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Updates from Sen. Hirono (May)

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Late last week, the U.S. Senate passed Sen. Mazie K. Hirono’s bipartisan resolution recognizing May as Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month.

“Over the course of this month, I’ve met dynamic Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders who continue to build upon the achievements and foundation laid by Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) trailblazers.” said Hirono. “‎In recognition of APA heritage month, I led a bipartisan group of Senators in passing a resolution recognizing the contributions of leaders including Senators Daniel K. Inouye, Daniel K. Akaka and Representative Patsy T. Mink, and the powerful voice that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will lend to shaping our country’s future. I am proud to lead several legislative efforts that will keep America’s promise to Compact of Free Association migrants, improve data on AAPI students, and fight diseases disproportionately affecting the AAPI community. Although the AAPI community has made great strides in recent years, there is much work to be done in addressing the unique needs of our community. I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to accomplish these goals.”

The resolution was cosponsored by‎ a large, bipartisan coalition including Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Dean Heller (R-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Throughout APA Heritage Month, Hirono, the first Asian American woman elected to the United States Senate, celebrated the contributions and progress made by the AAPI community by introducing key legislation and attending Heritage Month festivities.

Hirono Introduces Legislation to Support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Hirono and the Hawaii Congressional Delegation introduced legislation to reinstate Medicaid eligibility for Compact of Free Association (COFA) migrants.

In 1996, Congress passed a law that made migrants from Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands ineligible for federal Medicaid dollars. Without federal dollars, Hawaii has borne the cost of care for COFA migrants which has strained the state’s resources. Each year, the state spends an estimated $30 to $40 million to provide health care to these families.

Hirono also introduced other legislation to support AAPIs—a bill to shine a light on hidden achievement gaps facing AAPI students by reporting disaggregated student data using the same AAPI subgroups as the Census and a bill to create a national Hepatitis system that includes both Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus to determine the prevalence of both.

Hirono Leads Senate Democrats in Celebrating Asian American, Pacific Islander & Native Hawaiian Heritage Month

Hirono co-chaired a Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee reception in the Capitol for Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian leaders. Hirono discussed the importance of recognizing the AAPI community’s unique differences and continuing to grow the pipeline of AAPI leaders as well as highlighted her push for important legislation.

Hirono Speaks At White House AAPI Forum

In continuing to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Hirono spoke at the White House’s AAPI Leaders Forum. In a room full of AAPI leaders from across the country, the Senator highlighted the importance of greater representation in leadership positions and diverse voices at the decision table.

Hirono Attends Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies Gala

Finally, Hirono attended the annual Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) Gala Awards Dinner to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The evening honored AAPI leaders—both current and pioneers—and recognized individuals and organizations that continue to politically empower the AAPI community.

HIRONO STANDS FOR EVEN PLAYING FIELD FOR U.S. WORKERS & BUSINESSES, OPPOSES FAST TRACK TRADE LEGISLATION

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono opposed trade promotion authority legislation, also known as “fast track” authority, which was passed by the U.S. Senate 62-37:

“This was an important vote on an important issue. Congress should set strong, enforceable guidelines that ensure trade deals include strong labor, environmental, and other standards that guarantee workers and businesses in places like Hawaii are on an equal playing field. Trade agreements should not result in a continuing shift of manufacturing jobs to the countries that we made these agreements with, as has happened in the past. Trade deals should help, not hurt, middle class families and workers. I voted against this bill because it does not go far enough to ensure future trade deals will include fair wages, a decent standard of living, and a clean environment for all.

“Fast track bills give the President authority to negotiate trade deals on the condition that Congress will vote to accept or reject the deal without making changes—as long as the deal meets the objectives set by Congress. That’s a lot of authority to grant without knowing what a final agreement will look like. For example, the Administration has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would represent 40% of the world’s economy and very few people, including Members of Congress and the public, know what is in the agreement. Past fast track bills have not put strong enough standards in place and we’ve seen whole communities and industries hurt as a result.

