Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today joined Senators Ken Salazar (D-CO), and Robert Menéndez (D-NJ) to highlight how Senate Democratic achievements, and legislative priorities will help to improve the lives of the Latino community in the U.S.
“Senate Democrats have heeded the American people’s call for change and we have delivered on key priorities for hard working Latino families and all Americans,” Reid said. “By putting the public interest ahead of the special interests we are changing the way business is done in Washington, DC. Whether it’s giving working families a long overdue pay raise, implementing key 9/11 Commission recommendations, providing healthcare coverage to millions of children, and giving more students the opportunity to achieve a college education, Democrats have worked hard and will continue to fight for a new direction for our nation.”
“Last November the American people asked for a new direction in Washington,” Salazar said. “From raising the minimum wage to providing healthcare coverage to millions of our children and making college more affordable, we have delivered on that promise. What we have done in the first eight months is a down payment on our commitment to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to achieve the American dream.”
“Latino children are the least insured of any group, and those from working and low-income families will benefit from coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization,” said Menendez. “An increase in the minimum wage will help working Latinos stay out of poverty. And, the landmark higher education bills will ensure funding for Latinos to participate in graduate programs at Hispanic Serving Institutions. I am proud to say that Senate Democrats have upheld the values that we have promised to defend. We have worked under the belief that everyone in this country deserves the opportunity to build a better life.”
Some of the highlights of legislation Senate Democrats have passed and how it benefits Latino families include:
- Minimum Wage Increase: 2.3 million Latinos will get a pay raise.
- Children’s Health bill: 9 million uninsured children will be covered. 3.2 million of uninsured children in the U.S. are Latinos.
- Higher Education bill: Will provide $17 billion in additional college aid to students – the largest increase since the G.I. bill – including many Latino students, who comprise 15 % of the college age population, but only 10.4% of current undergraduate students are Hispanic.
- Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 — the most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in a generation: Giving the American people a government as good and as honest as the people it represents.
- Implementing key 9/11 Commission recommendations: This bill would make America more secure by implementing remaining critical homeland security recommendations made by the September 11th Commission.
* Attached is a detailed review of these and other initiatives Senate Democrats have advanced to improve the quality of life of Latinos and all hard working American families.
Senate Democrats Working for the Latino Community:
A Mid-Year Review of Senate Efforts to Address the Needs of Latino Communities
Last November, Latino voters sent a strong message to Congress that they expected a change in the way business was done in Washington, DC. Latinos demanded that their priorities be respected and reflected in the Congressional leadership’s top priorities. Senate Democrats heard that call to action and have worked diligently to meet that challenge. From prioritizing and fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, to raising the minimum wage, increasing access to a Higher Education, and supporting our troops, Senate Democrats stand steadfast with the Hispanic community in the mission to expand opportunities and improve the well being of Latino families.
Ensuring a Pay Raise for Workers
Democrats respect the contributions of Latino workers and won the fight to raise the minimum wage. After a 10 year battle against Republican oppositionists, Democrats successfully increased worker pay checks. More than 2.3 million hardworking Hispanics, who comprise 13.1% of the U.S. workforce, will benefit from the increase in pay. The new law raises the minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour in three steps over two years. When the $7.25/hour minimum wage kicks in, workers will see a growth of nearly $4,200 in their income. That will translate into almost two years of child care; more than full tuition for a community college degree; a year and a half of heat and electricity; more than a year of groceries; and more than 8 months of rent.
Democrats passed landmark legislation to make college more affordable for Hispanics. While higher education is becoming increasingly important to achieving the American dream, access to a college is becoming less affordable and accessible. Latinos want to go to college, but only 12 percent of Hispanics age 25 and older had received a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2005. That is why Democrats worked to pass legislation to level the playing field and ensure access to a higher education is available to all. The Higher Education bills passed in the Senate there would:
- Increase student aid for low and middle-income students, $17 billion in new student aid and expanding Pell grant eligibility to 250,000 low income students.
- Make student loan debt more manageable.
- Expands student loan debt forgiveness for those who commit to public service
- Hold colleges and states accountable for rising educational costs.
- Simplify the financial aid process, and reform the student loan system to work for students, not banks.
