News From Washington

Today’s press releases from our Democratic Congressional delegation:


College Cost Reduction and Access Act’s interest rate cut will save Pennsylvanians starting college this fall an average of $2,580

(Washington, D.C.) — U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-04) today issued the following statement on the drop in interest rates on need-based federal student loans from 6.8 percent to 6.0 percent starting July 1st. As one of the key provisions of the historic College Cost Reduction and Access Act, this interest rate cut will save the average Pennsylvania student starting college this fall $2,580 over the life of his or her loan.

By 2011, interest rates on federal subsidized student loans will be cut in half to 3.4 percent, saving the average student with federal need-based student loan debt $4,400 over the life of his or her loan. Each year, 5.5 million students borrow need-based federal student aid.

“In recent years, the skyrocketing cost of college has become a huge financial burden for American families,” Altmire said. “During the 2006 election, Democrats pledged to make college more affordable and that’s exactly what we did by passing the College Cost Reduction and Access Act.

“On July 1, millions of college students are going to see the real benefits of this legislation when they see a drop in the interest rates on their federal student loans,” Altmire continued. “Given our sluggish economy and the growing toll that high gas and food prices are taking on families’ budgets, this drop in interest rates could not have come at a better time.”

For the 2008-2009 academic year, in addition to the federal student loan interest rates being cut to 6.0%, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act will give students $4,000 in up-front tuition assistance each year if they commit to teaching high-need subjects in high-need public schools upon graduation. Pell Grant scholarships will also increase by $490 (raising the maximum award to $4,731). By 2012, the maximum Pell Grant award will rise to $5,400, a $1,090 increase from 2006.

Congressman Kanjorski to Announce Grant for Area Affordable Housing;

Vacant school site to be converted to low-income rental units

West Hazleton, PA, June 30, 2008 – Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11) will announce the awarding of a grant to help convert the former E.A. Encke Elementary School site in the Borough of West Hazleton to much-needed affordable housing.

The announcement will be made Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 10 a.m. in City Council Chambers at the West Hazleton Borough Building, 12 South 4th Street. West Hazleton Mayor Mike Rockovich, Dave Fagula, executive director of the Housing Authority of Luzerne County, and area affordable housing, community and economic development and banking leaders will join Congressman Kanjorski and the mayor to announce the grant. Full details of the project’s status will be shared during the event.

The new housing project on Madison Avenue will feature 30 rental units for very-low- and low-income individuals and is part of overall revitalization planning in the Borough.


Pennsylvania veterans eligible for additional $14,000 to pay for college

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-04) today issued the following statement on the revamped G.I. Bill, which the president signed into law this morning as part of the supplemental funding legislation. Pennsylvanians who have completed more than three months of active duty service since September 11, 2001 could now qualify for a maximum educational benefit of $23,846 a year, which includes $12,164 for tuition, $1,000 for books and $1,186 per month for living expenses. This is a dramatic increase over the original G.I. bill’s maximum education benefit of $9,990 a year.

Earlier this year, Congressman Altmire joined Congressman Harry Mitchell (AZ-05) in introducing the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (Post-9/11 G.I. Bill – H.R. 5740), which was included in the supplemental funding legislation. More than 65,000 Pennsylvanians have been deployed since 2001 and could qualify for assistance under the new G.I. Bill. Veterans can find out more information on how to access these benefits by calling their universities’ veterans liaison’s office, calling 1-888-GIBILL-1, or going to

“Today, the promise of the G.I. Bill has been fully restored for our newest generation of veterans,” Altmire said. “As tuition costs rose in recent years, the real value of the G.I. Bill fell to the point where it covered only a fraction of the cost of a college education. Now, Congress has ensured that veterans will have the funding they need to pay for a quality education at any public university. I am confident that just like the millions of Americans heroes who went to college on the G.I. bill in the 1940s, today’s veterans will use this new G.I. Bill to strengthen our country.”


WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11) released the following statement after the President signed the Supplemental Appropriations Bill into law, which included a new GI Bill and a provision to extend unemployment benefits for an extra 13 weeks for jobless workers.

“With almost 2 million American soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, I support the enactment of a new GI Bill today to provide full, four-year education benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, just as was done after WWII.  With many of our troops having served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, this action is long past due as current benefits pay only about 70 percent of a public college education.  These men and women are fighting to protect America, and today we proved that we are working to support them once they return home.