“In fact, because of the harm that can come to communities as a result of these trade deals, Congress passed Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). This program provides income support, retraining, and other resources for U.S. workers who lose their jobs as a result of foreign trade. Hawaii has had to use these programs to support workers in the past, which we’re reminded of when we see sugar plantations that remain fallow. I’m glad the bill passed by the Senate includes a renewal of TAA, but more should have been included to enhance the program.

“In addition to the lack of transparency, I’m also disappointed that such an important issue was not more thoroughly debated, and that more amendments to improve the bill were not discussed and voted on. There was no reason to rush such an important debate.

“Congress certainly shouldn’t be putting trade agreements that fail on fundamental protections on a ‘fast track’ to passage, which is why I’ve consistently opposed free trade agreements that were negotiated under fast track authority in the past. Instead, Congress should fast track legislation that will help working families like raising the minimum wage, funding job creating transportation and infrastructure projects, and enhancing U.S. competitiveness by passing comprehensive immigration reform and making college more affordable.”

Hirono Continues Commitment To Improving Veterans’ Health Care

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono is introducing a package of legislation that continues her ongoing work to prioritize making sure our veterans and their families can access the benefits and care they’ve earned:

“Each Memorial Day, we recognize the brave men and women who sacrificed for our freedom. While some of our servicemen and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice, we honor them by keeping our promise to those who are coming home,” said Hirono. “Providing timely access to quality health care is one of those promises. So is removing barriers to other benefits that our veterans have earned. The bills I’m introducing today will help make concrete progress in keeping those promises.

“Over the past year, I’ve met with veterans across Hawaii and heard too many stories about the difficulty they’ve had in accessing information and benefits,” continued Hirono. “The VA has made progress but still faces many challenges in restoring trust with our veterans. These bills would help fix the VA system to make sure our veterans can access the care they need by cutting red tape that prevents veterans from being reimbursed for emergency care, putting survivors benefits on a fast track to being approved for veterans’ families, and matching up VA policies with private sector practices and allowing Emergency Medicine doctors to work a flexible and more practical schedule.”

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Hirono has worked to improve care, benefits, and services that veterans receive. In 2014, she worked to develop Congress’ legislative response to the VA health care scandal and fought to include important provisions for Hawaii in the final law, including authorizing $15.8 million for a new veterans clinic in Leeward Oahu, making it easier for VA to hire new staff in Hawaii and nationally, providing in-state tuition for veterans using the GI bill at public universities, and allowing the VA to contract with the Native Hawaiian Health Care System.

Hirono also chaired a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee field hearing in August 2014 on the state of VA health care in Hawaii and continues to prioritize outreach to Hawaii’s veteran community through roundtables, meetings, and other efforts.

The Veterans Emergency Health Safety Net Expansion Act of 2015 expands access to the VA emergency safety net to all VA-enrolled veterans who rely solely on the VA for their medical care by cutting red tape and eliminating the 24-month rule. Currently, the VA system creates a catch-22 for more than one million veterans who rely solely on the VA for their medical care. A veteran who receives emergency care at a non-VA facility can be reimbursed for those costs only if the veteran had also received care at a VA facility in the preceding 24 months. This creates an extreme financial hardship for veterans who experience a medical emergency. The Veterans Emergency Health Safety Net Expansion Act of 2015 fully repeals the 24-month requirement and removes a major barrier that forces veterans to choose between seeking life-saving emergency care or facing extreme financial hardship. This bill is endorsed by The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).

The Veterans’ Survivors Claims Processing Automation Act eliminates the need for survivors or spouses of deceased or totally and permanently disabled veterans to file a formal claim before the VA settles and pays claims for survivor benefits. Right now, survivors or spouses of veterans have to file a formal claim and go through an often lengthy process in order to receive VA survivor benefits, like burial/funeral benefits or disability pensions, for veterans who are deceased or totally and permanently disabled. The Veterans’ Survivors Claims Processing Automation Act would give the VA authority to pay a survivor claim without a formal application when sufficient evidence is already on record. The authority would allow automation of the following benefit categories: VA burial/funeral benefits, VA dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), VA Survivors Pension, and VA payment of certain accrued benefits upon death of a beneficiary to survivors. The VFW and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) have endorsed this bill.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Medical Staffing Recruitment and Retention Act would match up VA policies with private sector practices and allow VA Medical Centers to implement flexible physician and physician assistant work schedules. Currently, the VA’s policies don’t sync up with how private sector medical professionals manage their schedules. Hospitalist and Emergency Medicine physicians specialize in the care of patients in the hospital, often needing to work irregular work schedules to accommodate the need for continuity of efficient hospital care. This bill would give the VA authority to align VA policies with the private sector, facilitating the recruitment and retention of emergency physicians and the recruitment, retention, and operation of a hospitalist physician system at VA medical centers. The VFW, DAV and American College of Emergency Physicians are supportive of this legislation.

