The emails have piled up the past two days as Congress was busy considering several bills. I watched some of the debate on CSPAN (news junkies still their fix on vacation), mostly the discussion about equal pay for women. It was interesting to watch one Republican actually argue against this bill claiming talking points put out by the BushCo Department of Labor. Some people have no shame!
Meanwhile I’m going to package each Member of Congress’ statements in individual articles. This way, if you live in the 7th CD, for example, you can catch up on Joe Sestak’s votes.
Congressman Sestak Votes to Strengthen Prohibition of Gender-Based Wage Discrimination
Washington, DC – The Equal Pay Act of 1963 has considerably impacted wages for women, but discrimination based on gender has not been eliminated, partly due to shortcomings of the law. To address a significant flaw that has permitted many employers to pay women less than men, Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07) voted in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act (HR 1338), which passed the House 247-178. This legislation places the burden of proof on employers for cases in which a gender pay disparity exists, and protects employees who share information about wages.
“It is unacceptable that the US Census reports that women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man,” said Congressman Sestak. “This legislation represents an important step toward the ultimate goal of equal pay for equal work.”
Current law dictates that employers can raise “any factor other than sex” to justify pay differences between men and women, regardless of whether the factor is related to the employee’s job or to the business. This bill requires that non-gender reasons for any gender-based wage disparity have a “business justification.” An employer would be required to demonstrate that the disparity is based on a factor other than gender, such as education, training, or experience, that is not based upon or derived from a gender-based differential, and is “consistent with business necessity.” Such a defense on the part of the employer would not apply if the employee could prove that an alternative employment practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing the differential, and that the employer subsequently refused to adopt the alternative.
“We must take every possible action to stop employers from rewarding their workers on any basis other than quality of performance,” said Congressman Sestak. “I fully support the measure in this bill that punishes gender-based discrimination in the same way as other forms of wage discrimination by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages.”
Furthermore, this legislation bars employers from retaliating against employees for sharing information about their salaries. Employees such as payroll and “human resources” personnel would not be protected by the bill if they disclose the wages of other employees to individuals who do not otherwise have access to this information. They would be protected, however, if they were discussing wages with another employee who has access to wage information; if they were discussing their own wages; or if such disclosure was in response to a complaint or charge or is pertinent to an investigation. The bill provides that employees would be considered to work in the same establishment if the employees work for the same employer at workplaces located in the same county or similar political subdivision of a state. In addition, the bill maintains current law regulations which allow employees to compare wages with employees outside their physical location if the company’s salary and staff decisions are made by a central administrative unit or if the employees frequently interchange locations.
Finally, this bill requires the Department of Labor to conduct studies that will assist in reducing the current pay differential. The bill requires the department to complete, within 18 months of enactment, a survey of pay data already available. In addition, the measure requires the Department of Labor to conduct studies and provide information to employers, labor organizations and the public on ways to eliminate pay disparities. The Department would be required to conduct and promote research; publish findings from studies and other materials; and sponsor and assist state and community informational and educational programs; and provide information on the means of eliminating pay disparities. The Department would then issue regulations concerning the collection of pay information from employers identified by sex, race, and the national origin of employees. The Department of Labor, in consultation with the Department of Education, will also establish a grant program to provide negotiation skills training for girls and women. Such training programs would be intended to help girls and women strengthen their negotiation skills to obtain higher salaries and equal pay.
Born and raised in Delaware County, former 3-star Admiral Joe Sestak served in the Navy for 31 years and now serves as the Representative from the 7th District of Pennsylvania. He led a series of operational commands at sea, including Commander of an aircraft carrier battle group of 30 U.S. and allied ships with over 15,000 sailors and 100 aircraft that conducted operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. After 9/11, Joe was the first Director of “Deep Blue,” the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit that established strategic and operations policies for the “Global War on Terrorism.” He served as President Clinton’s Director for Defense Policy at the National Security Council in the White House, and holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University. According to the office of the House Historian, Joe is the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to the U.S. Congress.
Congressman Sestak Votes for Critical Legislation to Help Students Pay for College
Washington, DC – As part of his ongoing efforts to make post-secondary education affordable, Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07), a Member of the House Education and Labor Committee, voted to amend and extend the Higher Education Act of 1965 (H.R. 4137). This legislation expands student aid, helps to streamline the college financial aid applications process, and restores accountability and integrity to student loan programs. Today’s vote to agree to the conference report passed by a 380-49 margin.
