Washington, DC- Amid partisan gridlock, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) ended 2014 with significant accomplishments on behalf of Pennsylvanians. Casey secured passage of a landmark law to help the families of children with disabilities save for their long term care through tax-advantaged, 529-style savings accounts. Casey successfully pushed into law measures that bolstered children’s hospitals throughout the state, improved the emergency medical services that are provided to children and strengthened programs to support individuals living with traumatic brain injuries. Casey successfully urged the Obama Administration to invest in job creating projects throughout Pennsylvania. Casey pressed for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, for justice for coal miners being denied black lung claims and for improvements to the ways colleges are required to report instances of sexual violence on campus.
Casey’s ABLE Act Now Law
Since 2009, Senator Casey has championed the ABLE Act, which creates tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. On December 16, 2014, the Senate passed the ABLE Act (76-16) into law, following action by the House of Representatives (404-17) earlier in the month. With its passage, millions of Americans will be able to save for their futures, creating peace of mind for individuals and families across the Nation.
Casey’s Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education Support Reauthorization Act Now Law
The Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education (CHGME) program provides freestanding children’s hospitals with federal graduate medical education (GME) support similar to the funding that other teaching hospitals receive through Medicare. Casey’s bill reauthorized the program for five years at $300 million a year. The legislation also makes important changes to the program by giving the Secretary authority to include in the program a small number of freestanding children’s hospitals who have been ineligible to participate in the past for technical reasons. The bill allows the Secretary to use a portion of the funds appropriated over $245 million for these children’s hospitals that train pediatric providers and meet the same general qualifications as existing participants but currently do not qualify for Medicare GME or CHGME. The amount of this pool in a given year would be 25% of enacted CHGME funding over $245 million, up to a maximum of $7 million, and hospitals would have to undergo a normal application process. Three Pennsylvania hospitals receive funding through this program.
Casey’s Emergency Medical Service for Children Act Now Law
Pediatric patients have important physical, developmental, and mental differences from adults. From smaller-sized medical equipment to different dosage requirements for medicine, the Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC) program helps medical professionals meet the unique needs of pediatric patients and provide state of the art emergency medical care for ill and injured children and adolescents. Since the program was created in 1984, pediatric injury-related death rates have been reduced by more than 40 percent.
There are approximately 26,000,000 child and adolescent visits to the Nation’s emergency departments each year. Approximately 90 percent of children requiring emergency care are seen in general hospitals, not in free standing children’s hospitals, with one-quarter to one-third of the patients being seen in hospitals with no separate pediatric ward.
Casey Bill on Traumatic Brain Injuries Now Law
The Traumatic Brain Injury Reauthorization Act of 2014 (S. 2539) reauthorized the Prevention of Traumatic Brain Injury program and the National Program for Traumatic Brain Injury Surveillance and Registries. The prevention program funds educational programs and materials for health departments, community-based organizations, parents, teachers and coaches; and research into effective prevention strategies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also conducts surveillance work to identify TBI rates of death and rates of hospitalization, and is working to develop pediatric mild TBI guidelines.
S 2539 also reauthorizes the following two grant programs:
- The State Implementation Partnership Grants fund the development and implementation of statewide systems that ensure access to comprehensive and coordinated TBI services. Since FY 1997, 48 States, 2 Territories and the District of Columbia have received funding under the TBI State Grant Program. There are 20 states currently funded under the TBI State Grant Program with an average grant of $250,000.
- The Protection and Advocacy Grant Program for Individuals with TBI funds 57 states and territories with an average grant amount of $50,000 to prevent abuse and neglect and safeguard the well-being of individuals with TBI living in institutions, nursing homes, jails and prisons and community-based settings. All P&A agencies monitor, investigate, and attempt to remedy adverse conditions in public and private facilities.
- S. 2539 also required HHS to develop a Traumatic Brain Injury Coordination Plan, for federal activities with respect to TBI, which shall review existing interagency coordination and identify areas for improvement. Finally, the law requires CDC to conduct a review of the scientific evidence relating to brain injury management in children, identifying ongoing and potential further opportunities for research, and provide to Congress the results of this review within two years.
