SHEP RECEIVES A RECORD $85 MILLION
Two weeks ago the House passed the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which included much-needed support for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). And last week, the Trump Administration announced that they accepted our request to increase the federal investment in this critical project to the tune of $85 million. Our Georgia ports act like jet fuel for our state economy, supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the Seventh District alone and ensuring that our hometown products have access to global markets. And all that economic vibrancy has certainly contributed to another bit of good news: Georgia’s unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been in 17 years! Clearly, the successes we have had in stopping the onslaught of unnecessary federal red tape, passing historic tax cuts for Georgia families, and allowing the most powerful economy in the world to create opportunity for Americans is making a difference. We’re just getting started!
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard a lot about President Trump’s historic summit with the North Korean regime. It is a historic step toward lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, and I’m pleased that both parties agreed to bring home our American servicemen who paid the ultimate price in defense of our nation and move toward the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the region.
Some in the media have already tagged these efforts as a failure because the President didn’t come home with all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons in tow. Nonsense! No one expected to see all of our goals achieved with a single, introductory meeting, but opening the door to building trust between all parties involved is a major achievement in and of itself and is critical to laying the foundation for future negotiations. Of course, as with any agreement, the devil is always in the details, and I will be monitoring future developments closely. In fact, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of South Korean human rights activists and North Korean defectors in my office last week who shared my cautious optimism. Having been deceived by the North Korean regime before, they are also monitoring developments with a healthy dose of skepticism. But they recognize, as you and I do, that we must do all we can to avoid what could be the most devastating conflict in human history and work together to transform the world’s most isolated, paranoid, and despotic regime into a peaceful, prosperous nation-state. If we are able to succeed in this endeavor, we could secure a safer planet for generations to come.
- CBS New York. Trump Meeting with North Korea proves real change is possible
- Yahoo News. President Trump urges Kim Jong Un to seize “new chapter” in future of North Korea
For the past 53 years, some of the best and brightest young leaders from across our state have had the honor of being selected for the Georgia Electric Membership Cooperatives’ (EMC) Washington Youth Tour, and I was thrilled to join this year’s participants during their visit to our nation’s capital. Over 100 students from Georgia were chosen by their local EMCs to take part in a one-week trip to Washington where they joined more than 1,500 students from across the country to learn more about public policy and public service while cultivating their leadership skills−all while touring museums, visiting monuments, and exploring history at the seat of our Republic.
Rep. Rob Woodall speaks to Georgia’s EMC Youth Tour participants at the U.S. Capitol
Ebun Ajayi from Duluth, Anish Bikmal from Cumming, and Briani Netzahuatl and Abbas Rangwala from Lawrenceville were selected to represent our corner of the world here in the Seventh District, and I had the great pleasure of visiting with them to learn more about their goals and passion for government. These amazingly bright young people have the ambition and talent to pave the way for America’s next greatest achievements, and I am eagerly awaiting the great things that they will do for our nation. Empowering young people early on in life to realize that their voice and ideas can make a difference is crucial to finding new solutions to some of the toughest challenges that lie ahead of us as a nation, and I appreciate the efforts of the dedicated team at Georgia EMC in doing their part to embolden our community’s students. It was my honor to speak with these future leaders and know that I and the folks back home are proud of your achievement!
As you may know, the opioid epidemic has taken a devastating toll on many Americans, both those individuals who suffer from addiction and those families and friends who must watch their loved ones grapple with the vicious wrath of addiction. In 2016 in Georgia alone, opioid-involved overdoses accounted for 2,435 Emergency Department visits, 1,709 hospitalizations, and 929 deaths according to a study done by the Georgia Department of Public Health. While the Trump Administration has repeatedly expressed its dedication to undertaking initiatives to ensure that states, families, schools, and individuals have access to the necessary tools that work to prevent and treat addiction, there is still much work that can be done legislatively to reduce the number of opioid related deaths that plague our great nation and our communities. The good news is that the House did just that last week and will continue to consider a number of measures this week to address the opioid crisis. Some notable bills that passed the House last week with my support included:
- H.R. 5041, the “Safe Disposal of Unused Medication Act” – a bill that seeks to reduce the number of unused controlled substances that are at risk of diversion or misuse by allowing hospice employees to safely dispose of these medications on site after the death of a patient;
- H.R. 5176, the “Preventing Overdoses While in Emergency Rooms (POWER) Act of 2018” – a bill to ensure that hospitals have the resources they need to develop appropriate protocols for discharging patients who have presented with an opioid overdose;
- H.R. 4275, the “Empowering Pharmacists in the Fight Against Opioid Abuse Act” – a bill to better help pharmacists understand and detect fraudulent prescriptions, as well as the ability to decline to fill controlled substances when they suspect the prescriptions are fraudulent, forged, or appear to be for abuse or diversion; and
- H.R.5788, the “Securing the International Mail Against Opioids Act of 2018” – a measure that give more tools to the United States Postal Service (USPS) and federal agencies to help curb international shipments of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids from entering the states.
