Monday, April 22, 2019

UnidosUS: HUD’s Latest Rule Could Impact Millions of U.S. Citizen Children



by: UnidosUS

Washington, D.C. - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza) issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule, which would bar individuals from mixed-status families access to public housing assistance:

“This is really a broader story about how the long-term cost of president’s whimsical immigration policies—here masked under a proposed HUD regulation—will be borne largely by the nearly six million U.S. citizen children that live in a mixed status household. Make no mistake, this is part of an intentionally cruel, misguided and wasteful immigration enforcement strategy hatched by Stephen Miller and his allies. And, it is an effort that is also desperately tone deaf. Our leaders at the highest levels of government should not be engaging in dog whistle politics at a time when there is a real and actionable humanitarian crisis along our southern border that needs to be addressed,” said Carlos Guevara, Senior Policy Advisor at UnidosUS.

UnidosUS, previously known as NCLR (National Council of La Raza), is the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Through its unique combination of expert research, advocacy, programs, and an Affiliate Network of nearly 300 community-based organizations across the United States and Puerto Rico, UnidosUS simultaneously challenges the social, economic, and political barriers that affect Latinos at the national and local levels. For more than 50 years, UnidosUS has united communities and different groups seeking common ground through collaboration, and that share a desire to make our country stronger.

Decision on Imports of Iranian Oil


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by: U.S. Secretary of State

Washington, D.C. - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Today we are announcing the United States will not issue any additional Significant Reduction Exceptions to existing importers of Iranian oil. The Trump Administration has taken Iran’s oil exports to historic lows, and we are dramatically accelerating our pressure campaign in a calibrated way that meets our national security objectives while maintaining well supplied global oil markets. We stand by our allies and partners as they transition away from Iranian crude to other alternatives. We have had extensive and productive discussions with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other major producers to ease this transition and ensure sufficient supply. This, in addition to increasing U.S. production, underscores our confidence that energy markets will remain well supplied.

Today’s announcement builds on the already significant successes of our pressure campaign. We will continue to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime until its leaders change their destructive behavior, respect the rights of the Iranian people, and return to the negotiating table.

Cotton Statement on U.S. Efforts to End Iranian Oil Exports
by: Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)
April 22, 2019
"The world pays a steep price for Iranian oil, which funds Iran's military aggression and terrorist proxies. Pressure on the Iranian regime was a necessary decision and I commend the leadership of Secretary Pompeo in the efforts to shift oil reliance from Iran."


Sen. Cruz: I Applaud President Trump and His Administration for Announcing End of Oil Waivers for Iran
by: Senator Ted Cruz (R - TX)
April 22, 2019
"I applaud President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo for announcing this morning that the Trump administration will finally end oil waivers for Iran. This decision will deprive the Ayatollahs of billions of dollars that they would have spent undermining the security of the United States and our allies, building up Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and financing global terrorism. Ending these waivers is another important step in finally ending all American implementation of the Obama Iran nuclear deal, and one that I have longed called for. The administration should also take the long overdue step of ending civil-nuclear waivers, which allow the Iranians to continue nuclear-related work in places like the Fordow centrifuge bunker, which they secretly dug under a mountain so they could build nuclear weapons with additional protection from an aerial attack."


Statement from Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, on FDA’s continued confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine



by: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Washington, D.C. - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- The FDA is a public health agency that always strives to use the best available scientific evidence to promote and protect the well being of individuals. It deeply concerns us when we see preventable diseases such as measles or mumps reemerging in the United States and threatening our communities. The World Health Organization recently named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health. In this time of multiple measles outbreaks, and as we approach National Infant Immunization Week, we want to underscore our continued confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines that are highly successful at preventing – in some cases, nearly eradicating – preventable diseases.

The MMR vaccine has been approved in the United States for nearly 50 years to prevent measles, mumps and rubella (also known as German Measles). As a result of its use, measles and rubella were completely eradicated in the United States, and mumps cases decreased by 99%. Large well-designed studies have confirmed the safety and effectiveness of the MMR vaccine and have demonstrated that administration of the vaccine is not associated with the development of autism. However we’re seeing an increasing number of outbreaks of measles in communities across the country, including those in New York, New Jersey, Washington, California, and Michigan.

Considered eradicated within the U.S. since 2000, measles has persisted in other areas of the world where the vaccine is not as readily available, including countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. Unvaccinated U.S. residents may be exposed to measles while they are abroad and bring the disease back into the U.S. and spread it to others. Worldwide, about 20 million people get measles each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have also been outbreaks of mumps reported. It’s an urgent public health priority to monitor these diseases and raise awareness of the importance of timely immunizations, especially as outbreaks are taking hold among unvaccinated populations in this country.

