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Congressman Bob Filner's Congressional Update: March 2010

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Announcing Funds to the San Diego Association of Governments!

I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded $20.2 million to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.

SANDAG will use the award to complete the development of a 6 lane highway that will connect Otay Mesa and future Otay Mesa East border crossing to I-805.

This project is particularly important to my constituents because it will improve the flow of goods between the United States and Mexico, eliminate substantial truck traffic through residential communities, and improve the regions air quality by lessening congestion and truck idling at the border. The project will also create critically important jobs for the region's economic vitality!

The TIGER grant program was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to spur a national competition for innovative, multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional transportation projects that promise significant economic and environmental benefits to an entire metropolitan area, a region or the nation. Projects funded include improvements to roads, bridges, rail, ports, transit and intermodal facilities.

In total, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced $1.5 billion in TIGER grant awards to fund 51 innovative transportation projects nation-wide. Three other projects in California also received awards for a total of $130 million.

Remembering Black Veterans

Last month, I spoke on the House floor in support of House Concurrent Resolution 238, legislation to recognize the difficult challenges Black veterans faced when returning home after serving in the Armed Forces, their heroic military sacrifices, and their patriotism in fighting for equal rights. The resolution, introduced by Congressman Larry Kissell (D-NC), passed the House of Representatives on February 26, 2010.

My floor statement is below:

Mr. Speaker. I rise in support of House Concurrent Resolution 238, the Critical and Essential Role of Black Veterans in the Civil Rights Movement, sponsored by Mr. Kissell of North Carolina. First, I want to thank my colleagues on the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, particularly Ms. Brown and Ranking Member Buyer for being original co-sponsors and our leadership on both sides of the aisle that helped to get this resolution to the House Floor today. I also want to recognize the National Association for Black Veterans, the NAACP, and the other civil rights organizations for their continued hard work to ensure equality of rights for all persons.

The proposed resolution honors the heroic sacrifices of Black veterans and recognizes the fundamental role that those veterans played in the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement. The resolution also recognizes the difficult challenges that Black veterans faced when returning home after serving in the Armed Forces and also encourages the Department of Veterans Affairs to continue working to eliminate any health and benefit disparities for minority veterans.

I note that this resolution derived from a similar unabridged resolution approved by the NAACP during its Centennial Convention in July of 2009 which I had the privilege to attend and to participate. This resolution represents a small token of gratitude that Congress can provide for these veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country often in the face of tremendous challenges.

As stated succinctly in the tagline applied by filmmaker Fred Kudjo Kuwornu to his documentary entitled Inside Buffalo, which chronicles the fight of the 92nd Division Buffalo soldiers, an all Black segregated combat unit that served in Italy during WWII against Nazi Germany, "they served America, when America was not ready to serve them.' Black soldiers have served and contributed significantly to every conflict in which the United States participated--from the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many served with incredible distinction, earning Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, Medals of Honor, and Service Crosses, just to name a few.

Yet, despite their extraordinary sacrifices to their country, many Black veterans faced tremendous challenges in the fight for civil liberties both at home and while serving. This resolution recognizes these soldiers and patriots who had to fight in both types of war, and helps to memorialize and serve as a testament to their great spirit and determination.

As a member of the Army before becoming the famous baseball player that broke the color barrier, Jackie Robinson once suggested that, "[he] was in two wars, one against the foreign enemy, the other against prejudice at home.' Charles Hamilton Houston who served as a commissioned first lieutenant in the 17th Provisional Training Regiment during World War I, boldly stated after encountering racism, "I made up my mind that if I got through this war, I would study law and use my time fighting for men who could not strike back.' As we know he became a famed civil rights lawyer and was the chief legal strategist behind Brown v. Board of Education.

Seeing this paradox of fighting for the promise of liberty and freedom abroad and experiencing the denial of basic rights at home, Black veterans were often in the forefront of the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement. For instance Civil War veterans later became champions for equal pay in the military, and many World War II and Korean War veterans came home and organized voter registration drives.

Mr. Speaker, by their heroic deeds, Black veterans brought deeper meaning to the word "Democracy.' Their exemplary actions and activism on behalf of civil rights emboldened many others to participate in the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights organizations and activities--and ultimately transformed the face of democracy in America.

I am pleased to report that progress has been made. Today, Black Americans who were once denied the right to serve side-by-side in battle with their other American counterparts, have achieved some of the highest ranks in our Military and government--Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., the first Black general in the Army, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. the first Black four star general in the Air Force, who led the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, and General Colin Powell, the first Black Joint Chief of Staff, just to name a few.

However, unfortunately today, Black veterans are more likely to be homeless, are more likely to receive less than honorable discharges, and also suffer from disparities in treatment and access for many chronic illnesses such as hypertension, kidney dysfunction, respiratory disease, substance abuse, diabetes, cancer, as well as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and other mental illnesses.