In total, the House passed more than 30 bills last week addressing many aspects of opioid addiction, treatment, and recovery, which I think is a testament to this Congress’ willingness and commitment to doing its part to make a difference. In fact, you can click here to learn more about the other bills that passed the House as well as follow the House’s progress on tackling this issue. It is my hope that the Senate acts quickly on these important bills, and I look forward to sending more bills to the Senate in the coming days.
Of course, I hope you’d agree that we cannot rely on legislative or administrative action alone to move the needle forward in tackling this perverse crisis. I continue to believe that the people closest to those individuals battling addiction are best suited to assist in providing them with the necessary care and support, and we must continue to supplement their efforts rather than supplant them. In fact, I am most proud of the stories I hear of the dedicated folks back home, whether through organization-led initiatives or individualized care, who are lifting up our friends and neighbors struggling with addiction. It is these dedicated individuals who will surely have the most palpable influence on our communities, and I want to ensure that they are equipped with the resources and tools they need to be successful.
- The Mercury News. House begins ‘vote-a-thon’ on bills battling opioid abuse
- CBS News. House has “multi-pronged approach” to combat opioid crisis, Paul Ryan says
Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen thousands of students graduate from our high schools in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, and naturally, they are now looking to the future and to what they will be doing with their lives. Some will go off to start jobs already, some will begin learning a new trade or skill at vocational and trade schools, but a great deal of them will leave home to receive a college education. While a college education is one of the most important investments one can make, and is increasingly necessary for a good paying job in our modern work force, we have seen the costs of that opportunity skyrocket. In fact, the average tuition for attending a four-year university has increased 213 percent for public schools and 129 percent for private schools since I first began my undergraduate education. That doesn’t even touch on all of the other costs associated with attending college or the exponential increase in tuition costs to attend graduate school.
With Americans holding over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, it is clear that the status quo is not working, but the good news is that the House will likely consider a proposal this summer to reform and reauthorize our higher education programs with H.R. 4508, the “PROSPER Act.” Here is what just a couple of you have said about this issue in recent weeks:
Togi from Buford:
I recently read an article about an Orthodontist who graduated with $600k worth of student loan debt but now owes over $1 Million of debt. Upon further research, I found this is problem throughout the nation. Although, I understand the need for an education, I cannot fathom the idea that people will be stuck paying their debts till end of their lives. It is quite perplexing that a student without any financial means to be given a large sum of money without the guarantee on the return.
I humbly request that as the representative for the district my family and I live in, that you oppose this faulty system. If possible, it would be awesome if there can be a bill made to reduce the amount of money that a student is permitted to borrow based on their field of choice. There is no reason for any student to borrow more than $200,000.00 for their education. Frankly, it is quite sad that the government permits such a faulty system to still exist.
Thank you for taking the time to read this message.
Evan from Norcross:
As an education advocate, I strongly urge you to oppose H.R.4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act.
As written, the PROSPER Act would be harmful to students, educators, and taxpayers. It eliminates critical federal student aid programs that benefit millions of low-income students each year; eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that benefits many current and future educators and other public service employees; and eliminates or weakens safeguards intended to protect students from unscrupulous, predatory institutions. If signed into law, the PROSPER Act would make college less affordable for students and their families, which defies the purpose and intent of the Higher Education Act.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved the PROSPER Act. If the bill is brought to the House floor, I hope you will support taxpayers, students, counselors, teachers, and other educators by strongly opposing this legislation.
Thank you for your consideration.
