Back in session…
I appreciate you taking the time to read this brief update. It remains an honor for me to serve as your United States Representative in Washington, D.C.
As I noted in last week’s message, this past week I was back in Washington D.C. for the first week of the 115th Congress’s “lame duck” session. The new members of Congress will be sworn in for the 116th Congress on January 3rd. I remain optimistic that before we conclude for the year that we will reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, vote on a final version of the Farm Reauthorization bill, pass a Tax Extenders bill, and most importantly, finish up the annual appropriations process.
The Farm Bill is up for reauthorization and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, is a big part of the Farm Bill. The dollars associated with the five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill are 20% for agricultural support and 80% for SNAP. The primary disagreement between the House and Senate versions of the bill is a House-passed requirement that able-bodied adults, who are not responsible for taking care of young children, must actively seek and obtain work, volunteer for at least 20 hours a week if they can’t find work, or enroll in a job training program to remain eligible for assistance under the program. I believe that all public assistance programs, where an able-bodied adult is the recipient, should include a requirement to do something affirmative to demonstrate that they are making an effort to become self-sufficient.
In addition, to working on legislation, we had two important hearings in the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. The first was to receive an update from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on its progress in implementing a new Electronic Health Record (EHR) system. This system is to track the care provided to all eligible veterans under VA care. A key requirement of this system is the ability to interface with the Department of Defense’s new EHR system so that when a service member transitions off active duty their medical records can seamlessly transfer to the VA. The development of this system has been plagued with problems and massive cost overruns, but now seems to be doing better under new leadership.
The second hearing was over serious problems in making timely and accurate payments for the tuition and living expenses to veterans using the G.I. Bill. These veterans were promised both tuition and a living stipend so that, while enrolled in school, they can focus on completing their education rather than how to pay for their tuition, rent and groceries. The amount of the stipend is based on the zip code where the veteran is attending school, but the VA’s IT system for processing the claims is not working and veterans are too often receiving late or incorrect payments. The VA has notified the schools that they will receive the payments for tuition, albeit late, but the late payments to the veterans to cover their living expenses have created a hardship for far too many. It is one thing for a university to receive a late payment for tuition, but it is another for a veteran not to be paid on time, thereby limiting their ability to cover their living expenses.
During the hearing, the VA complained that the task of developing the new tuition and living stipend system that was passed in legislation last year and signed by President Trump, has been very difficult to implement because of its complexity. Yet the VA was given an opportunity to respond to the requirements of the legislation before it passed the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and to ask for more time before the program would be implemented to develop the IT system to support it, and the VA did not do so.
Finally, I invite you to stay in contact with me via my website, facebook or twitter account. See you around the district!