These diseases start with symptoms that may mirror the common cold, but they can cause serious illness and in some cases, even death. Measles – a respiratory disease that causes a skin rash, fever, cough and runny nose – can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children. It is one of the most contagious diseases and can cause severe complications, including pneumonia, swelling of the brain and death. In fact, one to two children out of every 1,000 who contract measles dies from complications of the disease and one in four people who get measles need to be hospitalized. Mumps causes fever, headache, loss of appetite and the well-known sign of swollen cheeks and jaw from the swelling of the salivary glands. Complications, though rare, can include deafness and meningitis (an infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord). Rubella, once a common disease that occurred primarily among young children, causes fever, rash, and -- mainly in women -- arthritis. Rubella infection during pregnancy can also lead to birth defects.

We cannot state strongly enough – the overwhelming scientific evidence shows that vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect public health.

Vaccinating against measles, mumps and rubella not only protects us and our children, it protects people who can’t be vaccinated, including children with compromised immune systems due to illness and its treatment, such as cancer.

We do not take lightly our responsibility to ensure the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and work diligently to assess safety and effectiveness of all licensed vaccines for their intended uses. The MMR vaccine is very effective at protecting people against measles, mumps, and rubella. It also prevents complications caused by these diseases. And we have nearly 50 years of experience and evidence supporting that fact. In fact, according to the CDC, two doses of the MMR vaccine beginning at 12 months of age (the recommended dosing schedule) are 97% effective against measles, 88% effective against mumps, and 97% effective for rubella.

Like many medical products, the MMR vaccine has known potential side effects that are generally mild and short-lived, such as rash and fever. If parents have concerns about these side effects, we recommend that they speak with their health care providers about the benefits and risks of vaccines, along with the potential consequences of not vaccinating against diseases.

The FDA will continue to closely monitor these outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases alongside our federal partners at CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services, and will provide any new information about vaccine safety or effectiveness to the public. But just to be clear, the FDA has determined that the MMR vaccine is both safe and effective in preventing these diseases. We join our colleagues at HHS, CDC, National Institutes of Health and state and local health departments across the country in the continued effort to encourage vaccinations against these preventable diseases.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

FDA permits marketing of first medical device for treatment of ADHD



by: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Washington, D.C. - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has permitted marketing of the first medical device to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The prescription-only device, called the Monarch external Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation (eTNS) System, is indicated for patients ages 7 to12 years old who are not currently taking prescription ADHD medication and is the first non-drug treatment for ADHD granted marketing authorization by the FDA.

“This new device offers a safe, non-drug option for treatment of ADHD in pediatric patients through the use of mild nerve stimulation, a first of its kind,” said Carlos Peña, Ph.D., director of the Division of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Today’s action reflects our deep commitment to working with device manufacturers to advance the development of pediatric medical devices so that children have access to innovative, safe and effective medical devices that meet their unique needs.”

ADHD is a common disorder that begins in childhood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and very high levels of activity. The diagnosis of ADHD requires a comprehensive evaluation by a health care professional. For a person to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity must be chronic or long-lasting, impair the person’s functioning and cause the person to fall behind normal development for his or her age.

The Monarch eTNS System is intended to be used in the home under the supervision of a caregiver. The cell-phone sized device generates a low-level electrical pulse and connects via a wire to a small patch that adheres to a patient's forehead, just above the eyebrows, and should feel like a tingling sensation on the skin. The system delivers the low-level electrical stimulation to the branches of the trigeminal nerve, which sends therapeutic signals to the parts of the brain thought to be involved in ADHD. While the exact mechanism of eTNS is not yet known, neuroimaging studies have shown that eTNS increases activity in the brain regions that are known to be important in regulating attention, emotion and behavior.

The stimulation should feel like a tingling sensation on the skin, and the device should be used in the home under the supervision of a caregiver during periods of sleep. Clinical trials suggest that a response to eTNS may take up to 4 weeks to become evident. Patients should consult with their health care professional after four weeks of use to assess treatment effects.

The Monarch eTNS System’s efficacy in treating ADHD was shown in a clinical trial that compared eTNS as the sole treatment, or monotherapy, to a placebo device. A total of 62 children with moderate to severe ADHD were enrolled in the trial and used either the eTNS therapy each night or a placebo device at home for four weeks. The trial's primary endpoint was improvement on a clinician-administered ADHD Rating Scale, ADHD-RS. ADHD-RS scales are used to monitor severity and frequency of ADHD symptoms. A higher score is indicative of worsening symptoms. The ADHD-RS uses questions about the patient’s behavior, such as whether they have difficulty paying attention or regularly interrupt others. The trial showed that subjects using the eTNS device had statistically significant improvement in their ADHD symptoms compared with the placebo group. At the end of week four, the average ADHD-RS score in the active group decreased from 34.1 points at baseline to 23.4 points, versus a decrease from 33.7 to 27.5 points in the placebo group.

The most common side effects observed with eTNS use are: drowsiness, an increase in appetite, trouble sleeping, teeth clenching, headache and fatigue. No serious adverse events were associated with use of the device.

The Monarch eTNS System should not be used in children under seven years of age. It should not be used in patients with an active implantable pacemaker or with active implantable neurostimulators. Patients with body-worn devices such as insulin pumps should not use this device. The eTNS System should not be used in the presence of radio frequency energy such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), because it has not been tested in an MRI machine, or cell phones, because the phone’s low levels of electromagnetic energy may interrupt the therapy.

