Tuesday, October 17, 2017

White House slams decision to block travel ban

Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The White House released this statement after a Hawaii Judge blocked implementation of Trump's latest travel ban:

"Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the President’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States. The Department of Justice will vigorously defend the President’s lawful action. The proclamation restricting travel was issued after an extensive worldwide security review by the Secretary of Homeland Security, and following consultation by the President with members of the Cabinet, including the Secretaries of Homeland Security, State, and Defense and the Attorney General. The entry restrictions in the proclamation apply to countries based on their inability or unwillingness to share critical information necessary to safely vet applications, as well as a threat assessment related to terrorism, instability, and other grave national security concerns. These restrictions are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our Nation. We are therefore confident that the Judiciary will ultimately uphold the President’s lawful and necessary action and swiftly restore its vital protections for the safety of the American people. "

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The Latest: White House slams decision to block travel ban
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Representatives Smith and Jayapal Call for Reforms to Deeply Flawed Immigration Detention System

Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) convened local stakeholders in support of the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act to dramatically reform the injustices in our current immigration detention system. At present, the detention system is driven by private, for-profit corporations that benefit from increased detention efforts, like The GEO Group which operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. This bill moves to end the use of private facilities; repeal mandatory detention; and restore due process, oversight, accountability and transparency to the immigration detention system.

“We must fix the injustices in our broken immigration detention system,” said Congressman Adam Smith. “As the Trump administration continues to push a misguided and dangerous immigration agenda, we need to ensure fair treatment and due process for immigrants and refugees faced with detention. This legislation will address some of the worst failings of our immigration policy, and restore integrity and humanity to immigration proceedings.”

“The high moral cost of our inhumane immigration detention system is reprehensible. Large, private corporations operating detention centers are profiting off the suffering of men, women and children. We need an overhaul,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “It’s clear that the Trump administration is dismantling the few protections in place for detained immigrants even as he ramps up enforcement against parents and vulnerable populations. This bill addresses the most egregious problems with our immigration detention system. It’s Congress’ responsibility to step up and pass this bill.”

In addition to repealing mandatory detention, a policy that often results in arbitrary and indefinite detention, the legislation creates a meaningful inspection process at detention facilities to ensure they meet the government’s own standards. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish legally enforceable civil detention standards in line with those adopted by the American Bar Association. With disturbing track records of abuse and neglect, DHS has a responsibility to ensure that facilities are held accountable for the humane treatment of those awaiting immigration proceedings.

Individuals held in our immigration detention system are subject to civil law, but are often held in conditions identical to prisons. In many cases, detained people are simply awaiting their day in court. To correct the persistent failures of due process, the legislation requires the government to show probable cause to detain people, and implements a special rule for primary caregivers and vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and people with serious medical and mental health issues.

“The immigrant detention and prison industrial complex breaks down the mental, emotional, and psychosocial development of our communities in various ways. I saw this firsthand when my family member was detained. I believe the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act provides transformative provisions that we have been working toward, to move the immigrant rights movement forward,” said Yvette Maganya, a OneAmerica youth leader and the niece of a survivor of the Northwest Detention Center. “I’ve seen the toll detention conditions have in our community. Our communities are being jailed in inhumane conditions with no accountability. Often they are jailed not because of what they did, but to fulfill cruel, arbitrary quotas. It is wrong to jail immigrants indefinitely with no accountability or oversight. This is why we need the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act.”

“We are grateful for the leadership of Representatives Smith and Jayapal in ensuring that the rights and dignity of all peoples are respected. NWIRP supports the ‘Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017’ that they have introduced and see it as a critical step toward making our immigration detention system more humane and more consistent with fundamental American values,” said Jorge L. Barón of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

“The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act is a crucial piece of legislation that introduces a wave of accountability that we desperately need. This officially puts the Federal government on notice that we will no longer tolerate the rampant disregard for human life,” said Victoria Mena of Colectiva Legal del Pueblo.

“Today, we’re facing an extremist expansion of our immigration detention system, which makes the Dignity for Detained Immigrants bill even more imperative. We have continually seen the ways in which conditions in the detention center and the traumatic experience of being detained deters people from fighting their cases. We stand in strong support of this important piece of legislation that sets a new, humane vision to reform our flawed immigration detention system,” said Roxana Norouzi of immigrant rights organization OneAmerica.