Investing in PA
Western Pennsylvania’s job-creating waterways infrastructure will see upgrades that have been sought for decades thanks to measures Casey passed in two separate bills: The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and the end of year tax extenders bill. Additionally the effort to bolster job creation in Southeastern Pennsylvania through the deepening of the Delaware River received significant support following Casey efforts.
Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA)
- The final version of WRRDA that was signed into law contained four major pieces of Senator Casey’s RIVER Act:
- Olmsted Federalization: Permanent Cost-Sharing for the remaining cost of the Olmsted project will be 85% General Fund, 15% Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
- Definition of Major Rehabilitation: increased from current law level of $14 million to $20 million and adjusted annually for inflation.
- Prioritization of Projects: This will ensure projects are prioritized based upon risk of failure and economic benefit to the Nation
- Project Delivery: New reforms to achieve on-time and on-budget performance.
- With the Olmsted cost-share adjustment, it is estimated over $124 million will be freed up for the Lower Mon and other priority projects.
- Pennsylvania’s locks and dams play a vital role in creating and sustaining jobs and supporting economic growth throughout the country. In Southwestern Pennsylvania alone, over 200,000 jobs rely on the proper functioning of the region’s inland waterways system
Inland Waterways User Fee
- Senator Casey’s bill to increase the inland waterways user fee from 20 cents to 29 cents per gallon was included in the Tax Extenders package which passed into law by a vote of 76 to 16.
- This increase will be matched by general treasury funds and will add an additional estimated $60-80 million annually for lock and dam projects in western Pennsylvania and across the country.
- With a more reliable funding stream the cost for these projects will also be lower, saving taxpayers money.
Delaware Deepening Project
- Since he has come to the Senate, Senator Casey has helped to secure over $125 million for the project through appropriations.
- Senator Casey advocated for inclusion of this project in the President’s FY 2015 budget. It received $35 million in the omnibus which represented a significant increase from the $20 million level in FY 2014. The project is over 60% percent complete as of December 2014.
- Vice President Biden came to visit the project and tour a dredge at Senator Casey’s invitation. During the visit, the Vice President expressed support for completing the project as quickly as possible.
- Once the channel is deepened to forty-five feet, there will be an increase of 2.5 million tons of cargo annually to the Port of Philadelphia, which will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs in addition to providing short term jobs in the construction industry which has been hard hit in this economy.
Helping PA Small Businesses and Fighting for His Constituents
Tax Relief for Small Businesses
- Senator Casey has led efforts on the Senate Finance Committee to provide small businesses with tax relief that will allow them to grow their businesses and create jobs.
- Senator Casey is the Senate champion for legislation making permanent 15-year depreciation schedule for restaurants and retail establishments, thereby allowing these businesses certainty that they can update their facilities on a reasonable timeline.
- Senator Casey also introduced the Small Business tax Certainty and Growth Act, which would permanently extend Section 179 expensing, extend 15-yr depreciation and bonus depreciation by one year, double the cash accounting threshold and increase the start-up deduction.
- Legislation extending Section 179, 15-year depreciation and bonus depreciation was passed by Congress in December 2014.
Preventing Access to Social Security Benefits for War Criminals
- Senator Casey led efforts in the Senate to close a loophole that allowed Nazi war criminals to receive Social Security benefits.
- The Senate passed legislation closing the loophole on December 4, 2014.
National Guard Counterdrug Centers
- Senator Casey has been a longtime advocate for the National Guard’s Counterdrug Training Centers. He visited the center in Ft. Indiantown Gap in October 2014 and led his colleagues in two bipartisan letters, one to Secretary Hagel and one to the Armed Services Committee leadership, arguing for continued funding of the Centers.
- In July 2014, Senator Casey introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require the Defense Department to identify a sustainable funding solution for the Centers.
