HONORING OUR PACT ACT: CARING FOR VETERANS EXPOSED TO DANGEROUS TOXINS
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, issued the following statement after the Senate once again passed comprehensive legislation to deliver multiple generations of veterans exposed to dangerous toxins access to healthcare and benefits under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the first time in the nation’s history.
“I am proud and happy beyond words that the PACT Act has finally passed Congress following years of hard work by myself and colleagues on the VA Committee. After needless and shameful delay, the tireless advocacy of our veterans made today’s victory possible. Sleeping on Capitol steps for days, they refused to be defeated and once again proved they are our heroes,” said Blumenthal.
“This bill is a victory for veterans who served and sacrificed abroad and now suffer from insidious, horrific diseases caused by exposure to burn pits and toxic chemicals. This momentous bipartisan measure will bring well-deserved relief to our veterans and their families affected by toxic exposure. I’m proud to have focused for years on this legislation and that it includes provisions I fought for to ensure the fairest, broadest possible coverage. Once President Biden signs this vital legislation into law, we must focus on delivering this critical care to our veterans as soon as possible.”
“During last night’s remarks on the passage of the PACT Act my mind kept turning to Peter Antioho—a brave, patriotic CT vet who died from cancer caused by burn pits. I fought for this bill in his memory & for all who suffer from the horrific wounds of war.”
“This triumph is thanks in large part to the tireless work of vets & advocates like Peter & his wife Amy. Now that this bill is finally becoming law I will remain focused on making sure the VA delivers these benefits & health care as soon as possible.”
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act includes legislation championed by Blumenthal to expand benefits, healthcare, and compensation to veteran populations that are not currently able to access services: veterans who responded to the nuclear disaster in Palomares, Spain, those who were deployed to the K2 Air Base, and veterans and families exposed to toxins in the water supply at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The legislation also prioritizes bringing relief to post-9/11 veterans exposed to burn pits for decades, primarily while serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
SUPPORTING THE INFLATION REDUCTION ACT
— Blumenthal joined his Democratic colleagues in calling on the Senate to pass the Inflation Reduction Act which will allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, lower health care premiums under the Affordable Care Act, lower energy costs, and increase the production of clean energy.
“Americans want tools to fight climate change. They want lower prescription & health care costs. They want fair taxes, so big corporations pay their share. By passing the Inflation Reduction Act, we'll be taking historic, transformative steps to make these demands a reality.”
PROTECTING REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) led a bipartisan group of eighteen senators introducing the Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act to eliminate copayments for contraception covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While civilians can receive contraception without a copay through the Affordable Care Act and active duty servicemembers can receive health care—including basic contraceptive services—without copays through TRICARE, VA healthcare only waives contraception copays for a limited number of veterans. The legislation is originally authored by U.S. Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA) and was approved by the House of Representatives in June by a bipartisan vote of 245-181.
“This legislation will end unfair copays charged to veterans accessing essential contraception,” said Blumenthal. “Providing these important family planning services to veterans without out-of-pocket costs – a right already afforded to their active duty and civilian counterparts – is necessary to protect their health, wellbeing and reproductive freedoms. With more women enrolling in the VA healthcare system and reproductive rights threatened across the country, this measure is more important than ever. I’m proud to lead my Senate colleagues in introducing the Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act.”
Under current law, only a restricted group of veterans, including 50 percent disabled veterans and veterans below specific income levels, are exempt from copayments for contraception. This legislation will eliminate out-of-pocket costs levied against countless veterans, including women who make up the fastest growing group of veterans enrolling in the VA healthcare system.
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) joined 23 of their colleagues in introducing the Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act to protect doctors against Republicans’ non-stop attacks and ensure they can safely provide abortion care in states where it is still legal. The legislation would protect against these attacks, ensuring that providers in states where abortion remains legal are protected from any efforts to restrict their practice or create uncertainty about their legal liability.
