Southwest Arkansas Daily
Update from Washington
From Senator John Boozman
March 29, 2017
Boozman Congratulates Cyber Course Graduates
WASHINGTON Ė U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) applauded the first class of graduates of the Air National Guard Cyber Skills Validation Course at Little Rock Air Force Base (LRAFB).
ďThis is a historic day at Little Rock Air Force Base. These graduates are essential to combatting our nationís growing cyber threat. This cyber training course is an important mission to Little Rock and maintains an important role for Arkansas in preserving our national security. Iím proud of the graduates and the work done to launch this course and train these cyber warriors,Ē Boozman said.
Guard members started the inaugural class on February 7, and on Wednesday the class of 20 was recognized in a graduation ceremony attended by the director of the Air National Guard Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice.
Boozman, a co-chair of the Senate Air Force Caucus, joined the Arkansas Congressional Delegation in fighting for a cybersecurity mission at Little Rock Air Force Base. In 2015, then Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited LRAFB to see the unique capabilities of the base.
This class is the first of its kind. The Department of Defense plans to increase cyber missions nationwide.
March 17, 2017
Free File 2016 Taxes
With less than a month to go before our taxes are due on April 18, many Arkansans are hard at work navigating our nationís complicated and confusing tax code. Over the past 15 years, there have been nearly 6,000 changes to the tax code, an average of more than one a day. Itís no wonder that the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent office within the IRS, estimates that individuals and businesses spend six billion hours each year to comply with the tax code. Fortunately, navigating the complex tax code has become easier. The paper, pencil and calculator method of figuring out taxes now includes easier ways to file income taxes.
Private businesses have made filing taxes more painless for us. Advertisements for tax preparation services and tax software are fixtures on TV during this time of the year. More than 90 percent of individuals rely on these to file their income taxes.
For more than a decade, the IRS has worked with several private online tax preparation businesses to form the Free File Alliance. This program helps make it easier for people to file their taxes online. Taxpayers who earned less than $64,000 last year are eligible for free online individual income tax preparation and electronic filing services.
Unfortunately, this program is underutilized by eligible taxpayers. Thatís why I recently joined Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas organizations to increase awareness of this program.
Arkansas is one of 21 states that has its own Free File programs, allowing eligible taxpayers to file both their federal and state tax return online for free. This is an important service that enables Arkansans to keep more of their hard-earned money.
Iím proud to support the goals of the Free File Alliance. This is an important resource that makes tax preparation easier and increases access to free online filing options for eligible taxpayers and makes the federal government operate more efficiently. The Government Accountability Office estimates the Free File Alliance has saved the IRS at least $105 million in processing costs. This is an important public-private partnership that uses the expertise of tax preparation companies to empower Arkansans and all Americans to better understand their finances and ease tax filing complications.
There is still time to take advantage of this service for 2016 tax filings. I encourage Arkansans to learn more about this program and use this free service at www.irs.gov/freefile.
Homeland Security Directive: Rhetoric vs. Reality
When President Trump began his campaign for the White House, he made national securityóand in particular, homeland securityóa cornerstone of his platform.
His calls to secure the border, keep terrorists off of U.S. soil and protect our communities struck a chord with a large majority of Americans who for years felt that Washington ignored their very real concerns about our porous borders and broken immigration system.
As expected, the president has moved quickly to deliver on his promises to fix this broken system.
The Trump administration recently rolled out a revised version of its Executive Order aimed at restoring confidence in the the procedures we use to vet refugees fleeing from nations known to harbor radical and violent extremists.
The revised version appears to have benefitted from the engagement of the presidentís cabinet, especially the key input of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. This valuable input underscores how important it is for the president to have his team in place to govern effectively. It is vital that every agency involved in implementing this directive is engaged during its development.
Congress has many problems to tackle, but protecting our nation is at the top of that list. That requires we work together to govern. It also requires that we take a step back from the heated rhetoric and have honest conversations. Taking the fundamental steps to protect our homeland does not diminish the fact that we are a welcoming nation that strives to help the vulnerable.