The FDA reviewed the Monarch eTNS System through the de novo premarket review pathway, a regulatory pathway for low- to moderate-risk devices of a new type. This action creates a new regulatory classification, which means that subsequent devices of the same type with the same intended use may go through the FDA’s 510(k) premarket process, whereby devices can obtain marketing authorization by demonstrating substantial equivalence to a predicate device.

The FDA granted marketing authorization of the Monarch eTNS System to NeuroSigma.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, promotes and protects the public health by, among other things, assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

VA ensures Veterans have same-day access to emergency mental health care



by: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Washington, D.C. - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to provide the best mental health care access possible, VA is reminding Veterans that it offers all Veterans same-day access to emergency mental health care at any VA health care facility across the country.

“Providing same-day 24/7 access to mental health crisis intervention and support for Veterans, service members and their families is our top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s important that all Veterans, their family and friends know that help is easily available.”

VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention is the national leader in making high-quality mental health care and suicide prevention resources available to Veterans through a full spectrum of outpatient, inpatient and telemental health services.

Additionally, VA has developed the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which reflects the department’s vision for a coordinated effort to prevent suicide among all service members and Veterans. This strategy maintains VA’s focus on high-risk individuals in health care settings, while also adopting a broad public health approach to suicide prevention.

VA has supported numerous Veterans and has the capacity to assist more. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, 1.7 million Veterans received Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health services. These patients received more than 84,000 psychiatric hospital stays, about 41,700 residential stays and more than 21 million outpatient encounters.

Nationally, in the first quarter of FY 2019, 90% of new patients completed an appointment in a mental health clinic within 30 days of scheduling an appointment, and 96.8% of established patients completed a mental health appointment within 30 days of the day they requested. For FY 2018, 48% of initial, in-person Primary Care — Mental Health Integration (PC-MHI) encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter. During the first quarter of FY 2019, 51% of initial, in-person PC-MHI encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter.

Veterans in crisis – or those concerned about one – should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text message to 838255 or chat online at

Former Alabama Police Investigator Pleads Guilty to Assaulting Handcuffed Arrestee



by: U.S Department of Justice

Tallahassee, AL - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- The Department of Justice announced today that a former Tallassee Police investigator, Brandon Smirnoff, 27, pleaded guilty to assaulting a handcuffed, 24-year-old man.

According to the guilty plea, Smirnoff, who was on duty as an investigator with the Tallassee Police Department, used his patrol car to pursue the victim, J.M., who was on a four-wheeler. After the pursuit, J.M. stepped off his four-wheeler, laid face down on the ground, and allowed several Tallassee police officers to handcuff him. While J.M. was handcuffed and compliant, Smirnoff lifted him into the air and then slammed him to the ground. Smirnoff then repeated the assault. Moments later, before Smirnoff placed the victim into his patrol car, Smirnoff slammed the victim’s head into the side of the vehicle. For each assault, the victim was handcuffed, compliant, and did not pose a threat.

“Police officers who willfully use excessive force not only violate the Constitution, they erode public trust in law enforcement,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting victims of these abuses and upholding the Constitution and laws that protect us all.”

“It is especially important in a climate of distrust between law enforcement and the public, that officers act ethically and within the bounds of the law,” said U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin for the Middle District of Alabama. “This police officer’s brutal behavior was unacceptable and criminal. He violated this young man’s constitutional rights and the trust placed in law enforcement officers to faithfully, ethically, and morally enforce the law. You can be sure that anytime an officer steps over the line and into criminal behavior, as this one did, my office will hold that individual accountable.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge James E. Jewell stated, "the FBI supports our state and local law enforcement partners but will not tolerate the intentional abuse of a citizen. The position of police officer should convey compassion as well as trust and we intend to hold that line."

Smirnoff faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Montgomery Division. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Simpson of the Middle District of Alabama and Trial Attorney Michael J. Songer of the Civil Rights Division.

United States Wins Dispute Finding China’s Administration of Grain Tariff-Rate Quotas Breaches WTO Commitments



by: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Washington, D.C. - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced today that a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel found that China has administered its tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) for wheat, corn, and rice inconsistently with its WTO commitments. Contrary to those commitments, China’s TRQ administration is not transparent, predictable, or fair, and it ultimately inhibits TRQs from filling, denying U.S. farmers access to China’s market for grain.

This panel report is the second significant victory for U.S. agriculture this year, and, together with the victory against China’s excessive domestic support for grains, will help American farmers compete on a more level playing field.

“This second important victory for the United States further demonstrates that President Trump will take all steps necessary to enforce trade rules and to ensure free and fair trade for U.S. farmers. The Administration will continue to press China to promptly come into compliance with its WTO obligations,” said Ambassador Lighthizer.

China’s grain TRQs have annually underfilled. USDA estimates that if China’s TRQs had been fully used, it would have imported as much as $3.5 billion worth of corn, wheat and rice in 2015 alone.