The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act is cosponsored by 60 members of Congress: John Conyers Jr. (MI-13), John Lewis (GA-5), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), Jose Serrano (NY-15), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-4), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Bobby Rush (IL-1), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-7), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Elijah E. Cummings (MD-7), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Danny K. Davis (IL-7), James P. McGovern (MA-2), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Betty McCollum (MN-4), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3), Gwen Moore (WI-4), Steve Cohen (TN-9), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. (GA-4), André Carson (IN-7), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Jared Polis (CO-2), Mike Quigley (IL-5), Judy Chu (CA-27), Ted Deutch (FL-22), Bill Foster (IL-11), David N. Cicilline (RI-1), Suzan DelBene (WA-1), Donald M. Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-4), Mark Pocan (WI-2), Mark Takano (CA-41), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Katherine Clark (MA-5), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Ruben Gallego (AZ-7), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Kathleen M. Rice (NY-4), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Dwight Evans (PA-2), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34).

The legislation is also supported by 52 civil society organizations: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, Center for Community Change, The Center for Victims of Torture, Church Council of Greater Seattle, Church World Service, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, Columbia Legal Services, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Democracy for America, Detention Watch Network, Entre Hermanos, FIRM, Grassroots Leadership, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Indivisible Vashon, Just Detention International, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Make the Road CT, Make the Road New York, Make the Road NJ, MoveOn.org Civic Action, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Center for Transgender Equality, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, OneAmerica, Our Revolution, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Southern Poverty Law Center, Tacoma Migrant Justice, Tahirih Justice Center, United We Dream, Wallingford Indivisible, Washington Community Action Network, Washington Defender Association, The Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, Women’s Refugee Commission, 21 Progress, Asian Counseling and Referral Service.

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ICE plans new 1,000-bed facility in South Texas ‘detention alley’

As the Trump administration cracks down on illegal immigration, the federal government is making plans for a new privately run detention center along Interstate 35 in South Texas, adding 1,000 beds to what is already the world’s largest immigrant detention system.

Pro-Choice Caucus Leaders Blast Trump Administration for Preventing Refugees from Accessing Legally-Allowed Reproductive Health Services

Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY, 25th) and Congresswoman Diana Degette (D-CO, 1st), co-chairs of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, have blasted the Trump administration for moving to prevent refugees in federal shelters from accessing safe and legal reproductive health services even in cases of rape and incest. The federal government is currently forcing a refugee in Texas to continue her pregnancy despite the fact that she has adhered to all state and federal laws while trying to access abortion services.

“The law is clear. The federal government is required to provide reproductive health services, including abortion services, to refugees in federal shelters. More than 65 million people were displaced around the globe last year alone, with many women and girls escaping unconscionable circumstances in their home countries. They should not reach American soil only to find the administration ignoring the law. That is exactly what’s happening right now in Texas, where a refugee that has met all legal requirements for an abortion under state and federal law is being held against her will in a federal shelter and forced to continue with her pregnancy. That is despite the fact that no federal funds would be used to pay for the abortion she is seeking. The administration should follow the law and allow refugees access to the reproductive health care the law requires,” said Slaughter.

“My heart goes out to this refugee, detained in Texas and trapped by the Trump administration’s increasingly draconian and cruel efforts to block reproductive rights. It is unacceptable that Trump administration officials subjected her to egregious delays in obtaining care, including requiring her to visit an anti-choice ‘crisis pregnancy center’ where she was urged to continue her pregnancy. These federal officials had no legal right to block her access to an abortion. Their unconscionable actions must be challenged on behalf of the individual in question and others who could face similar situations,” said DeGette.

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Access to Reproductive Health Care for U.S.-Based Refugees
Center for American Progress

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have taken actively hostile stances against both immigrant and refugee communities as well as reproductive rights. President Donald Trump has signed two executive orders, currently held up in court, which block the entry of immigrants into the United States from six predominantly Muslim countries and prevent refugees in general from entering the country.1 In addition to blocking the entry of refugees, these executive orders also attempted to reduce the refugee admissions target for the current fiscal year from 110,000, set in 2016, to 50,000—the lowest number ever set in a presidential determination since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980.2 On World Refugee Day, it is critical that we examine the ways in which refugees can feasibly access the resources that they need to live healthy, sustainable lives once resettled. Refugees face many intersectional threats from the Trump administration, and refugee communities would be significantly harmed by many of the administration’s proposed actions.

