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Updates from Sen. Hirono

MEDIA RELEASE

Hawaii’s Congressional Delegation announced that the University of Hawaii will receive $1.5 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for research in high energy physics. Eventually, a total of $8.9 million will be invested.

“The study of particle physics is what led to the discovery of the electron over 100 years ago. Understanding the subatomic particles that make up the universe is more than just a curiosity, but something that can benefit society in ways unimaginable,” said Sen. Brian Schatz. “The University of Hawaii is quickly becoming a national leader in science, and this funding will help them continue their great work.”

“In a 21st century economy, the importance of science and technology innovation cannot be overstated,” said Sen. Mazie K. Hirono. “The University of Hawaii is a premier research institution and this grant allows physicists to continue cutting edge work that will improve the design of scientific instruments and increase our understanding of how our universe works at the most fundamental levels. This research is part of a long effort that has helped advance medicine, energy, and homeland security.”

“Investment in science and technology is an investment in our future. The University of Hawai‘i will be able to use these funds to build on previous success and continue to lead in the field of high energy physics,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02).

“In order for our country to remain a leader in innovation we must re-affirm our commitment to investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Grants like the one announced today, provide the University of Hawaii with the opportunity to engage in important research and development initiatives. Investment in research and development provides a pathway to clean energy, job creation, and the fostering of the entrepreneurial spirit.” said Congressman Mark Takai (HI-01)

According the University of Hawai‘i, the high energy physics research program is a top ranked program which has conducted research that was recognized in the work of Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, the duo that won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics. The high energy physics program is directed toward the study of the properties of matter and the application of these studies to understanding the physical universe. Experiments are conducted using high energy accelerators to search for new particles, test current theories, and measure properties of particles. The Physics teaching programs, both graduate and undergraduate, benefit greatly from the active research activities in the department.

HIRONO: SENATE’S BIPARTISAN COMPROMISE STEP FORWARD TO PREVENT IRAN FROM OBTAINING OR DEVELOPING NUCLEAR WEAPON

Sen Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after the Senate voted 98-1 to pass the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015:

“The bipartisan compromise that passed the Senate today is a step forward in reaching an eventual diplomatic solution that prevents Iran from obtaining or developing a nuclear weapon. I’m confident that while this legislation won’t interfere with the President and Secretary Kerry’s ability to negotiate a diplomatic solution, it also ensures Congress has ample authority to review and oversee of the implementation of the agreement.”

HIRONO’S TOP 10 REASONS THE REPUBLICAN BUDGET HURTS THE MIDDLE CLASS & IS BAD FOR HAWAII

The Republican budget favors the wealthy and special interests on the backs of middle class families, seniors, and students in Hawaii and across the country. While Democrats continue to work for a middle class budget that would give hard-working families a fair shot at a better future by creating good paying jobs and creating new opportunities, Republicans continue to push a disastrous framework that would rig the rules in favor of billionaires and special interests.

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono released her top ten reasons why the Republican budget hurts the middle class and is bad for Hawaii ahead of the expected Senate vote on the budget this week:

1. The Republican budget would make it harder for Hawaii’s working families to get ahead and make it even harder for those striving to enter the middle class. An estimated 52,000 working families in Hawaii would pay $1,154 more in taxes because of cuts to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. Additionally, 194,000 people in Hawaii who depend on food stamps would be at risk of losing nutrition assistance.

2. Instead of closing special interest tax loopholes to make sure everyone pays their fair share, the GOP budget would weaken our economy and cost Hawaii jobs. It would pave the way for more tax breaks for millionaires and big corporations and tax hikes on middle-class Americans while gutting investments needed to grow the economy and killing jobs in the process. If the policies in the Republican Budget were to become law, about 10,000 jobs would be eliminated by 2017 because of reckless cuts to transportation, education, and other programs.

3. The Republican budget rigs the rules in favor of special interests against the seniors in Hawaii who worked hard to earn Medicare benefits. 300,000 Hawaii seniors could be forced out of traditional Medicare and into a voucher program. For 24,100 Hawaii seniors that receive Medicare Part D benefits, prescription drug prices would go up an average of $1,090.

4. The Republican budget puts billionaires ahead of Hawaii’s earliest learners by cutting Head Start. Under the GOP budget, 120 fewer children would be enrolled in Head Start, a critical program which provides Hawaii’s youngest learners with quality care and establishes a foundation for success in school and life—meanwhile, the children of billionaires would gain an extra windfall because the Republican budget repeals policies like the estate tax.