“Making sure our trading partners play by the rules is vital to providing our farmers the opportunity to export high-quality, American-grown products to the world,” said Secretary Perdue. “Today’s announcement is another victory for American farmers and fairness in the global trade system. We will use every tool available to gain meaningful market access opportunities for U.S. grains and other agricultural products.”

Upon accession to the WTO, China made commitments specific to its administration of TRQs, including the commitment to administer its TRQs in a transparent, predictable, and fair basis, using clearly specified administrative procedures and requirements that do not inhibit the filling of each TRQ. In August 2017, the United States requested that the WTO establish a dispute settlement panel to consider whether China administers its TRQs for long-grain rice, short- and medium-grain rice, wheat, and corn in a manner inconsistent with its WTO commitments.

Today’s panel report agrees with the United States that China administers its TRQs in a manner inconsistent with its Accession Protocol obligations, through its eligibility criteria, allocation and reallocation procedures, public comment process, and processing restrictions. In addition, China allocates a significant portion of each TRQ to a designated state-trading enterprise (STE) and does not subject the STE to the same rules applied to non-state trading enterprises applying for and importing grains under the TRQs. Each finding individually established that China’s TRQ measures are inconsistent with its obligations.

Compliance with WTO rules will lead to market-oriented TRQ administration and improved access for U.S. and other exporters, overall creating a more level playing field.

Read more about the U.S. challenge, including additional details about how China’s TRQ administration breaches its WTO commitments.

USCIS Commemorates Second Anniversary of Buy American and Hire American Executive Order


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by: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Washington, D.C. - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Since President Trump signed the Buy American and Hire American executive order in April 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has implemented it through rules, policy memoranda, and operational changes that protect the economic interests of U.S. workers and prevent fraud and abuse in employment-based visa programs. Later today, USCIS will host a U.S. worker listening session covering the past two years’ worth of policies and rulemaking in support of the Buy American and Hire American executive order.

“USCIS is achieving the president’s goal of putting U.S. workers first by ensuring that our immigration system benefits the American people to the greatest extent possible,” said USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. “We still have work to do but the improvements we’ve made so far better protect U.S. workers’ jobs and wages, enhance fraud detection and prevention in employment-based visa programs, and increase the overall transparency of those programs for the American public.”

The Buy American and Hire American executive order seeks to create higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers and protect their economic interests by rigorously enforcing and administering our immigration laws. It also directs the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with other agencies, to advance policies to help ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid beneficiaries.

Below are USCIS’s key accomplishments related to the Buy American and Hire American executive order. Read more about these accomplishments (PDF, 1.54 MB) on our website.

Policies and Regulations Protecting U.S. Workers
  • Issued policy guidance (PDF, 80 KB) related to fees that certain H-1B petitioners must pay that ultimately help to train U.S. workers.
  • Issued policy guidance (PDF, 97 KB) instructing officers to apply the same level of scrutiny to both initial and extension requests for certain employment-based visa programs, emphasizing that the burden of proof for an immigration benefit request lies with the petitioner.
  • Issued policy guidance (PDF, 119 KB) related to petitions for H-1B workers who will work at third-party worksites.
  • Issued policy guidance (PDF, 95 KB) clarifying that a proxy vote must be irrevocable to establish the requisite control of a company in an L-1 visa petition.
  • Clarified calculation guidelines in a policy memorandum (PDF, 121 KB) for the L-1 one-year foreign employment requirement to ensure beneficiaries spend at least one year overseas.
  • Finalized a rule making simple and smart changes to the H-1B cap selection process to increase the chances of selection for beneficiaries who have earned a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education.

  • Fraud Detection and Prevention in Employment-Based Visa Programs
  • Announced that USCIS and the Department of Justice signed a Memorandum of Understanding (PDF, 2.00 MB) that expanded their collaboration to better detect and eliminate fraud, abuse and discrimination by employers bringing foreign workers to the United States.
  • Created H-1B and H-2B fraud reporting tip lines and strengthened information sharing with the Departments of State, Labor, and Justice to streamline and improve new and existing processes in our immigration system.
  • Enhanced our targeted site visit program to ensure that H-1B and L-1 employers and nonimmigrant workers comply with the terms of their approved petitions.

  • Transparency of Employment-Based Visa Programs
  • Created a webpage devoted to the Buy American and Hire American executive order providing additional data on various employment-based immigration programs and statistics on employment authorization documents provided to foreign nationals by classification and statutory eligibility.
  • Created the H-1B Employer Data Hub to provide information to the public on employers petitioning for H-1B workers.

  • Stat Facts: Health Care Members Lobby for Workplace Violence Legislation



    by: United Steelworkers

    Washington, D.C. - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- USW Health Care Council members walked the halls of Congress earlier this month to gain support from representatives and senators for workplace violence protection legislation.

    The bills, H.R. 7141 and S 851, direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a standard requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan.

    Valencia Davis, a nurse assistant at the Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center in Calif., participated in the lobby day because the issue is one that, unfortunately, dominates her work.

    “When we’re on the floor, it’s dangerous, especially if you’re the only one on the unit,” Davis, of Local 7600, said. “The violence is both physical and mental, and we get it both from patients and family members.”

    Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), the representative who introduced the bill originally in November 2018, believes health care workers like Davis and her fellow union members are long overdue for workplace protections.

    “This legislation compels OSHA to do what employees, safety experts, and Members of Congress have been calling for years – create an enforceable standard to ensure that employers are taking these risks seriously, and creating safe workplaces that their employees deserve,” Courtney said last fall.

    James Schavers, of Local 183 in Apple Valley, Calif., also joined the union delegation to D.C. A nursing assistant at St. Mary Medical Center for seven years, Schavers became involved with his local union in order to use his voice to create change.

    “When I realized we could actually get involved, I went from wanting knowledge to wanting to actually help people,” he said. “One way to do that was telling members of Congress about my and my coworkers’ experiences.”

    Schavers has been the victim of violence from patients several times, though it’s his coworkers he worries about most. Training, accountability, and reporting from the hospital are his priorities for his local’s next negotiations, scheduled for summer 2020.

    “The hospital expects you to stop patients if they lash out and strike you or rip out their IV’s,” Schavers said, “but they don’t provide proper training or resources. Then if you do experience violence, they expect you to come back to work the next day even if you’re in pain.”

    The introduction of the bill and the calls for its support are a part of the larger movement within the health care industry from workers like Schavers who are demanding dignity and protection on the job. Workplace violence, an epidemic often experienced in silence by victims, is finally being taken seriously by those who can help make a difference, including political leaders.

    A 2016 GAO study reported that rates of violence against health care workers are up to 12 times higher than rates for the overall workforce, and 70 percent of nonfatal workplace assaults in 2016 occurred in the health care and social assistance sectors. The bill, introduced with the support of 27 members of Congress, aims to reduce these rates.

    Davis, who has been a nursing assistant since 1984, is hopeful about the legislation’s prospects for passage after her long day of lobbying on Capitol Hill.

    “Everyone we talked to seemed to agree with us,” she said. “I definitely enjoyed the experience, too, and would love to do it again.”



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    by: Texas Senate

    Austin, TX - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Patients wouldn't have to worry about receiving bills for medical procedures they thought were covered by their insurance under a measure passed by the Senate on Tuesday. Surprise billing happens when a person goes to a medical facility within their insurance network, only to find out later that care was provided by contracted providers who aren't in their network. Since these contractors bill the insurance company at out-of-network rates, the patient can find themselves responsible for hundreds or thousands of dollars in medical expenses that they thought were in-network. What should happen, says North Richland Hills Senator Kelly Hancock, is that the insurer and health care providers should work this out between themselves, and leave the patient out of it. His bill, SB 1264, would protect patients from surprise billing while providing arbitration procedures to resolve billing disputes between providers. Following passage of the bill, Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt commended his colleague for his work on the bill. "People need help with this, because it's not just the money, it's the tremendous amount of time it takes to straighten these problems out," he said.

    Under the bill, if a patient receives care at an in-network facility, they are only responsible for the expected co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses they agreed to when they joined their insurance plan. If there is a dispute between an insurer and a healthcare provider, the bill provides an arbitration system modelled after the one used by Major League Baseball. In this system, each party presents an offer to an impartial third-party arbitrator, and he or she picks the most reasonable offer. This is intended to discourage low- or high-ball offers, and incentivizes parties to move towards the middle to avoid getting far less, or paying far more, than they would like. The bill would only apply to state-regulated insurance plans. Another bill by Hancock, SB 1530, would allow purchasers of self-funded plans regulated at the federal level under ERISA to opt-in to currently existing mediation procedures at the Texas Department of Insurance.

    Also Tuesday, the Senate gave tentative approval to a bill that would prohibit cities, counties and other local governmental entities from using public funds to hire professional lobbyists. Edgewood Senator Bob Hall thinks it's wrong when local governments use taxpayer money to hire lobbyists to go to Austin and fight legislation he believes will benefit those same taxpayers. "Taxpayer-funded lobbyists overwhelm the voices of citizens and elected officials, the very people we as legislators are elected to represent," he said. His bill, SB 29, wouldn't prevent local officials like mayors or city managers from coming to the statehouse to support or oppose legislation. The bill needs a final vote, likely Wednesday, to proceed to the House.

    Finally on Tuesday, the Senate approved the last two of a four bill package from Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton that would prohibit municipalities from imposing regulations relating to benefits and other employment practices on private businesses. He believes that these regulations stifle economic growth in Texas. Last week, the Senate passed two of his bills that would prevent cities from mandating sick leave and paid time-off policies to local businesses. Another bill passed Tuesday would also prohibit municipal regulations on scheduling requirements and overtime policies. "If enacted, these local policies would be catastrophic to businesses large and small," said Creighton. "Construction companies, restaurants, retail, hospitality and many other industries would be devastated." The final bill in the package would prohibit "ban the box" ordinances: rules preventing private employers from inquiring about past criminal history on employment applications. These measures will also need another, final vote Wednesday.