“A college education is essential today in the global economy, but more and more, the rising cost of a college is putting a college degree further out of reach for America’s students,” said Congressman Sestak. “Additionally, students and families face an overly complex federal student aid application process and a student loan industry that has been mired in conflicts of interest and corrupt lending practices. This legislation today will not only make college more affordable and accessible, but the bill would reform our higher education system so that it operates in the best interests of students and families, while boosting our competitiveness and strengthening America’s future.”
New provisions added to the act increase the maximum Pell grant from $5,800 to $8,000 per year, create a “higher education price index” to help students and their families compare tuition increases at different colleges, and bars lenders from giving schools financial perks in order to get on a “preferred lender list.”
Additionally, Congressman Sestak introduced two amendments included in the bill. The first addresses the lack of transparency among colleges, specifically regarding the transfer of academic credit between postsecondary institutions. A student’s inability to transfer credit may result in longer enrollment, more tuition payments, and additional federal financial aid. National data indicates that, on average, transfer graduates take about 10 more credits and 3 more months to complete their baccalaureate degree than non-transfer graduates. It is estimated that loss of credit among transfer students is over $5.2 billion per year. Congressman Sestak’s amendment encourages states and public institutions of higher education to develop management systems for course equivalency, transfer of credit, and matriculation.
“More than 40 percent of students attending a college or university transfer at least once before they complete their undergraduate degree,” said Congressman Sestak. “However, despite increases in student mobility, institutions have not adjusted with substantive changes in the manner in which they oversee and articulate the transfer of college student academic credit. I believe it is time for institutions to develop new strategies to improve gaps in credit transfer agreements and facilitate transparency of credit equivalencies between institutions.”
The second amendment expands physical therapy to the list of “areas of national need” for which graduates of programs in physical therapy can receive loan forgiveness of up to $10,000 over a five year period.
“According to the American Hospital Association, physical therapists represent the occupation for which the greatest percentage of vacancies exists in our hospitals across our nation, at 11.4 percent,” said Congressman Sestak. “This is at a time when the demand for physical therapists’ employment is projected to grow 27 percent within eight years, even as 58 percent of our hospitals were reporting in 2006 that therapist recruitment was more difficult than the year before. I believe it is imperative we add physical therapists into the ‘areas of national need,’ to ensure the Secretary of Education has direction to provide loan repayment forgiveness to boost the number of graduates of physical therapy programs, who provide vital services to children, adolescents, and Veterans.”
This legislation also provides a $10,000 loan forgiveness program for individuals serving in several other high-need areas. It allocates up to $2,000 per year for five years for nurses, early childhood educators; foreign language specialists, librarians; teachers; speech language pathologists; national service participants; school counselors; public sector employees; nutrition professionals; medical specialists; and mental health professionals.
The measure also encourages study in math and science with a Math and Science Scholarship Fund that would provide aid to students who commit to five consecutive years of service in a math or science field after graduation, while the Math and Science Incentive Program would provide loan forgiveness of up to $5,000 of accumulated interest if a student agrees to work for five consecutive years in a math or science field.
To address recent injustices in the ways student loans have been issued, this agreement incorporates the provisions of the Sunshine Act (HR 890), including a ban on lenders offering opportunity pools “as a quid pro quo for placement on a preferred lender list or for a specified loan volume.” In “opportunity pools,” lenders could give an institution of higher learning a fixed amount of private loan funds, which are passed on to students who would normally be ineligible for such loans. The college or university then could make the provider a preferred or exclusive lender of federal student loans on its campus.
This measure prohibits any employee who is employed in the college financial aid office or has responsibilities relating to education loans or other student financial aid, and who serves on an advisory board, commission, or a group established by a lender or group of lenders from receiving anything of value from the lender or group of lenders. The agreement contains the following additional provisions:
o Gift Prohibition – Bars postsecondary education institutions, officers, and employees from receiving any gift from a private lender in exchange for any advantage in its loan activities.
o Revenue Sharing – Bars lenders from sharing profits from their loan activities with higher education institutions in exchange for an advantage to the lender in its loan activities. This prohibition includes gifts to postsecondary education institutions or their employees.
o Prepayment Penalties – Prohibits private lenders from charging borrowers fees for paying off their loans early.
o Loan Disclosure – Requires lenders to make disclosures of loans to borrowers when the advertisement or solicitation of loans is done, at the time of the approval applications, and when loans are finalized.