Mr. Speaker, I wholeheartedly urge passage of this resolution, in the hope that it will increase awareness of the noble contributions of Black veterans to our nation-- particularly to the advancement of the civil rights and liberties that all Americans enjoy today. Additionally, I urge that VA recognize the unique struggle of many minority veterans and accordingly ensure that they receive all of the benefits and care that they have earned and deserve.

Passing this resolution is the least that we can do for these veterans who have done so much for our country. Thank you.

Honoring the Legacy of Cesar Chavez

I recently co-sponsored legislation to create a federal holiday to honor Cesar E. Chavez. Cesar Chavez Day is currently celebrated on March 31st as a holiday in nine states, including California.

Since coming to Congress in the early 1990s, I have fought to bring greater recognition to Cesar Chavez. We in Congress must make certain that the movement Cesar Chavez began and the timeless lessons of justice and fairness he taught are preserved and honored in our national conscience.

Cesar Chavez spent his entire life working to help migrant farm workers and others suffering under unjust labor practices. By following the principles of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez was able to bring power to the powerless. He was not only a hero to Mexican-Americans but to all Americans.

Cesar was the son of migrant farm workers and dedicated his life to fighting for the human rights and dignity of farm laborers. He was born on March 31, 1927, on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona, and died on April 23, 1993. Over the course of his life, Cesar Chavez' work inspired millions and made him a major force in American history.

In 1962, Cesar Chavez and his family founded the National Farm Workers Association, which organized thousands of farm workers to confront one of the most powerful industries in our nation. He inspired them to join together and non-violently demand safe and fair working conditions.

Through the use of a grape boycott, he was able to secure the first union contracts for farm workers in this country. These contracts provided farm workers with the basic services that most workers take for granted, services such as clean drinking water and sanitary facilities. Because of his fight to enforce child labor laws, farm workers could also be certain that their children would not be working side by side with them and would instead attend the migrant schools he helped to establish. In addition, Cesar Chavez made the world aware of the exposure to dangerous chemicals that farm workers and consumers face every day.

As a labor leader, he earned great support from unions and elected officials across the country. The movement he began continues today as the United Farm Workers of America.

Cesar Chavez' influence extends far beyond agriculture. He was instrumental in forming the Community Service Organization, one of the first civic action groups in the Mexican-American communities of California and Arizona.

He worked in urban areas, organized voter registration drives and brought complaints against mistreatment by government agencies. He taught community members how to deal with governmental, school and financial institutions and empowered many to seek further advancement in education and politics. There are countless stories of judges, engineers, lawyers, teachers, church leaders, organizers and other hardworking professionals who credit Cesar Chavez as the inspiring force in their lives.

During a time of great social upheaval, he was sought out by groups from all walks of life and all religions to help bring calm with his non-violent practices. In his fight for peace, justice, respect and self-determination, he gained the admiration and respect of millions of Americans and most Members of this House of Representatives.

Cesar Chavez will be remembered for his tireless commitment to improve the plight of farm workers, children and the poor throughout the United States and for the inspiration his heroic efforts gave to so many Americans.

Obama Budget 2011: Investing in America's Veterans

Last month, I conducted a hearing to address the Obama Administration's budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Under a new law, the Administration is able to request two budgets for the VA: one to provide fiscal 2011 total funding and another to provide fiscal 2012 funding for certain VA medical accounts.

For fiscal year 2011, the Administration has proposed a VA budget of $125 billion, an $11 billion increase from the 2010 enacted budget. The Administration is requesting $51.5 billion in resources for VA medical care, an increase of $4.1 billion over fiscal year 2010 levels. For fiscal year 2012, the Administration has requested a 5 percent increase in funding above the amounts requested for fiscal year 2011.

After years of working to provide adequate VA budgets, I am pleased that the recommendations of the Independent Budget have been addressed. I am impressed by this robust budget request and its emphasis on funding many of the priorities of this Committee, including addressing the plague of homelessness, rural health care access, and the mental health care needs of our veterans. This budget addresses the problems faced by our newer veterans while not forgetting the sacrifices and service of veterans from previous conflicts. I am very pleased with the direction taken by President Obama and VA Secretary Shinseki.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki presented an overview of the 2011 budget for VA and provided detail on key investments in "high priority performance goals," which include reducing the claims backlog, eliminating veteran homelessness, automating the G.I. Bill benefits system, establishing a virtual lifetime electronic record, improving mental health care, and deploying a Veterans Relationship Management System. Secretary Shinseki highlighted specific budget proposals necessary to transform VA into a 21st century organization and provided updates on current projects, including the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and re-engineering the Veterans Benefits Administration into a paperless system.

Rest assured that this Committee will be working closely with our counterparts in Congress and with the Administration as the process moves forward to ensure that veterans have the medical care resources they need. Under the Secretary Shinseki's leadership, we are able to build on the historic past increases in funding and better meet the needs of America's veterans.

Supporting the Establishment of Centers of Excellence for Green Infrastructure

I recently co-sponsored the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act (H.R. 4202), legislation that would establish centers of excellence for green infrastructure.

We need to encourage water conservation in Southern California. These centers of excellence will be models for communities and businesses in sustainable growth and water usage.

