This month, as Democrats and the country recognize the many achievements of Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Americans (AAPIs), Democrats are working to advance the priorities that matter to this diverse community — and to all Americans, including economic security, health care access, education, civil rights, immigration reform, middle class tax relief, affordable housing, and troop readiness and veterans’ health care. This Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Democrats are delivering on our promise to take America in a new direction.
Democrats sought better pay for working Americans by passing legislation to raise the federal minimum wage. In February, after a ten year battle, Congress passed H.R.2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. The bill, which would raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour in three steps over two years, would benefit 13 million workers — 260,000 of whom are AAPIs — and help reverse years of wage stagnation without harming the economy. Nearly 59 percent of those who would benefit directly or indirectly are women, and 46 percent are their family’s sole breadwinner. Moreover, the raise would help well-over six million children under the age of 18 whose parents would receive an increase in earnings.
The raise of $2.10/hour would help many of the approximately 11.5 percent of AAPIs who live below the poverty line by adding nearly $4,200 to a full-time, year round minimum wage worker’s income. In some areas of the country, this additional money would be enough for a low-income family of three to cover months of groceries, utilities, or rent or nearly two years of child care or college tuition at a public two-year college. When combined with the Earned Income Tax Credit and assistance programs, the additional income would lift a family of four over the poverty line, even afterpayroll taxes. While more needs to be done, raising the federal minimum wage is an important step toward economic security for working Americans.
As the House and Senate continue to work to clear an increase in the federal minimum wage bill for the President’s signature, the AAPI community can be assured that Democrats are dedicated to giving workers their long overdue raise.
Health Care Access
Under Democratic leadership, Congress is working to reduce health disparities and improve health care access for the AAPI community. Health care costs, including health insurance premiums, have skyrocketed since President Bush took office. In 2005, 45 million people in the United States, or 15.3 percent, were without health insurance coverage. Contrary to common stereotypes, AAPIs experience significant health disparities due, in part, to inadequate access to health care. Higher than the national average, 17.9 percent of Asian Americans and 21.8 percent of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders were uninsured in 2005. The situation was worst for Korean and Southeast Asian Americans, who were least likely to be insured. The result has been a lack of early screening and disproportionate rates of illness for some cancers and diseases. According to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, AAPI women have the lowest rate of cancer screening compared to other ethnic groups. Only 57 percent of AAPI women have had breast exams, and only 54 percent have had Pap smears. AAPIs also make up over half of the cases of chronic Hepatitis B, and they make up over 20 percent of all cases of tuberculosis.
Challenges to health care access for the AAPI community include language and immigration barriers, as well as unfamiliarity with public health programs, which is why AAPIs are underrepresented beneficiaries of many government-sponsored programs. Thus, it is vital that Community Health Centers and key public health insurance programs, such as State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Medicaid, and Medicare, have the resources needed to reach out to the AAPI community.
Congress re-invested in Community Health Centers (CHCs). CHCs received an increase of $207 million in the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2007 (P.L. 110-5) (2007 Continuing Resolution). These centers serve 16 million Americans annually, providing low-cost primary care, pediatrics, prenatal care, preventative health screenings, mental health care, and dental care to uninsured or publicly insured persons. The majority of CHC patients are people of color, and while only a small percentage are AAPIs (3.4 percent), the growth of AAPI patients grew by 51 percent from 2000 to 2005. As more AAPIs access public health services, it is vital that CHCs have the resources to care for this community. These additional funds will allow for more than 300 new CHC to be built in neighborhoods across America and will improve existing centers. Though there are no easy answers, Democrats are working to save lives by improving access to regular health care for the AAPIs.
The Senate-passed 2008 Budget Resolution would protect more people than the President’s budget. More than 12 percent of Asian American children do not have health insurance, which is higher than the national average. Programs like SCHIP are working to reduce this percentage by insuring low-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid but whose families cannot afford private insurance. Nonetheless, the President and a number of Congressional Republicans have called on Congress to ratchet back SCHIP coverage to limit coverage to children in families earning no more than twice the federal poverty level. The President has also called for a reduction in the federal matching rate for children in families with incomes above 200 percent of the federal poverty line, and for SCHIP-covered adults, the large majority of whom are working-poor parents of children enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP. If adopted, the President’s proposals would not only fail to make any headway towards covering the nation’s nine million uninsured children (11 percent), but his approach would also effectively cut off health coverage for 1.6 million children and low-income adults.