Togi and Evan’s concerns demonstrate the complexity of the state of our student loan debt problem. Evan would like more opportunities to make debt disappear while Togi wants to make sure the debt never appears in the first place. I hear both of these concerns from parents and students regularly. Undoubtedly, a highly educated work force is good for our nation, and we want to give our students the tools to succeed, but for all the billions of dollars the federal government spends to make getting an education affordable, we need to ask if we are helping or hurting our students who now graduate with an average of $37,000 in debt.
Given the extraordinary amount of student loan debt that is being carried by millions of Americans, the hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized tuition payments and loans that are provided by the federal government every year, and the toll that this is having on our economic growth, common sense would seem to indicate that we should lend more money or forgive more loans more quickly. Unfortunately, simply forgiving student loan debt and increasing loan amounts has done nothing to address the rising costs of attending college. In fact, some data suggest that these programs have even incentivized some schools to raise tuition, housing, and other costs, as the federal government continues to dole out more and more taxpayer money to subsidize or mask rising costs. What’s more, unlike other types of loans, like car or home loans, there is no collateral on these loans nor any indicators that a borrower will earn enough in the future to pay back that loan completely. Instead of setting our students up for success, in many cases, we are condemning them to a life of loan payments that they can never fulfill —exactly the situation Togi presented.
This is where the “PROSPER Act” comes in. Among its various provisions, this bill will provide more information to students on the availability of federal financial aid and how much it would cost the student to pursue various options, which allows students to properly weigh the costs and benefits of attending a particular college or university. The bill also addresses campus safety and sexual violence issues and strengthens accountability for student outcomes at colleges and universities through the accreditation process. However, its most significant changes would be to our student loan programs.
PROSPER will consolidate our many student aid programs into three single programs: one for loans, one for grants, and one for work study programs. Under the new loan program, rather than the six loans available, students would be able to receive a new unsubsidized Federal ONE Loan for each kind of borrower (undergraduates, graduates, and parents) with annual and aggregate loan limits. While current repayment and forgiveness programs would remain for current borrowers, new borrowers would choose from two simplified repayment options: a standard 10-year repayment plan and an income-driven repayment plan with a cap on interest charges that would never exceed the total interest that a borrower would pay under the standard 10-year plan. This second option would still require a borrower to repay their debts but it could save them tens of thousands of dollars in additional interest charges.
Most of the concerns that I have heard about the PROSPER Act have come from those who have already begun their public service under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF). Please know that the bill does not eliminate the PSLF program for those already enrolled in it, and I agree with those who say that it would be unfair to do so. The authors of the PROSPER Act also agree, and you will see that commitment reflected in the bill.
Everyone in Congress wants to help young people succeed. For decades, that help has been defined as “as much money as you want to borrow,” and for millions of students who have insurmountable levels of student loan debt as a result, we should admit that the system has failed. Instead of student loans being a helping hand – as they were always intended to be – and one that comes with the added lesson of not borrowing what you can’t pay back, they have morphed over the years into being a drag on our economy and the financial futures of the very people they were meant to help. Clearly, graduating with massive debts has not been the answer. Now we can change that and find other ways to encourage responsible borrowing and position our students for success. For some that may mean going to schools in their home state that are much more affordable than others out of state. For others, it might mean starting at a two-year institution before transferring to a four-year college to save some money. Still for others, it might be a mixture of work and school so that they graduate debt-free. For others, it means getting the financial counseling at school to understand how not to borrow to the legal maximum. For years, providing such counseling was inexplicably forbidden by federal regulation. Under the PROSPER Act, colleges and universities will be able to have these important conversations with students. Student aid advisors have been asking for this authority for years, and now they will have it.
Of course, we are fortunate in Georgia, where students who attend school in the state are eligible for the HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships, funded entirely through the Georgia Lottery. Georgia also has a program similar to PSLF that is administered through the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce (GBPW) that offers service-cancelable loan repayment programs for physicians, dentists, physician assistants, and advanced practice registered nurses. The GBPW program utilizes state funds only and will not be impacted by any of the provisions of the PROSPSER Act. We can encourage more states to do as Georgia has done by investing more in their students, and more states are looking at following Georgia’s model every day. You and I are fortunate to be in a state that leads!
There will be much more debate on this bill as it moves forward, and you can be certain that I will remember concerns, like those of Evan, when it comes up for a vote.