03/19/07 — Burr introduces legislation to help homeless veterans

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Burr introduces legislation to help homeless veterans

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 19, 2007 1:45 PM

Last week in Washington:

*U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, reintroduced the Services to Prevent Veterans Homelessness Act -- legislation to provide supportive services to keep low-income veterans in permanent housing so they do not become homeless. It will increase veterans' access to assistance for housing, physical and mental health services, health insurance, and vocational and financial counseling.

"I am grateful to the veterans who have given so much to our country. While we can never fully repay them for their service on behalf of our Nation, it is important that we remember their sacrifices and provide services for them," Burr said. "Many of our veterans find themselves living in extreme poverty and some are homeless. This legislation will help ensure our veterans receive access to the benefits they deserve."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.5 million of our Nation's veterans live in poverty. North Carolina is home to over 770,000 veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are over 40,000 North Carolina veterans living below the national poverty level.

*U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-North Carolina, is requesting $5.1 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

"It is so important that every individual has the means to stay warm during the cold-weather months and cool during the hot-weather months," Dole said.

In addition to assisting low-income families and seniors with their energy bills, LIHEAP funds would also help citizens weatherize their homes to save energy. On average weatherization reduces heating bills by 31 percent.

*Mrs. Dole also is seeking a higher level of funding for administrative expenses within the Social Security Administration. Sufficient funding is needed to help the administration reduce backlog and long delays in reviewing appeals for Social Security disability benefits. In addition, the funding would support a review program aimed at ensuring that only qualified individuals receive benefits. According to the president's budget, these reviews would save $10 for each dollar spent.

*U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, co-sponsored The District of Columbia Personal Protection Act -- legislation to restore the fundamental rights of District of Columbia residents under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Since 1977, the District has banned the possession of all handguns not acquired and registered before that year. It also has prohibited keeping an assembled rifle or shotgun in the home.

"Despite its gun control laws, the District of Columbia consistently has one of the highest murder rates in the nation," Jones said. "Not only is the District's gun ban unconstitutional, but it has clearly been a policy failure as well.

On March 9, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment is an individual right and concluded that the District of Columbia's ban on guns in the home is unconstitutional. The Court also rejected the argument that the Second Amendment does not apply to the District of Columbia because it is not a state.

*Jones also co-sponsored the Fair and Speedy Treatment (FAST) of Medicare Prescription Drug Claims Act of 2007 -- legislation to help prevent independent pharmacists from going out of business by ensuring that insurance companies do not provide inadequate and late reimbursement under the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

"As a result of the implementation of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, many independent pharmacists are facing a financial crisis," Jones said. "Slow and inadequate reimbursements are threatening the livelihood of independent pharmacists and the communities they serve. This legislation is critical because our citizens cannot afford to see community pharmacists close their doors."

According to surveys conducted by the National Community Pharmacists Association in 2006, more than 90 percent of responding pharmacists say their cash flow is worse since the Medicare prescription drug benefit began on Jan. 1, 2006, and more than 60 percent have sought outside financial assistance from banks, wholesalers, credit unions or family members to cover the financial shortfalls.

The FAST Act of 2007 seeks to ensure that pharmacists are paid for their services in a timely manner by requiring Medicare Prescription Drug Plans to offer electronic direct deposit of reimbursements to participating pharmacies, that claims submitted electronically will be paid within 14 days, and all other claims will be paid within 30 days, that pharmacists are promptly notified if there are problems with submitted claims and that co-branding is prohibited on cards and marketing materials issued by prescription drug plans, assuring that seniors are no longer misled to believe they only can use the pharmacy whose name appears on those materials.

*Jones also asked Pres. George Bush to examine the leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice, beginning with the Attorney General in light of the recent, controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

"In order to maintain the confidence and support of the American people, I strongly believe that the integrity of the Attorney General cannot be questioned," Jones wrote. "While I recognize that all U.S. Attorneys serve at your pleasure, recent news reports alleging the improper political influence of partisan politics in the decision to terminate several U.S. Attorneys are most disturbing.

"If the environment of the Department of Justice -- under the leadership of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- could allow for the exertion of such partisan pressure, then our nation's law enforcement officers will lose the trust of the American people.

"Mr. President, because I know you share my respect for our nation's most treasured judicial ideals, I ask you to please investigate this matter and take all appropriate steps to assure public confidence in the integrity of the Office of the Attorney General."

*Also, Jones was named co-chairman of the Congressional Coastal Caucus for the 110th Congress, along with Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Henry Brown (R-SC) and Lois Capps (D-CA). The bipartisan caucus keeps members informed on a wide range of coastal issues such as shore protection, beach replenishment, coastal conservation, non-point source pollution, watershed management and marine environmental protection.