    Maryland Legislature Fails to Address Child Marriage – Again


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    by: Tahirih Justice Center
    Baltimore, MD - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- For the fourth year in a row, Maryland’s legislature has ended its session without passing much needed legislation to fix the state’s child marriage problem.

    Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary has championed reform bills in every session since 2016, and each year her legislation garnered broad bipartisan support in the state’s House of Representatives before being stymied by the Senate.

    This year was no exception. The House passed Delegate Atterbeary’s bill limiting marriage to legal adults with a vote of 136 to 4. Yet despite courageous testimony given by Maryland survivors of child marriage, the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee amended the bill to allow for broad exceptions to the rule, essentially gutting the legislation of any meaningful protective mechanisms. Once again, the legislative session came to a close before an effective compromise could be reached, leaving Maryland’s children vulnerable to abuse and exploitation for another year.

    Since 2016, 16 other states have strengthened their minimum marriage age laws. While Maryland failed to take action, Virginia, New York, Texas, Kentucky, Delaware, New Jersey, and Ohio all effectively ended child marriage – either by setting a minimum marriage age of 18 without exceptions, or by limiting marriage to adults over 18 and court-emancipated minors. Other states are poised to do the same this year: a bill to end child marriage is currently awaiting the governor’s signature in Georgia, and 9 more states have bills to end child marriage pending.

    “Bottom line, it’s pretty appalling that Maryland, in four legislative sessions hasn’t been able to accomplish what more than a dozen states have knocked out in a single session. It’s just truly disturbing that Maryland hasn’t acted to address what was squarely put to them as problems in their laws that put girls at serious risk of lifelong trauma,” said Jeanne Smoot, Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy

    As the movement to end child marriage continues marching forward, Maryland risks becoming a destination for the exploitation of children through marriage. In fact, since Virginia became the first to reform its laws in 2016, there have been an increasing number of Virginia resident minors getting married in Maryland. In 2016 and 2017 a total of 164 minors were married in Maryland; 65 of them had been brought from out of state to be wed.

    Every year the Maryland Senate fails to act, scores more children will be married and, more likely than not, face exploitation and abuse as a result of Maryland’s antiquated laws.

    Tahirih is grateful to the courageous survivors, advocates, and lawmakers who drive this movement forward. We look forward to the day when Maryland takes action to protect girls from the harms of forced and child marriage.

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    by: Liberty Counsel

    Orlando, FL - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- A school district in northeast Ohio has ended discrimination against a high school student-led Bible study and a Christian encouragement club, both of which have now been allowed to resume meetings on campus. Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the district on behalf of the students, requesting equal access on the same terms as other noncurricular clubs.

    The school board voted unanimously this month to recognize the Christian student-led clubs and to extend equal treatment in all respects, including permitting the students to invite guest speakers during noninstructional time.

    When the two clubs were cancelled in Fall 2017, the students were told they could no longer meet as "official school club[s]" and would be treated as "outside organization[s]." The Christian club could no longer have guest speakers, and neither it, nor the Bible study, were permitted to meet during noninstructional time or distribute flyers announcing their meetings. The clubs were told they would also be assessed a facilities fee.

    However, the school district permitted other "student-led" clubs such as the Gay-Straight Alliance, an environmental club, a fashion club, a vegan club, and others, to meet. These clubs met at no charge, were allowed faculty advisors, and had full access to all the information channels at school, including distribution and display of flyers, and announcements on the school PA system.

    In addition to meeting for encouragement and discussion, student leaders of the Christian club had hoped to demonstrate love and acceptance toward their fellow students by doing acts of kindness on various days. When they were first allowed to meet in 2017, this club met at school during noninstructional time. The students opened the meetings, and when they had a speaker, the students introduced the guest speaker. After the speaker, the students closed the meeting. No guest speaker spoke more than once. However, the Christian club was still told "no outside speakers" would be allowed unless the club moved off campus for such meetings.

    After the clubs were cancelled, the students involved in both clubs prepared documentation referencing the Equal Access Act and met with administrators to appeal these decisions. They were told they could "meet informally during lunch to read the Bible and pray" with a faculty advisor, but they could not be given club privileges, including sharing announcements about the club, or displaying club flyers.

    Liberty Counsel then sent a letter demanding equal access. After receiving the letter, the school board voted to allow the Christian student-led clubs.

    Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, "We are pleased that this Ohio school district has agreed to abide by the law in granting equal access to school facilities to the Bible study and the Christian club. The law is clear that public schools cannot discriminate against the Christian viewpoint of student-led clubs. Equal access means equal treatment in terms of use of the facilities, ability to meet, and announcements about the clubs. Equal access is a simple concept. Public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints on otherwise permissible subject matters," said Staver.

    Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics. Liberty Counsel provides broadcast quality TV interviews via Hi-Def Skype and LTN at no cost.