“Additionally, we are facing tough economic times.  Many families are personally feeling the effects of the slowing economy.  A recent spike in the unemployment rate marked the largest jump in two decades.  By expanding unemployment benefits for displaced workers, we are helping to provide much needed relief to Americans and their families right now.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

News From Washington

Here are some of the latest press releases from the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation.  I think this is a good way to publish their announcements and get our message out there “unfiltered” by the regular media.  Now that more of our Congressional delegation is sending me their releases this is a good way to collect and publish these messages.

From Allyson Schwartz:

Congress Passes Schwartz’s Resolution Creating National Save for Retirement Week

Washington, D.C. – This week Congress passed National Save for Retirement Week, a resolution authored by U.S. Representatives Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa) and Sam Johnson (R-Texas). Prior to the vote, Schwartz spoke on the House floor to encourage her colleagues to support this important measure recognizing the vital need for American families to plan for retirement, especially given the current economic uncertainty.

Schwartz’s statement follows.

“The resolution before us supports the goals and ideals of National Save for Retirement Week, which this year falls between October 19 and October 25, 2008. I want to thank my colleague, Mr. Johnson of Texas, for working with me to bring attention to the importance of retirement planning for American families.

“We are living in a time when workers are being asked to shoulder an increasing share of the cost of saving for retirement. Even with an employee-sponsored retirement plan and the promise of Social Security benefits, Americans need to put additional money aside to ensure a financially secure retirement.

“For many Americans, saving is becoming an increasingly difficult task as they struggle to meet their everyday obligations. Even in solidly middle-income families, financial resources are stretched thin as parents work to meet other pressing needs, whether it’s purchasing health care coverage, paying for college, buying a tank of gas, or simply paying monthly bills on time.

“Over the past several years, we have seen a dramatic shift in our retirement system. Most workers are no longer eligible for traditional pensions, which provide a predictable monthly benefit throughout retirement. Instead, workers are bearing more of the costs and investment risks of saving adequately for their retirement through workplace defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s or through IRAs.

“As a result, the value of most Americans’ retirement benefits, and the security of their retirement, is now directly linked to their own decisions and the amount of dollars that they save over the years and the balance held in their accounts when they retire.

“The dramatic shift towards individual defined contribution plans is clear. According to Employee Benefits Research Institute, only 10 percent of workers are currently covered by defined benefit plans, compared to 63 percent of workers who are currently covered by 401(k) plans. This stands in stark contrast to the reality of 30 years ago when it was just the opposite, when coverage rates were 62 percent for defined benefits plans and 16 percent for 401(k)s.

“While this shift is empowering American workers to make more of their own financial decisions, many families are finding it difficult to save significantly to meet their retirement needs. It is particularly difficult during a time of economic uncertainty, as we are experiencing today.

“It may be difficult but continues to be vitally important for Americans to prepare for retirement, to think about savings, especially given that half of all workers have less than 25 percent in total savings, whether for retirement or to help them in periods of financial difficulty.

“As our country shifts towards an increasing reliance on individual savings and as families are tempted to dip into their retirement accounts to meet current everyday expenses during this time of high gas and food prices, it is more important than ever that we educate Americans about the pressing need to save even small amounts every year that they possibly can.

“In my district, I have partnered with banks and credit unions and other financial institutions to host seminars to help provide information on how to make educated, financially responsible decisions about personal and family budgets and to help establish a habit of saving for the future.

“I have even visited with schools in my district to help reach out to young people in order to emphasize the importance of saving for the future. It is never too early to learn that every little bit we save now will help in the long run.

“So whether you’re a 16-year-old receiving your first paycheck, or a 25-year-old getting your first real raise, or a 45-year-old with a mortgage and two kids, the habit of putting a little bit away every month in regular savings can, with the help of compound interest, add up to a more secure retirement.

“The resolution before us supports and encourages educational opportunities on a national scale and creates a collaborative effort to emphasize the importance of making savings for retirement a priority for all Americans.”

U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz to be

Awarded First-Ever “Gateway to Innovation” Award for Her Leadership on Healthcare

On, Monday June 30, U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz will become the first-ever recipient of the “Gateway to Innovation” award, presented by many of the nation’s premier healthcare providers to members of Congress who demonstrate commitment, leadership and vision in working to improve the quality and affordability of healthcare in the United States.

Schwartz will be presented the award by the Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of chief executives of many of the nation’s leading healthcare companies and organizations representing all health care sectors.

U.S. Rep. Schwartz was selected by the Healthcare Leadership Council as an inaugural recipient of the award because of the leadership she had demonstrated throughout her career in public service, from her efforts in the Pennsylvania State Senate to create the Children’s Health Insurance program to her current role as Co-chair of the New Democratic Coalition’s Healthcare Taskforce.  She is a champion in Congress on issues ranging from making health coverage more affordable for working families to pressing for the nationwide development of health information technology to elevate both the quality and cost-effectiveness of U.S. health care.

