Yesterday, I attended the grand opening of the new Norristown Regional Health Center (NRHC) in Montgomery County. Due to a consistent increase in patients, long waiting times and lack of space for expansion, the NRHC purchased a larger facility to meet growing demand.
The new facility was renovated with partial funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will allow the NRHC to see more patients, offer more services, decrease waiting times and hire more staff. The newly renovated facility includes 16 examination rooms, 5 triage and 5 dental exam rooms, an onsite physician medication dispensary and expanded laboratory and administrative space.
This facility is important as it will serve a particularly disadvantaged community and create jobs. I appreciated the tour provided by Patti Deitch, President and CEO of Delaware Valley Community Health, and am thankful for the hard work and essential services that the NRHC provides to people in the region.
Like many people who are concerned about the amount of garbage scattered on our local roadways and highways, I worry about the effect litter has on our environment, our economy and our quality of life. Litter not only detracts from the beauty of our environment, be it near a park, picnic area or stream, but also can be a health and safety hazard for humans and wildlife. Despite the warning signs posted along the road and the punitive fines given out by law enforcement officers, some people continue to litter. Nevertheless, I believe that a time will come when littering is unthinkable.
As Earth Day approaches, I encourage you to get involved in your community’s cleanup efforts, many of which occur in the spring. Great Pennsylvania Clean Up is a program through which Pennsylvanians clean up litter and trash along our roadsides, streams, parks, forests and neighborhoods. PennDOT's Adopt-A-Highway program not only reduces the amount of litter on our roadway, but also reduces the overall cost of litter removal. I hope that littering ends soon so that PennDOT can redirect the $11 million it currently spends on cleanup each year and use the funds to repair and maintain our state’s infrastructure.
While in Washington, I will continue to develop policy that will help to clean up the environment. I thank all those people who are taking action on this important issue. Sometimes the greatest collective impact occurs through the small, individual actions taken in our own backyards and neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth.
On Monday, I held a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Field Hearing on Partnering to Prepare: Expanding Access to High Quality Early Childhood Education because I believe every parent, regardless of income, should have access to high quality pre-kindergarten for their children. I introduced the Prepare All Kids Act in both the 110th and 111th Congress to help all children prepare for school by investing in high-quality pre-kindergarten education that will give our children the best start in life.
The hearing was held at the Morrisville School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which has had success with its state-funded Pre-K Counts program. At the hearing I was able to gather valuable information from six witnesses: Dr. Elizabeth Hammond Yonson, who is the Superintendent of the Morrisville School District; Melissa Bowman, who taught Pre-K in both Philadelphia and Morrisville and currently teaches kindergarten in the Morrisville School District; Michelle Fina, who is the Branch Director of the Morrisville YMCA, which runs a Pre-K program; Dr. Deborah Ackerman, who is a professor at Rutgers University and has conducted research on the benfits of high-quality Pre-K programs; Joan Benso, who is the President & CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and; Todd Klunk, who is the Acting Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office of Child Development & Early Learning.
All of the witnesses provide years of experience either working directly with children in Pre-K programs, administering Pennsylvania’s Pre-K programs or conducting years of research on the benefits that pre-K programs provide. Listening to these testimonies reinforced the need and importance of ensuring that our children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, are able to access high quality early childhood education. It is especially important as the HELP Committee moves toward the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also called “No Child Left Behind.”
Beyond individual families, there are enormous benefits to communities and the economy, which will never remain competitive if we do no rethink how we educate our children.
Today I returned from Vienna where I had high level meetings on multilateral nuclear nonproliferation efforts with officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
The IAEA is tasked with ensuring that countries are abiding by commitments in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The main topic of our conversations was on the nuclear threat posed by Iran. I received an extensive briefing from the IAEA staff on their work around the globe and met with Director General Yukiya Amano. I was reassured by the commitment of the new IAEA leadership and support its efforts to shed light on Iran’s ongoing efforts to pursue a nuclear weapon. I was not, however, reassured by the mounting evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, and these briefings reaffirmed my strong commitment to ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapons capability. In the coming weeks, I look forward to impressing a sense of urgency upon my colleagues in the Senate and officials in the Administration. We need to move on strong sanctions now.
I was also impressed with the U.S. diplomats in Vienna, some of whom hail from Pennsylvania. These individuals are true professionals, who are dedicated to strong nuclear security and ensuring that America’s interests are well represented.
On Monday, I met with Tibor Toth, the Director General of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization and his staff. He provided a detailed briefing of the CTBTO’s efforts to ensure that nuclear testing does not go undetected around the world. I met with a broad cross-section of CTBTO staff and analysts and toured its International Monitoring System which uses sensor equipment to detect nuclear weapons testing. This important organization is central to our efforts to counter nuclear proliferation and monitoring rogue states in pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is an important element in our nuclear security toolbox, and I appreciated the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their work.
I have just finished a trip to Belgium for the annual Brussels Forum which brings together policy makers, civil society groups and opinion leaders for discussion on transatlantic issues. This gathering allowed me to meet with key leaders on the international stage and discuss two issues at the forefront of my foreign policy priorities, the growing threat from Iran and the ongoing crisis related to food security.
I appeared on a panel discussion entitled the "Nuclear Threat from Iran" which included Amb. Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative to the European Union and European Atomic Energy Community, Russian Federation; Dr. Wang Jisi, Dean, School of International Studies, Beijing University; Brig. Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Israel; Ruprecht Polenz, Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, German Parliament. This was a great opportunity to debate these issues and hear from different voices in the international community. While I supported the Obama Administration's diplomatic efforts with Iran, the regime has not responded in kind. I made the case that the Iranian government has clearly not honored its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency and that the time has come to implement a strong and effective sanctions package. I was encouraged that there was support among the audience of European leaders for the pressure track against Iran.
Afghanistan was another pressing matter on the agenda. I met with Peter Mackay the Canadian Minister of Defense and thanked him for Canada's troop commitment to Afghanistan and our joint efforts to confront the Taliban across the country.
While in Brussels, I also met individually with President Boris Tadic of Serbia, President Ivo Josipovic from Croatia, and Montenegrin Foreign Minister Milan Rocen. While we have seen remarkable progress in the Balkans in recent years, challenges remain, especially in regard to the deteriorating political environment in Bosnia. My Brussels Forum Co-Chair Senator George Voinovich of Ohio has made the point that we need to remain focused on consolidating regional peace and stability as well as the democratic process in the countries of the Balkans. I valued my exchanges with these important leaders and look forward to monitoring developments in the region.
I had the opportunity to meet briefly with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who underlined the threat from Iran during his speech to the Forum, and with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who appeared on a panel regarding NATO's future.
First thing this morning, I appeared on a panel regarding food security. I have been a strong proponent of global food security and appreciated the opportunity to discuss these critical issues with experts from the U.S. and Europe. With more than 1 billion people hungry in the world, we must and can do more to develop the capabilities of small farmers around the world to grow their own food and bring it to market. This is also a critical national security issue - instability associated with hunger is a solvable problem, and we need to do more to confront this challenge at the front end. The Global Food Security Act, which I have cosponsored with Senator Lugar, addresses these issues and is pending in the Senate. During the panel, I shared thoughts on our legislation and developed a deeper understanding of the growing food security challenges we face.
I have departed Brussels for Vienna where I will meet with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency to discuss its efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program and combat nuclear proliferation around the world. While there, I will also visit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. These meetings come at a key time when we face an array of nuclear nonproliferation issues in the Senate as well as a new nuclear arms agreement with Russia.