Immediate Reauthorization of Children's Health Insurance Program Urged

Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman David Scott (D-GA, 13th) called for Congress to take immediate action and implement a 5 year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired September 30. CHIP provides health care for 8.9 million children across the U.S, including over 130,000 kids covered through Georgia’s CHIP program, PeachCare for Kids.

“With the House currently in recess for 10 days, no vote on CHIP reauthorization has been scheduled in the House or Senate and 17 days have already passed since Congress let CHIP funding lapse. If Congress continues to fail to do its job and not reauthorize PeachCare funding right away, thousands of children in Georgia will lose access to the vital care they need to grow up and stay healthy. Georgia has the 4th highest number of uninsured children in the country. It is estimated that Georgia will run out of PeachCare funding at the beginning of 2018. Congress should be working to ensure that all children who are eligible for CHIP health care get covered, not squabbling while millions of families wait in fear that the program will end due to Congressional inaction. I call on all of my colleagues in Congress to continue the last two decades of bipartisan support for CHIP and reauthorize it for an additional 5 years. Don’t pull the rug out from under working families! Don’t let partisan squabbling jeopardize the health of millions of children! Let’s do our job, so that the thousands of families in Georgia with PeachCare can rest easy knowing that if their child gets sick, they can get the care they need.”

The Children’s Health Insurance Program is a partnership between the federal government and states that has helped ensure access to health care for children and pregnant mothers from low-income working families across the United States. Without reauthorization, states will be unable to maintain the current level of access to health coverage for children in low-income families. Thousands of working families in Georgia will be forced to make difficult decisions, as PeachCare primarily covers families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but still can’t afford to purchase coverage in the private market.

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No progress on negotiations to fund Children's Health Insurance Program

Reach Every Mother and Child Act Introduced in the House

Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman David G. Reichert (R-WA, 8th), Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Congressman Daniel Donovan (R-NY) introduced the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (H.R. 4402), a bold, bipartisan legislative initiative to accelerate the reduction of preventable maternal, newborn and childhood deaths worldwide.

“We have made incredible progress in improving maternal care and reducing preventable child deaths around the globe,” said Rep. Reichert. “But better is not good enough. The Reach Act will give the world’s most in-need families the tools and resources to climb their way out of extreme poverty, reduce infant mortality, and focus on building their communities. With a continued focus on reaching more mothers and children, we can save countless lives and strengthen security and stability across the globe.”

Rep. McCollum said, “Despite significant progress in improving global access to quality health services for mothers, children, and newborns, hundreds of thousands of women continue to die each year of preventable pregnancy and childbirth related causes. Millions of children don’t live to see their fifth birthday. Continued U.S. leadership is essential, and the Reach Act will coordinate resources and strategies that will achieve our goal of ending preventable maternal and child deaths within a generation. I am proud to build on our government’s strong, bipartisan legacy of leadership by partnering with Rep. Dave Reichert, Rep. Barbara Lee, and Rep. Dan Donovan on this important legislation.”

“While we’ve made tremendous strides in reducing the maternal and child mortality rate, more work remains. We can and must continue to make progress is ending these tragic, preventable and unnecessary deaths,” said Rep. Barbara Lee. “The REACH Act is a lifesaving bill that will uplift the most vulnerable and create a healthier, safer and more stable world for everyone.”

Rep. Donovan said, “Progress has been made in helping mothers and children across the globe access the health services they need, but too many preventable deaths still occur. Regardless of ideology, I think we can all agree that no child anywhere should die of something as simple as diarrhea. The United States has been a leader in helping the most vulnerable and those living in poverty for years. This bipartisan legislation allows our nation to build on that work and continue to be a shining example to the world.”

This legislation has already won the support of more than 20 non-governmental organizations (NGO) including RESULTS, World Vision, and Save the Children Action Network.

“The Reach Act represents the kind of ambition we need to help countries reach the end of preventable maternal and child deaths,” said Dr. Joanne Carter, Executive Director of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund. “Following the leadership of Reps. Reichert, McCollum, Lee, and Donovan, Congress has the chance to help make sure every mother and child is reached with quality services, regardless of who she is or where she lives.”