National veterans and medical groups praised Hirono’s legislation:

“The VFW supports all three of these important measures which we believe will improve access to care for veterans and timeliness of claim decisions for their survivors, and we thank Senator Hirono for her leadership in bringing them forward,” said Raymond Kelley, VFW National Legislative Director.

“Sen. Hirono’s legislation will improve access to emergency care for our nation’s veteran’s by making the Veterans Health Administration more competitive with the private sector,” said Dr. Michael Gerardi, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Current VHA rules do not provide enough flexibility to recruit and retain the most qualified emergency physicians. My colleagues and I are honored about this potential opportunity to serve veterans.”

Hirono Appointed To U.S. Air Force Academy Board Of Visitors

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement after her appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy Board of Visitors:

“The outstanding men and women who comprise the Cadet Wing at the U.S. Air Force Academy represent some of our nation’s best and brightest. I am honored to accept this appointment to the Academy’s Board of Visitors and stand ready to work with my Board colleagues and Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the first woman ever to lead a U.S. military academy, to ensure the Air Force Academy provides the best possible education and training for our next generation of leaders. I also want to thank Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Sens. Harry Reid and Jack Reed, for entrusting me with this unique responsibility which includes the opportunity to help guide the development of our nation’s future military leaders.”

Through this appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy Board of Visitors, Hirono, who in addition to serving as Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Seapower Subcommittee also serves on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, will play an important role in the development of our future military leaders.

The U.S. Air Force Academy Board of Visitors provides the Secretary of Defense and Congress independent advice and recommendations on issues including the morale, discipline, curriculum and social climate at the Academy. Fifteen members make up the board—six appointed by the President, four designated by the Speaker of the House, three designated by the Vice President, and the Chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

Hawaii Delegation Fights To Restore Medicaid Access For COFA Migrants

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Sen. Brian Schatz, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and Congressman Mark Takai introduced legislation to reinstate Medicaid eligibility for Compact of Free Association (COFA) migrants.

In 1996, Congress passed a law that made migrants from Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands ineligible for federal Medicaid dollars. Without federal dollars, Hawaii has borne the cost of care for COFA migrants which has strained the state’s resources. Each year, the state spends an estimated $30 to $40 million to provide health care to these families. By making all COFA migrants eligible for Medicaid, the Restore Medicaid to Compact of Free Association Migrants Act requires the federal government to honor our Compacts of Free Association and share the cost of providing health care. Restoring Medicaid eligibility for these compact migrants has been a priority of Hawaii leaders for more than a decade.

“In the history of our country, many migrant groups have had growing pains and it is our duty as a nation of migrants and immigrants to welcome new people and their families to our communities. Addressing the Compact impact on local communities has been a long-standing challenge for Hawaii and continues to be a major priority for me,” said Hirono. “We must live up to the promise we made and the federal government should pay its fair share to meet those commitments. Right now, Hawaii is unfairly bearing the cost of providing services like Medicaid for COFA migrants. Both Republicans and Democrats supported legislation to restore Medicaid eligibility to COFA migrants in the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform legislation that passed the U.S. Senate but died in the House. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pursue this goal and uphold the promises we made in these Compacts.”

“Providing health care to compact migrants is not only a legal obligation, it is a moral obligation,” said Schatz. “Hawaii has spent millions on health care for migrants to comply with the Compacts of Free Association. Our legislation will restore federal Medicaid funding so that the costs of providing critical health care to migrants is shared by the state and the federal government.”

“This bill will right a wrong that has gone on for far too long,” said Congresswoman Gabbard. “The Federal Government made a promise to these individuals, and it must uphold that commitment, and provide Medicaid to COFA migrants from Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands.”