Under Democratic Leadership, the Senate passed legislation to expand the Head Start program. Close to 1 out of every 3 children who participate in Head Start is Latino. The program provides children with cognitive, social-emotional, and academic skills, helping to prepare them for success in school. Studies show that children who have participated in Head Start programs are better prepared for school than their peers who have not had the benefit of Head Start. On June 19, the Senate passed the “Head Start for School Readiness Act,” which would increase funding and expand access for Head Start program to include additional low-income children up to 130 percent of the federal poverty line. The bill would also double the size of Early Head Start, delivering services to over 56,000 additional children.
Expanding and Improving Healthcare
Democrats are working to ensurehealth care coverage for children. Approximately nine million American children do not have health insurance and Latinos have the highest rates of children without health coverage. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) extends health insurance to low-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid but whose families cannot afford private insurance. To address this year’s budget shortfalls, which would have left 14 states without money to provide full CHIP coverage, Congress included $650 million in funding to CHIP the 2007 Emergency Supplemental. The Senate approved CHIP Reauthorization legislation, which includes a $35 billion increase to the program. The bipartisan bill in the Senate will maintain coverage for all 6.6 million low-income children currently in CHIP and provide health insurance to 3.2 million more.
The 110th Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to ensure the availability of breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women. In April the President signed the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007, which reauthorized and increased funding for the program to subsidize mammography exams, pap tests, and other screening exams. The law would also allow some states to spend grant money on outreach programs to underserved women who may not otherwise know about the program.
Democrats provided funds to support our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of July 31, 2006, there were 24,188 Latino officers and enlisted soldiers deployed, with more than 360 Latinos sacrificing their lives for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the first combat casualty of the Iraq war was a Latino – Marine Lance Corporal José Antonio Gutiérrez, who died on March 21, 2003. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats support our troops and fully funded the President’s requests for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes funding to support the current troops deployed in Iraq and 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 are also committed to investing in the resources needed to care for our veterans. One of the best ways to honor America’s more than 24 million veterans for their service and sacrifice in past and current conflicts is to provide them with high-quality, comprehensive care once they return home. In both the 2007 Emergency Supplemental and the 2008 Budget Resolution, Congress provides for additional funding for veterans’ health programs.
Advancing Energy Independence and Environmental Protection
Democrats worked to pass Energy legislation that encourages fuel diversity and renewable energy to reduce costs, pollution and our dependence on oil. According to a study by the Latino Policy Coalition, 46 percent of Latinos say rising gas and utility prices concern them most when it comes to our nation’s energy situation. The Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007is a landmark energy legislation that will increase our energy independence, strengthen the economy, enhance our national security, reduce global warming emissions, and protect consumers.
Supporting Small Businesses — the Engine of our Economy
Democrats restored funding and resources to critical Latino small business programs. Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. totaled 1.6 million firms in 2002, representing a 31 percent increase from 1997. Hispanic owned businesses employed 1.5 million people and generated $222 billion in revenue in 2002. More than one-third (34.9%) of all Hispanic owned firms are owned by women. In the 2008 Budget Resolution, Congress rejected the President’s proposal to cut assistance to America’s small businesses and provided for the restoration of funding for the Manufacturing Extension Program, which helps small businesses adopt advanced manufacturing technologies. The measure also provided robust resources for the SBA’s budget, which has already experienced deep cuts to key programs including federal contracting oversight, veterans’ small business programs and microlending.
Strengthening Homeland Security
Senate Democrats led the way toward implementing key 9/11 Commission recommendations. Senate Democrats’ first priority is to protect our nation from further terrorist attack. After years of inadequate action on critical homeland security needs, the Senate passed S. 4, the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007. This bill would make America more secure by giving our first responders the tools they need to keep us safe, making it more difficult for potential terrorists to travel into our country; advancing efforts to secure our rail, air, and mass transit systems; and improving intelligence and information sharing between state, local, and federal law enforcement.
Restoring Transparency and Accountability in Washington
Senate Democrats delivered on yet another promise made to the American people by achieving final passage of S. 1, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 — the most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in a generation. In so doing, we are giving the American people a government as good and as honest as the people it represents.
The legislation will prohibit gifts and travel from lobbyists and companies that hire lobbyists, put an end to pay-to-play schemes like the Republican K Street Project, dramatically increase public disclosure of lobbyist activity, slow the revolving door between Congress and the lobbying world, require transparency in the earmark process, and increase penalties for corrupt politicians and lobbyists.
The American people have made it abundantly clear that unethical and illegal behavior will no longer be tolerated in the halls of Congress, and we look forward to the President enacting this sorely needed reform.