Veterans of Foreign Wars

Today is the 112th anniversary of the creation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a day for us to recognize the great work of the VFW as advocates for our war veterans. 

I would particularly like to congratulate and honor the VFW Department of Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania is home to the largest VFW state unit with well over 100,000 members.  The VFW has deep roots in Pennsylvania; the first post of the precursor to the VFW was established in Philadelphia.  Since then and through the present day, Pennsylvanian veterans have continued to play an important role in our community.

The VFW is an unwavering advocate for the needs of veterans and their families, and an active leader in community service across the country.  Our country is forever grateful for the service and sacrifice of the members of the VFW and the great patriotism of its Ladies Auxiliary. 

Please join me in recognizing this national treasure and 112 years of service on behalf of veterans.

Library Card Sign-Up Month

September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, a time to recognize the range of valuable services available at public libraries.  As I remain focused on strengthening the economy and getting unemployed Pennsylvanians back to work, I think of the many families who rely on libraries to assist them in their employment search.  In tough economic times, public libraries help citizens locate jobs, assemble applications and develop marketable skills.  Overall, library use has risen as much as 23 percent since the recession began in 2008.

Forty percent of library computer users report using the library to help them with their job search, according to a recent survey by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Washington Information School and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.  These individuals leverage free access to technology, classes and workshops to prepare resumes, search for job opportunities and learn about new software and applications that make them stronger candidates in a competitive job market.  Critically, the library also serves as a job searching venue for those who are most likely to be unemployed.  In 71.4 percent of communities, the library is the only source of cost-free internet access, and 83 percent of those who can only access the internet in a library report using it to look for a job. 

Our public libraries and librarians play a vital role in fighting unemployment and bettering our communities.  Please join me in celebrating Library Card Sign-Up Month and consider paying a visit to your local library to see how libraries are contributing to our economic recovery.

Supporting the National Institute of Health

NIH funding has broad, bipartisan support for good reason: it funds essential medical research that saves lives and also drives significant economic activity.  I am proud that Pennsylvania is home to a good deal of this medical research that brings new cures and treatments to patients.

Forty-one senators from both parties signed a letter I authored with Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) calling for sustained investment in the NIH.  Unfortunately, the Senate Appropriations Committee did cut NIH funding.  Everyone needs to tighten their belts and some may say that NIH was lucky to not see a deeper cut. 

A new impact study by United for Medical Research suggests that in FY2010, NIH research funding supported nearly half a million American jobs and produced $69 billion in new economic activity across the country.  Pennsylvania researchers, who receive over $1.4 billion per year in competitive grants from the NIH, are some of the best in the Nation, if not the world, and play a vital role in the Pennsylvania economy.

As we reduce government spending to improve our fiscal health, we must also continue to invest in innovation that benefits all Americans, creates jobs and keeps the United States as a global leader.

Supporting Children’s Hospitals and Combating Autism

Today, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee unanimously voted to send two critically important pieces of legislation to the full Senate for consideration.  I was pleased to vote in favor of my bill, S. 958, the Children’s Hospital GME Support Reauthorization Act of 2011 (CHGME), and S. 1094, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA), of which I am a cosponsor.

For over a decade, the CHGME program has provided children’s teaching hospitals with federal support for job training for physicians who care for children.  Each year through this program, over 5,000 residents are trained to care for our youngest patients.  This bill will ensure Pennsylvania hospitals have the resources required to meet the essential need for a specialized workforce to care for children.  Three Pennsylvania children’s hospitals receive this funding; the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

CARA will reauthorize the Combating Autism Act, the signature federal law on coordination of federal activities on autism research, diagnosis, treatment and surveillance that first became law in 2006.  This law is due to sunset at the end of September 2011, and it is critically important that we move quickly to ensure the continuation of these important federal initiatives to aid the approximately 25,000 Pennsylvanians living with autism.  This bill is a priority in the autism community and I look forward to speedy action by the full Senate and the House of Representatives.

As the school year begins, we must ensure every child can reach their full potential.

Hopes run high at the start of a new school year, as students return with curiosity about new teachers, classes and the opportunity to make new friends.  For many children, however, the return to school brings a deep feeling of dread.  Students who are persistently bullied come to school fearing harassment that undercuts their self-esteem and ability to focus in class.

Pennsylvania educators, parents and students often share with me reports of incidents that far surpass usual “kids will be kids” joking.  Instead, they share upsetting stories of youth who are repeated targets for anything that makes them different, including their race, physical abilities, religion or sexual orientation.  These stories include all ages and come from suburban, urban and rural parts of the Commonwealth.  Social networking sites, email and other electronic communication can intensify the harassment by making bullied students feel threatened even in their own homes.  Aside from the depression that results from bullying, I also worry about the higher dropout rates, increased absenteeism and academic underachievement that frequently accompany bullying.

In the United States Senate I have introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, legislation to address bullying and harassment.  This bipartisan legislation will require schools and districts receiving federal funding to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment.  The Safe Schools Improvement Act will not impact curriculum, but instead will give schools the flexibility to develop the most appropriate strategy to prevent and respond to bullying.  The fresh start of a new school year reminds us of our responsibility to ensure that every child goes to school secure enough to reach their full potential.

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