Provisions to produce more qualified teachers:
o Teach for America – Reauthorizes the Teach For America program, which recruits and trains recent college graduates seeking to enter into the teaching profession.
o Early Childhood Education Taskforce – Provides for newly created state taskforces to create comprehensive state-wide early childhood education systems.
o Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence – Creates “Centers of Excellence” to provide grants to historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions to improve teacher quality and preparation.
o Best Practices Study – Requires the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study to develop best practices in teacher education.
Other measures in this bill include:
Students in the Armed Forces
The measure requires colleges and universities to treat students returning from military service as continuously enrolled students, and allows a family’s nursing home expenses for students injured while on active duty to be calculated when deciding how much a student should receive in student loan aid.
Higher Education Price Index
This legislation requires the Education Department to create “higher education price increase watch lists” on the department’s Web site that report the full price of tuition and fees, as well as the cost of room and board for students living on campus. The department would also be required to post an online chart that compares the percentage change in states’ appropriations per student enrolled in institutions of higher education.
The agreement penalizes states that reduce their total higher education funding for any academic year beginning after July 1, 2008, to an amount that is less than the average amount allocated by a state over the five most recent academic years. The Education Department could grant states waivers due to exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances, such as natural disasters or an unforeseen decline in revenue.
Violation of this requirement (without a waiver) would result in the Education Department withholding some federal higher education funding for that state. The agreement does not, however, authorize the reduction of states’ access to Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) grants, which are awarded to students with exceptional financial need. Rather, the measure would allow the Education Department to withhold funding for College Access Challenge Grants, a much smaller grant program that provides federal assistance to projects aimed at low-income students.
Free Loan Applications Simplification
The agreement requires the Education Department to maintain the free application for federal student aid forms in a printable form and provide a printed copy of the full paper version of the application process upon request, containing the following provisions to simplify the free application process for student aid:
o Encourages the Education Department to reduce the number of questions requiring an answer by 50% over five years;
o Creates a two-page form for students and families who qualify for the “auto-zero” family contribution;
o Requires students reapplying for federal student aid in subsequent years to provide only updated information. Current law requires applicants to re-file a new application; and
o Requires the Education Department to allow students and families, before applying for aid, to receive estimates of their expected family contribution, and an estimate for their amount of financial aid.
The measure allows legal permanent residents to receive Academic Competitive (AC) and Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grants. It also amends the SMART grant program to clarify that a student pursuing “eligible courses of study” at institutions where students do not declare majors is still eligible for such grants.
Minority College Assistance
Predominantly Black Institutions
The agreement establishes new designations for such institutions. The measure defines predominantly black institutions as having an enrollment of “financially needy undergraduate students;” an enrollment of undergraduate students at least 40% of whom are African-American; and that has at least 1,000 undergraduate students of whom at least 50% are enrolled at the institution are low-income or first generation and are registered in a bachelor or associate degree program.
The measure defines Native American non-tribal institutions as having an enrollment of undergraduate students that is not less than 10% Native American students, and are not already designated as a tribal college or university.
Historically Black Colleges & Universities
The agreement adds the following graduate programs to this designation – Alabama State, Bowie State in Maryland, Delaware State, Langston University in Oklahoma, Prairie View A&M in Texas, and the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.
Graduate & Postsecondary Programs
Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need
These fellowships are designed to enable colleges and universities to provide assistance to graduate students who are studying in areas of national need, giving priority to grants aimed at preparing professors to train teachers in science, technology, math, special education, as well as training for teachers with limited English proficiency.
Patsy Mink Fellowships
This measure re-authorizes Patsy Mink fellowships, which are awarded to students of minority groups to acquire masters’ degrees or doctorate degrees in academic areas where minorities are underrepresented.
Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education
The agreement authorizes the Education Department to make grants to, or enter into contracts with, colleges and universities and other nonprofit entities, that are intended to improve postsecondary education opportunities. The fund covers a number of new initiatives, including a scholarship for family members of veterans or members of the military and a “best practices” center to support single parent students.
Students with Disabilities
This measure establishes a National Center for Information and Technical Support intended to improve the dissemination of best practices related to working with postsecondary students with disabilities, and improve the recruitment, retention, and completion rates.