At a time when the number of uninsured has reached approximately 45 million people, Congress should be working to expand health coverage, not causing individuals to lose the coverage they currently have. That is why a bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected the inadequate funding for SCHIP proposed by the President. S.Con.Res.21, the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Resolution, as passed in the Senate, would provide up to $50 billion for SCHIP over five years to provide coverage to the estimated six million children eligible but not enrolled in either SCHIP or Medicaid, and to maintain coverage for all currently-enrolled individuals.
Further, to address this year’s shortfalls, which would leave 14 states without money to provide full SCHIP coverage, Congress included $650 million in funding to SCHIP in H.R.1591, the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 (2007 Emergency Supplemental). Though this bill was vetoed by the President, it is expected that SCHIP will eventually receive the funds needed to address this year’s short falls. The health of our nation’s children depends on it.
The budget passed by the Senate also rejects the President’s cuts to Medicaid. More than 50 million low-income people – approximately one out of six Americans – depend on Medicaid for their health care. Nearly 16 percent of Asian children are covered by Medicaid. Nevertheless, last year, the Republican-controlled Congress enacted $6.9 billion in cuts to Medicaid over five years, and the President has proposed additional cuts this year. The Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request, through legislative proposals and regulatory changes, requested $25 billion in cuts to Medicaid over five years. Under Democratic leadership, however, Congress has chosen to reject these cuts in favor of adequately funding the Medicaid program.
Democrats are also working to improve, and increase participation in, Medicare for the more than one million eligible AAPIs. By all accounts, navigating the Medicare program can be a confusing and frustrating process for millions of Americans. This is especially true for those who have limited English proficiency, like more than half of the AAPI community eligible to receive Medicare.
To ensure that seniors and people with disabilities get the assistance they need, Congress increased funding to the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services by $52 million dollars in the 2007 Continuing Resolution, which will prevent 1-800-MEDICARE from shutting down later this year. The Centers were created to help seniors understand their Medicare options, a service which has become increasingly important since the launch of the Medicare Part D program. It is anticipated that the complicated program will increase calls by over 10 million. Further, because the program is generally under-subscribed, especially in minority communities, the Senate-passed 2008 Budget Resolution included a deficit-neutral reserve fund for legislation that provides up to $5 billion to make improvements to Medicare Part D, such as supporting outreach efforts to low-income seniors.
Moreover, in March, Democrats fought for a bill to improve the Part D program so that all recipients would have access to the fairest prices for their medication, but it was blocked by obstructionist tactics by Republicans. Undeterred, Democrats are still committed to evaluating the new program to ensure that it is actually working for seniors and people with disabilities.
Democrats have made college affordability a top priority in the 110th Congress. A quality education is the first step on the road to achieving the American dream of advancement and economic prosperity. As of 2005, while almost half of all Asian Americans over 25 had taken this first step by earning a bachelor’s degree and 20 percent had obtained a graduate or professional degree, certain AAPI ethnicities were falling far below the national average of 27 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Only 15 percent of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders over the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree and only four percent held a graduate or professional degree. And according the 2000 Census, the situation was worse for the smaller AAPI populations, with only 7.5 percent of Hmong, 9.2 percent of Cambodians, and 19.4 percent of Vietnamese ages 25 or older holding a bachelor’s degree.
Skyrocketing college costs are partly to blame for these low percentages, placing higher education out of reach for many in the AAPI community. Student loans and grants are often the only means by which a student can afford a college education. Currently, 37 percent of Asian Americans and 36.2 percent of Pacific Islanders access student loans. Nevertheless, Republicans have consistently flat-funded or eliminated funding for key higher education programs. As one of the first ten bills of the 110th Congress, Senate Democrats introduced 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.
Congressional Democrats have taken steps to increase funding for other education and training programs. The Senate-passed 2008 Budget Resolution provided for an increase in discretionary spending for education and training programs of $9.3 billion above President Bush’S.2008 Budget Request. From the crib to the university, Democrats will invest in key education programs, including Head Start, Pell Grants, and programs authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities EducationAct and No Child Left Behind Act. The Senate’s budget also rejected the President’s proposal to cut funding for critical education, employment, and job training programs in the Department of Labor.
