Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Reps. Harley Rouda (CA-48) and Kelly Armstrong (ND-AL) Lead Bipartisan Letter on Fraudulent Sober Living Homes



by: Harley Rouda (D-CA, 48th)

Washington, D.C. - April 16, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Harley Rouda (CA-48) and Rep. Kelly Armstrong (ND-AL) sent a bipartisan letter to Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Mental Health and Substance Use. In the letter, the Members of Congress urge that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) consult local governments in the development of national recovery housing best practices.

“The opioid crisis has devastated communities in Orange County and across the country. Those affected deserve solutions, not exploitation,” said Rouda. “Unethical sober homes prey upon a vulnerable population and corrupt a practice meant to provide support, treatment, and guidance. Local governments have been at the frontlines of fighting these operators, and the Federal government would miss a huge part of the equation without local input. Congressman Armstrong and I are working to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Said Armstrong, “The opioid epidemic does not discriminate. It is striking people of all backgrounds and in every community in America. Recovery residences are essential to combat the disease of addiction, but we need to ensure they are being operated efficiently and ethically. Local communities are working to integrate these facilities into communities to protect patients and the public. I was glad to join Congressman Rouda in urging the Department of Health and Human Services to work with local communities as they develop best practices for this important addiction treatment. Anyone in recovery deserves to know that recovery housing is a safe and reliable option.”

“As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) develops national recovery housing best practices, it is absolutely crucial that SAMHSA consult with local governments regarding their experiences with these facilities. Incorporating local governments’ lessons learned and data collected into the best practices will result in better and stronger guidelines. The City of Costa Mesa strongly supports an open dialogue between experienced local governments and SAMHSA in the pursuit of healthier and safer communities,” said Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley.

The letter was also signed by Representatives David Trone (MD-6), Gil Cisneros (CA-39), Katie Porter (CA-45), Katie Hill (CA-25), Jason Crow (CO-6), Mike Levin (CA-49), and TJ Cox (CA-21).

Sec. 7031 in the SUPPORT Act directs the Department of Health and Human Services to work with relevant agencies and stakeholders to identify or facilitate the development of best practices for operating recovery housing and common indicators for fraudulent recovery housing operators. The letter urges that local governments be included as one of those stakeholders.

Although sober living homes are intended to provide alcohol and drug-free living environments for those impacted by the ongoing opioid/addiction crisis, some unethical operators have “cast suspicion on recovery residences generally and have complicated the efforts of families, treatment centers, and court systems to identify safe, supportive, well run, and affordable recovery housing,” according to The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

Bill to Permanently Extend Work Opportunity Tax Credit Introduced



by: Tom Rice (R-SC, 7th)

Washington, D.C. - April 16, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Representatives Tom Rice (R-SC), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Tom Reed (R-NY), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), and Tom Suozzi (D-NY) announced the introduction of H.R. 2213, a bill that permanently extends the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

“With more jobs available than those seeking employment across the country, we need to bring people from the sidelines of the economy into the workforce,” said Rep. Rice. “Making the Work Opportunity Tax Credit permanent will incentivize employers to hire and retain people who have been struggling to find long-term, meaningful employment opportunities.”

“For more than two decades, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit has proven to be highly effective in ensuring individuals on public assistance can make the transition to private sector jobs. In fact, since the program’s enactment, thirteen million people have benefitted, in turn reducing federal and state government spending,” said Rep. Thompson. “The tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year and I’m proud to introduce my bill to permanently extend this bipartisan, cost-effective program.”

“We care about rewarding work and ensuring everyone has a fair shot to provide for themselves and their families,” said Rep. Reed. “Providing incentives for employers to hire people stuck on the sidelines who have trouble finding a job is essential for many folks in their pursuit of the American dream.”

“I have long advocated for the WOTC program to continue, as it is a proven tool to move eligible individuals off of unemployment and into the workforce,” said Rep. Pascrell. “Most recent data shows the program is remarkably effective, with more than 140,000 veteran hires under WOTC in 2016. Paired with my previous legislation that passed into law in 2015, this bill will allow long-term unemployed individuals, veterans, and those on public assistance programs to find gainful employment and grow our economy.

