me were spectacular and I can never thank them enough. But the nurses who took care of me during my stay at Walter Reed were the embodiment of absolute comfort and unquestioning kindness. Along with the top notch medical care they provided me, the nurses at Walter Reed literally breathed life back into my lungs, washed me, brushed my teeth and went on search missions for the most comfortable pillows available. As I often say, if there are any angels in heaven, they must be nurses.

Unfortunately, right now our country is facing a nursing shortage. The American Hospital Association reported in July 2007 that United States hospitals had an estimated 116,000 registered nurse vacancies as of December 2006. Despite the nurse shortage and efforts to increase the pool of qualified nurses, schools of nursing struggle to increase student capacity. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, AACN, the U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 43,000 qualified applicants in 2006 primarily due to an insufficient number of faculty.

AACN reported in July 2006, a total of 637 faculty vacancies at 329 nursing schools with baccalaureate or graduate programs, or both, across the Nation. Besides the vacancies, schools cited the need to create an additional 55 faculty positions to accommodate student demand. Most of the vacancies, approximately 53.7 percent, were faculty positions requiring a doctoral degree.

The average ages of doctorally prepared nurse faculty holding the ranks of professor, associate professor and assistant professor are 58.6, 55.8, and 51.6 years, respectively. Considering the average age of nurse faculty at retirement is 62.5 years, a wave of nurse faculty retirements is expected in the next decade. In fact, in 2007 the Association of Academic Health Centers surveyed chief executive officers from academic health centers regarding faculty shortages across various health professions. The CEOs rated the nursing faculty shortage as the most severe of all health professions with 81 percent noting the nursing faculty shortage as a problem.

To address this nurse faculty shortage and to get more nurses trained, this bill provides three mechanisms to increase the number of and access to nurse faculty.

First, the bill establishes a grant program to help schools establish doctoral nursing programs. Right now, there are 8 States, including my home State of Delaware, which do not have a doctoral nursing program in their State. This bill allows eligible schools to receive a grant up to $2,000,000 to be used to establish a doctoral degree program. The funds can be used to hire administrators, faculty and staff; retain current faculty; develop doctoral curriculum; repair and expand infrastructures; purchase additional equipment; develop and enhance clinical laboratories; recruit students; establish technology infrastructures; and other investments deemed necessary.

Second, this bill establishes a doctoral nursing consortia pilot project to provide grants to partnerships of schools to allow them to share doctoral faculty and programmatic resources. This would allow schools with a shortage of faculty at the doctoral level to partner with other schools to provide proper education for their students. These grants can be awarded up to $500,000 and can be used to establish technology infrastructures; develop shared doctoral curriculum; hire faculty and staff; retain current faculty; provide travel stipends for nursing faculty who agree to teach nursing courses at consortium schools; provide scholarships for post-doctoral fellows who agree to teach a nursing course within the nursing doctoral curriculum; provide collaborative networks for nursing research; and other investments determined necessary.

Third, I am pleased to include a nurse faculty pilot project that was part of the Nurse Faculty Higher Education Act introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Carolyn McCarthy. This pilot project would provide grants to partnerships between accredited schools of nursing and hospitals or health facilities to fund release time for qualified nurse employees so they can earn a salary while obtaining an advanced degree in nursing with the goal of becoming nurse faculty. In short, this will make it easier for nurses to pursue an advanced degree by allowing them to work part time and retain some of their salary. Many nurses currently cannot afford to leave their jobs to go back to school because they would lose their salaries.

In addition to these three provisions, the bill also amends the Public Health Service Act to provide that, in the case of a nurse faculty shortage, the Secretary of Health and Human Services may obligate more than 10 percent of traineeships through the Advanced Education Nursing Grants for individuals in doctoral degree nursing programs. This is important to help advance nursing education and allow greater funding opportunities for doctoral students.

But while this bill focuses heavily on increasing the number of nurse faculty to allow nursing schools to train more nurses, it also seeks to help nursing students as well.

First, the bill explicitly includes accelerated degree nursing students as eligible for financial assistance through nursing programs in the Public Health Service Act, including the Nursing Student Loan Program. To address the shortage of qualified nurses, schools of nursing have developed accelerated, second-baccalaureate degree programs in nursing. Students in accelerated degree programs are those with a baccalaureate degree in another field who have decided to return to school to get a degree in nursing. The students in these programs have difficulty securing federal funding as this program category is not easily defined. Accelerated nursing degree programs are not typical 4-year baccalaureate degree programs, as they take between 1 and 2 years to complete. However, they are becoming increasingly popular. In 2005, these programs graduated 3,769 students. In 2006 they graduated 5,236--an additional 1,467 nursing graduates in a single year. Hospitals and other health facilities like hiring graduates from accelerated nursing degree programs because they often have demonstrated a record of success and work-ethic that facilitates a more rapid and smooth transition in to the highly complex health care environment. Accelerated nursing degree students are a critical element to meeting this country's nursing needs.