“I am grateful to Rep. Reichert, Rep. McCollum, Rep. Lee and Rep. Donovan for their work across party lines to prioritize the health and survival of mothers and children around the world,” said Mark Shriver, president of Save the Children Action Network. “This is a bold initiative that will ensure our government is as effective as possible as we work toward ending preventable deaths around the world. As a result, we will help create a more stable world.”

“The Reach Every Mother and Child Act provides a critical opportunity for the US Government to strengthen its commitment in serving the global poor,” added World Vision CEO Rich Stearns. “This legislation will ensure that proven cost-effective and life-saving health interventions will be scaled up in the developing world, in order to end preventable maternal and child deaths in our lifetime.”

According to experts, nearly 300,000 women die annually from pregnancy and childbirth complications. Malnutrition also contributes to approximately 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of five, totaling more than 3 million mostly preventable deaths each year. Furthermore, about one million newborns die on their very first day of life from causes that are almost entirely preventable.

The Reach Act is the House companion bill to the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (S. 1730) introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Christopher Coons (D-DE)

The legislation would:

  • Coordinate U.S. government strategy to end preventable maternal, newborn, and childhood deaths globally within a generation;
  • Require targets to be set, tracked, and reported;
  • Focus on the poorest and most vulnerable populations while recognizing the unique needs within different countries and communities;
  • Improve coordination amongst agencies and foreign governments, civil society, and international organizations;
  • Encourage USAID to use pay-for-outcome financing arrangements; and
  • Accelerate partner country progress toward self-sustainability.

    Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP, president, American Academy of Pediatrics had this to say:

    "The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) applauds the U.S. Senate for introducing the bipartisan Reach Every Mother and Child Act today. Every child needs the best possible opportunity to survive and thrive, and as its name implies, the bill takes important steps to do just that.

    "The AAP's mission to advance the health needs of children knows no borders, and neither does our advocacy. Pediatricians are leading efforts with partners in the U.S. government and across the globe to help end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths within a generation. This legislation is an important step forward in that effort.

    "One of the bill's notable achievements is making permanent the position of maternal and child health coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which ensures that maternal and child health will be prioritized and coordinated across the agency's programs. The Academy fought hard to make sure marginalized and vulnerable populations were included, and that special attention was paid to recognizing the unique needs of infants and children within different countries and communities.

    "The Academy thanks the bill's co-sponsors, Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) for their leadership and urges both chambers to advance this important legislation without delay. There is no more important investment in the future health and stability of our world than saving the lives of mothers and children."

    Save the Children has voiced its support in a recent press release, where they stated that "Since 1990, the world has reduced mortality rates for children under 5 by more than one half. This is one of the greatest success stories in international development.

    The U.S. has led an international effort to provide developing countries the tools to care for their children – often with simple, proven and inexpensive interventions that address leading causes of death, such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

    Building on those gains, in 2014 the U.S. declared ending preventable child and maternal deaths around the world a national priority.

    Despite this Progress…
    16,000 children die each day from preventable and treatable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. A number of these children are excluded- growing up in the hardest to reach areas.

    Almost one million newborns die on the day they are born; and close to two million newborns die in their first week after birth. And, malnutrition is an underlying cause for 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of 5. This amounts to three million children’s lives lost each year.

    The Reach Every Mother and Child Act Would Save More Lives."

    World Vision Advocacy is asking supporters to contact their members of Congress to show support for the bill with a help page (click HERE)
  • ICE Detains Immigrant while Interviewing for Lawful Permanent Residency

    Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, offered a statement of support for Melecio Andazola-Morales, a constituent, today. On Thursday, October 12, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained Andazola-Morales while he was attending an interview to seek lawful permanent residency. ICE is holding him in detention in Aurora.

    “Another productive member of our community - a dedicated employee and a father of four U.S. citizen children – was detained aggressively, and torn from his family as the latest victim of our arbitrary and inhumane immigration system. Melecio Andazola-Morales has lived and worked in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, working to provide for his four young U.S. citizen children and caring for his ailing mother. He is a valuable, productive member of our community who was in the process of pursuing lawful status in the U.S. when he was baited into an enforcement trap by local immigration officials. He should be released from detention immediately and afforded meaningful due process protections in presenting his case before an immigration judge,” said Polis.