“No doctor should be punished, threatened, intimidated or attacked for providing patients with abortion care. Reproductive rights and health care are under attack across the nation and we must do everything in our power to protect doctors performing legal abortion services from the very real threats they now face. Doctors take an oath to do no harm and provide the best care possible for their patients. Congress must pass this legislation to protect doctors’ ability to provide health care free from political interference,” Blumenthal said.
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) in leading a letter urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Agency for International Development to immediately communicate to countries and organizations that receive U.S. Foreign Assistance that U.S. assistance is permitted to provide abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. For over five decades, the Helms Amendment - which bans U.S. Foreign Assistance "as a method of family planning" - has been incorrectly interpreted as a total ban on U.S. Foreign Assistance being used for abortion care.
“As currently applied, Helms Amendment restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance funds mean that none of the more than $1.2 billion in U.S. humanitarian aid can be used to support victims who need access to safe abortion,” the members wrote. “The impact of the Dobbs decision far exceeds our borders. We know that many countries that have long used the Roe v. Wade decision to support legalizing their abortion laws will now face challenges. Issuing guidance on the exceptions to the Helms Amendment will ensure that the United States is not impeding access to health care that is protected under local law in other countries.”
PROTECTING KIDS FROM INGESTING BUTTON BATTERIES
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), lead Senate sponsors of Reese’s Law, bipartisan legislation to strengthen safety standards for products with button batteries frequently found in everyday items, issued the following joint statement after the Senate passed the legislation. The House of Representatives passed Reese’s Law earlier this week and it now heads to the President’s desk for signature.
Named in honor of Reese Hamsmith, an 18-month-old child who died after ingesting a button cell battery from a remote control, the legislation would protect children from these small button cell and coin batteries found in common household items including cameras, calculators, battery-operated candles, flashing apparel, and even greeting cards. If swallowed, these batteries can pose a serious danger to young children and infants, and can cause serious injuries, severe internal burns, or even death.
“Reese’s Law will help prevent thousands of serious injuries by strengthening small battery safety standards,” said Blumenthal and Blackburn, Chair and Ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security. “Kids like Reese Hamsmith have tragically died or been severely injured after swallowing this small but deadly hazard found in common household items. We are relieved this common-sense legislation has passed Congress and is on its way to President Biden’s desk to become law so families can have greater peace of mind about the safety of products in their home.”
STANDING UP FOR COLLEGE ATHLETES
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) in reintroducing the College Athletes Bill of Rights, comprehensive legislation that will ensure health care for injured athletes, establish new protections for women’s sports programs by requiring the NCAA and conferences follow Title IX in their tournaments, and allow athletes to market their name, image and likeness.
For decades, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has tremendously profited off of college athletes, while failing to protect their health, safety, economic rights, and educational outcomes. The College Athlete Bill of Rights seeks to hold the NCAA accountable for the well-being and success of college athletes by setting wellness standards, improving educational outcomes, and establishing a Medical Trust Fund for athletes to cover costs of any out-of-pocket medical expenses. The bill will also ensure that athletes who are injured, do not lose their scholarships. The legislation also includes provisions to require universities and colleges to be more transparent about their Title IX compliance and to ensure collegiate athletic associations do not discriminate on the basis of sex when it comes to health, safety, medical care, athletic participation and facilities. High profile stories and reports about inadequate facilities and support for women’s tournaments have shed a light on the persistent problem of unequal facilities and resources available to women college athletes.
“This measure will compel colleges to put their athletes’ wellness above their profits. While the NCAA’s draconian rules have built a broken, unfair system on the backs of these athletes’ blood, sweat and tears, our College Athletes Bill of Rights invests in their educational and economic futures,” said Blumenthal. “This issue is about fairness and justice, which is why athletes deserve access to a Medical Trust Fund, increased educational resources to ensure they earn their degree, and the right to financially benefit from their hard work. The NCAA and universities have benefited from the industry’s inequities for far too long, enriching themselves while leaving athletes with few protections. I’m proud to join Senator Booker in reintroducing this measure which will put America’s over 500,000 college athletes first.”
