Back-to-School Edition

September 17, 2009
Dear Friend,

I know that this is an extremely busy and often stressful time of year for parents. As we’re settling back into the school schedule, there are so many things we’re all juggling to keep our kids organized and prepared for the school year. With that in mind, I wanted to report back to you on a few of the things we’ve been doing in the House of Representatives to keep them safe and healthy and how we’re using economic recovery funding to bolster our schools and teaching faculty.
 

School Based Health Centers

This Congress made a historic commitment to providing health coverage for children when we expanded the SCHIP program earlier this year. In doing so, we provided health insurance coverage to 4 million additional children who were uninsured. But there are still many barriers that keep children from getting access to the care and preventive health services they need. As we reform our health system, one of the goals must be to find ways to deliver care more efficiently. For example, children spend five days a week in school and there is no better place to deliver regular primary and preventive care. By supporting school based health centers, we can give parents more choices and make it easier for children to get regular checkups so that we can catch health problems sooner.

School based health centers are not a new concept. They exist in many schools around the country and in Maryland. However, services provided at school based health centers are not currently eligible for reimbursement under Medicaid. These same services are eligible for reimbursement if provided at other sites such as physicians’ offices and hospitals. That is why I introduced the Healthy Schools Act of 2009, which will correct this discrepancy and allow for the establishment of more school based health centers that can serve additional children.

H1N1 Virus
 
We are all committed to preventing an outbreak of the H1N1 virus and mitigating the impact on children who do become sick. This year Congress committed significant resources to H1N1 and seasonal flu preparedness as part of the supplemental appropriations bill. As part of this legislation the State of Maryland received funding to prepare vaccination campaigns, implement strategies to reduce exposure to the H1N1 flu, improve surveillance and investigations, and to enhance the ability of hospitals and health care systems to prepare for outbreaks. I serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which heard testimony from Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week on the development and availability of the H1N1 flu vaccine, as well as other preparations for the flu season.

To learn more about how to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus and other illnesses, visit http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/talkingtokids.htm

Improving Education and Investing in Teachers

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), significant funding went to Maryland school districts that will prevent layoffs across the state and other education cutbacks to textbooks and computers, after school programs and tutoring, advanced placement courses and special enrichment programs. It will also prevent cuts to programs such as Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Additional funding will be made available during FY2011 to avoid future cuts and to advanced classroom technology as the economy begins to recover.

ARRA will also make college more affordable for millions of low- and moderate-income students.  It increased the higher education tax credits by $700 a year to a maximum of $2,500, which can be used to offset the ever increasing cost of a college education. It also increases the maximum Pell Grant by $500, for a total of $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010. Finally, ARRA added funding to the vital Work-Study program that supports undergraduate and graduate students who work while attending college. The increased funding will allow an additional 133,000 students to participate.

Student Loans

My daughter just started college and I've always said she should follow her dreams. But many who are fortunate to earn an undergraduate or advanced degree still grapple with student loan debt long after they graduate.

Predictably, this has a significant effect on their career paths after graduation. With this in mind, I introduced the Education for Public Service Act, which was signed into law Sept. 27, 2007, as a part of the College Cost Reduction Act. My bill created a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Option that, for those with federal loans, would forgive any remaining student loan debt after 10 years of work in public service. Public service careers include teachers, many health professionals, civil servants, public interest attorneys and many others – jobs that are important and rewarding but often not particularly lucrative. Here's how it will work. Individuals with federal direct or direct consolidated student loan debt will be able to elect an Income-Based Repayment option, or IBR, to significantly lower their monthly loan payments based upon their income and family size. If they make regular payments under IBR and remain in public service for 10 years, these individuals will receive significant loan forgiveness.

For additional information on how the IBR option or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program may benefit you or someone you know, please visit http://www.ibrinfo.org/. In this day and age, college graduates ought to be able to live by their dreams, not by their loans. It is my hope that this new law will help make college education an affordable and accessible option for all who are willing to work hard to achieve it.
 

Sincerely,


Congressman John P. Sarbanes
Maryland's Third Congressional Distric