Democrats have introduced legislation that would safeguard the right to vote – the cornerstone of our democracy – and reject unnecessary, de facto barriers to the ballot box. The AAPI community and civil rights groups are working with Congressional Democrats to increase AAPI participation in the political process and to ensure that once voters get to the polls, their vote is counted. Last year, Congress passed and the President signed, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Corretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-246)(VRA), which strengthened the VRA and extended the bilingual election assistance requirements for limited-English speaking citizens for 25 years.
In the 110th Congress, Senate Democrats introduced several voting rights bills: S.452, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, which would make it a crime to knowingly deceive a person about the time, place, or manner of a federal election or about their eligibility to vote; S.559, the Vote Integrity and Verification Act of 2007, which would strengthen the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) by requiring voter-verified paper ballots; S.730, the Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2007, which would also strengthen HAVA by providing for the use of national federal write-in absentee ballots, requiring an independent means for voter verification, and directing the Election Assistance Commission to issue standards regarding the minimum number of voting systems and poll workers; and S.804, the Count Every Vote Act of 2007, which would amend HAVA to require all voting systems to produce or require the use of voter-verified paper records, provide for increased security for voting equipment and their manufacturers, and ensure that provisional ballots are counted as long as the voter is voting in the correct county.
If the election problems of recent years have reminded the nation of anything, it is that the right to vote can never be taken for granted, and we must vigorously defend voting rights against those who would deny or abridge them for political gain. Democrats are committed to continuing to work with the AAPI community to do just that.
Democrats are also working to protect Americans from hate crimes. According to FBI’s annual hate crimes statistics, from 2003-2005, 22,301 people were victims of hate-motivated violence based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability. That being said, because the annual FBI statistics only reflects reported crimes and the vast majority of hate crimes go unreported by victims or agencies, the number of hate crimes is actually much higher. The FBI’S.2005 National Crime Victimization Survey, which surveys reported and unreported crime victims, estimates that an average of 191,000 hate crime victimizations take place each year. The majority of these crimes are committed on the basis of race and ethnicity. AAPIs, especially Hmong Americans, have recently experienced an increase in these types of crimes. Outraged by what are, more than crimes against individuals, crimes against entire communities, Congressional Democrats have fought to raise awareness about hate crimes.
This month, the House passed a long-overdue anti-hate crimes bill, H.R.1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. In April, Senate Democrats introduced a similar piece of bipartisan legislation entitled, theS.1105, the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. Both bills would strengthen federal hate crimes law, provide for additional assistance to law enforcement to investigate, prosecute and combat hate crimes, and extend the definition of hate crimes to protect to GLBT and disabled Americans. Though President Bush has vowed to veto the bills, Democrats will continue to work to with Congressional Republicans and the civil rights community to strengthen hate crime legislation.
The Senate passed bipartisan legislation to restore checks and balances to the appointment process for United States Attorneys and safeguard the integrity of our justice system. The recent probe into the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for allegedly political reasons has revealed incompetent, at best, and illegal, at worst, action by officials at the highest levels of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House. The Bush Administration has called into question the independence of U.S. Attorneysacross the nation and, in so doing, heightened concerns about the overall politicization of the Justice Department, especially the Civil Rights Division. House and Senate Democrats are committed to continuing the full investigation into the firings, and into the broader issue of political influence on justice decisions, and to ensuring proper checks and balances in the selection of future U.S. Attorneys.
In March, the Senate passed S.214, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, which ensures the Senate’s role in the placement of U.S. Attorneys. Under a provision that was slipped into the USA Patriot Act reauthorization in 2006, the appointment process for U.S. Attorneys was altered so that the Attorney General could appoint “interim” U.S. Attorneys indefinitely – thus completely avoiding the Senate confirmation process. S.214 would restore the process that existed for 20 years prior to the 2006 change and would require an interim appointment made by the Attorney General to expire after 120 days or when a permanent U.S. Attorney is nominated by the President and confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate. After the 120 days, if a successor is not in place, the U.S. District Court would then appoint the U.S. Attorney. Returning to this effective, proven process will ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place for the appointment of U.S. Attorneys. The effectiveness and legitimacy of the federal justice system depends upon it.