5. Instead of making the dream of a college education more affordable for Hawaii students, the Republican budget cuts Pell Grants. For over 40 years, the Pell Grant program has been foundational to putting higher education within reach for students from low-income backgrounds across the country but earning a college degree will be harder and more expensive for 22,000 students in Hawaii as more than $90 billion in Pell Grant funding is cut by the Republican budget over the next decade nationwide.

6. Under the Republican budget, support for students enrolled in Hawaii’s 20 Title I schools would be cut. Title I grants under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provide financial assistance to schools with high numbers of children from low-income families to help them meet educational performance standards. Under the Republican budget, Hawaii would lose $4.2 million in Title I education funding next year, which would deny academic assistance to as many as 10,900 children.

7. The Republican budget would cause 8,000 Hawaii workers to lose access to job training to prepare them to compete for 21st century jobs or job assistance to help them rejoin the workforce. Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds are the primary source of workforce training and job search assistance funneled to the states. The Republican budget cuts off these resources when Hawaii needs more resources, not less, to keep up with the ever-changing global economy.

8. Irresponsible cuts in the Republican budget would hurt Hawaii’s National Parks, which are among Hawaii’s top tourist destinations. Hawaii’s National Parks provide a critically important venue for folks to explore the beautiful and unique ecosystems in Hawaii. Under the Republican budget, planned construction and maintenance at Haleakala National Park, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument would be delayed or canceled.

9. While Hawaii is focused on building a clean energy future, the Republican budget cuts the agencies charged with protecting our air and water. The budget would require drastic cuts that would hurt the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, the Department of Energy, and other agencies to protect our health with clean air and clean water, preserve natural areas for future generations, and help Hawaii develop clean sources of energy.

10. The Republican budget would rig the rules in favor of special interests by repealing the Affordable Care Act. If Republicans have their way and repeal the Affordable Care Act, approximately 13,000 Hawaii residents would lose health coverage next year.

HIRONO VOTES TO CONFIRM LYNCH AS FIRST WOMAN OF COLOR TO SERVE AS U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement on Loretta Lynch’s historic confirmation as the first woman of color to serve as Attorney General of the United States:

“Loretta Lynch is a strong leader with a long and distinguished record of public service. Her wealth of experience as a prosecutor will serve her well as she steps into her new role as our nation’s top law enforcement officer; charged with countering terrorist threats, going after criminals, and protecting our civil rights and liberties. But we can’t ignore the fact that Loretta Lynch’s historic confirmation as the first woman of color to lead the Department of Justice was dragged on for over five months—longer than the last seven Attorney General nominees. These political games have to stop. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to continue building on the bipartisan stands we have taken this week, passing our human trafficking bill, as well as finally voting on Ms. Lynch’s nomination. I hope we continue to come together to focus on creating jobs and strengthening the economy for middle class families.”

HIRONO INTRODUCES COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY PLAN

Hirono Plan Fights Back Against Endless Efforts to Slash the Critical Pell Grant Program that Makes College More Affordable for Low-Income Students

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono is rolling out her comprehensive plan to permanently protect and expand the Pell Grant program. For over 40 years, the Pell Grant program has been foundational to putting higher education within reach for students from low-income backgrounds across the country. The Pell Grant program has transformed lives by giving students the economic assistance they needed to reach their full potential and earn a college degree. Since the 2008 recession, more students than ever have been using Pell Grants to help pay for college.

Unfortunately for the over 8 million students and their families that use Pell Grants across the country, including over 23,000 in Hawaii, the Pell Grant program is put on the chopping block by Republicans time and time again. Instead of cuts and uncertainty, students deserve to know that they will be able to count on Pell Grants each and every year to help pay for college.

Hirono’s plan is composed of four legislative bills that would protect and expand the Pell Grant program for students:

Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act: The Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act would let students use Pell Grants for three semesters each academic year, rather than the current law’s limit of two semesters. Before Congress cut Year-Round Pell Grants in 2011, over 1 million students across the country, including over 1,600 in Hawaii, used Pell Grants to pay for college for three semesters in an academic year. Research shows that students who take courses continuously over the summer were three times more likely to complete a degree. The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Ed Markey and Jack Reed.

Pell Grant Cost of Tuition Adjustment Act: The Pell Grant Cost of Tuition Adjustment Act would increase the maximum Pell Grant for the 2014-2015 school year from $5,730 under current law to $9,139, the same as the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a four-year college. The bill would also index future amounts to inflation using the same formula Social Security uses for its annual cost of living adjustment. The bill is cosponsored by Sen. Ed Markey.