From Jason Altmire:



(Washington, D.C.) — U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-04) today voted for three bills that would help make America more energy independent and provide relief to Americans struggling with high gas prices. These bills encourage oil companies to drill on the 68 million acres of federal land which they are currently leasing, but have not yet developed; crack down on energy speculators who inflate the price of oil; and provide grants to mass transit authorities in order to reduce public transit fares.

“Let me be clear: I support domestic drilling and believe that the oil companies should immediately start developing the 68 million acres of federal land currently leased to them,” Altmire said. “It is estimated that this land could yield an additional 4.8 million barrels of oil each day, which would nearly double the U.S.’s oil production.  Although this important measure failed to gain the two-thirds majority it needed to pass today, I hope the House will take up this legislation again in July so we can encourage the oil companies to increase their domestic drilling.”

Congressman Altmire is a cosponsor of the “Use it or Lose it” bill (HR 6251), which requires oil companies to pursue drilling on the 68 million acres of federal land they are currently leasing before they can obtain additional federal drilling leases. It is estimated that these 68 million acres of land hold 81 percent of America’s federal oil and gas reserves and could produce 4.8 million barrels of oil and 44.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day. This would nearly double the U.S.’s current domestic oil production and could cut oil imports by one-third. The bill fell short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass by vote of 223-195.

“It is inaccurate to claim that drilling alone will solve America’s energy problems,” Altmire said. “That is why I also voted today to reign in energy speculators who have driven up the price of oil and to provide grants to local transit agencies in order to lower fares. These bills are the latest in a series of actions taken by this Congress to make America more energy independent.”

The Energy Markets Emergency Act (HR 6377), which passed today by a vote of 402-19, directs the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to curb excessive speculation in energy markets. Experts estimate energy speculators inflate the price of oil by as much as $20 to $30 a barrel.

Finally, the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008, which passed by a vote of 322-98, will give $1.7 billon in grants to mass transit authorities to reduce public transit fares, giving consumers a cost-effective alternative to driving. These grants can also be used to expand transit services and cover escalating operating costs.

From Paul Kanjorski:


Kanjorski Co-Sponsored Legislation and Urged Vote

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11) announced that H.R. 6052, the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act, which he co-sponsored, passed in the House by a vote of 322-98.  With gas prices now exceeding $4 per gallon – a historic high – this bill would authorize $1.7 billion in grants for mass transit authorities for fiscal years 2008 and 2009 to help promote increased public transportation use.  This funding is especially important as more and more people are using public transportation due to the increasing cost of gas.  According to the American Public Transportation Association, in the first three months of 2008, Americans took almost 85 million more transit trips than in the same period last year.  This legislation was originally brought to Congressman Kanjorski’s attention by the Luzerne County Transportation Authority (LCTA).

“It is more important now than ever before to invest in our public transportation systems.  The passage of H.R. 6052 in the House today signals the need to provide more options for consumers and public transit systems as a result of the skyrocketing gas prices,” said Congressman Kanjorski. “Many transportation systems are feeling the strains from the influx of riders and this bill will provide funding for these systems to improve services and lower fares so that people will not have to drive as frequently.  The House effectively worked together to pass bipartisan legislation directly helping Americans.”

“We at the LCTA applaud Congressman Kanjorski for his support of this bill, and his efforts to ensure its passage in the House,” said Stanley Strelish, Executive Director of the LCTA.  “By increasing funding for public transportation, the LCTA, as well as other public transportation systems, will be able to better accommodate the increase in riders from the rising energy costs.  I thank Congressman Kanjorski for his support and interest in creating an energy independent and environmentally friendly Luzerne County and Pennsylvania.”

As gas prices continue to reach record highs, more Americans are taking public transportation to avoid paying the costs associated with driving a car.  H.R. 6052 would give grants to mass transit systems allowing them to reduce fares for consumers, and improve their own operations.  According to the LCTA, bus ridership has increased over 180,000 trips in the past year from 1,208,322 in 2007 to 1,390,174 in 2008 so far.

Congressman Kanjorski is also working in Congress to ease the pressure of energy costs which is causing financial strain for many American families by developing a long-term strategy to effectively combat these issues:

·       Call for an energy summit

     Last week, Congressman Kanjorski sent a letter to the House and Senate leadership requesting that they convene a bipartisan summit on energy issues before the August District Work Period.  Such an event would provide a forum to address the rising costs of energy, discuss how we can reduce this financial strain, and work to decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

·       Introduce legislation implementing a windfall profits tax

       Congressman Kanjorski recently introduced legislation which would tax oil and gas companies for their windfall profits.  In 2007, the Big Five oil companies reported record profits, with Exxon Mobil making over $40 billion, the largest corporate profit in American history.

