The Leahy Letter -- September 30, 2011
A Senseless Roller Coaster Ride For Disaster Recovery Funding
By the time Irene hit Vermont, federal disaster relief coffers already were perilously depleted after a tough year in which 48 states have had disaster declarations within their borders.
As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Leahy's Job 1 in the weeks after the storm has been to also make replenishing those disaster aid funds the Senate's Job 1. This month he worked to steer disaster aid funding bills through the Appropriations Committee and then through the Senate. On Sept. 15 the Senate approved an additional $6.9 billion for emergency assistance; $5.1 million was directed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund. Another $266 million would go to the Department of Agriculture for emergency help to farms and rural communities; and additional funds would go to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
After the Senate vote Senator Leahy said, "This is a timely boost for the urgent need to help disaster-stricken communities in many states. This vote brings us much closer to the goal of helping Vermonters get back on their feet."
When the Senate bill arrived in the House of Representatives, a House faction balked at okaying disaster relief without offsetting budget cuts, and House leaders upped the ante by returning to a tactic used this summer during the debt limit showdown: threatening to shut the government down, by tying the disaster aid issue to a must-pass short-term extension of the entire federal budget.
Senator Leahy spoke out strongly against those tactics: "We are bound together as one nation, the UNITED States. Americans help each other in time of need. There would be bipartisan majorities for passing a straightforward disaster relief package like the Senate bill, but political point-scoring and my-way-or-no-way factionalism stand in the way. That is unconscionable. Vermonters and countless others who are trying to get back on their feet after Irene and other calamities across the nation do not have the luxury of time to waste on the temper tantrums of ideological factions in Congress. Winter is fast approaching. Winter can be a harsh season in our part of the country. Statesmanship should never be out of season -- least of all, when our fellow Americans' livelihoods are at stake."
Early this week, Senate and House negotiators reached agreement on a temporary fix, appropriating $2.65 million to FEMA for the weeks ahead. The House has yet to vote on this proposal. Securing adequate long-term funding for disaster relief will continue as an issue before Congress.
On a separate track, Senator Leahy also has won Appropriations Committee approval of $1.9 billion in added funding for the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) emergency fund, to help rebuild roads and bridges washed out by Hurricane Irene and other disasters. Vermont alone faces an estimated $700 million in road repairs after Irene. The bill also includes key waivers that would allow Vermont to access all of the funding it needs without overly burdensome cost-sharing requirements.
To view Senator Leahy's remarks at a news conference urging congressional support for disaster aid funding, please click here.
Telling Vermont's Story In Washington
Senator Leahy has been reporting on Vermont's experience with Hurricane Irene in a series of Senate Floor addresses, often accompanied by photographs he and others have taken of the damage done to homes, bridges, roads and schools.
To view Senator Leahy's remarks on the impact of Hurricane Irene on Vermont, please click here.
To view Senator Leahy's speech on the need for funding to rebuild transportation infrastructure in Vermont, please click here.
To view Senator Leahy's floor speech on the role of the National Guard in responding to the needs of Vermonters, please click here.
To view Senator Leahy's remarks on the indomitable Vermont spirit in the face of disaster, please click here.
Boys & Girls Clubs Get Helping Hands
Senator Leahy has announced that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Vermont are poised to receive $150,000 in support from both the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The majority of the donation, $100,000, will come from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation adding another $50,000. Leahy is a longtime champion of the Clubs in Vermont and in Congress.
The Boys & Girls Clubs in Brattleboro, Rutland and White River Junction were severely affected by flooding from Hurricane Irene. The funds will go toward the repair and restoration of the Clubs.
The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act -
A True Jobs Bill When We Need It Most
Capping a six-year effort in Congress, President Obama on September 16 signed into law the first major patent reform in more than six decades, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.
The reforms will shift the nation's patent system from a "first-to-invent" process to the more efficient international standard of a "first-to-file" system. The new law will help streamline the process by which patents are awarded and provide a fair process of review. The America Invents Act will help foster America's innovative spirit while encouraging economic growth and job creation throughout the country.
Senator Leahy attended a bill signing ceremony on September 16, and watched as the President signed the bill into law. Senator Leahy, an avid photographer, snapped photos from over the President's shoulder to record the event. A photo gallery is available online.
Protecting Americans' Personal Information
Fewer things are more valuable to a person's identity than sensitive personal information. Senator Leahy has been working for years to enact legislation to enhance protections for Americans' personal information. He has authored the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act, which will help prevent data breaches which compromise the personal information of thousands of Americans every year.
The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved Leahy's bill, which would establish a national standard for data breach notification and require companies and businesses that collect and store personal information to implement security programs to prevent breaches.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, has also held several hearings on this and other proposals to enhance data privacy.
Pushing To Eradicate Human Trafficking
Senator Leahy is leading efforts to eradicate the lingering injustice of human trafficking, a modern-day form of slavery. In September he turned the Senate Judiciary Committee's attention to the problem, chairing a hearing on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. He introduced the bipartisan bill with Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts in June.
The hearing's focus was on renewing this expiring law, which has been reauthorized three times since 2000, each time with overwhelming support in Congress. The Leahy bill would extend the authorization of the current law until 2015 and give law enforcement agencies added resources to pursue human trafficking criminals. It will also improve cooperation among federal agencies in providing services for the victims of human trafficking.
Senator Leahy is expected to bring the bill up for committee consideration in the coming weeks.
The American Jobs Act: A Way Forward For Our Economy
On September 8, President Obama proposed The American Jobs Act to help stir economic growth and job creation.
The President's plan would offer incentives to small businesses to start hiring by lightening their tax burden and the burden on most middle-class families. The bill would also make timely investments in infrastructure - the schools, roads, and bridges that need attention and repair. The plan also includes assistance to Americans searching for work.
Senator Leahy said, "I support the outlines of the job creation program the President proposes, and I welcome the President's continued support for my patent reform bill and the role these reforms can play in unleashing American innovation and strengthening our economic recovery."
New Date For 15th Annual Vermont Women's Economic Opportunity Conference
This year's 15th Annual Women's Economic Opportunity Conference has been rescheduled for December 10.
A Message from Senator Leahy:
I am pleased to announce that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will kick off our morning at this year's conference by participating in a question and answer forum. Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was born June 25, 1954, in Bronx, New York. She is the daughter of Juan Luis Sotomayor and Celina Baez Sotomayor. Her brother, Juan Sotomayor, Jr. is a physician in Syracuse, New York. She was nominated for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama on May 26, 2009 and sworn in on August 8, 2009.
Please join me and Marcelle on December 10, 2011, on the campus of Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center, for the 15th Annual Women's Economic Opportunity Conference. We look forward to celebrating these 15 years with you and in helping you to envision and achieve many successful years to come.
For more information, or to register for the conference please click here.
News You Can Use: Recovery Resources Available
From Senator Leahy
Vermonters seeking information and assistance with disaster recovery can find many resources at leahy.senate.gov. In addition to an up-to-date Flood and Disaster Recovery Resource Center web page, Senator Leahy's office has produced a comprehensive Vermont Flood Recovery Resource Guide. Both guides contain information on federal and state assistance, as well as tips on health and safety.
Press ContactDavid Carle: 202-224-3693
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