Pell Grant Protection Act: The Pell Grant Protection Act would fund Pell Grants by mandatory spending, just like Social Security. Currently, Congress is forced to decide the level of Pell Grants each year, and funds Pell Grants through mostly discretionary spending and a small mandatory add-on. While Republican budget plans aim to slash Pell Grants and end the small mandatory add-on, this bill would fund the entire Pell Grant program through mandatory spending. The bill is cosponsored by Sen. Ed Markey.

College Options for DREAMers Act: The College Options for DREAMers Act would let DREAMer students—who came to this country as children and attended U.S. high schools—access the same Pell Grants, student loans, work-study, and other federal financial aid that other academically qualified Americans can access. In 2013, Sen. Hirono passed a version of this bill as an amendment to comprehensive immigration reform. The College Options for DREAMers Act is also cosponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, the original author of the DREAM Act.

“Earning a college degree can be a pathway for those fighting to get into the middle class. Unfortunately, under the Republican majorities in Congress Pell Grants are under the constant threat of irresponsible cuts and dismantlement—even though college today is more expensive than ever,” said Sen. Mazie K. Hirono. “Investing in education is one of the smartest investments we can make and students deserve to know they can count on Pell Grants to help pay for college, regardless of their schedules, work, or family commitments. My plan to protect and strengthen Pell Grants will go a long way to ensure every student in Hawaii and across the country has a fair shot at affordable higher education.”

Throughout her career, Hirono has fought to make college more affordable. As a member of the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee, she helped pass laws to increase the maximum Pell Grant, strengthen income-based student loan repayment, and support Minority-Serving Institutions and community college job training programs. In the U.S. Senate, she first introduced a version of the Pell Grant Protection Act in the 113th Congress.

Education leaders and advocates in Hawaii and nationwide are praising Hirono’s plan to protect and expand Pell Grants:

“These are important legislative proposals to strengthen Pell Grants, America’s foundational federal student aid program. If enacted, this legislation will increase the number of low-income and first-generation students able to earn a college degree,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, which represents the presidents of more than 1,600 colleges and universities. “We are pleased to work with Sen. Hirono and other proponents as the legislation moves forward.”

“The Pell Grant program is a lifeline to community college for millions of students,” said Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, CEO of American Association of Community Colleges “The awards go farther for our students because of our relatively low tuitions. The changes contemplated by this legislation would dramatically strengthen and improve the program for community college students and we hope that it can be adopted.”

“A college degree is becoming more difficult for students to afford, despite its growing importance in today’s economy. NACAC is grateful to Sen. Hirono for introducing these bills and her efforts to keep college affordable for millions of students, including first generation students. NACAC urges Congress to pass these bills as soon as possible so that students can realize their dream of a college education and help ensure a bright future for themselves and their families,” said Joyce Smith, CEO of National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“The United States Student Association once again applauds Sen. Hirono for being a consistent champion of affordable and accessible higher education, and ultimately a true champion for students across the country,” said Maxwell John Love, President of the United States Student Association. “Her college affordability package embodies the Pell Grant students envision, namely one that actually covers the cost of tuition, helps students graduate by covering their Summer classes, and raises alongside the rate of inflation.”

“As a veteran and single mother of two with an associates degree in applied science, I had to start over as a freshmen when attending my public university,” said Krystal Shon, Senator from the College of Arts and Sciences, Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “As such, the G.I. Bill covered a generous thirty-six months of my education. However, my bachelor’s program requires fourty-eight months to complete the degree. I am currently utilizing the Federal Pell Grant to complete my last year and applying for scholarships. The goal is to graduate. Sen. Hirono’s college affordability package will grant people the chance to do just that.”

“For DREAMer students in Hawaii and around the country, it may seem impossible to cobble together the funds to attend college—class by class, job by job, semester by semester,” said Shingai Masiya, Co-Founder of the Aloha DREAM Team and a student at Hawaii Pacific University. “Sen. Hirono’s College Options for DREAMers Act would help make the dream of a college degree a reality, by giving hardworking students the same federal financial aid options as other qualified students.”

“The Pell Grant has supported 28% of the 20,426 students at UH Manoa in the 2012-2013 Academic Year,” said Stephen Nishihara, President of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii. “Sen. Hirono’s bills that preserve the integrity of the Pell Grant program are a step towards a more educated workforce and an chance for those who are financially disadvantaged to receive the same opportunity to access higher education. I often hear recipients saying they wish the Pell Grant program would cover the summer because it would help them complete their degree on time and allow them to balance a more practical work and study schedule throughout the year. It also breaks my heart to hear that students are not completing their degree because it is a financial burden that they can no longer bear. Education is the silver bullet that America needs to preserve itself as a nation of free people.”