PREVENTING FRONTOVER CHILD DEATHS
— Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, called for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) action to address child deaths due to frontovers. Recent demonstrations by investigative reporters have shown blind zones in front of some cars to be as big as 16 feet, obstructing children from view and putting them at risk of being run over.
“I am extremely troubled that large blind zones in front of SUVs are reportedly causing senseless deaths of children. In such instances, called ‘frontovers,’ tragedy strikes because a child in front of the car is not visible above the car’s hood and no warning occurs,” wrote Blumenthal to NHTSA Administrator Dr. Stephen Cliff. “I am sure you agree that even one child’s death is one too many. I write to ask for an update on steps by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to collect and make public relevant data and stop these preventable frontover tragedies.”
While Congress mandated in 2007 that NHTSA issue a rule to establish rear visibility standards in response to countless backover accidents, no such front visibility standards currently exist. Front visibility technology such as cameras and sensors are offered by some manufacturers, but usually only on expensive, upgraded models or for an additional fee.
“Safety is not – and should never be – a premium feature only available to those who can afford it; it should be the default,” Blumenthal continued.
To better understand the scope of the problem and inform comprehensive solutions, Blumenthal called on NHTSA to publish up-to-date non-traffic incident data, which these preventable frontover tragedies would fall under, and inquired about steps the agency is taking to protect children and parents. NHTSA last published its non-traffic surveillance data summary in 2018, which only covered incidents through 2015. More comprehensive data was last published in 2015, but only covered incidents through 2011.
“This delay in more than a decade in releasing data is simply unacceptable. Recent, updated data is critical to understanding the true scope of frontovers and the steps that can be taken to prevent these unnecessary and tragic incidents,” Blumenthal emphasized, pressing the agency to outline the steps it has taken to reduce and prevent frontovers, and any additional authorities it would need to address this issue.
PROTECTING OUR NATIONAL SECURITY
— Blumenthal released the following statement on the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri:
“For decades, Ayman al-Zawahiri orchestrated a global campaign of terror, torture, and murder. I hope his death brings some closure to the families and loved ones of the thousands whose blood is on his hands. I remain deeply grateful to our men and women in uniform who served in the Global War on Terror and who protected us from the untold harm al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda would have visited on the United States without their bravery. This successful operation honors that service, but we have not repaid our debt for their sacrifice until we fully treat their wounds of war – starting by passing the PACT Act.”
SUPPORTING LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT
— Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, applauded Senate passage of a legislative package supporting local law enforcement agencies and officers. The bills – all supported by Blumenthal – would establish mental health programs for first responders suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), invest in recruitment and equipment, improve de-escalation and crisis intervention training, and extend public safety officer benefits to qualified individuals and their families.
“These measures will invest significant resources in Connecticut’s police departments and first responders,” said Blumenthal. “Those bravely protecting and serving our communities deserve the tools and support needed to effectively do their jobs. In countless discussions with police chiefs and law enforcement officers, I heard first-hand the urgent need for bolstered mental health services for those on the front lines. I’m proud to have fought for these initiatives which will not only bolster recruitment, retention and training, but will expand Connecticut’s existing programs, reaching more officers and supporting the mental health and wellness of those struggling with the long-term effects of their heroic service. The federal funds and programs in this package will make a real difference – improving the lives of officers and ensuring our state’s public safety.”
RESPONDING TO THE MONKEYPOX OUTBREAK
— Blumenthal visited Hartford Hospital to call on the federal government to increase the supply of monkeypox vaccines through the Defense Production Act, as well as expand testing and treatments for the virus as cases rise in Connecticut and nationwide. Specifically, Blumenthal released a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that calls for swift federal action to curb the spread of the disease and ensure that vaccines, tests and treatments are made available and accessible to the communities that need them. Blumenthal also called for the government to explore what can be done to provide compensation to people who need to quarantine following a monkeypox exposure or diagnosis.
“The federal government must implement a rapid, robust, relentless response to disease outbreaks. I joined advocates & experts at Hartford Hospital to call on the admin to urgently act to address Monkeypox—utilize the Defense Production Act & provide more vaccines, tests, & treatment.”