Incentives & Rewards for Low Tuition
This measure includes a number of initiatives intended to encourage colleges and universities to keep costs down, including competitive grants for institutions that have an annual net tuition increase of 1% or less, as well as bonuses given by the Education Department to institutions for distribution to students receiving Pell Grants.
Patsy Mink Fellowships
This provision re-authorizes Patsy Mink fellowships, which are awarded to students of minority groups to acquire masters’ degrees or doctorate degrees in academic areas where minorities are underrepresented.
House of Representatives Passes Congressman Sestak’s Resolution to Reduce School Violence
Washington, DC – From the shootings at Columbine to the tragedy at Virginia Tech, violence in schools has resulted in many heartbreaking headlines in recent years. As part of his ongoing effort to find methods of reducing school crime, and to institute crime-preventing regulations, Congressman Joe Sestak (PA – 07) introduced a resolution (H. Res. 1288) expressing Congressional support for the designation of September as National Campus Safety Awareness Month (NCSAM). Today, the House voted unanimously in favor of the measure, which builds on work the Congressman has done in the District – where he has hosted an Anti-Violence Summit as well as education summits that have addressed the issue of ways to reduce violence – and in Washington, where he has advocated for better reporting of incidents in schools.
“We are more aware now than ever about the importance of keeping our nation’s college students safe,” said Congressman Sestak. “National Campus Safety Awareness Month, which comes at the beginning of the new school year, offers a perfect opportunity to provide students with critical awareness that they need to help stay safe on campus. Campuses, like any other community, have to deal with crime and this awareness better equips every member of the community to protect themselves and prevent crime.”
Currently, in accordance with the federal Jeanne Clery Act, the nation’s colleges and universities are required to publish and distribute an Annual Campus Security Report, maintain a public log of all crimes reported to them, and provide warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the security of students and employees. From these reports, it has been revealed that 37 homicides, 8,114 forcible-sex offenses, 8,923 aggravated assaults, and 3,071 cases of arson occurred on campus from 2004 to 2006. Additionally, between one fifth and one quarter of female undergraduates will be the victim of a completed or attempted rape, usually by someone they know, during their college careers; however, fewer than five percent of these incidents are reported to the police according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
As part of the process of producing this resolution, the Congressman met with representatives from Security on Campus Inc., an organization based in King of Prussia that was founded by the parents of Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered as a student at Lehigh University. The Clerys and staff have worked tirelessly to improve campus safety and security throughout the country, including working to pass six federal laws dealing with college campus safety- most notably, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crimes Statistics Act.
To address violence in secondary schools, Congressman Sestak made the topic one of the themes of a field hearing on No Child Left Behind held at Radnor High School. The hearing was attended by Dale Kildee, Chairman on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. Radnor Middle School Principal Anthony Stevenson testified about the need to have a “positive and welcoming school climate” to help students “avoid high risk behaviors like substance abuse and violence.”
The Congressman has used the comments he has heard in the District to try to make practical legislation in Washington, where he has worked on a related amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act. Since an Education Committee hearing on dropout prevention when Members questioned panel witnesses on the problem of underreporting of student violence and crime, Congressman Sestak has advocated to include in the legislation standard reporting metrics that would ensure that the federal government can collect appropriate data to effect policies that improve school safety. Part of the problem relates to the “persistently dangerous” school label under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, as school administrators fear backlash from parents, the community, and media. For example, during the 2003-04 school year, only 26 of the nation’s 91,000 public schools were labeled “persistently dangerous.” Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia proudly reported that they were home to not a single unsafe school.
“We must make certain that school administrators operate in conditions under which they are comfortable with fully disclosing violent acts,” said Congressman Sestak. “Additionally, appropriate metrics must be put in place to ensure that the federal government can collect such data to effect policies to improve the safety of our nation’s schools. Until we can correctly define the problems that we have both at secondary and post-secondary schools, it will be extremely difficult to combat violence effectively.”
Earlier this year, the Congressman’s Anti-Violence Summit featured panels of local experts, law enforcement officers, and religious and community leaders who discussed the role of violence in our community and how interfaith and community organizations can partner with elected officials to reduce it. Specifically, panelists and audience members mentioned ways to steer youth away from activities and groups that can lead to involvement in illegal activities.