Democrats are committed to working with the AAPI community to pass tough, fair, and practical — comprehensive — immigration reform. America’s immigration system is broken, and we need effective enforcement mechanisms along with adequate pathways to legal immigration to fix it. It is estimated that nearly 12 million people live in this country without documentation, with an additional 500,000 settling each year. Approximately 9 percent of undocumented immigrants are Asian/Pacific Islanders, who do not have access to the basic rights and protections of legal citizenship and who become easy targets for exploitation by unscrupulous employers.
Last year, the Senate passed a comprehensive, bipartisan measure to address this problem, but it was blocked by House Republicans in favor of an unworkable, enforcement-only approach. America deserved better.
In the 110th Congress, Democrats have made their commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform a top priority. Democrats know that while all aspects of comprehensive reform are important to the AAPI community, family reunification and clearing visa backlogs is especially important. The family-based immigration system, through which 56 percent of Asians immigrated in 2005, is so backlogged that hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart. The 1.5 million AAPIs currently caught in this system may be forced to wait 5 to 20 or more years to lawfully immigrate to this country, depending on their country of origin. For example, it takes 22 years for a U.S. citizen to help a Filipino sibling immigrate to the United States.
This year, as Democrats work with Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures our nation, is fair to taxpayers, protects workers, and reunites families, we will keep in mind the experiences, sacrifices, and many contributions of the AAPI community, 61 percent of whom are immigrants, and work to ensure that their concerns are addressed.
Protecting Middle-Class Taxpayers
Democrats are also working to eliminate unfair tax burdens on middle-class Americans. While many AAPI groups are experiencing higher than average poverty rates, Asian Americans have the highest median income of any racial group at $61,094. These middle-class families, like other middle-class families, are finding themselves in a tight economic squeeze due to skyrocketing health care, education, housing, and gas costs. Making matters worse, more and more of these families are being forced to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which was originally intended for the super-wealthy to ensure they paid a minimum tax. The 2008 Budget Resolution, as passed in the Senate, would protect middle-class taxpayers by providing AMT relief for 2007 and 2008 – one year more than the President – and prevent millions of middle-class taxpayers from being subjected to the tax.
The budget passed by Senate Democrats would provide tax relief for working Americans. The budgetanticipates legislation to:
· extend the child tax credit so that it will remain at $1,000 per child;
· extend relief from the marriage penalty;
· enhance the dependent care credit to help families deal with the high cost of raising children; and
· strengthen the adoption credit so that would-be parents can afford adoption costs.
Senate Democrats recognize the burdens placed on middle-class families and remain dedicated to providing tax relief to these hard-working families.
Democrats are committed to supporting and investing in small businesses. There are approximately 23 million businesses in the United States, more than 1.1 million of these firms are owned by Asian Americans, contributing $327 billion to the economy, and nearly 29,000 are owned by Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The vast majority of these firms are considered small businesses. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, contributing $917.8 billion in 2005. These businesses provide much-needed services to their local community and provide good-paying, stable jobs. Ninety-nine percent of all firms with employees are small businesses, and over 2.2 million workers are employed by AAPI small firms.
In order to survive and thrive, small businesses rely heavily on loan programs, like microloans, administered through the Small Business Administration (SBA). This is especial true for minority owned businesses, which make less than White-owned businesses. Asian-owned businesses, for example, make $0.56 for every dollar White-owned businesses make. Nevertheless, these programs have repeatedly been under attack during the Bush Administration.
In his 2008 Budget Request, the President proposed to eliminate funding for the Microloan and Microloan Technical Assistance programs, which provide small loans and business counseling to new and growing small businesses. These programs were funded at $22 million and $13 million, respectively, in 2007, and last year, they were able to provide $32.4 million to 2,500 small businesses across the country. The Bush budget would also flat-fund management counseling and outreach programs like Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) and Women’s Business Centers (WBC), which together assisted nearly 900,000 businesses last year, many of which were owned by women and racial/ethnic minorities. If enacted, these budget cuts would allow many in the small business community to fall through the cracks.
