With the Spring Comes a Breath of Fresh Air for the Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Labor Appropriations Subcommittee, today issued the following statement on the national jobless rate.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers added 162,000 jobs in March. The national jobless rate, however, remains unchanged at 9.7 percent.

"The dark days of winter are behind us and just as a new season is taking shape, so too is our economy showing signs of a new season, with the largest increase in jobs in three years.  Knowing that employers added jobs last month is a breath of fresh air for an economy that has been stagnant for far too long.

"The fact is that the Recovery Act and other efforts are working.  Unfortunately there are still dangers ahead for those still looking for work, so additional efforts to move the country forward are needed. 

"First, Congress must overcome the obstructionism that is holding up an extension of unemployment insurance.  This critical safety net expires Monday and will leave nearly 38,000 Americans and 1,200 Iowans without benefits they need while they look for work.  In addition, we must take immediate action to prevent job losses among our nation's teachers - to protect the quality of education - and we need to pass job creating legislation.  When Congress returns, I intend to move immediately on those efforts."

Education reconciliation provisions increase college affordability

Washington, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today released the following statement detailing the benefits Iowans stand to gain from the comprehensive health reform bill passed earlier this week: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and The Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act, passed today by the U.S. Senate.  Once the reconciliation piece is approved by the U.S. House and signed into law by the President, Iowans will see a number of benefits illustrated below.  Earlier this week, the President signed The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law.  Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"The legislation passed by Congress this week looks to the future and means big things for Iowa's working families," said Harkin. "Comprehensive health reform eliminates the practice of denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition, lets kids stay on their parents insurance until age 26, provides tax relief for small businesses and provides a historic investment in prevention and wellness to change our current 'sick care system' into genuine health care.

"The second proposal, passed today by the Senate, builds on the strength of comprehensive reform and includes provisions that boost college affordability.  For Middle Class families, one of the biggest challenges comes when their children reach college age.  The questions around the kitchen table are:  How do we pay for college?  And, in a couple years, our child will be too old to stay on the family's health insurance plan; what are we going to do?" continued Harkin. "This bill addresses these challenges head-on.  It allows adult children to stay on their parents' health insurance plan until age 26.  And it increases the maximum Pell Grant for college students from $5,550 in 2010 to $5,975 by 2017.  Starting in 2013, the grant will be indexed to the Consumer Price Index for five years.  Make no mistake, there is a lot at stake for America's Middle Class families in this reconciliation bill - both in terms of health care security, and in terms of access to an affordable college education."

Key Benefits for Iowa in the Health Reform Legislation

  • Provide tax credits for up to 48,600 Iowa small businesses to help make coverage more affordable.
  • Health reform will ensure that the 302,000 uninsured Iowans and 171,000 Iowans who purchase health insurance through the individual market have access to affordable health insurance options through state-based health insurance exchanges.
  • Prohibit insurance companies from excluding coverage of pre-existing conditions for the 713,155 children in Iowa, starting this year.
  • Close the "donut hole" and improve other Medicare benefits for 505,000 Iowa seniors.
  • Each year, 89,700 Iowa seniors hit the Medicare Part D "donut hole."  Starting this year, seniors who hit this gap in their prescription drug coverage will receive a $250 check, and the "donut hole" will be completely closed by 2020.
  • Reduce family health insurance premiums by $1,350 - $1,930 for the same benefits, as compared to what they would be without health reform by 2016.
  • Starting this year, 300,466 young adults in Iowa will be able to remain covered by their parent's insurance policy until age 26.
  • Create 5,600 - 9,000 jobs by reducing health care costs for employers.
  • Provide more federal funding for 83 Community Health Centers in Iowa.
  • Health reform will provide immediate access to quality, affordable health insurance for as many as 33,497 uninsured Iowans who are unable to obtain health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) commented today on the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he requested on the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 (EEOICPA).  The EEOICPA provides compensation to workers and their survivors for occupational diseases arising from toxic and radiation exposure in the government's nuclear weapons program.  Several Iowans who worked on the Department of Energy's Line 1 are currently pursuing claims with the Department of Labor (DOL) through the EEOICPA. 

"I requested an audit of this program after constituents reported delayed compensation, difficulty navigating the program and inconsistencies with the adjudication process," Senator Harkin said. "Some claimants had to wait three years just for the government to rule on their case, and that's unacceptable.  The recommendations the GAO makes in this report will help the DOL be more responsive to affected workers, and I am currently looking at the best way to implement these fixes."

Three agencies coordinate efforts to implement the EEOICPA: The DOL issues compensation payments and determines whether workers should be compensated for exposure to toxic substances; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates workers' exposure to radiation for purposes of compensation decisions and determines when workers should receive presumptive compensation without need for a radiation dose estimate; and the Department of Energy (DOE) provides records and historical information used by both NIOSH and the DOL under their authorities.

In its report, the GAO noted that Congress has established a Presidential Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health which regularly evaluates the quality and scientific soundness of radiation dose assessments, site profiles, and presumptive compensation evaluations that are conducted by NIOSH.  However, there is a "gap" because there is no comparable body to oversee the "quality, objectivity and consistency of [DOL] consultant physicians' work and no independent expert review of the scientific soundness of the detailed information in site exposure" matrices used in screening cases for compensability.