“I fully recognize that violence and crime know no boundaries,” said Congressman Sestak in discussing the critical need to bring together a variety of leaders to address the issue. “We need the full force of our citizens, community organizations, religious leaders and elected officials as we seek pragmatic solutions to violence and its causes.”
Next week, the Congressman will hear additional perspectives on ways to reduce the likelihood of violence in schools when he holds a teachers’ roundtable at Chichester Area High School’s Education Center. The event is scheduled for Wednesday, August 6 at 9:30AM.
Congressman Sestak Votes to Protect College Students from Losing Health Insurance
WASHINGTON, D.C. – With health care costs rising and placing a greater burden on American families, Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07) voted for Michelle’s Law (H.R. 2851), a bill that he co-sponsored to address a specific unjust practice that affects individuals trying to put themselves or their children through college. This legislation ensures that dependent students who take a medically necessary leave of absence do not lose health insurance coverage.
“Allowing insurance companies to take students off their parents’ plan because of an illness puts an unfair and unnecessary financial weight on families, making it difficult for affected students to afford the care they need as well as the education they are pursuing,” said Congressman Sestak. “I entered politics primarily because of my passion to improve healthcare in this country. While living in a pediatric ward with my daughter, I saw other families who could not afford critical treatments, while my family received needed care through the military’s health plan. I am committed to advocating for affordable healthcare for everyone, particularly for our youth. In addition, when you consider the importance of a post-secondary education in today’s global marketplace, this law not only does the right thing morally, but also helps affected individuals get the education they need to positively contribute to our economy.”
Specifically, this legislation amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, and the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit group health plans from terminating coverage of students who become severely ill and take a certified medical leave of absence. This allows students ages 18-24 to stay on their parents’ health insurance for up to one year.
The bill is inspired by, and named after, Michelle Morse, a New Hampshire college student who died of colon cancer in 2005. Michelle’s doctors had recommended that she reduce her course load while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, but doing so would have caused her to lose health care coverage under her family’s insurance. Michelle continued attending classes full time as she struggled with treatments, tragically losing her battle later that year.
Congressman Sestak Votes to Protect Children from Dangerous Products
Washington, DC – To effectively address the growing number of unsafe children’s products that make it on the market, Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07) voted in favor of, and the House passed by a 424-1 margin, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (HR 4040). Today’s vote was on the final agreement of the bill’s conference report. This legislation takes unprecedented steps to prevent items with lead from being sold, strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and increase oversight to ensure that CPSC does its job.
“It is unacceptable that 45 million toys and children’s products needed to be recalled in 2007, with some containing nearly 200 times the legal amount of lead,” said Congressman Sestak. “This bill implements regulations that will allow us to significantly decrease the number of dangerous products that become available for purchase and, in the occasional occurrence when something unsafe is allowed into American homes, it will be much easier for families to find out if they own a product that needs to be recalled.”
Provisions designed to reduce injuries caused by merchandise include a prohibition of any lead beyond a minute amount in products designed for children under age 12, and a ban on more than a miniscule measurement of phthalates, a group of harmful chemicals sometimes added to plastics. In addition, the act mandates third-party, pre-market testing for compliance with safety standards, including lead regulations, by certified laboratories of children’s products.
One factor that has made the increasing number of toy recalls more troublesome is the lack of resources at CPSC. The agency lost 15 percent of its workforce between 2004 and 2007. An authorization of appropriations starting at $118 million in 2010 and ending at $136 million five years later will significantly impact the ability of CPSC to inspect products and operate recalls efficiently. The Commission will also receive assistance from manufacturers, who will be required to place distinguishing marks on products and packaging to aid in recalls. In addition, this bill requires CPSC, within two years, to provide consumers with a user-friendly, searchable database on deaths and serious injuries caused by consumer products, and to share information with State public health agencies in a way that will allow federal and state agencies to easily work together on this issue. Funds provided to CPSC include a specific travel allowance for the Commission’s commissioners and staff, who will be prohibited from using industry-sponsored travel.
Furthermore, this legislation includes measures to make certain that the above provisions are carried out correctly, authorizing injunctive enforcement of federal law by State Attorneys General and providing whistleblower protections for private sector employees who allege violations of any CPSC-enforced product safety requirements.
“Lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels need to make consumer safety a priority, and do all they can to ensure that people-especially children-remain protected from dangerous products,” said Congressman Sestak. “Every American deserves the peace of mind of knowing that when they purchase a product, their government has made every effort to make sure it is safe.”