    Polis has been a consummate champion for fixing our broken immigration system to align with American values since joining Congress. In October 2013, he introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, a bill that would have improved national security, streamlined our country’s guest worker system, and created a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented individuals. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would have reduced the deficit by nearly $200 billion over ten years. The Senate companion of this landmark bill passed in June 2013 and was widely heralded as one of the most significant attempts at comprehensive immigration reform in decades. He is also the co-chair of the Congressional Mexico Friendship Caucus.

    Prior to serving in Congress, Polis founded The New America School - a network of charter schools in several states serving new immigrants and English-language learners.

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    He thought he was getting his green card. Instead, a Colorado man was detained.

    National Flood Insurance Bailout

    Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM, 2nd) released the following statement after voting against a House Amendment to Senate Amendment to H.R. 2266, the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act. This amendment allows the federal government to borrow money to provide additional funds for emergency relief while bailing out the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP):

    “Around the nation, individuals and families are working to recover and rebuild from disastrous hurricanes, and thousands more continue to be impacted by devastating wildfires in California. Congress has the responsibility to aid in the recovery by providing emergency disaster funding – no one can disagree with this charge or with the need. If the amendment simply ensured the communities hardest hit have the money needed to recover, I would have easily supported it, as I did a couple weeks ago for the last emergency aid funding bill. However, yesterday’s action was an attempt to play politics with emergency relief funds and ignore billions of dollars in federal debt.

    After each hurricane season, the NFIP continues to dive deeper into debt with no foreseeable avenue to solvency. Following both Katrina and Sandy, the federal government was forced to expand the NFIP’s borrowing authority by billions. Superstorm Sandy increased the authority by $9 billion alone. Reverting to debt forgiveness now is not the solution, fundamental changes to the program are the only option.

    Instead of doing our job and reforming the program to an effective system that actually supports the American families who use it, Congress opted to forgive $16 billion of the NFIP’s debt. Bailing out NFIP without asking for vital changes only does a disservice to those families who rely on it in the worst of circumstances. To truly support our friends, families, and neighbors impacted by natural disaster we should ensure the insurance programs we have in place will actually work for them. Not just bail the program out and turn a blind eye."

    This Amendment provides the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with $18.7 billion, $577 million for wildfire relief, $16 billion to bailout NFIP, and $1.3 billion for Disaster Nutrition Assistance to Puerto Rico.

    On September 6, 2017, Rep. Pearce voted to pass emergency aid funding for the communities affected by Hurricane Harvey and, at the time, for the potential impacts of Hurricane Irma. On September 8, 2017, Rep. Pearce voted against the spending package that irresponsibly tacked on an extension of the debt limit and a Continuing Resolution to provide disaster relief funds for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

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    Rothfus on NFIP Bailout in the House

    Amendment to the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 Protecting Whistleblowers Fails to Pass House

    Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Tom O’Halleran introduced an amendment to the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 to provide greater whistleblower protections to federal employees who disclose information on the improper use of aircrafts by government officials.

    In a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Congressman Tom O’Halleran said, “I am proud that we are coming together to increase protections for whistleblowers at federal agencies, a long overdue effort. But, in light of recent reports and events that have revealed a disturbing pattern of improper use of tax dollars on air travel by senior federal officials, I believe we must go further.

    “My amendment simply extends whistleblower protections that are created under the bill to federal employees who disclose information about travel, including improper use of aircraft,” continued O’Halleran. “Not only would this make it clear to agencies that any violation of laws, rules, or regulations concerning travel or government aircraft is unacceptable – it will also ensure those who come forward to expose any wrongdoing will have appropriate protection from retaliation.”

    The amendment failed to pass the House of Representatives on a 190 to 232 vote.

    Earlier this month, Rep. O’Halleran introduced the Taxpayers Don’t Incur Meaningless Expenses (Taxpayers DIME) Act. This bill would prevent government officials from using taxpayer money on private air travel that violates current rules. Additionally, the bill increases transparency and oversight of government travel and calls for the independent Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to report on ways to strengthen existing rules.

    Seniors’ Security Act Re-introduced in the House

    Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Following the announcement that Social Security recipients will receive a 2% cost-of-living increase next year, Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ-01) has announced he is re-introducing the Seniors’ Security Act to help seniors who are struggling to pay their medical bills.