It is no secret that ISIS and other violent extremists want to exploit our nationís generosity and welcoming spirit to sneak terrorists onto American soil. We can, and must, take reasonable measures to prevent that. It is reasonable, responsible in fact, to put a pause on accepting refugees from these nations in order to fix the flaws in the process and instill confidence in the system.
There are considerable challenges we face when trying to vet refugees from the countries impacted by this directive. Four of the countries on this list donít even have a U.S. embassy, so you can understand how difficult it is to get a complete picture of the refugees seeking asylum from those countries when we donít even have open communications channels with them. If we can affect positive outcomes and overcome these challenges, as was the case with Iraq, then we can confidently remove a country from the list.
Every country will be evaluated within twenty days of this directive. If a country comes up short of where it needs to be, it will have fifty days to fix the failures in communications with us.
Taking these reasonable steps to reduce this threat in no way runs counter to the ideals that our nation is built upon. We can be proud of the resources the U.S. has provided to support those fleeing persecution in war-torn Syria. I have visited the refugee camps we support in Jordan and Turkey. Our commitment to their well-being is strong. The rhetoric just doesnít match the realities when it comes to this issue.
As Chairman of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, I strongly support President Trumpís efforts to get Washington to uphold our most important responsibilityóprotecting the American people. I stand ready to work with him, Secretary Kelly and my colleagues to accomplish this goal.
March 3, 2017
Arkansans Bring Recommendations for VA Improvements to Washington
Our Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) are leading on the frontlines to ensure that our nation follows through with its promise to take care of those who have served us. They offer a unique perspective on how Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policies affect our veterans and what changes need to be made to improve services. As Congress continues to modernize VA and strengthen the delivery of care, accountability and benefits our veterans earned, the recommendations of our VSOs are invaluable.
Arkansas members of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars recently traveled to Washington to reaffirm their support for our veterans and advocate for policies on their behalf. One of the topics we discussed in detail was mental illness in our veteran community.
In Arkansas, veterans represent about eight percent of the population, but about 20 percent of suicides. We must take action to change this tragic reality. We need to improve access to meaningful mental health services and strengthen suicide prevention awareness among our veterans.
Mental health is a battlefield that many of our men and women who served in our nationís uniform find themselves facing here at home. These invisible injuries are why we struggle to identify at-risk individuals. Two years ago Congress passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act to deliver help to our veterans, but this was only a first step.
We need to continue making improvements to ensure that struggling veterans have access to the VA programs that have proven to work, and provide the personnel, services and tools to support them. Appointment cancelations with mental health providers have left veterans waiting for up to six months for an appointment. This unfortunate reality is unacceptable. These appointments are much too critical to delay. Sadly, we are seeing the tremendous shortage of mental health providers in our nation impact veterans across the country.
Another challenge to determine veterans who need assistance is that some of the most vulnerable people we need to reach arenít formally affiliated with the VA and may be unknown to veteran groups in their communities. VSOs have made great progress by initiating their own programs in order to recognize those veterans in need.
In testimony before a joint hearing of the Senate and House VA Committees earlier this month, VFW Commander Brian Duffy said its community based program is making a difference. ďNo group can relate to a veteran in distress as easy or effectively as a fellow veteran,Ē he told committee members.
Peer-to-peer support programs have proven successful for VSOs and I believe the VA can have the same success. VA should invest in expanding its peer-to-peer efforts.
The input from our VSOs is vital to my colleagues and me as we improve VA health care delivery. When it comes to our nationís veterans, their commitment to our country is without question, and our commitment to them must be the same.