During the 110th Congress, Senate Democrats are committed to re-investing in the small business community. In the Senate-passed 2008 Budget Resolution, a bipartisan group of Senators worked to allocate $97 million in additional funding for the SBA. This represents a 21 percent increase over the Administration’s request and includes millions for the Microloans, Microloan Technical Assistance, SBDC, and WBC programs. Further, Democratic and Republican Senators have recently introduced S.1256, the Small Business Lending Reauthorization and Improvements Act of 2007, which would greatly expand the SBA’s loan and microloan programs and create an Office of Minority Small Business Development. Like always, the AAPI community can continue to count on Democrats in the 110th Congress to support and encourage the small business community.
Housing and Community Development
Democrats are working to provide more affordable housing to low- and moderate-income AAPIs. Nearly 11.5 million AAPIs live below the poverty level, and they, like many Americans, lack access to affordable, safe and secure housing. During the Bush years, HUD community development and affordable housing programs suffered numerous funding cuts. The Administration’S..2008Budget Request offered more of the same. In one of the first acts in the 110th Congress, Democrats began the process of restoring that funding. The 2007 Continuing Resolution, added nearly an additional $1 billion for Section 8, public housing, and homeless assistance programs. Further, the 2008 Budget Resolution, as passed in the Senate, included a deficit-neutral reserve fund for legislation that would establish an affordable housing fund to finance low-income housing investments, financed by contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Senate’s Budget Resolution also rejected the President’s $807 million cut to the Community Development Block Grants program, which provides eligible metropolitan areas with annual direct grants that can be used to revitalize neighborhoods, expand affordable housing and economic opportunities, and improve community facilities and services.
Moreover, this month, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee took significant steps toward solving the Native Hawaiian housing crisis by passing out of committee H.R.835, the Hawaiian Homeownership Opportunity Act of 2007, which reauthorized housing assistance programs for this community.
Troops and Veterans
Democrats provided funds to support our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are over 62,000 AAPIs on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, many of them serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats exceeded the President’s funding requests for these operations, which includes funding to support the 140,000 troops deployed in Iraq and 20,000 in Afghanistan and funds for the escalation force of 21,000 combat troops and 4,729 support personnel in Iraq and 7,200 troops in Afghanistan.
Democrats also added funding to protect our troops against improvised explosive devices. In addition to the President’s funding request, the 2007 Emergency Supplemental included $1.2 billion in additional funding to provide our troops in Iraq with mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) – vehicles that military commanders believe could reduce U.S. casualties by two-thirds compared to armored Humvees. If the bill had been signed by the President, these emergency funds would have ensured that more than 2,000 MRAPs reached our troops by the end of this year.
Democrats boosted funding to treat wounded soldiers. The neglect and mismanagement discovered at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center has highlighted the Bush Administration’s lack of focus on the well-being of our nation’s veterans and servicemembers. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental would have provided $3.3 billion in funds for military health care, which is $2.1 billion above the amount the President requested. In addition to investing in military hospital improvements, the supplemental bill would have also allocated $900 million for brain trauma injury and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment and research.
Democrats are also committed to investing in the resources needed to care for our veterans. One of the best ways to honor American veterans for their service and sacrifice in past and current conflicts is by providing them with high-quality, comprehensive care once they return home. There are nearly 295,000 Asian American military veterans, one in three of whom are 65 and older; over 28,000 are Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, one in five of whom are 65 and older. In both the 2007 Emergency Supplemental and the Senate-passed 2008 Budget Resolution, Democrats increased funding for veterans health programs.
The 2007 Emergency Supplemental would have allocated nearly $1.8 billion in funds to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), not requested by the President, to accommodate the increasing number of new veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, improve metal health and readjustment counseling services, and fund new polytrauma centers for the severally injured.
The Senate’s budget allocated $43.1 billion for veterans in 2008, which is more than $3 billion above the President’s request. The budget resolution represents 98 percent of the level requested in the Independent Budget, a plan developed by four leading veterans groups. The resolution also rejected the President’s proposal to increase TRICARE co-payments and to impose new fees and higher co-payments on certain veterans, which, according to VA estimates, would result in more than 100,000 veterans leaving the VA health care system.