Congressman Rubén Hinojasa, the ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, is also introducing the same package of bills in the House today:

“The best and fastest way to create an avenue for millions of students, who want to enroll in college, is by providing them with the tools they need to afford college, and Pell Grants have been a successful option for students who come from middle-class and low-income families,” said U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa. “It is unfortunate, to say the least, that some Republicans want to stamp out the dreams for so many students. This college affordability package, that Sen. Hirono and I, along with some of our colleagues in Congress are introducing, affords significant changes to the Pell Grant process and system by making college more affordable and accessible for those who need it the most. One of the most important aspects of these bills is that DREAMer students would have access to the same Pell Grants, student loans, work-study and other financial aid that are offered to qualified American students. I come from a part of the country, on the border with Mexico in Deep South Texas, where we see too many brilliant DREAMer students denied access to a college education. They are being denied even though, through no fault of their own, they were brought into the United States illegally when they were young children. We must do right by all of our residents who want to better themselves and who want to contribute to this country.”

The following national organizations have endorsed all four bills in Hirono’s Plan to Protect and Strengthen Pell Grants:

· American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)

· American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)

· American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)

· American Council on Education (ACE)

· American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

· Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

· Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU)

· Council for Opportunity in Education (COE)

· Coalition of Higher Education Assistance Organizations (COHEAO)

· National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC)

· National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA)

· United States Student Association (USSA)

· Young Invincibles (YI)

HIRONO, DEUTCH INTRODUCE BILL TO STRENGTHEN SOCIAL SECURITY FOR SENIORS, MAKE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM FAIRER FOR MIDDLE CLASS

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-21) introduced the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act — a measure that strengthens Social Security for generations to come and improves benefits for all Americans by restoring fairness to Social Security contributions.

Currently, most Americans contribute 6.2 percent of every paycheck they earn to Social Security, while a corporate lawyer earning $400,000 pays an annual rate of just 1.71 percent and a CEO earning $2 million pays an annual rate of just .003 percent.

By ensuring those at the very top of the income ladder pay into Social Security at the same rate as most Americans, this legislation extends the system’s solvency at a time when nearly two-thirds of retirees rely on Social Security for a majority of their income.

The legislation also restores accuracy to a broken cost-of-living adjustment formula and ensures that the benefits of all retirees keep pace, instead of shrink, in the face of inflation.

“Social Security is one of the cornerstones for the middle class, and literally a lifeline for millions of seniors,” said Sen. Mazie K. Hirono. “But right now, those at the very top of the income ladder pay a lower share of their income into Social Security than the rest of Americans. That’s not fair for middle class families in Hawaii or anywhere else. Our proposal would make sure all workers pay the same rate and would improve benefits for seniors.”

“For most Americans, Social Security is the only thing they can count on to keep them out of poverty during retirement,” said Congressman Ted Deutch. “Instead of chipping away at Social Security, in times like these everyone in Washington should be rallying behind it as the one pillar of retirement security that still stands strong. Restoring fairness is the first step toward protecting the promise that a lifetime of hard work translates into basic dignity at retirement, and I am pleased to partner with Sen. Hirono to make that case in the 114th Congress.”

While Republicans have consistently pushed for proposals that hurt middle class families by voucherizing Medicare and gutting Social Security, the Hirono-Deutch bill would protect the basic safety net for Americans who have worked hard their entire lives. Social Security advocates praised the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act and how it would benefit seniors.

“Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) are showing strong, visionary leadership in sponsoring the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act of 2015, ” said Nancy Altman, founding co-director of Social Security Works. “Their legislation provides for a more accurate cost of living adjustment that takes into account the true costs of seniors and people with disabilities. Consequently, those receiving Social Security’s modest benefits would no longer see those benefits erode over time. Their bill pays for the improvement, while ensuring that all benefits can be paid in full and on time for decades to come, by requiring the wealthiest among us to contribute the same percentage of their pay that the overwhelming majority of workers do. This bill is excellent policy and supported by the vast majority of Americans. If members are truly representing the values and interests of their constituents, this should become law without delay.”

“Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) understand that Americans want to expand, not cut Social Security,” said Eric Kingson, co-chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition. “The Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act squares well with the wishes of the American people. By ‘scrapping the cap’ it greatly strengthens Social Security’s financing and ensures that the wealthiest among us contribute their fair share. In proposing to use the CPI-E to determine COLAs, it further protects the benefits of retirees and people with disabilities against inflation. The Strengthen Social Security Coalition commend Rep. Deutch and Sen. Hirono for championing this important legislation.”

