Today’s anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is a moment to remember the courage of so many people who fought, organized and risked their lives to ensure equal access to the vote for all Americans. While we pause to mark this historic day, we must also recognize the challenges that lie ahead. The Supreme Court’s decision to gut a key section of the Voting Rights Act has unleashed a tidal wave of laws designed to keep Americans from exercising their right to vote. I’m pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee has already held hearings on ways to restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, and I’ll continue to push Congress to move in a swift and bipartisan fashion on this issue. I’ll also continue to oppose state laws, like Voter ID, that substantially impact the opportunity of residents to freely exercise their right to vote. Why would we want to make it harder for people to vote? Why should we erect barriers in front of Americans who want their voices to be heard? Today’s anniversary is a moment to redouble our efforts to protect the voting rights of millions of Americans.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Since 2009, over 37,000 Pennsylvania servicemembers, veterans and military families have taken advantage of these educational and vocational benefits. I am proud to have supported this law as it shows the commitment we must have to our servicemembers, veterans and military families. To find more information on GI Bill benefits use this link: http://gibill.va.gov/
In the 48 years since President Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, these programs have become essential in helping millions of older Americans, people with disabilities and children across Pennsylvania meet their health care needs. While some in Congress continue to advocate ending these programs, I believe we need to reconfirm our commitment to them.
Since its creation, we have continued to make improvements to Medicare, including closing the so-called “donut hole” for prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D. When Medicare was introduced in 1965, prescription medications were not as vital to older citizens’ healthcare as they are today. When created, Medicare Part D gave recipients greater access to common prescription drugs, but left a large gap where beneficiaries would be responsible for all the costs of their drugs, the “donut hole.”
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) awarded Medicare recipients a one-time $250 check to offset out of pocket costs in 2010, and began expanding coverage for brand-name and generic medications in 2011. As of 2013, Pennsylvanians have saved $463,997,310 on prescription drugs in the “donut hole.” Under the ACA, we are on track to close the “donut hole” by 2020.
Medicaid was created with the promise to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society, who are often overlooked or neglected, have access to health care. Medicaid provides families throughout Pennsylvania and the country the long term care coverage they or their families need. Medicaid also provides important services for children. Through the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit, children are able to receive vital preventive and screening services. These benefits are essential to helping children remain healthy as they grow. We must keep Medicaid strong so that individuals and families have access to the care they need.
It is imperative that we continue to improve, strengthen and protect both Medicare and Medicaid. As we celebrate this anniversary, I commit to continuing the fight to keep these programs strong and ensure that beneficiaries have access to the services they need.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time for all of us to recognize the terrible impact of domestic violence on families across the Nation. One in four women and one in seven men will be the victim of violence, and this is a horrific tragedy. We must all work together to prevent domestic and sexual violence and support the victims of violence so they can rebuild their lives. To get immediate help and support, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
I firmly believe that every child in America deserves an education free from fear and intimidation. My anti-bullying legislation, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, will help schools ensure that all young people are protected by barring harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. On October 19th, we recognize Spirit Day by taking action against bullying and showing support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. The importance of standing up for all children cannot be overstated, as a growing body of research and stories highlight the severity of bullying among youth in America. According to the Department of Education, nearly 1 in 3 students between the ages of 12 and 18 are affected by bullying and harassment, which results in increased absenteeism, dropout rates, and academic underachievement, all of which undermine a child’s ability to succeed in the classroom and beyond. Another study found that fewer than half of LGBT students in Pennsylvania felt very safe in school, and that 9 in 10 LGBT students were harassed in the previous school year.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act is a bipartisan bill I’ve introduced in the Senate with 41 cosponsors that will require school districts receiving designated federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including cyberbullying and bullying based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. It will not have any impact on curriculum or what is taught in school, but rather seeks to ensure that every student feels safe in the classroom. This is a commonsense solution to a serious issue throughout Pennsylvania and the United States.