- The final NDAA report includes the following language that supports the National Guard counterdrug effort: “We note the role of the National Guard Counter-drug mission in ensuring the security of the U.S. Homeland. As part of that mission, the National Guard Counter-drug Schools continue to play an important role in training and educating local, state, and federal law enforcement and other entities on counter-drug-related matters. We recognize the benefits of maintaining and supporting the National Guard counterdrug strategy.”
Combatting Hunger for Vulnerable Children
- Senator Casey’s support for The Emergency Feeding Assistance Program (TEFAP), which assists food banks in providing food to people in need, garnered $250 million in additional funding for the program.
- Senator Casey helped to authorize a Healthy Food Financing Initiative in the Farm Bill, which will help improve access to healthy foods year round, across the nation in underserved areas; and would revitalize communities by developing and renovating stores, generate local tax revenue, create and retain jobs, and bring development to low-income neighborhoods.
Fighting for Justice for PA Coal Miners
- Following a groundbreaking investigation by leading news organizations into the processing of black lung claims, Casey chaired a hearing to explore the challenges that former coal miners have with this backlogged and broken system. Senator Casey also sent a letter to the Administration calling for additional resources to combat the claims backlog which has left some Pennsylvania residents waiting years for the benefits they desperately need and are owed.
- Casey introduced legislation proposing sweeping reforms to the federal program that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease to give miners better access to the benefits they deserve.
Combatting Sexual Violence on College Campuses
- This year the Obama Administration wrote regulations to strengthen reporting standards on college campuses so that instances of sexual violence are reported in a uniform manner and victims are provided with appropriate support. The Administration’s efforts largely emanate from Casey’s Campus SaVE Act which was passed into law as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.
Press Freedom Resolution
- Senator Casey introduced S.Res.447, a resolution on global press World Press Freedom Resolution, with Senator Rubio on May 15. It passed the Senate unanimously on July 8.
- The resolution recognizes the dangers that reporters face and reaffirms freedom of the press as a priority for the U.S. government.
- In 2014, Senator Casey wrote three letters to Secretary Kerry on various press freedom issues, including the ongoing detention of American journalist Jason Rezaian in Iran.
Advancing Women’s Rights and Empowerment in Afghanistan
- Senator Casey was invited to deliver keynote remarks at the Oslo Symposium on Women’s Rights and Empowerment in Afghanistan on November 23. He emphasized that the rights of Afghan women and girls must be non-negotiable during this critical transition period in Afghanistan.
- At the Symposium, Senator Casey met with Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, and other Afghan women leaders to discuss the challenges they are facing.
- Much of the language from Senator Casey’s amendment to promote the safety, security, and rights of Afghanistan’s women and children was included in the final NDAA, especially the section about how the FY14 $25 million carve-out in the Afghan Security Forces Fund should be used to promote the recruitment and retention of women in the ANSF.
- The three key provisions in the NDAA include: prioritize the recruitment and retention of women in the Afghan National Security Forces; support police units that are specially trained to work with female or adolescent victims; ensure the adequate staffing of polling stations by female officers.
Fighting for PA Veterans
21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act and Report
- The 21st Century Veterans Benefits Reform Act was introduced on March 6, 2014 along with the release of the report.
- The report and bill includes three initiatives to make the necessary policy changes to reduce the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. The three main provisions: improving the claims submission process, improve VA Regional Office Practices, requiring the federal government, across-the-board, to make Veteran benefits claims a priority.
Senate Veterans Backlog Working Group
- Senator Casey convened the Veterans Backlog Working Group with Senator Heller on September 9, 2014 to bring the issue of reducing the benefits claims backlog back to the forefront and stressing the importance of the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act.
- The attendees included Senators Blumenthal, Walsh, and Toomey. The VA was represented by Beth McCoy, the Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Field Operations for the Veterans Benefits Administration and Dave McLenachen, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Disability Assistance. Most major accredited Veterans Service Organizations were also in attendance, including: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, The American Legion, Military Officers Association of America, and the American Federation of Government Employees.
Casey-Heller Letter to Veterans Affairs Committee on the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act
- On November 10, 2014, Senator Casey sent a letter with Senator Heller to the Veterans Affairs Committee urging the Committee to hold a hearing on the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act