At our recent visit to Senator Schatz’s office, his staff shared with us some of the Senator’s 2019 successes for Hawaii.
Raising the Smoking and Vaping Age to 21 This legislation prohibits the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21. Research from the National Academy of Medicine shows that raising the minimum legal age of sale of tobacco products to 21 nationwide would reduce the number of new tobacco users, decrease smoking frequency by 12 percent, and save more than 220,000 lives from deaths related to smoking.
Providing Paid Parental Leave for Federal Workers This bill provides two million federal workers with 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child after birth, adoption, or the initiation of foster care.
Increasing the Ability for Military Bases to Handle Extreme Weather Senator Schatz’s legislation, the Requiring Every American Defense Installation to Nullify Environmental Stresses for Security (READINESS) Act, protects military bases from extreme weather events by requiring them to prepare for potential disasters and other risks posed by severe changes in environmental conditions.
Improving the Emergency Alert System The Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act, which was introduced by Senator Schatz following the false emergency alert that went out across Hawai‘i in January 2018, will improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the primary responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat.
Fighting Trafficking of Child Pornography The End National Defense (END) Network Abuse Act upgrades the training and technical capacity of military criminal investigative organizations to confront the misuse of the DoD’s computers, facilities, and equipment to access and trade child pornography. It would also require the DoD to enter into collaborative agreements with appropriate federal, state and local law enforcement entities, child protection organizations, trauma informed health care providers, and targeted social services.
Expanding Benefits for Veterans As a result of legislation authored by Senator Schatz, which was signed into law in 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) has expanded access to military commissaries, exchanges, and recreation facilities to more veterans and caregivers. Thousands of veterans in Hawai‘i may be eligible for these new benefits. Veterans and caregivers now eligible to access commissaries and exchanges include:
- Purple Heart recipients
- Former prisoners of war
- All veterans with service-connected disabilities
- Individuals approved and designated as the primary family caregivers of eligible veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
Leading on Our Priorities
Chairing the Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis Senator Schatz was named Chair of the newly established Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. The committee is responsible for working with experts to issue findings on the economic and national security consequences of climate change.
The committee held several hearings on issues related to climate this year including disaster resilience, environmental justice, and current mitigation initiatives at the local level. They have also solicited input from labor leaders, Indigenous groups, and international banking executives.
Providing Quality Low-Cost Choices for Health Insurance Senator Schatz and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) reintroduced the State Public Option Act to create a Medicaid-based public health care option to strengthen the Affordable Care Act by providing Americans with a new high-quality, low-cost choice when purchasing health insurance.
Expanding Care Through Telehealth Senator Schatz led a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019, legislation that would expand telehealth services through Medicare, improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers. Several provisions in earlier versions of the CONNECT for Health Act have become law or been adopted by federal agencies.
Leading on Affordable College Senator Schatz and Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) led a group of 42 members of Congress in reintroducing the Debt-Free College Act, legislation that will reverse the growing student debt crisis in the United States. The bill restores a path to affordable college by providing states incentives through matching grants to increase investments in public higher education and provide students with debt-free college.
Addressing Disparities in Higher Education Senator Schatz introduced the College Equity Act, a bill that would give colleges and universities funding to address disparities in higher education recruitment, admissions, and support. Studies show that too often higher education outcomes depend on demographics. Students of color have lower acceptance, enrollment, and graduation rates, as well as lower post-graduation salaries and higher student loan debt. Over half of all college students with disabilities do not graduate within eight years. Less than 60 percent of all Pell Grant recipients complete degree programs within six years.
Increased Federal Funding for Hawai‘i Hawai‘i has now been allocated more than a half a billion dollars in federal disaster relief funding to help the state recover from the historic storms in April 2018, Hurricane Lane, and the eruption of Kilauea on Hawai‘i Island. The funding includes:
- $15.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in individual assistance to help people who have lost their home;
- $205 million from FEMA in public assistance to help local and state governments clean up and repair public infrastructure such as facilities, parks, and water lines;
- $93.1 million from the Department of Transportation to help rebuild roads and highways;
- $80 million from the Department of the Interior to help repair damages at the Hawai‘i Volcanoes Observatory and the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge;
- $71 million from the Department of Housing & Urban Development for housing and community development;
- $47.2 million from the Small Business Administration in subsidized loans to help individuals and businesses pay for repairs not covered by insurance;
- $4 million from the Department of Labor in Disaster Unemployment Insurance to help those who lost their job temporarily or permanently because of a disaster and are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits; and
- $187,000 from the Economic Development Administration to provide technical assistance.