    Norcross’ Seniors’ Security Act would ensure that cost-of-living increases don’t just get eaten up by rising health care costs. Specifically, the plan would create a “circuit breaker” of sorts, so seniors never pay more than 30 percent of their COLA into Medicare premiums. The Act also recalculates cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) so future changes would be based on the price of goods and services seniors actually buy, a formula known as Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E).

    “This cost-of-living increase is good news for seniors, but not good enough as seniors continue to struggle with rising health care costs,” said Congressman Norcross. “Our seniors worked hard all their lives and paid into the system – they’ve earned the right to true peace of mind. Let’s make sensible changes so seniors can get a higher COLA and keep more of it.”

    “Congressman Norcross’ legislation would require the Social Security Administration to base future cost-of-living adjustments on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), which much more accurately reflects the cost of things retirees purchase, including health care. It would also limit Medicare premium increases,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director, Alliance for Retired Americans. “The bill will get seniors the COLA they earned and ensure it isn't immediately consumed by higher Medicare premiums.”

    "For the tens of millions of families who depend on Social Security for all or most of their retirement income, this cost of living increase may not adequately cover expenses that rise faster than inflation including prescription drug, utility and housing costs," said Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO, AARP. "AARP continues our advocacy for bipartisan solutions to help ensure the long-term solvency of the program, as well as adequate benefits for recipients."

    Since 2010, seniors have failed to receive a COLA increase three times – and last year the increase was a meager 0.3%. This year, higher 2018 premiums for Medicare Part B will hit older adults, including large numbers of low-income individuals who struggle to make ends meet. The expected increase is $300 next year.

    Norcross added: “While others want to privatize and dismantle Social Security, I’m fighting to honor our commitments by keeping the system safe and secure for retirees and working Americans.”

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    Social Security Not Keeping up With Seniors' Rising Costs

    Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act of 2017 Introduced in the House

    Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA, 5th), House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN), and Congressman Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) introduced the Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act of 2017. This legislation requires Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical professionals to report directly to state licensing boards if they witness unacceptable or unethical behavior from other medical professionals at the VA. The legislation is in response to the alarming USA Today article that revealed the VA failed to disclose bad medical practitioners to the public, risking the public’s exposure to these dangerous doctors.

    “These newest reports out of the VA are deeply troubling,” said McMorris Rodgers. “Our veterans deserve the best care imaginable, but as we’ve seen, far too often that’s not the case. This bill will help reform the culture at the VA by holding bad actors accountable and keeping them from continuing these mistakes at the VA or elsewhere. We should be rolling out the red carpet to our nation’s heroes in Eastern Washington and around the country, and that starts with ensuring that the best and brightest are at the VA caring for our veterans.”

    “The findings of the USA Today investigation are intolerable,” said Chairman Roe. “The committee has long been concerned about VA’s settlement agreements, and even held a hearing on the topic last year. While I can appreciate VA’s recent decision to more closely vet settlement agreements, malfeasance within the department will not be ignored. It certainly cannot be rewarded and hidden from state licensing boards. As a physician, I find this deeply troubling, and I thank Reps. McMorris Rodgers and Poliquin for their leadership on this issue.”

    “These most recent reports are nothing short of appalling,” said Congressman Poliquin. “Our Maine Veterans depend on their services at Togus and other VA facilities across our State for critical care, and it is absolutely unacceptable for them to ever be subjected to this kind of medical malpractice. We must have accountability at the VA, to ensure our Veterans are always getting the best care possible, and I am proud to be working on the Veterans Affairs’ Committee to do that. I’m now pleased to work with Chairwoman McMorris Rodgers and Chairman Roe to help prevent this unacceptable behavior from occurring again.”

    NOTE: Currently, if the VA receives a report of substandard health care practices, it takes at least 100 days to decide whether to refer the matter to a state licensing board. This legislation will require timely reporting to state licensing boards so there is proper notice of these serious allegations.

    As reported by USA Today, “the VA — the nation’s largest employer of health care workers — has for years concealed mistakes and misdeeds by staff members entrusted with the care of veterans.” The article lays out a number of cases where doctors provided poor, unethical, or irresponsible care, and faced zero medical licensing reviews.

    By requiring malpractice to be reported to state licensing boards, this legislation ensures that if poor care happens, doctors and clinicians will no longer be shielded by the VA and could face consequences just like they do in private practice.

