2007 Annual Report
Water Resources Development Act Becomes Law
Passage of a Water Resources bill was long overdue. I applaud my fellow members of Congress for recognizing the importance of this legislation so that we can finally appropriate funds for critical infrastructure projects in Alaska and across the country.
I worked with Senator Stevens and Congressman Young to include several important projects for Alaska in WRDA. The projects will impact communities across the state. Visit my website for the full list.
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Tax Legislation Passes The Senate
Promoting Alternative Energy
Additionally, the energy bill includes several sections to aid in the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. It specifically requires a study by the U.S. Geological Survey to find geologic structures to store carbon underground, keeping it out of the environment. The bill also includes funding for research on building large-scale carbon capture and storage facilities and calls for construction of demonstration storage facilities to prove that carbon can be stored at reasonable cost in the future. These provisions may help the Agrium coal gasification
project at Kenai.
For Alaska, which has some of the best potential for renewable energy development in the nation, this bill offers the promise for lower-priced and cleaner energy in the future. Combined with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that provided loan guarantees and assistance for nuclear, hydrogen fuel cell and coal gasification technology, plus aid for wind, solar, biomass and landfill gas, Congress has taken huge steps to promote alternative energy and
We still need to promote more conventional fuel production to help us bridge the gap until these new technologies take over. We must continue to promote natural gas production from Alaska, open the Arctic coastal plain to oil development and work to increase natural gas production and revenue sharing from our offshore waters. I remain committed to pressing these goals in the future.
Making College More Affordable
I am particularly proud that the College Cost Reduction Act includes the new College Access Challenge Grant program. I fought hard to include this new program, which will allow Alaska Advantage borrowers to continue to receive some of the lowest interest rates in the nation, and will help get more Alaskan students into college and job training.
Extending Secure Rural Schools Act
Extending Head Start
This legislation includes many priorities of Alaska Head Start Directors and would help them ensure that Alaskan children are ready to succeed in school, that their parents have the skills they need to help their children learn, and that children in even the most remote communities have health and nutrition services.
The Head Start for School Readiness Act will assist Head Start and Early Head Start programs in communities across Alaska. In addition to authorizing more funding, the bill expands eligibility for Head Start. The legislation also maintains local control over Head Start programs guaranteeing that communities may individually assess the best way to meet their unique needs.
Leading the Indian Affairs Committee
By tradition, our Committee is a bipartisan body, and I am pleased that Chairman Byron Dorgan has vowed to continue this tradition in the 110th Congress. The Chairman and I share, as our highest priority, the goal of passing a bill that is of vital importance to the well being of Alaska Natives and to the Indian people throughout the nation - the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. I am working with the Chairman to ensure it is finally enacted into law.
Addressing Alaska Physician Shortage
In November 2007, I advanced through the HELP committee legislation that reauthorizes and increases funding for Community Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps. I am committed to improving both programs so healthcare providers have access to loan repayment assistance and so Alaskans can have better access to primary health care services.
Promoting Community Health Centers
Last year with my support, Congress averted reimbursement cuts of over 10 percent to Medicare physicians and provided a 0.5 percent increase through June 30, 2008. Long-term reform of the Medicare payment formula is the best way to ensure that Alaska's physicians receive fair Medicare reimbursements that reflect increases in physicians' costs and in turn, will give Alaska's seniors access to quality and continuous healthcare.
Fighting for the SCHIP Program
Unfortunately, the President twice vetoed the legislation and the House of Representatives failed to override the President's veto. In December, Congress passed and the President signed into law an 18 month extension of SCHIP Program that will fund the program through March 31, 2009, at current baseline funding levels, with an additional $800 million in SCHIP Program funding provided to maintain current program enrollment. In the second session of the 110th Congress, I will continue to work on expanding health insurance to more children of the working poor, ensuring that more low-income children have access to health care.
I also am pleased to report that my annual Senate resolution supporting the goals and ideals of Red Ribbon Week unanimously passed on October 16, 2007. By gathering together in celebrations throughout Alaska and wearing a red ribbon during the last full week in October, we demonstrate our commitment to help people, especially children, live drug-free lives.
Supporting Our Military Family Members
On the eve of Thanksgiving, I introduced Senate Resolution 378, expressing the Senate's appreciation to our military families for their contribution to our nation's security. With 39 bipartisan cosponsors, the resolution was adopted unanimously by the Senate. In addition, I successfully included an amendment in the Senate's version of the Higher Education Act Reauthorization that will make it easier for military families to obtain need-based financial aid for higher education. I was successful in persuading TRICARE to reconsider a decision that Alaska Licensed Psychological Associates could no longer provide care to our military families. This victory increased the access of military families to behavioral health providers in the community and prevented the disruption of ongoing treatment to military families receiving care from Licensed Psychological Associates.
My staff in Alaska and in Washington, DC are pleased to work with military families every day to address their individual questions and concerns.
Supporting Our Servicemen And Returning Veterans
In April, I visited military and VA health facilities to gain first hand knowledge about the quality of military and VA care in Alaska. I also met with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Vietnam era veterans, at Vet Centers in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Wasilla. I hosted a roundtable discussion to determine how we can be better prepared as a community to respond to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury issues. Later in the spring, I brought key leaders from the Alaska National Guard, the VA and the Alaska Native healthcare delivery system together to discuss the concerns of guardsmen who live in rural Alaska. These discussions laid the groundwork for a Memorandum of Understanding between the VA and the Alaska National Guard about care for returning guardsmen who live in rural Alaska. The Memorandum of Understanding is a good start but the VA needs to do more to deliver services in the places where our veterans live.
In October I traveled to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to welcome the members of the 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry, Alaska National Guard home from a year of service in Kuwait. In November, I convened a field hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to take testimony about the healthcare needs of these returning guardsmen. This hearing was an important step in educating the VA about the needs in rural Alaska and opportunities to partner with the Alaska Native healthcare delivery system to address those needs. While VA funding has increased substantially in recent years, getting this money into rural and Indian communities remains a challenge. I am heartened by language in the Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations conference requiring that the VA report to Congress on whether its allocation of funds is fair to rural vets.
I am deeply concerned about the difficulties some veterans encounter in obtaining employment in the civilian sector. In the coming year we need to ensure that our veterans are given the opportunity to translate the skills and experience they gained in the military to civilian life.