“The Work Opportunity Tax Credit has long provided veterans and individuals from disadvantaged groups support in their search for sustainable employment,” said Rep. Suozzi. “I’m proud to co-sponsor the permanent renewal of this bipartisan program to both ensure diversity in the workplace and facilitate access to good jobs for hardworking Americans.”




by: Jamie Raskin (D-MD, 8th)

Washington, D.C. - April 16, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, issued the following statement in response to “federalism concerns” raised by Oversight Committee Members Jim Jordan (R-OH), Jody Hice (R-GA), Michael Cloud (R-TX), and Chip Roy (R-TX) regarding the Committee’s voter suppression probe:

“The U.S. Congress has the power and obligation to enforce the voting rights of the people as spelled out in the 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and 24th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, a power we have exercised repeatedly in statutes like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Americans with Disabilities Act to shut down state action hostile to democratic participation.

“It is our solemn duty today to investigate state-based assaults on popular democracy like the reported purges of hundreds of thousands of voters and the relocation of municipal polling places outside of municipal boundaries. It is obviously within our power under the Supremacy Clause and the Bill of Rights to conduct constitutional oversight in order to protect voters’ rights in the states, resistance by partisan state officials notwithstanding.

“My indignant colleagues should review prior letters the Oversight Committee sent in parallel correspondence to Democratic state officials in Rhode Island, Maryland, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Minnesota, Colorado, Connecticut, and Nevada in 2014 when the GOP-led Committee was conducting an oversight investigation into the Affordable Care Act (a federal law which they still seek to destroy). In these letters, then-Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and then-Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan articulated the decisive refutation to today’s frivolous argument: ‘The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives and has broad authority to investigate ‘any matter at ‘any time’ under House Rule X.’”

“It would be best if our GOP colleagues joined us in protecting voting rights, but at the very least they should stop trying to prevent us from doing our constitutionally-mandated work. Far from raising the ‘federalism concerns’ of Reps. Jordan, Hice, Cloud, and Roy, this is serious federalism in action. Our colleagues should get used to it.”

Rubio Applauds Additional Oil Sector Sanctions Against Maduro Enablers


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by: Senator Marco Rubio (R - FL)

Washington, D.C. - April 16, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement after the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed additional oil sector sanctions against individuals and entities providing a lifeline to the illegitimate narcoterrorist tyranny of Nicolás Maduro:

“I strongly support the Trump Administration’s efforts to increase pressure against the communist regime in Havana, which is not only repressing the Cuban people, but also using its military and intelligence services to prop up dictator Nicolás Maduro’s illegitimate regime in Venezuela. With today’s new sanctions against foreign companies that are enabling the Cuban regime and Maduro’s narcoterrorist crime family, the U.S. is standing with legitimate Interim President Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan people in their efforts to restore democracy and constitutional order.”

Rubio is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.

Legislation to Improve Family Leave for DOD Employees Introduced


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by: Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD)

Washington, D.C. - April 16, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced bipartisan legislation to improve family and medical leave for Department of Defense (DoD) employees by simplifying and expanding the agency’s leave bank.

Currently, DoD allows individual civilian employees to donate earned annual leave to specific individual colleagues experiencing a serious family or medical situation requiring additional leave. But the current informal process of identifying and matching up leave donors with recipients can be inefficient, and if civilian employees do not proactively identify and donate this leave, they often forfeit earned annual leave when they either take a new job outside the Department or when they have excess “use it or lose it” leave that will not roll over to the next calendar year.

This legislation would automatically move any “use it or lose it” annual leave that was forfeited from civilian DoD employees into a common pool of family and medical leave to benefit employees after the birth or adoption of a child, serious illness of an immediate family member, or a worker’s own medical condition.

“Under our legislation, annual leave days that are forfeited by Department of Defense employees will be pooled, so employees who need extra time off for family or medical reasons can use additional leave hours to supplement their own,” said Rounds. “A ‘leave bank’ can help employees who have recently given birth or adopted a child, who are taking care of a sick family member or who are facing illness themselves and don’t have enough leave time to cover the hours they need to take off. This is common sense policy, and I look forward to working with Sen. Merkley and our colleagues in the Senate to move it forward.”

“Our Department of Defense employees work hard to keep our nation safe,” said Merkley. “As a former Pentagon employee myself, I know that these jobs are tough and high-stakes. It’s good for these employees and good for our nation if workers have the paid leave they need to take care of themselves and take care of their families during important moments in their lives. Streamlining and expanding the leave bank shows how common sense and the common good can go hand-in-hand.”

Each year, civilian Department of Defense employees accrue between 104 and 208 hours of paid annual leave. If they have not used all their annual leave in a given year, they may carry over up to 240 hours to the following year. Anything above 240 hours is considered “use it or lose it” and is forfeited if the employee does not use it by the end of that year.