“The National Committee applauds Sen. Mazie Hirono and Rep. Ted Deutch for their leadership in strengthening Social Security by reintroducing his bill, the ‘Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act,’ in the 114th Congress,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “This bill strengthens Social Security in a number of ways. First, it would require that future cost-of-living adjustments be based on a fully developed Consumer Price Index for the Elderly or ‘CPI-E.’ The CPI-E would more accurately measure the rising prices of goods and services paid by seniors than the current urban and clerical worker index. To make this important proposal affordable, Congressman Deutch’s bill would strengthen the financing of the Social Security program by lifting the cap on Social Security payroll contributions. This bill represents a bold step on behalf of seniors and all Americans by strengthening and safeguarding Social Security for future generations without cutting the earned benefits of middle class Americans. The National Committee looks forward to working with Rep. Deutch and Sen. Hirono to ensure this important legislation is enacted.”

The Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act would strengthen Social Security while ensuring all Americans — even those at the top of the income ladder — pay the same rate into Social Security:

Lifting the cap on high-income contributions – For most Americans, Social Security contributions are deducted from each paycheck.

Current law sets a cap on contributions based on income ($118,500 for 2015). High-income earners stop paying into the program once they hit the cap each year. The Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act gradually and responsibly phases out this loophole over the course of seven years until higher-income Americans pay into Social Security at the same rate, all year long, just like everyone else.

Adjusting and improving benefits with a fair market basket of costs – This bill not only protects Social Security, but improves benefits for all retirees. Today, Social Security benefit payments are adjusted by the Consumer Price Index for workers. However, costs for seniors rise faster than for working Americans. As seniors spend more of their income on medical care, prescription drugs, energy costs, and other growing expenses, the purchasing power of their benefits continues to shrink. This bill restores accuracy to cost-of-living adjustments by replacing the CPI-W with the CPI-E, a metric created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to accurately measure the costs incurred by elderly Americans.

Untouched, Social Security is solvent for nearly 2 decades; this bill adds decades more –Social Security’s self-sustaining payroll tax (Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA) and available reserves in the Trust Fund will cover full benefits until at least 2033, and even longer if we promote strong economic growth and healthier paychecks for the American worker. Regardless of when exactly the Trust Fund is depleted, without any changes at all Social Security is able to pay 75 percent of Americans’ benefits indefinitely. The Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act will extend the solvency of the Trust Fund for decades into the future.

HIRONO VOTES TO STRENGTHEN MEDICARE & EXTEND HEALTH INSURANCE PROTECTION FOR HAWAII KIDS

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement on the Senate’s passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. The measure passed both the House and the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan majorities, passing in 329-37 and 92-8, respectively.

“This is compromise legislation, and while it’s not perfect, it has a number of provisions that are good for Hawaii. Medicare, the Children’s Health Improvement Program (CHIP), and our community health centers are essential to ensuring that Hawaii’s kupuna, keiki, and hard working families can get the health care they need. The bill extends the CHIP program, including coverage for COFA children and pregnant women, for two years and provides substantial funding for community health centers. It also permanently reforms the flawed system that has caused uncertainty for Medicare patients and doctors for over 10 years.

“Despite these benefits, there is still work to be done. I cosponsored amendments that would have extended the CHIP program and community health center funding for 4 years, eliminated unnecessary caps on physical therapy for our kupuna and strengthened access to women’s health care. While I was disappointed that these amendments were defeated, I will continue to keep fighting to improve health care for Hawaii’s families and communities.”

HIRONO & USDA DEPUTY SECRETARY HARDEN SPEND TIME ON BIG ISLE

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden traveled to Hawaii Island in April to visit with the agricultural community including floriculture, papaya, and macadamia nut representatives and PBARC on the future of agriculture in Hawaii.

They also met in the Puna community to discuss the importance of infrastructure and the impact of invasive species.

Hirono and Harden also received a briefing on the lava flow from Darryl Oliveira, Director of Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, and Tina Neal, Scientist-in-Charge at Hawaii Volcano Observatory.

In a meeting with the Hawaiian Shores Community Association, Hirono and Harden were briefed on issues in Puna including water infrastructure and albizia as the community still recovers from Tropical Storm Iselle.

Hirono and Harden also heard from Kona coffee producers and meet with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the Kona International Airport.

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