    In June, Rep. McMorris Rodgers had representatives from the House Veterans Affairs Committee come to the Spokane VAMC to conduct a site visit and see where improvements could be made. On the visit, they discovered a hole in the roof that had been ignored for years that was leaking into important electrical, heating, and cooling areas. The Congresswoman went back and got funding, and construction will soon begin to fix the hole and ensure our VA facilities are safe and healthy. Read more from the Spokesman-Review here.

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    Sexual Harrassment in the National Parks

    Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), Ranking Member of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, released the following statement on the National Park Service’s report on sexual harassment within the agency:

    “I am deeply disturbed by this report, which details an unacceptable culture of sexual harassment and hostile work environments at the National Park Service. The incidents described in the report, and the lack of action to address them, should concern all of us.

    “Every employee has the right to a safe workplace that is free from harassment. The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service must take steps to finally end this widespread pattern of workplace harassment. As they address this issue, I will work with my colleagues in Congress to hold the Department accountable and ensure that no employee ever faces the kind of mistreatment and abuse outlined in this report.”

    In the fiscal year 2017 Interior-Environment appropriations bill, Congresswoman McCollum secured language that instructed the Department of the Interior to report to Congress on corrective steps being taken to address harassment and implement strong and consistent anti-harassment policies.

    Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Donald McEachin (VA-04) – the Ranking Member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee who requested a congressional hearing on sexual harassment at the National Park Service (NPS) in June – released the following statement on a NPS survey in which 38 percent of employees report experiencing some form of sexual harassment:

    “Dumping this news on a Friday afternoon, without any clear next steps, suggests this administration still isn’t taking this problem as seriously as it should,” said Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva. “Stopping sexual harassment will require changing the agency’s culture, which has survived through administrations of both political parties, and that won’t happen unless Secretary Zinke makes this a genuine priority. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that Secretary Zinke takes command of ending sexual harassment, and I stand ready to work with Chairman Bishop to hold a hearing on this employee survey and next steps from the Interior Department as soon as possible.”

    “I have repeatedly asked Secretary Zinke, both in person and through written correspondence, to prioritize addressing the culture of sexual harassment that has permeated the NPS,” said Congressman Donald McEachin. “This problem is far too serious and has gone on for far too long. We need long-term, systemic solutions. I urge Secretary Zinke to listen closely to the survey results and quickly implement changes that will eliminate all forms of sexual harassment in the NPS. I also implore Chairmen Bishop and Westerman to heed requests to hold congressional hearings to remedy this issue further.”

    Among other actions, Natural Resources Committee Democrats requested the initial NPS employee survey as well as its expansion to include seasonal employees; previously requested a hearing on the issue; and, in a budget hearing earlier this year, highlighted the administration’s failure to make an exception to Zinke’s hiring ban to deal with the backlog of sexual harassment cases.

    Related News:

    Interior's Ryan Zinke cracks down on discrimination and sexual harassment at national parks

    Social Security Announces 2.0 Percent Benefit Increase for 2018

    Washington, D.C. - October 17, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 66 million Americans will increase 2.0 percent in 2018, the Social Security Administration has announced.

    The 2.0 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 61 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2018. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 29, 2017. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits) The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $128,700 from $127,200. Of the estimated 175 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2018, about 12 million will pay more because of the increase in the taxable maximum.

    Seniors Task Force Chairs Doris O. Matsui (D-CA, 6th) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), along with Vice Chairs Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Charlie Crist (D-FL), released the following statement on the announcement of a 2 percent Social Security COLA increase for beneficiaries:

    “Today’s announcement of a 2 percent increase in the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment is welcome news after two years of virtually no inflationary adjustment – but it is not enough to help millions of seniors make ends meet.

    “Two-thirds of retirees rely on Social Security for the majority of their income. For nearly 1 in 3 retirees, it represents 90% or more of their income. A two percent COLA – an average of $27 a month – isn’t adequate to help them deal with the rising costs of health care, food and transportation. That’s why the House Democratic Caucus Seniors Task Force is committed not just to protecting and expanding Social Security benefits but to lowering the cost of prescription drugs and other basic necessities.

    “Retirees deserve a better deal – and Democrats will fight to make sure that they get it.”