    Sri Lanka Bombings is a Wake-up Call to Protect Religious Freedom



    by: Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation

    New York, NY - April 22, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Ohr Torah Stone's Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) in Jerusalem wishes to express our sincerest condolences to the families of Sri Lanka who lost their loved ones in today's terrorist attacks that took the lives of more than 200 people and injured hundreds. Three Catholic churches were part of the targeted attacks while congregants were involved in prayer on one of Christianity's sacred days. Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President of Ohr Torah Stone, said that "the holiday of Passover reminds us of the need to speak out against affliction especially when targeted against religious groups on their holy days."

    According to David Nekrutman, CJCUC's Executive Director, the coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka that included churches, hotels, and other sites, is the largest and deadliest attack to occur in one day against Christians in the 21st Century. "These acts of terrorism whether in Pittsburgh, ChristChurch or Sri Lanka should be a wake-up call for the international community to take steps to ensure the security of all wishing to express their faith without fear," remarked Nekrutman.

    The CJCUC staff has been in communication with Catholic leaders and the Sri Lanka Embassy in Tel Aviv to express their solidarity of those who have been directly affected by this morning's tragedy. CJCUC will continue to monitor the situation and research the appropriate charities to help with the relief efforts in Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa.

    See More News about this:

    Acting Secretary McAleenan Statement on Sri Lanka Attacks

    Men who Sustained 80-day Hunger Strike Released from El Paso Detention Facility



    by: South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

    Washington, D.C. - April 19, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- Jasvir Singh and Rajandeep Singh were released from the Otero County Processing Center last week almost three months after initial reports that they were among nine Sikh men on hunger strike whom ICE agents were force feeding in the El Paso Service Processing Center.

    El Paso and Las Cruces based community groups and national advocacy organizations launched a coordinated campaign to demand ICE cease force feeding and release the men.

    ICE released both men on bond after consistent pressure from local Rep. Veronica Escobar’s office and local and national advocates, and days after a Congressional Delegation from the House Committee on Homeland Security visited and toured facilities in El Paso where they examined immigration policies and operations along our southern border.

    Three of the men who had originally been among the nine on hunger strike remain in detention. While on hunger strike at EPSPC they reported regular physical, verbal, and psychological abuse at the hands of facility guards.

    Jasvir and Rajandeep sustained a hunger strike for nearly 80 days to protest their conditions and treatment in detention. They had been held in the EPSPC since November 2018. Initially they were part of a group of 13 men in the EPSPC, ten from India and three from Cuba, who began hunger striking at the end of December.

    Four of the men taking part in the hunger strike were deported and returned to India in early March. A fifth man who agreed to stop his hunger strike in January in return for much needed surgery, was also deported.


    Jennifer Apodaca of the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee who led advocacy efforts in El Paso said, “ICE always had the discretion to release people but refused to use it. It shouldn’t have taken an angry congressional delegation to secure their release. Instead, they continue to ignore the complaints of abuse and torture and turn a blind eye at the conditions of detention and prison spaces that house more than 52,000 people as they await their fate in our broken and biased immigration courts. All of this could have been avoided. It is time to abolish the detention and deportation machine. “

    Nathan Craig from Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) visited the hunger strikers regularly in the El Paso facility. He said, “From their initial asylum requests, to their treatment while hunger striking, to their various hearings, all of these men experienced substantial discrimination based on the language they speak and the way they dress. Unfounded value judgements by and prejudices from U.S. government officials and contractors resulted in significant negative consequences for these men’s asylum claims. Inadequate, or complete lack of, interpretation was a chronic problem. All of the men told me about how they were subjected to frequent racial and ethnic slurs while detained. Sadly, more than the facts of their cases, these men’s asylum claims have been structured by prejudice on the part of immigration officials and their contractors. This must change. Wrongdoing at all stages of the process must be investigated. Justice must be brought for those men still in the US, and those men already deported must be afforded the opportunity to return to the US to pursue justice for what is widely recognized as torturous treatment in detention.”

    Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national advocacy organization for South Asians that led national advocacy efforts said, “We are relieved that Jasvir and Rajandeep have finally been released, but it should not have taken this long. And, we remain deeply concerned for the three men who remain in detention – we fear they could be deported back to India and into the dangerous conditions they fled. We also know there are thousands more people housed in detention facilities across the country, suffering from the same litany of abuse and due process violations that our government refuses to acknowledge and address. It is clear that our nation’s entire understanding of detention must be overhauled. As a start, we need Congress to pass legislation that will hold facilities accountable with penalties and even the threat of shutting down for their repeated patterns of noncompliance.”

    Soon-to-be Released Report Will Show That Social Security Continues to Work for America


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    by: Social Security Works

    Washington, D.C. - April 19, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- As reporters prepare to cover the soon-to-be-released 2019 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports, Social Security Works provides you with this background analysis, which summarizes what are likely to be the Social Security Report’s key findings (based on last year’s forecasts), and puts them in context. Please note that this backgrounder addresses only the Social Security cash benefits Trustees Report (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Trustees Report), and not the Medicare Trustees Report.

    In addition to reviewing this backgrounder, we invite you to speak with our president, Nancy Altman, who is a nationally recognized Social Security expert. (See her bio below.) We also urge you to review our fact sheet that discusses, among other things, misinterpretations by non-experts caused by over-emphasis of unrealistically long valuation periods.