March 2, 2017
Boozman Statement on the Presidentís Address to Congress
WASHINGTON ĖU.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) released the following statement in response to President Trumpís Address to a Joint Session of Congress:
ďArkansans supported a new direction for our country in the November election. In his address to Congress, President Trump laid out a vision that seeks to revitalize our economy by pursuing policies that will promote innovation and unite Americans with a common purpose. Whether it be jobs, education, healthcare, infrastructure or national security, our nation is facing serious challenges that will require Congress and the president to collaborate and pursue solutions that will answer these difficult questions. I look forward to working with the president and any of my colleagues who are willing to do the tough work required to meet these challenges and help improve the lives of Arkansans and Americans across the country.Ē
February 24, 2017
Creating Opportunities for Rural America
The diversity of Arkansasís landscape makes the Natural State a truly unique environment. We can be proud of the resources that exist in our state that support a wide range of industries, interests and jobs. An important aspect of our stateís makeup is its rural identity. In the 2010 census, 44 percent of Arkansasís population identified as rural compared to 19 percent of the entire nation. We must keep our rural communities in mind as we create policies to improve the lives of all Americans.
Arkansans deserve access to quality and affordable health care no matter where they live. Unfortunately, in recent years, rural hospitals and clinics have reduced services or eliminated them entirely because of the costly burdens of Obamacare. Itís important that Congress consider the challenges facing health care in rural America. Thatís why I recently joined my colleagues in sending a letter to the Trump administration urging the President to implement policies to improve and strengthen access to health care in rural communities.
Weíve made progress on health care access for veterans in rural areas. In 2014, Congress passed, and the president signed, legislation reforming access to health care services for our veterans. One of the highlights of the law is that veterans can see non-VA providers if they live 40 miles or more from a VA health facility. This ensures more veterans have access to timely, reliable and dependable health care. I am committed to continuing to improve this benefit our veterans earned.
New models for health care delivery include telehealth. This is an innovative approach that is helping to meet the needs of rural Arkansans by using technology like video conferencing and the internet to deliver quality patient care. A key component for this method is access to high-speed broadband internet service.
The internet has become an essential tool for how we communicate and conduct business but a digital divide exists in Arkansas and much of rural America. The Federal Communications Commissionís (FCC) Broadband Progress Report released last year shows that 25 percent of Arkansans donít have access to broadband. For those people who do have access, they lack adequate internet speed.
Access to quality, high-speed internet has quickly become the cornerstone of a prosperous economy and is the backbone for economic innovation. As a leader of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I'm determined to extend this service to all Arkansans, regardless of where they live. Thatís why we must include it as part of infrastructure discussions and support its expansion. I was proud to join members of the caucus in sending a letter to the president urging him to prioritize policies that will promote deployment of high-speed, reliable broadband for all Americans as part of any infrastructure initiative.
As we shape policies for the future, we must consider the well-being of rural communities. I am proud to support the needs of rural Arkansas and will continue to advocate for solutions that provide opportunities for rural communities to succeed.
Boozman Honors Military Support in Arkansas
ROGERS, AR Ė U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) honored employees at Sealed Air Rogers today for their support of co-workers who serve in the National Guard and Reserves.
Boozman presented plaques from the Secretary of Defense to Greg Williams and Andy Morrison on behalf of Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). Williams and Morrison were nominated by two National Guardsmen who work at Sealed Air Rogers. ESGR is a Department of Defense program established in 1972 to promote understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers.
ďFor every Arkansan serving our nation to do their best it takes great support from friends, family and co-workers who understand their sacrifice and service,Ē Boozman said. ďI am grateful that Sealed Air Rogers and these great Arkansans are there to back up our men and women who protect and defend us.Ē
During the visit Boozman toured the plant and visited with employees. He was also presented with the National Association of Manufacturers Legislative Excellence Award for support of manufacturing jobs in Arkansas and throughout the nation.
"Senator Boozman has worked hard for North American commerce, including manufacturing and agriculture. With his support, we continue to gain competitiveness and to pursue growth opportunities,Ē said Sealed Air Rogers plant manager Ross Tompkins. "Additionally, Senator Boozman is a strong supporter of veterans, a key component of our workforce. We thank Senator Boozman for being able to come to our plant today."