“I join with my colleagues from the Hawaii Delegation in supporting the restoration of Medicaid eligibility for the people of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands,” said Congressman Takai. “COFA migrants prior to 1996 had access to Medicaid, which allowed them to receive much needed medical attention to address health concerns linked to the nuclear testing conducted by the United States. Since that eligibility was removed, Hawaii and other affected regions have had to pay more than their fair share of medical costs for COFA migrants. This legislation provides a way for the Federal government to honor the commitments it made under the Compact of Free Association.”

In 2013, Hirono championed an amendment that would restore COFA migrant access to Medicaid, which was passed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and included in the final comprehensive immigration reform bill which passed the Senate 68-32. Additionally, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which passed the Senate earlier this year and was signed into law, continued Medicaid eligibility for COFA children and pregnant women.

Advocates for the COFA community in Hawaii praised the Hawaii delegation’s introduction of the Restore Medicaid to Compact of Free Association Migrants Act:

“The ultimate goal of the COFA treaty, highlighted in the open immigration and shared national security responsibility, has to be the full integration of our common values for wellbeing, security, and the opportunity to contribute to society. However, continued denial of basic healthcare access for our COFA Micronesian citizens is a sure path towards continued marginalization and segregation.” said Josie Howard, Director of We Are Oceania. “We are grateful to Sen. Mazie Hirono and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for their support and initiative in this bill. This is testimony to their proactive vision and recognition for the many contributions of the COFA citizens in our state and the whole nation.”

“As someone who has worked closely with the Micronesian community in Hawaii, both as an attorney and as a fellow organizer, this bill is meaningful both materially and symbolically. It will undoubtedly save lives, and it also acknowledges the many contributions of the COFA Micronesian nations to U.S. interests,” said Dina Shek, Legal Director of the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawaii.

Hirono Introduces Legislation To Help Hawaii Small Businesses Get Started and Grow Green Jobs

During National Small Business Week, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, a Member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, introduced two pieces of legislation to help small businesses in Hawaii and across the country grow and succeed:

“All small businesses in Hawaii and across the country deserve a fair shot to succeed and National Small Business Week serves as a reminder that small businesses create 90% of Hawaii’s jobs and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of building a more sustainable economy that creates opportunity and prosperity for all,” said Hirono. “The bills I’ve introduced this week focus on two things: Helping make it easier for entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground, and making it easier for clean energy entrepreneurs and manufacturers to access new markets and opportunities. As a member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, I’ll continue fighting to make sure that anyone with ingenuity and commitment to working hard has the resources and support to start, build, and grow their business.”

The Small Business Start-Up Savings Account Act will allow entrepreneurs to contribute up to $10,000 a year into a Small Business Start-Up Savings Account, which could be used for purchasing equipment or facilities, marketing, training, or paying incorporation and accounting fees for starting a new business. Similar to an individual retirement account, spending from the account would not be included in gross income. Over a lifetime, entrepreneurs could accumulate $150,000 in a Small Business Start-Up Savings Account, which could be taken out tax free.

The Small Business Start-Up Savings Account Act was originally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell in the 113th Congress.

The Clean Energy Technology Manufacturing And Export Assistance Act will help small and medium sized clean technology businesses find new markets in the United States and around the world by creating a Clean Energy Technology Manufacturing and Export Assistance Fund administered by the International Trade Administration. The Clean Energy Technology Manufacturing and Export Assistance Fund will assist clean technology firms with export assistance including finding and navigating foreign markets to export their goods and services abroad. Furthermore, the bill will expand domestic clean technology manufacturing industry by promoting policies that will reduce production costs and encourage innovation, investment, and productivity in the domestic clean energy technology industry, which will help domestic companies increase demand and create jobs.

Congresswoman Doris Matsui has introduced the Clean Energy Technology Manufacturing and Export Assistance Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As a member of the Senate Small Business Committee, Hirono is committed to supporting Hawaii’s small businesses, and continues to focus on expanding educational and training opportunities, supporting innovation, and building a sustainable economic future in Hawaii.

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