Annual federal funding for Hawai‘i also continues to rise. Some highlights are listed below. A more complete list of Hawaii-related funding included in the FY20 bipartisan spending deal is available at Senator Schatz’s website.
Affordable Housing - $44.5 million, a $3.1 million increase from last year. This estimated funding supports the HOME Investment Partnership program, which provides resources to help communities build and maintain affordable housing. It also supports the Community Development Block Grant Program, the Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program, the Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program, and HUD Homeless Assistance grant programs.
Highway and Transportation - $189 million, a $11.6 million increase from last year. This estimated funding is distributed from the Highway Trust Fund to Hawai‘i for highway maintenance and new construction of bridges, roads, and bike and pedestrian paths.
Native Hawaiian Education - $36.9 million, a $500,000 increase from last year. This funding supports programs that strengthen Native Hawaiian culture, improve levels of educational attainment, and enhance family and community involvement in education. President Trump proposed eliminating funding for Native Hawaiian education programs in his budget. Senator Schatz also included a provision to allow funds to be used for construction, renovation, and modernization of public schools that predominantly serve Native Hawaiian students.
Native Hawaiian Health Care - $19 million, a $1.5 million increase from last year. Native Hawaiian Health Centers, run through the Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems program, provide critical access to health education, promotion, disease prevention, and basic primary care services for thousands of Native Hawaiians. This funding will support five health centers on Hawai‘i Island, Kauai, Molokai, Maui, and Oahu.
Veterans Affairs - $92.2 billion (nationwide), a $5.4 billion increase from last year. Funding will be used to:
- Strengthen the VA Pacific Island Health Care System’s ability to better serve women veterans;
- Continue to address major and minor construction requirements, including a long-overdue community-based outpatient clinic in Hilo;
- Address ongoing non-recurring maintenance challenges, including aged electrical systems and leaking roofs;
- Expand VA telehealth services for veterans in rural and remote areas;
- Further veterans’ use of outdoor experiences as part of a continuum of care to treat combat-related injuries;
- Provide funding for the VA to begin processing claims of Blue Water Navy veterans, whose benefits are long overdue;
- Continue to provide support for caregivers of severely injured veterans while the VA expands the program to veterans of all eras; and
- Expand support to homeless veterans, particularly homeless women veterans and homeless veterans in rural communities.
Food Security Microgrants - $2 million, new funding. This funding will go towards helping individuals and groups in Hawai‘i purchase tools, soil, seeds, plants, animals, composting units, gardening systems, and other necessities for growing and preserving food. The funds can also be used to expand areas under cultivation, extend the growing season, build or repair livestock fencing, travel to agricultural education programs, expand the sale of locally grown crops and meats, and to engage in other activities that increase food security.
Japanese American Confinement Sites including Honouliuli - $3.2 million (nationwide), a $250,000 increase despite President Trump’s proposed elimination. Funding will support Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grants. JACS grants support the preservation of Japanese American internment camps, including the Honouliuli National Monument, through partnerships with local preservation groups. Grants may also be used to encourage and support the research, interpretation, and preservation of internment camps to help prevent the injustice of internment from being repeated.
STEM Apprenticeship Grant Program - $2 million (nationwide), new funding. The new funding will implement a new grant program created by Senator Schatz. The new program at the Economic Development Administration will help create new apprenticeships in STEM fields.
East-West Center - $16.7 million, despite President Trump’s proposed elimination. The East-West Center directly supports the U.S. rebalance to the Asia Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue with countries in the region. It is the only U.S. institution that provides a multilateral approach through research and exchange programs.
Military and National Security Construction Projects - $330 million.
- $60 million for U.S. Army Pacific’s Mission Command Facility at Fort Shafter;
- $134 million for a Bachelor Enlisted Quarters at Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i;
- $53.8 million to begin the consolidation of the West Loch magazine;
- $67.7 million for a Special Operations Force Undersea Operational Training Facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam;
- $4 million to install a 500 kW covered parking PV and electric vehicle charging station at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam; and
- $10 million for Coast Guard Base Honolulu to address an unfunded requirement to improve the pier and shore-ties for a buoy tender displaced by the new National Security Cutter.
Native Hawaiian Housing - $2 million, despite President Trump’s proposed elimination. The Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant Program provides financial assistance for Native Hawaiian families to obtain new homes, make renovations, build community facilities, and receive housing services, including counseling, financial literacy and other critical resources to address housing disparities.