On Monday, I joined Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Paul Kanjorski to discuss Medicare funding with leadership, doctors, nurses and staff of hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Current law, under a provision called "Section 508," provides for extra money to 14 hospitals in northeastern Pennsylvania so they can recruit high quality health care professionals and pay them better wages. Since joining the Senate in January 2007, I have consistently advocated to continue these funds, which are critical to hospitals in northeastern Pennsylvania so they compete with hospitals in surrounding areas. The most recent extension of this provision expired on September 30, 2009 and I’ve been working to have it extended.
Both versions of the current health reform legislation include an extension of the 508 relief. The Patient, Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Senate bill) includes a one-year extension and the Affordable Health Care for America Act (the House bill) includes a two-year extension.
While I am encouraged that both bills contain an extension, Senator Specter and I sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging them to include the two-year extension in the final version of bill. The longer extension would assist hospitals in budgeting and give them a sense of security that enables them to better serve our communities. I will continue to work to help these hospitals in the coming months and years.
The Pennsylvania Farm Show is always an exciting time of year. I look forward to my annual visit and am never disappointed in the displays I see, people and their animals I meet, and of course the good food I get to eat. This year I was honored to be ask to speak before a group of over 6,000 young leaders in agriculture -- all members of Pennsylvania Future Farmers of America. They are dedicated, ambitious, and a very talented group of high school students who will help preserve our family farms, be inventive in agriculture practices, and keep Pennsylvania growing.
At the end of December, I held two video conferences on Pennsylvania jobs. The first event took place in Bradford at the University of Pittsburgh. Local business, education and government leaders from McKean, Warren and Elk counties gathered to share their views on the local employment situation with me. I held a similar meeting with representatives from Huntingdon, Mifflin and Juniata counties, who convened at Juniata College. Through these meetings I get a clearer picture of the challenges facing Pennsylvania families and communities and hear common sense suggestions for how we can put more Pennsylvanians back to work and create family-sustaining jobs in the Commonwealth.
We must all work together to pursue ideas for spurring job growth in the short-term and building a foundation for a stronger, more stable economy in the long-term. These video roundtables were the first in a series of such job conferences that I am holding as I continue to listen to workers, small business owners and local leaders on the best ways to create jobs and boost our economy. I want to help turn their ideas into action when I return to Washington.
Thanksgiving is nearing, but not everyone will be able to enjoy a delicious holiday meal. The USDA recently released a report that shows more and more Americans are going hungry. I am very concerned about this increase because these statistics are not numbers on a page, they are hungry people, hungry children, struggling from day-to-day.
Throughout last week I had multiple opportunities to reflect on the issue of hunger. On Monday, I began my week in Scranton at a Witnesses to Hunger exhibit tour event. Witnesses to Hunger is a project featuring photographs by Philadelphia women who are working to create better lives for their children. By displaying their photos and sharing their personal stories, these women are focusing the attention of community members and policy makers on impacts of hunger.
As I participated in a hearing on the reauthorization of child nutrition programs on Tuesday, I kept thinking of the stories I had heard the previous day. I firmly believe that Congress must take greater actions to support child nutrition programs in order to ensure success. Since arriving in the Senate, I have introduced multiple bills concerning hunger and nutrition issues, including the Summer Food Service Rural Expansion Act, the Emergency Food Assistance Act, the National Hunger Relief Act and the Paperless Enrollment for School Meals Act. As the reauthorization process continues, I will work to improve the current programs.
Throughout the last year, 49 million people, 17 million of them children, were unable to consistently get enough food to eat. This is tragic, and this is unacceptable. Throughout the upcoming holiday season and throughout my entire time as a Senator, I will continue to work toward eliminating hunger. I ask for your help and for your support in this effort.
In August, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania reached 8.6%, which reflects a total of 540,000 Pennsylvanians without jobs. By the end of the year as many as 70,000 Pennsylvanians will exhaust their unemployment benefits. To respond to their needs, I am cosponsoring S. 1699, the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009. This bill would provide an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits in states, such as Pennsylvania, with unemployment rates at or above 8.5%. Recently, similar legislation overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives, and I am hopeful that the Senate too will take quick action on this bill. I encourage you to follow the progress of this bill at THOMAS.gov, legislative information from the Library of Congress.
If you need immediate assistance with applying for unemployment insurance, please contact my Harrisburg office by calling (717) 231-7540 or writing to 22 S. Third Street, Suite 6A, Harrisburg, PA 17101.