SUPPORTING SLOW DOWN, MOVE OVER LAWS
— Blumenthal joined the Fairfield Police and Fairfield Fire Departments to announce their donation to the Flagman Project, a non-profit organization founded in honor of Corey John Iodice, a tow truck driver killed on the Merritt Parkway in 2020 while assisting a disabled motorist. The Fairfield Fire Department, Police Department, Fire Union, and Police Union are each donating $1,000 to Flagman for a total donation of $4,000.
“Honored to join Fairfield Fire & Police Departments & Fire & Police Unions as they announce their donation to the Flagman Project. In the Senate I’ll continue to promote & raise awareness of Slow Down, Move Over laws that reduce struck-by-vehicle injuries & deaths.”
Blumenthal also joined U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) in introducing a bipartisan resolution to raise awareness of Slow Down, Move Over state laws to reduce struck-by-vehicle injuries and fatalities, and to recognize the important role law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical services, tow truck operators, and transportation workers play in road safety.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have Slow Down, Move Over laws that direct motorists to reduce speed or change lanes for stopped emergency and maintenance vehicles. Despite these laws being in place, many motorists are unaware of them and roadside fatalities and injuries continue. On average, an emergency first responder is struck and killed every 4.65 days working on America's roadways, with 65 deaths occurring in 2021.
“Our first responders and roadside assistance crews put their safety at risk every day to help people on America’s roads. Every state has laws directing drivers to reduce their speed or to move over if a vehicle is stopped on the side of the road, yet tragic collisions that injure and kill roadside assistance workers like Corey Iodice continue to happen. This resolution amplifies the simple yet effective way to keep workers safe on the roads: Slow Down and Move Over,” said Blumenthal.
ENSURING REFUNDS FOR DELAYED OR CANCELLED FLIGHTS
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-IL) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) in introducing the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act, which would provide consumers an enforceable right to a full cash refund for flight and ticket cancellations. The bill codifies the Department of Transportation rule requiring major airlines to offer consumers a cash refund if the airline cancels or significantly delays a flight, and provides consumers a new right to a cash refund if they cancel their ticket up until 48 hours of the flight’s scheduled departure.
Over the past few months, flight cancellations and delays have skyrocketed, far exceeding the number before the pandemic and leading to an avalanche of consumer complaints. While federal law requires airlines to provide cash refunds when they cancel a flight, most airlines only offer to rebook passengers or provide a voucher as the default option instead, forcing customers to jump through hoops to claim their rightful refund.
“This measure will put money back into the pockets of consumers suffering from airline travel chaos,” said Blumenthal. “Faced with record delays and cancellations, travelers deserve their money back in cash—not airline vouchers—when their plans are unexpectedly upended. By requiring full cash refunds, our legislation is an important first-step towards airline accountability and restoring reliability and fairness to Americans’ air travel experiences.”
Blumenthal and Markey also joined U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in releasing the following statement after the Department of Transportation (DOT) released a proposed rule to strengthen protections for consumers seeking refunds for airline tickets.
“The Department of Transportation’s proposed airline refunds rule is a welcome development after thousands of flight cancellations and delays over the past few months,” said the Senators. “We are encouraged that the rule appears to align with our previous recommendations, including by clarifying the circumstances in which the airlines must provide a prompt refund to consumers, defining the term ‘significant change’, and increasing rights for travelers who are unable to travel due to public health concerns. We look forward to working with DOT to ensure the final rule includes strong consumer protections that will reduce headaches for passengers and requires airlines to deliver the effective and accountable service that travelers deserve.”
— Blumenthal and Murphy joined U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and 26 of their Senate colleagues in calling on the Biden Administration to work urgently to increase the rate of refugee admissions for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. In a letter to President Joe Biden, the Senators further urge the President to maintain or increase the target of 125,000 refugee admissions in FY 2023 and take meaningful steps to meet this target.