Additionally, it is time to raise the yearly loan amounts available to all nursing students through the Nursing Student Loan Program. This important program, which provides long-term, low interest-rate loans to full-time and half-time financially needy students pursuing a course of study leading to a diploma, associate, baccalaureate or graduate degree in nursing, has not adjusted the maximum yearly loan amounts available for over a decade. Currently, a student can receive a maximum yearly loan of $2,500 for their first 2 years in a nursing school and $4,000 per year during their second 2 years. This bill would adjust these totals to $4,400 in the first 2 years and $7,000 in the second 2 years, respectively. It is time to raise the yearly loan amounts, as the cost of tuition at nursing schools has increased substantially over the past decade.

It is imperative that we in Congress act to help alleviate the nursing shortage and the nurse faculty shortage in this country. Nurses comprise the largest segment of health care providers in this country and they are crucial in ensuring the quality of care that Americans receive. I believe the initiatives contained in the Nursing Education Opportunities Act can help reduce these shortages. The American Academy of Nursing, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Nephrology Nurses' Association, American Nurses Association, American Organization of Nurse Executives, Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses and the National League for Nursing all support this legislation.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. 2230



S. 2237. A bill to fight crime; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President. I rise to mark the introduction of the 2007 Biden Crime Bill because a perfect storm is gathering with respect to crime in America, and we need bold action to get us back on track.

Before I discuss the specifics of my legislation, I want to talk to you about what is feeding this perfect storm. Since 2001, Federal funding for local law enforcement has been slashed by billions of dollars--from about $2,1 billion per year in the nineties to a proposed level of $32 million in 2007. The COPS hiring program has been eliminated completely.

At the same time, President Bush has reassigned more than 1,000 FBI agents from fighting crime to combating terrorism. Certainly, this was necessary, but he has not replaced them. A bitter irony results--we have improved our ability to fight international terrorism, but left our communities here at home less safe from the threat of murderers, rapists, and drug kingpins.

This is the perfect storm: asking local law enforcement to do much more for a growing population while giving them much less--less Federal funding and fewer Federal agents with whom to partner. As a result, local law enforcement has had to give up crime prevention practices, like community policing, in order to stay on top of rising demand. They are doing their level best, but they need more help.

Early stages of the storm are upon us. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports show a rise in violent crime and murder for the second straight year. This hasn't happened since 1994. Last year, crime rose at the highest rate it had in 15 years and this year we add another 1.9 percent increase.

The Police Executive Research Forum reports that the homicide rate rose more than 10 percent in metropolitan areas around the country, like Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Philadelphia. Don't believe the statistics? Just ask your local cops. They will tell you they are seeing more crimes with a higher level of violence.

Back in the nineties we faced a similar crime crisis. In 1994, Congress passed the Crime Bill, and it transformed the Federal approach to fighting crime. It used a three-part system: invest in prevention programs, dedicate Federal support to community-oriented policing, and ensure that offenders serve tough-but-fair prison sentences. It worked. Crime dropped for eight consecutive years. Violent crime and murder rates dropped more than 30 percent.

The bill I introduced today is the most comprehensive crime bill in more than a decade and it builds on the successful approach of the 1994 Crime Bill. It invests more than $6 billion in tried and true prevention programs that recognize that the first step to fighting crime is protecting kids from neglect and abuse and providing them with a stable family, positive early education, and someplace safe and constructive to spend the critical after-school hours.

My bill reauthorizes the COPS program and provides $1.15 billion per year to hire, equip, and train 50,000 new police officers, and hire additional local prosecutors. Study after study has demonstrated the effectiveness of the COPS program, and every major law enforcement agency in the country supports it. It is high time we started funding it again.

In addition, the bill provides funds to hire an additional 1,000 FBI agents dedicated to fighting crime and an additional 500 DEA agents dedicated to dismantling drug trafficking organizations. The Federal Government cannot make the trade-off between fighting crime and terrorism--we owe it to our citizens to do both.

The bill invests more than $1 billion in preventing recidivism by ensuring that when prisoners are released into society, they have the vocational training, the drug treatment, and the housing they need to reintegrate as law-abiding, productive members. Currently, over 650,000 ex-offenders are released from Federal and State prisons each year. Within 3 years of release, two thirds will commit another crime. That is hundreds of thousands of crimes each year, and we need to bring that number down.

Finally, the bill addresses developments in crime fighting and in criminal trade craft. Mr. President, 13 years ago, online sexual predators, Internet copyright infringement, and computer hacking were virtually unknown. Today they are common crimes with real victims. This bill ensures that law enforcement has the resources and legal tools it needs to prevent, investigate, and prosecute such crimes.

The bottom line is that fighting crime is like cutting grass--you stop mowing the lawn and one day you'll look outside and see a real mess. We can't ignore crime and hope it goes away. We've made that mistake over the last 6 years, and our communities are paying the price.

We have to get back to cutting the grass. This legislation takes a comprehensive approach once again to fighting crime. It renews our financial commitment to rebuilding law enforcement capabilities at the Federal, State, and local level. It is a significant step toward making good on one of Congress's most sacred duties to our citizens protecting them from crime and fostering safe communities. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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