Many water resources in the United States are declining, particularly in urban areas. This decline of water resources is the result of an increase in population, water consumption, and impermeable surfaces; as well as the negative effects of urbanization, commercial and industrial activities, and climate change. An October 2008 study by the National Research Council found that some of the benefits of green infrastructure include increased water supplies, the creation of green jobs, cost savings, and a reduction of stormwater runoff, surface water discharge, stormwater pollution, and stormwater flows.

Honoring the Life of Miep Gies, Who Preserved the Diary of Anne Frank

Last month, I co-sponsorsed H.R. 1074, a resolution that honors the life and courageous spirit of Miep Gies, who helped sustain Anne Frank's family while they were in hiding and preserved her diary for future generations.

Were it not for Miep Gies, the world would never have met Anne Frank. The humanitarian actions of Gies more than fifty years ago in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam have had a special and enduring impact.

Hermine "Miep" Gies was born to a German Catholic family in Vienna, Austria, on February 15, 1909, and moved to the Netherlands when she was 11. In 1933 she took a job as an office assistant to Otto Frank, owner of an Amsterdam pectin manufacturing company and father of Anne Frank. After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Mr. Frank, his wife Edith, and his daughters Margot and Anne went into hiding. For two years Miep, her husband Jan Gies, and three other employees of Otto Frank, risked their lives to supply the Franks with food and other provisions. After the Gestapo captured the Franks, Miep found the pages of Anne's diary and hid them for safekeeping. When Otto Frank, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and returned to Amsterdam, learned that his daughters died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, Miep gave Anne's diary to Mr. Frank.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is one of the world's most widely read books and serves as an inspiration to countless people. For her courage during the occupation of the Netherlands and her dedication in keeping the memories of those times alive, Miep Gies received many honors including knighthood from Germany and the Netherlands.

Co-Sponsoring the International Violence Against Women Act

I am proud to announce that I am an original co-sponsor of H.R. 4594, the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA).

The human rights violations against women must be stopped. The United States has an opportunity to raise this issue in its diplomatic work and have an impact on the suffering of millions of women around the world.

IVAWA is the first large U.S. governmental initiative aimed at reducing violence against women and girls internationally. The bill creates structural mechanisms in the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development and requires the creation of a comprehensive strategy to combat violence against women and girls abroad. Humanitarian funding would be increased and updated mechanisms for responding to emergency outbreaks of violence against women and girls would be implemented. Combating violence against women is a preventative step to ensuring stability around the world.

President Signs Veterans'
Emergency Care Fairness Act

Last month, I praised President Barack Obama's signing of H.R. 1377, the Veterans' Emergency Care Fairness Act of 2009. The new law expands veteran eligibility to require the VA to pay for emergency treatment for a non-service connected condition if a third-party is not responsible for paying for the full cost of care. The bill clarifies that the VA only pay the difference between the amounts paid by the third-party and the VA allowable amount, and is not responsible for copayments the veteran owes to the third party.

Under current law, veterans are not reimbursed for medical costs when they receive emergency care from non-VA medical facilities if they have insurance that pays either full or a portion of the emergency care. This creates an inequity that penalizes veterans with third-party insurance and burdens veterans with paying the remaining amount not covered by insurance. I am pleased that President Obama signed this common sense bill into law in order to clarify the reimbursement responsibilities of the VA, so veterans can focus on their recovery, instead of being overburdened with financial concerns.

In addition to reimbursing veterans for emergency care in the future, the bill allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide retroactive reimbursements for care received prior to the passage of this bill. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this legislation will cover approximately 700 future claims per year and as many as 2,000 veterans retroactively.

I introduced H.R. 1377 on March 6, 2009, which became Public Law 111-137 on February 1, 2010.

Joining the Building Industry Coalition for Economic Recovery to Protest Banks

The Building Industry Coalition for Economic Recovery and I joined together in Downtown San Diego in protest of several large banks who have failed to alter their lending practices that would have helped many small businesses and homeowners. I encourage the public to boycott banks like Bank of America who are resisting federal legislative reform that would lower the risk of another financial meltdown.

Constituent Mail Bag

From San Diego:

I want more and better choices when it comes to television and internet offerings, which is why I'm urging you to reject the takeover of NBC/Universal by the cable giant Comcast.

This merger would mean that one giant media conglomerate would have massive control over news, information, entertainment and cultural programming.

I urge you to put consumers like me first when considering this merger, and reject it if it hasthe potential to harm my pocketbook or my access to diverse content.

Congressman Filner replies:

Thank you for contacting me about the proposed takeover of NBC/Universal by Comcast.

I wholeheartedly agree with you! That is why I have signed onto a letter to the FCC and to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on them to reject the takover.

I appreciate your advocacy on this important issue.

Website of the Month: The Official Tourism Site of Washington D.C.

Spring time is here, which means many of you will venture to our national capital. For the latest information on events, attractions, and to create your own experience during your visit to Washington, D.C. visit: - Official Tourism Site of Washington, DC

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