Merkley and Rounds’ legislation would make certain that instead of going to waste, this additional leave time instead goes into the agency’s leave bank so that it is available as paid family or medical leave for the Department of Defense employees who need it most.

Currently, federal workers as a group are not guaranteed any paid family or medical leave. The Merkley-Rounds legislation would make certain that DoD workers have more paid leave available during these critical moments, while the entire federal government works towards a long-term solution that would guarantee full family and medical leave coverage for its employees.

The Merkley-Rounds legislation is supported by the National Partnership for Women & Families, the American Federal of Government Employees (AFGE), and the National Treasury Employees Union.

Rosen Tours UNLV School of Medicine, Requests GAO Report on Solutions to Address Physician Shortages and Increase Access to Care



by: Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV)

Washington, D.C. - April 16, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, joined the UNLV School of Medicine Founding Dean, Barbara Atkinson, M.D, for a tour of the University of Las Vegas School of Medicine. Rosen recently sent a letter to Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro requesting a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the effectiveness of the current structure of federally-funded Graduate Medical Education slots in meeting the needs of patients. Rosen requested that GAO also outline solutions for addressing the physician shortage to increase access to health care services. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, nationwide 14,900 primary care providers are currently needed to fill this gap. Nevada ranks 48th in the nation in terms of primary care physicians per capita.

“Due to the low doctor to patient ratio, all 17 counties in Nevada are designated health shortage areas,” said Senator Rosen. “The mass shortage of physicians is causing longer wait times and less access to both primary and specialty care for Nevadans. I applaud the UNLV School of Medicine’s efforts in helping to address this urgent and important issue. I will continue to work in Congress on forward-thinking solutions to ensure Nevadans are able to get access to the care that they need.”

“Senator Rosen has shown a deep commitment to protecting the health of Nevadans,” said Barbara Atkinson, Founding Dean of the UNLV School of Medicine. “We’re thankful for her support in our mission to educate Nevada’s future doctors and medical professionals.”

BACKGROUND: Last Congress, then-Congresswoman Rosen supported the Resident Physician Shortage Act of 2017 (H.R. 2267), which would work to reduce the shortage of physicians in the United States by increasing the number of Medicare-supported graduate medical education (GME) residency slots at U.S. hospitals, as well as Medicare-supported hospital residency positions. Earlier this year she helped introduce the bipartisan Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act, which would reauthorize the “Conrad 30” program that allows special visas for immigrant doctors to work in medically underserved areas.

This year, Senator Rosen introduced the Building Blocks of STEM Act (S.737) to provide better access to STEM education to provide students greater opportunities to pursue careers in science and health.

Sens. Roberts, King Introduce Bill to Allow Purchase of Over-the-Counter Drugs Using Health Savings Accounts

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by: Senator Pat Roberts (R - KS)

Washington, D.C. - April 16, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Angus King (I-Maine) have introduced bipartisan legislation that allows Americans to use their health savings account funds to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Sens. Johnny Isakson (R- Ga.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) are also cosponsoring the bill.

“Americans should be able to use their medical savings accounts as they see fit,” said Senator Roberts. “This burdensome provision of Obamacare restricts Americans’ choice and flexibility in how they manage their health care expenses and adds yet another burden on physicians – causing patients to seek more expensive, less convenient, and more time-consuming alternatives.”

“It’s just common sense – over the counter medications should not require a prescription from a primary care provider,” Senator King said. “But under current law, many Americans cannot access the funding they have set aside for health care expenses without signoff from their provider. By giving people more freedom to responsibly manage their health care accounts, we can cut red tape, support hardworking men and women, and strengthen the health care system.”

The legislation, S. 1089, repeals section 9003 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), restoring the ability of those participating in a medical savings account, such as a Flexible Savings Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA), to use the funds to purchase OTC medications.

Nearly 50 million Americans participate in FSAs and other health savings accounts. The accounts allow individuals to set aside their own money each year on a pre-tax basis to pay for health care expenses, such as co-payments, and other health care expenses not covered by insurance.

A broad coalition of groups support this legislation, including the AARP, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Academy of Dermatology Association, the American Association of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, the American Osteopathic Association, the American Society of Association Executives, Anthem, Inc., the Arthritis Foundation, the Associated Builders and Contractors Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the BlueCross BlueShield Association, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, ECFC, the Food Marketing Institute, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Grocers Association, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, WageWorks, and Wex Health.