As you know, this newsletter has been on a temporary hiatus since March due to Senate rules which prohibit Senators from sending out a newsletter for 60 days prior to an election. With the North Carolina primary behind us, I can once again communicate with you via this newsletter.
April and May in Washington have been big months for veterans. On Wednesday, May 5,at a White House ceremony, the President signed the Caregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 into law. The bill establishes new assistance for the family caregivers of seriously disabled veterans, including training and certification required to meet the veteran’s needs, access to ongoing support services, counseling and mental health services, respite care, medical care, and a monthly personal caregiver allowance. Two years ago, I started working with the Wounded Warrior Project, Sarah and Ted Wade from Chapel Hill, and Eric and Ed Edmundson from New Bern to put this bipartisan legislation together with Veterans Committee Chairman Danny Akaka. This was the culmination of a long journey, and a testament to the persistence of these and other veterans and families.
This bill also included some other provisions I am proud to have worked on. One is a provision for basic dental insurance coverage for veterans, modeled after a Tricare program. We must serve our veterans with the same dignity and honor that they served our country, and their advocacy is a critical part of the policy-making process.
On Wednesday, April 28, I had a chance to greet thirty veterans and active duty servicemember cyclists at the finish line of the DC Wounded Warriors Soldier Ride on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. The Wounded Warrior Solder Ride began at the White House, and the vets rode through the District before arriving at Capitol Hill. Four North Carolinians participated in the Soldier Ride. Their participation provided them an opportunity to showcase their remarkable recovery and at the same time, through their visibility, advocate for positive changes in benefits and veterans policy.
As I’ve seen through my work on theCaregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, the spouses of wounded veteran soldiers share in the hard work and courage rehabilitation often requires. But often, their role as a military spouse requires them to also sacrifice their career and opportunities to add to their families’ financial well-being due to frequent relocations. That’s why I introduced the Spouse Employment Act in the Senate on April 20. This bill encourages employment of military spouses by expanding Workforce Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to include military families. The WOTC is an existing federal tax credit and has been a powerful tool in promoting employment. Should my bill become law, employers of military spouses would be able to claim a tax credit of 40% of the first $6,000 in wages paid during the worker's first year of employment.
In addition to veterans issues, another big issue we have focused on recently in Washington is financial regulatory reform. The current financial crisis has made it abundantly clear that we must modernize and strengthen our regulatory framework in a way that ensures accountability, enforcement, and transparency. I am 100% committed to updating our financial regulatory system, but unfortunately the bill currently being debated could lead to more taxpayer-funded bailouts. I am also concerned that it does nothing to address the risk posed by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two major contributors to the financial meltdown. In fact, according to this report from the Associated Press, Freddie Mac asked for another $10.6 billion in assistance from the taxpayers this week.
I will continue to work with my colleagues to see what we can do to improve the current bill so that it will benefit our economy, increase transparency, and not stifle growth. At the same time, I refuse to vote for a poorly crafted bill. Please check back to my website for updates on our progress.
Finally, I am proud to say that Congress has taken a step, albeit a small one, in the right direction towards restoring some level of fiscal responsibility by stopping its automatic pay raise for 2011. Under current law, Congress automatically gets a pay increase every year unless it votes to disapprove of the raise. I’m opposed to these automatic raises as I don’t think it’s right for Congress to receive an automatic salary increase when the American people are struggling, and especially when seniors on Social Security and veterans did not receive a cost-of-living increase this year. This month, the Senate took a step in the right direction by passing a bill I cosponsored along with Senator Feingold (D-WI) that will block a raise for 2011. The next step: repeal automatic pay raises for Congress for good.
U.S. Senator Richard Burr
*Please do not respond to this email address. To contact me please click here, or visit my website burr.senate.gov.