·       Halt shipment of oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR)

       On May 13, Congress passed legislation, with Congressman Kanjorski’s support, that directed the President to temporarily halt the shipment of about 70,000 barrels of oil a day to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), the world’s largest emergency supply of crude oil.  This action – which the President initially opposed but ultimately signed into law – could help reduce gas prices by as much as 24 cents per gallon.

·       Support domestic drilling, including in ANWR

     Congressman Kanjorski supports additional exploration of domestic sources of petroleum to help America reduce its dependence on foreign oil, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.  He also voted to allow natural gas drilling 25 miles offshore and allow natural gas leasing in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic.

·       Encourage the development of alternative energy sources

     Congressman Kanjorski supports and has voted in favor of the development of alternative sources of energy, including wind, solar, and biofuels, as well as the careful expansion of nuclear power.  He also supports transitioning to using cellulosic ethanol to help with energy costs and avoid affecting the price of food.

According to AAA, gas prices have reached a record $4.07 per gallon nationwide, over $1 more than the price from a year ago.  Additionally, oil prices recently climbed to an all-time high record of $138 per barrel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

News From Washington

I’ve received several press releases from our Congressional delegation, especially regarding the Medicare bill.  Here they are.

From Allyson Schwartz:

Washington, D.C. – Ways and Means Committee member, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz released the following statement after the House passed the “Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act.” The legislation, which passed 355 to 59, will prevent the 10.6 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians that is due to take effect in July, as well as enact other key provisions strengthening Medicare.

“Today’s overwhelmingly bipartisan vote is a major victory for our nation’s seniors, disabled, and healthcare providers. The Medicare bill that we passed today, with veto-proof support from 355 Members, will not only prevent the impending physician fee cut and bolster this program for patients, but it also strengthens Medicare by providing more affordable access to services for low income Americans; expanding access to mental health services; and promoting improved patient safety with incentives for electronic prescribing.

“Our actions today should be a clear indication to the Senate that prompt action has bipartisan support, and we can and should pass, this bill with a veto-proof majority.

“I urge Leader Reid, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, and others to take this legislation up for immediate action.”

Update:  Senate Republicans blocked this bill.  Now reimbursements to doctors for Medicare patients will be cut by 10% in July.  This will result in many doctors refusing to take new Medicare patients.

From Jason Altmire:

(Washington, D.C.) — In a huge victory for western Pennsylvania’s small businesses and seniors, U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-04) today helped pass legislation that will delay implementation of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service’s (CMS) competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment for 18 months. If this bill does not become law, hundreds of small medical equipment suppliers in western Pennsylvania will lose their ability to sell equipment to Medicare beneficiaries starting July 1. The Senate is expected to vote on the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which passed the House by a vote of 355-59, later this week.

“This vote is a significant victory for small medical equipment suppliers in western Pennsylvania and the seniors they serve,” Altmire said. “CMS’s competitive bidding program was poorly implemented from the beginning because it ignored the personal role small businesses play in meeting patients’ needs. I hope that the Senate will follow the House’s lead and pass this bill as soon as possible so we can improve the competitive bidding program to ensure it both saves seniors’ money and preserves their access to quality care.”

Congressman Altmire has led the way in reviewing CMS’s implementation of DME competitive bidding and was one of the first members of Congress to call for a delay in the program in order to protect small businesses and ensure Medicare recipients did not lose access to suppliers that they have gone to for years. Last October, Congressman Altmire, as Chair of the Small Business Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, called a hearing on the program. He followed this hearing with letters to the Small Business Administration, CMS, and the House Ways and Means Committee pushing them to protect seniors and ensure competitive bidding does not hurt small businesses.

The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 that passed today also includes two other Altmire initiatives. The bill includes a provision of the Relief and Elimination of the Medicare Enrollment Deadline Penalty (REMEDY) Act (H.R. 1310), legislation Congressman Altmire introduced last year to provide relief to over 4 million Medicare beneficiaries who could be penalized for not signing up for prescription drug coverage during the Medicare Part D program’s enrollment period.

It also increases financial incentives to encourage doctors to use e-prescribing technology that can reduce costly medical errors and save lives. As a co-chair of the New Democrats Health Care Task Force, Congressman Altmire is working to improve the quality and affordability of health care by investing in health IT initiatives like e-prescribing and by paying doctors based on the quality of care provided.