“According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a record high of more than 89.3 million people, 42 percent of whom are children, were displaced at the end of 2021. The displaced population includes 27.1 million refugees,” the Senators wrote. “UNHCR estimates that in 2023 over two million refugees will need to be resettled. In our own region, Central America faces a growing refugee crisis, with more than 800,000 people who have sought refuge in neighboring nations or have been internally displaced… We urge your Administration to ensure that the United States scales up capacity to process refugees in these regions and across all nationalities with protection needs, particularly those who have been languishing in precarious situations awaiting resettlement, such as family reunification cases.”
INSPECTING OUR INFRASTRUCTURE WITH DOMESTIC DRONE TECHNOLOGY
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and John Boozman (R-AR) in introducing the Drone Infrastructure Inspection Grant Act, which would authorize $100 million in competitive grants to use American-made drones to perform critical infrastructure inspection, maintenance, or construction projects. This bipartisan bill would also authorize $100 million in grants for workforce training and education to prepare the next generation of workers in this field.
“This bill promotes the use of domestic drone technology to inspect and maintain our nation’s vital infrastructure,” said Blumenthal. “Through important grant programs, our workforce will be given the tools and skilled training necessary to keep our bridges, dams, and highways across the country safe. I’m proud to join this legislation as we build on the groundbreaking investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”
MODERNIZING NUTRITION LABELS
— Blumenthal supported the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s regulatory petition filed with the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to use its authority to establish a simple, standardized, evidence-based, and mandatory front-of-package labeling system for all packaged foods sold in the United States.
“Current food labels create confusion and fail to provide important, useful information to consumers,” said Blumenthal. “The FDA can and should take action to update our food labels, putting essential nutrition information front-and-center and giving people the tools they need to make healthier choices.”
Blumenthal has introduced legislation with U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), the Food Labeling Modernization Act, that would update front-of-package food labeling requirements, require updates to the ingredient list on packaged foods, and apply consumer-friendly labeling requirements.
RESTORING FAIRNESS & BALANCE TO THE SUPREME COURT
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in introducing the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization (TERM) Act, which would establish term limits for Supreme Court justices while preserving constitutional protections for judicial independence in decision-making. Under the TERM Act, a new justice would take the bench every two years and spend 18 years in active service.
“Term limits will help restore credibility and trust to our nation’s highest court,” said Blumenthal. “Detached from the public and more politicized than ever, the Supreme Court will continue to face a crisis of legitimacy without fundamental reform.”
EVENTS AROUND CONNECTICUT
— Blumenthal visited Killingworth to meet with residents of Beechwood, a 55-year-old and older mobile park community, after numerous resident complaints about quality of life issues, including flooding, lack of maintenance and increases in rental rates.
Residents of the community have filed complaints both with the Office of Senator Blumenthal, as well as the CT Department of Consumer Protection, complaining about improper maintenance of the homes and common spaces, as well as issues with flooding and draining. Residents have also complained about an increase in rental rates — a significant challenge for those living on a fixed income. The complaints follow a nationwide trend of investment companies buying mobile home communities and cutting services, raises rents and mistreating residents who speak out.
“Mobile home residents at Beechwood community in Killingworth deserve accountability & fairness from Sun Communities Corp. As I heard yesterday, their complaints about unjustified rent increases, inadequate maintenance, & more require answers & action.”
— Blumenthal attended the annual Take a Vet Fishing lunch in Branford which supports Connecticut veterans receiving clinical care for physical and mental health issues.
“Take a Vet Fishing hosted another hugely successful outing—beautiful weather, great food, & quite a few fish. I urged support for the PACT Act to provide care & benefits for veterans suffering from burn pits & other toxic exposures. All senators must support it.”
— Blumenthal attended a student-led rally for reproductive rights at Eastern Connecticut State University.
“Students, activists, legislators—galvanizing pro-choice energy—at ECSU yesterday morning. This great rally, Bans Off Our Bodies, shows how support for reproductive rights is mounting in public momentum.”
— Blumenthal attended the 62nd annual Lebanon Country Fair.
“An exquisitely beautiful day drew very happy crowds to Lebanon’s fair yesterday. Thanks to the Lions for all your great work—here & around the world.”