    The most important takeaways from the 2019 Trustees Report will be that (1) Social Security has a large accumulated surplus, and (2) Social Security is extremely affordable. In three-quarters of a century, in 2095, Social Security will constitute just around 6.16 percent of GDP. That is considerably lower, as a percentage of GDP, than Germany, Austria, France, and most other industrialized countries spend on their counterpart programs today.

    The 2019 Trustees Report will project Social Security’s cumulative surplus to be roughly $2.9 trillion. It will show that Social Security is fully funded until around 2034, around 93 percent funded for the next 25 years, around 87 percent funded over the next 50 years, and around 84 percent funded over the next 75 years.

    (Those percentages are calculated from the 2018 report. This year’s report may vary slightly, but not significantly. As soon as the report is released, this backgrounder will be updated with the latest projections and released as a fact sheet.)

    Often, the release of the annual Trustees Report leads to lamentations from many observers that “Congress has no plan to address Social Security’s projected shortfall.” That is incorrect. It is only Congressional Republicans who have no plans – at least that they are willing to publicly embrace. That is perhaps because their preferred “solutions” involve benefit cuts, which are overwhelmingly opposed by voters across the political spectrum, including their own Republican base.

    In contrast, Congressional Democrats have concrete plans – not just to ensure that all promised benefits will be paid in full and on time for the foreseeable future, but to address our nation’s retirement income crisis by increasing Social Security’s modest benefits. The Social Security 2100 Act, introduced by Rep. John Larson (D-CT), has over 200 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. Larson has held several hearings on the bill and intends to bring it to the House floor this spring.

    Several other bills to protect and expand Social Security benefits have been introduced in the House and Senate, and nearly every 2020 presidential candidate serving in Congress is a member of the bicameral Expand Social Security Caucus.

    The question of whether to expand or cut Social Security’s modest benefits is a question of values and choice, not affordability. Indeed, in light of Social Security’s near universality, efficiency, fairness in its benefit distribution, portability from job to job, and security, the obvious solution to the nation’s looming retirement income crisis is to increase Social Security’s modest benefits. The average annual benefit received by Social Security’s over 63 million beneficiaries is only about $16,000 this year.

    Over half (52 percent) of American households headed by someone of working age will not be able to maintain their standards of living in old age. This figure rises to roughly two-thirds when health and long-term care costs are also considered. Traditional employer-sponsored defined benefit pension plans are disappearing, leaving workers, at best, 401(k) and other retirement savings plans, which have proven inadequate. Around half of households aged 55 or older had zero retirement savings in 2013. Among those households age 55-64 with some retirement savings in 2013, the median amount of those savings was about $104,000, equivalent to an annuity of just $310 a month. Thus, it is not surprising that today two-thirds of senior beneficiaries rely on Social Security for a majority of their income. Social Security will certainly be even more important to tomorrow’s seniors.

    Expanding Social Security not only addresses the retirement income crisis, it also is part of the answer to growing income and wealth inequality and the financial squeeze on working families. Expanding, not cutting, Social Security while requiring the wealthiest among us to contribute more – indeed, their fair share – is the best policy approach to addressing these challenges while restoring Social Security to long-range actuarial balance. Cutting those modest benefits will only exacerbate these challenges.

    Small Businesses Win With USMCA, According to USITC Report



    by: Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

    Washington, D.C. - April 19, 2019 - (The Ponder News) -- On April 18, the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) released the report, “U.S.- Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement: Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors,” which found that the USMCA agreement would increase U.S. GDP by $68.2 billion and add 176,000 jobs. Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council) president & CEO Karen Kerrigan issued the following statement about the USITC report:

    “America’s small businesses greatly benefit from trade with Canada and Mexico, and the USITC report shows enhanced value and growth for our economy and all industry sectors under USMCA. The biggest gains noted in the USITC report are for the service sector and manufacturing, which are dominated by small businesses. The findings clearly demonstrate the value of USMCA to workers, small businesses, entrepreneurs and our economy and is another reason why every member of Congress needs to get behind passage of this important agreement.”

    Read the full USITC report here.

    Small Business Trade Data with Canada and Mexico

    According to the International Trade Administration small to mid-size businesses dominate trade with Mexico and Canada.

    Export Data

    Mexico: Of the 57,098 U.S. firms that export to Mexico, 57.7 percent have less than 20 employees, 72.3 percent have less than 50 employees, and 81.4 percent have less than 100 employees.

    Canada: Of the 86,526 U.S. firms that export to Canada, 59.9 percent have less than 20 employees, 75.3 percent have less than 50 employees, and 83.7 percent have less than 100 employees.

    Import Data

    Mexico: In terms of imports, of the 15,481 U.S. firms that import from Mexico, 57.6 percent have less than 20 employees, 67.9 percent have less than 50 employees, and 74.6 percent have less than 100 employees.

    Canada: Regarding Canada, there are 17,277 U.S. importers and 43.3 percent have less than 20 employees, 55.7 percent have less than 50 employees, and 65.3 percent have less than 100 employees.