From Paul Kanjorski:

Kanjorski Successfully Convinced House Leadership to Maintain Higher

Medicare Reimbursements for Hospitals

WASHINGTON – Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11) successfully advocated for higher Medicare reimbursements for 11 area hospitals in H.R. 6331, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which passed in the House today by a vote of 355-59.  This bill extends Section 508 of the Medicare Modernization Act until September 30, 2009, ensuring that hospitals receive the fair Medicare reimbursements that they deserve.  As a result, 11 hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania would continue to receive these Medicare reimbursements totaling over $42 million, including 8 hospitals in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District totaling almost $34 million.  If H.R. 6331 is enacted, Congressman Kanjorski would have helped secure almost $200 million in more accurate Medicare reimbursements for area hospitals over about five years.

On April 23, Congressman Kanjorski led 30 other Members in sending a letter to Congressional leaders requesting that they extend Section 508.  Without an extension, on September 30, these 11 local hospitals would stop receiving accurate Medicare reimbursements.

“We must ensure that hospitals receive the fair Medicare reimbursements that they deserve, otherwise hospitals will be unable to afford to treat all the Medicare patients that need care,” said Congressman Kanjorski.  “This is not acceptable.  As I have in the past, I am working in Congress to protect the rights of our seniors and hospitals.  I want to make sure that our seniors can access the care that they need, and that our doctors can afford to treat them.  For 11 hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania, this legislation will ensure that they receive more accurate Medicare reimbursements helping seniors, their families, doctors, and other hospital employees.”

“Extending Section 508 is vitally important to Moses Taylor and ten other Northeastern Pennsylvania hospitals, representing in total about $42 million needed to provide services to our community,” said Andy Anderson, CEO of Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton.  “Congressman Kanjorski and our other legislators have been extremely effective in assisting us in this matter, and continue to work diligently on our behalf.  We are very appreciative of their ongoing commitment.”

In our current healthcare system, Medicare reimburses hospitals for patients covered by the program.  Unfortunately, the amount of reimbursement that hospitals receive does not fully reflect the relative costs of wages and salaries for workers at the 11 hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  As a result, these hospitals fail to receive the Medicare reimbursements that they deserve.  Section 508 aims to deal with the shortcomings in calculating fair Medicare reimbursements.  It allows these 11 hospitals to qualify for the higher reimbursements that nearby areas receive, which would increase their annual Medicare reimbursements by millions of dollars.

On April 23, Congressman Kanjorski led 30 other Members in sending a letter to Congressmen Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Jim McCrery (R-LA), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, respectively; and Congressmen John Dingell (D-MI) and Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, respectively.  In the letter, the Members, which included Congressman Christopher P. Carney (D-PA), requested an extension of Section 508.  As a result, this action was included in today’s legislation.

Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) have continuously helped extend the more accurate Medicare reimbursements in the Senate.

H.R. 6331 would also eliminate the pending 10.6 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors that is set to take place on July 1.  Instead, it provides a 1.1 percent increase in Medicare physician payments through 2009.

The bill would also postpone the Durable Medical Equipment (DME) competitive bidding program for another 18 months.  This program, which was implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, unfairly discriminates against small local providers of durable medical equipment, such as many companies that have served senior citizens in Northeastern Pennsylvania so well.  Congressman Kanjorski has continuously supported delaying this program.

Update:  More from Paul Kanjorski:

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski’s (D-PA), H.R. 6312, the Credit Union, Bank, and Thrift Regulatory Relief Act of 2008, passed in the House by a unanimous voice vote.  Congressman Kanjorski, Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises, introduced this legislation with Congressmen Dennis Moore (D-KS) and Edward Royce (R-CA) last week.  Their legislation enables credit unions, banks, and thrifts to better serve their members and consumers, assist businesses, ease paperwork burdens, and promote economic development in underserved areas.

Speaking on the House floor today, Chairman Kanjorski stated the following:

           “This bill will help credit unions to provide better services and to promote economic growth in underserved areas.  Moreover, H.R. 6312 is, without question, the most significant piece of credit union legislation considered in the House in nearly a decade.”

The legislation approved by the House includes a number of elements from the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act (CURIA) that Chairman Kanjorski and Congressman Royce introduced last year, as well as some new reforms.  Significantly, the legislation would allow credit unions of all types to promote economic development and provide a stable source of funds for businesses and individuals in underserved areas.  The bill would also permit financial institutions to pay interest on business checking accounts to help small businesses grow.  Congressman Kanjorski has continuously advocated for all of these provisions, as well as many others in the House-approved bill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *