In November of 2006, Americans voted to take the country in a much-needed new direction by electing Democrats to lead Congress. As we move forward, Democrats are taking care of the priorities our nation values. Senate Democrats renew our commitment to working with the AAPI community to advance a common-sense agenda for the 110th Congress that improves the state of our union for the AAPI community and all Americans. The first ten Senate bills of the 110th Congress include legislation to support out troops and strengthen our military, make college more affordable, improve the Medicare prescription drug program, raise the federal minimum wage, and advance comprehensive immigration reform. Together with the AAPI community, Democrats can, and will, take the country in a new direction.
Securing Our Nation and Supporting Our Troops
- There are 1,373,534 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders serving in active duty in the U.S. Armed Services. 59,141 or 4.3 percent are Asian Americans and 3, 237 are native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 3,237, 0.2 percent.
- As of July 31, 2006 7,314 Asian American/Pacific Islanders were deployed in the U.S. Armed Services.
- As of January 7, 2007, 54 Asian Americans and 29 Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition, 284 Asian American and 125 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders have been wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On the first day of the 110th Congress,Democrats introduced S.8, the Rebuilding America’s Military Act, which would express the sense of Congress that Congress should: 1) restore and enhance the capabilities America needs to protect her people and her interests around the world; 2) enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces, including the reset of military equipment worn out in Iraq, and return unit combat readiness to the necessary levels; and 3) support the men and women in uniform, including the members of our National Guard and Reserve forces, through the provision of quality health care and enhanced educational assistance. S.8 is only the first of what will be many efforts made by Democrats to support American servicemen and women and their families in the 110th Congress.
America’s fight against terrorism also remains unfinished, and our country is not as secure as it should be. It is past time to craft a strategy and build the capabilities that will help us win the war on terror and defeat violent extremism. Senate Democrats are committed to continuing their call on President Bush to change course in Iraq and bring the war to a successful close, and to focus on bringing real security for our nation. Deploying additional forces to the region would be a tragic mistake and is not a way forward. President Bush stands nearly alone in this strategy. Military generals, the American people, and even many Republicans agree: the time has come to transition our military mission, pursue a political and diplomatic solution, responsibly re-deploy our troops, and end our open-ended commitment in Iraq.
Increasing Educational Opportunities
- Overall, 21 percent of AAPIs have earned a college degree, but broken out, only 3 percent of Hmong Americans, 6 percent of Cambodian Americans, 7 percent of Laotian Americans, and 17 percent of Vietnamese Americans have earned a degree.
- While only 1.7 percent of all Americans aged 25 and over have not received formal schooling, 23.6 percent of Cambodian Americans and 30.8 percent of Laotian Americans have not been formally educated.
Senate Democrats recognize that a quality education is often the first step on the road to achieving the American dream and that AAPI students deserve the opportunity to attend college. S.7, the College Opportunity Act of 2007, which would make a college education more affordable by increasing Pell Grants and providing more favorable student loans and other benefits, was one of the top ten bills introduced by Senate Democrats.
Senate Democrats are committed to fighting for programs that support AAPI educational opportunities such as the DREAM Act, Even Start, Head Start, Drop Out prevention, Title I, GEAR UP and TRIO (college prep programs), vocational and adult education programs, after-school programs, and programs that support English language learners. In fact, Democrats unanimously opposed a Republican budget reconciliation bill that cut $12 billion in funding to the federal student loan program, a program open to all across the economic divide, including students from middle-class families. Senate Democrats will work in the 110th Congress to fund current federal educational programs and strengthen educational opportunities for AAPI students.
Improving Access to Health Care
- Overall, at least 17.7 percent of all Asian Americans and 21.8 percent of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI) are uninsured compared to 11.2 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. This represents a total of 2.3 million AAPIs who are without health care coverage.
- Overall, AAPIs are less likely than whites to have job-based health insurance coverage. Studies show that as many as 54 percent of Korean American and 32 percent of Vietnamese Americans adults aged 18-64 are uninsured compared to 15 percent of the total population.
In the 110th Congress, Democrats are committed to ensuring affordable, equitable, and quality health care. On the first day of the new Congress, Senate Democrats introduced S.3, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007, which would improve Medicare’s prescription drug benefit program to ensure that all people with Medicare have access to the fairest prices for their prescription drugs. Democrats plan to evaluate the new program to ensure that it is actually working for seniors and people with disabilities, and not leaving them confused and frustrated.
Democrats believe that health care access is essential to our nation’s well being and recognize that many in the AAPI community are particularly impacted by health uninsurance, disparities and barriers to access. Top priorities include lowering the numbers of the uninsured, narrowing health disparities in racial and ethnic minority communities (including ensuring cultural competency and linguistic access), promoting preventive health care, and making prescription drugs more affordable for the elderly. Democrats are committed to ensuring in the 110th Congress that all Americans receive affordable and quality health care.
Advancing Economic Prosperity
- As of 2005, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders had a per capita income of 18,920, as compared to the national per capita income of $25,035.
Last year, Democrats promised to seek better pay for working Americans, starting by raising the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 1997. Since that time, the cost of living has skyrocketed and the purchasing power of the wage has eroded by over 20 percent. Today, a full-time federal minimum wage earner takes home only $10,712 per year, before taxes, which is almost $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.
On the first day of the 110th Congress, Democrats renewed our commitment to raise the minimum wage by introducing S.2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. S.2 would increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour in three steps over two years. This raise would significantly benefit (directly and indirectly) nearly 13 million workers, or 10 percent of the workforce. Of those who would benefit, more than 60 percent are women. Moreover, the parents of nearly six million children will receive a raise, helping them to better care for their families. In the 110th Congress, Democrats look forward to working with Republicans to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act and are dedicated to helping American workers realize the dream of economic stability.
Prioritizing Immigration Reform
- The number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States has continued to increase steadily for several years, reaching an estimated 12 million.
- Overall,1.5 million Asians are currently caught in the family immigration backlog
Senate Democrats introduced S.9, the Comprehensive Immigration ReformAct of 2007, as one of the first ten bills in the 110th Congress. Democrats respect our history as a nation of immigrants and will renew our commitment to working in a bipartisan manner to pass fair, tough, and effective immigration reform that establishes a path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, creates a temporary worker program, eliminates family backlogs, and increases employment and border enforcement.
Last year, opponents of reform in the House of Representatives rejected the Senate-passed legislation. This year, Democrats look to President Bush and Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform to help us enact this important legislation for the good of our nation.