The GAO also found that while Congress established a DOL Ombudsman to assist claimants and to report on problems encountered by claimants through annual reports to Congress, "Labor has not publically responded to these concerns, nor developed formal plans for addressing the issues." As a result, "claimants have little knowledge that their concerns are heard or that they are being addressed."

GAO also noted that the Labor Department does not release its site exposure matrices due to concerns about releasing national security sensitive information.  By comparison, NIOSH has released extensive documentation on radiological conditions at nuclear facilities. GAO found that transparency would facilitate greater understanding on the part of claimants, and help improve the accuracy of the site exposure matrix used in decision making.  GAO recommended that DOL and DOE establish a "formal action plan" to facilitate a clearance process to make information on the site matrices public.

A full copy of the report GAO #10-302 can be found here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10302.pdf.

Comprehensive reform increases access to affordable care, makes health insurance companies more accountable and includes historic investment in prevention, wellness

Education reconciliation provisions increase college affordability

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) issued the following statement after the U.S. House passed the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010.  With this vote, comprehensive health reform has passed and will go to President Obama for his signature.  The reconciliation package now heads to the U.S. Senate for consideration next week.  Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"With this vote today, the House took a major step forward in the fight to put American families and small business owners?not the insurance companies?in control of their own health care.

"This legislation makes the Senate-passed comprehensive bill even stronger by providing coverage to some 95 percent of Americans.  This will be affordable coverage, which will save thousands of lives and give peace of mind to those who have coverage now, but have a 50/50 chance of losing coverage in the next decade.  It will provide relief from skyrocketing and unstable premiums and holds insurance companies accountable to keep premiums down and prevent denials of care and coverage, including for pre-existing conditions.

"I am particularly encouraged that in passing comprehensive reform, we will, for the first time make an historic investment in prevention and public health to change our current sick care system into a true health care system.  These reforms will truly bend the cost curve and rein in rising health care costs.

"And we provide all of these reforms while also reducing the deficit by $138 billion over next ten years, and by $1.2 trillion more over the following decade; reducing waste, fraud and abuse, paying for quality over quantity of care.

"With the reconciliation package, the Senate is also on track to enact one of President Obama's key education priorities - a move that will make college more affordable and accessible.  The measure eliminates billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies to banks and redirects that money to students and families in the form of increased Pell Grants to low-income college students, putting the priorities of students and families ahead of subsidies to lenders.

"We are on the cusp of history in this country.  I congratulate Speaker Pelosi and House leaders on this historic achievement and look forward to working in the Senate to get a final bill to the President's desk as soon as possible."

For a list of the immediate health benefits of the bill, please click here.

For a list of the key improvements to the bill, please click here.

For a list of the Harkin-led prevention benefits, please click here.

For more details about the education reconciliation proposal unveiled earlier this week, please click here.

WASHINGTON, D.C (Mar 20, 2010). - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) tonight issued the following statement on the University of Northern Iowa's upset win over the top seed and number 1 ranked University of Kansas in a 69-67 victory.

"Ruth and I could not be more proud of the UNI men's basketball team. This major victory in the second round of March Madness shows how skill and determination can win out. Tonight the Panthers pounced. Congratulations to each and every one of these student athletes and Coach Jacobson."
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced the recipients of this year's 'Harkin School Grants'.  The Iowa Department of Education has selected 58 schools to receive $5,361,576 in federal funds to modernize and improve their facilities.  Specifically, 47 Iowa schools of all sizes will receive $1,876,551 to improve and upgrade fire safety and 11 schools will receive $3,485,025 for projects such as replacing old buildings, updating facilities and improving energy efficiency.

"If we expect our children to learn and be competitive in the global economy, we must provide them with safe and modern schools in which to thrive.  This funding will allow for upgrades to improve the safety and quality of school infrastructure and help improve the quality of the learning done inside," said Harkin. "I congratulate all of these schools on being chosen by the Iowa Department of Education for this year's grants."

This federal funding comes from pilot programs Harkin created in 1998 in his role as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds education initiatives. Since then, these grants have provided $134 million in federal dollars to the Iowa Department of Education to make competitive grants for school repair and construction. Because most of the funding required a local match, over $600 million has been leveraged for construction and repairs in over 300 Iowa school districts.  For the first time in the history of the program, the competition gave preference to school districts that plan energy efficient projects.

"This program has shown to have very positive results in Iowa.  It is my hope that this method of using a small infusion of federal dollars to leverage construction and repair funding becomes a national model to provide all children with safe, energy efficient school facilities that are conducive to world-class learning," said Harkin.

A full list of grantees can be found here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, today applauded Senate passage of legislation to extend unemployment benefits and other crucial programs through the end of 2010.  Once the House passes the measure and the bill is signed into law, an estimated 76,000 Iowans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their unemployment benefits will be available through December 31st, 2010. 

The legislation also extends loan programs for small businesses and tax benefits that provide the tax certainty businesses need to create jobs, along with other important safety-net programs that families depend on in this tough economic climate.  It also gives businesses additional time to fund their pensions.  This relief allows businesses to focus on creating jobs, but is tailored to preserve the future security of workers' pensions.  The bill passed the Senate 63 to 36.

"This bill will create jobs and give thousands of Iowans who are suffering through this recession a little time and a little relief so they can get back on their feet," Senator Harkin said. "In addition to putting food on the table for working families, these benefits generate immediate economic activity in our communities.  It will alleviate some of the burden on state budgets by extending the federal share of Medicaid payments -- a move that will help Iowa and other states avoid deep cuts.  And I am encouraged that we extend the Medicare payment fix for doctors.  Although this is not a permanent fix, I will continue to fight for one. " 

The bill includes provisions that:

o    Extend the current federal unemployment benefits program through Dec 31, 2010.

o    Extend the federal funding of the state share of Extended Benefits through Dec 31, 2010.

o    Extend eligibility for the temporary increase of $25 per week in individual weekly unemployment compensation through Dec 31, 2010.

o    Extend the 65 percent subsidy for COBRA coverage through Dec 31, 2010.

o    Extend the Medicare payment fix for doctors.

o    Extend FMAP, the federal share of Medicaid payments, to give state budgets some relief.

Last week, Congress passed a 30-day extension of the federal unemployment benefits program (through April 5th) and the extension prior to that continued unemployment benefits for 2 months (from Dec 2009 to Feb 2010).
WASHINGTON, D.C. - March 1, 2010 -  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced today that he is accepting applications for nomination to the United States' military academies for the class entering in the summer of 2011.  Senator Harkin will nominate up to ten Iowans for every opening he has at each academy, with final selection for admission made by the individual academy from that group of ten. 

"Each year I look forward to recommending outstanding young Iowans to the service academies.  It is a genuine honor," Harkin said.

Our nation's military academies offer Iowans educational opportunities for young people interested in military service.  Students can specialize in a variety of fields at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs and the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point.

Harkin enjoyed a successful military career.  He joined the Navy and served as a jet pilot after graduating from Iowa State University in 1962.

Most of the state's high school guidance counselors should have information about the application procedures prospective candidates must follow.  Senator Harkin uses a competitive method to screen applicants, including the evaluation of ACT or SAT scores, high school grade point average, leadership abilities and physical aptitude.  Harkin has also appointed an academy selection committee that conducts personal interviews with academy finalists.

Interested individuals should complete Senator Harkin's Service Academy Nomination application, which can be found on his website Harkin.Senate.Gov.  Any additional questions should be directed to his Academy Nomination Coordinator Tom Larkin at 319-365-4504.

Feb 26, 2010

He calls the hold up of benefits an abuse of Senate procedure

An estimated 75,000 Iowans will lose federal unemployment benefits Sunday, Feb. 28th

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today said he intends to fight the hold that has been placed on a Senate effort to extend unemployment insurance to approximately 1 million unemployed workers and other expiring programs.  An estimated 75,000 Iowans will see their federal unemployment benefits expire over the weekend as a result of the hold.  Harkin chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"We need to act quickly to extend the safety net and make sure laid-off workers have access to unemployment benefits through the end of the year, at least," said Harkin. "It is heartbreaking to see political games being played with the lives of hardworking people who are struggling to find a job, particularly when there has been strong bipartisan support in the past to extend unemployment benefits and other vital safety net programs. 

"Unfortunately this is emblematic of the larger issue plaguing the Senate today: abuse of Senate procedure.  We saw it in November as well.  While Senate Republicans play games, families are sitting around their kitchen tables wondering how they will make ends meet. 

"I intend to do everything in my power to fight this and hope other Senators will join me in this effort."

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is waging a lone battle to block the chamber from voting to extend unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies for the jobless, highway and transit programs, the compulsory copyright license used by satellite TV providers and the federal flood insurance program for 30 days.  In November, Senate Republicans used a similar delay tactic to filibuster a motion to proceed to a bill to extend unemployment compensation.  After delaying and grinding Senate business to a halt for nearly a month, the bill passed 97-1.

Harkin and other Senators are working on a package that is likely to include a year-long extension of unemployment benefits as well as other supports.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement after the White House unveiled their health reform proposal.  Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"In his State of the Union address, the President made clear that we cannot walk away from health reform.  Today, the President put this directive into action and he did so with a proposal that builds on what works, fixes what does not and moves the health reform debate ahead. 

"The president's plan seeks to increase affordability and expand access to health care, fill the donut hole so seniors can afford essential medications and ensure fairness across the board with state Medicaid programs.  It also recognizes that states should be seen as innovators for expanding Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents and does not penalize these states in favor of states that have done little or nothing to extend benefits to the uninsured.  Additionally it provides a safeguard against substantial premium rate hikes to protect consumers.

"With a framework in hand and a bipartisan summit on the horizon, the White House has outlined a path forward for enacting comprehensive health reform this year.   I look forward to joining with our president in this effort and hope that it is met with strong support in Congress."