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The National Scene

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Linnie Frank Bailey
As the first half of the year ends, the Administration can look back on significant efforts to get America back on track, including—an economic stimulus, a revamped energy policy, the beginnings of health care reform, and a new approach to international relations. Moreover, the following legislation has been passed and signed by President Barack Obama in 2009:

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – (fair pay for women)
Signed: January 29, 2009

Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act – (continue state program SCHIP)
Signed: February 4, 2009

DTV Delay Act – (delayed implementation of digital TV until June 2009)
Signed: February 11, 2009

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – (major economic stimulus bill)
Signed: February 17, 2009

Small Business Act Temporary Extension – (temporarily extends SBA programs)
Signed: March 20, 2009

Omnibus Public Lands Management Act – (public land conservation)
Signed: March 30, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act – (increases and manages community service programs and funding)
Signed: April 21, 2009

Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act – (steps to end mortgage fraud and predatory lending)
Signed: May 20, 2009

Helping Families Save Their Homes Act – (steps to prevent foreclosures and rewrite mortgage loans)
Signed: May 20, 2009
Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act – (defense procurement reform)

Signed: May 22, 2009

Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 – (consumer credit protection)
Signed: May 22, 2009

Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – (steps to prevent children and teens from smoking)
Signed: June 22, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Gets Easier

The cumbersome application process for college student financial aid has gotten a lot simpler with the newly redesigned FAFSA. Fulfilling a campaign promise, the Obama Administration announced a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that will make it easier to apply for college financial aid. The changes are designed to increase college enrollment, particularly among low- and middle-income students. They include:

Effective May 2009 -- instant estimates of Pell Grant and student loan eligibility, rather than forcing applicants to wait weeks. Links to graduation rates and other college information are also provided;

Effective summer 2009 -- enhanced logic used in the new web-based FAFSA will reduce user navigation for many applicants.  Effective January 2010 -- students applying for financial aid for the spring semester will be able to retrieve their relevant tax information from the IRS for easy completion of the online FAFSA.

The Administration will seek authority from Congress to eliminate 26 financial questions from the FAFSA form that have little impact on aid awards and can be difficult to complete.

In addition, Whitehouse.gov lists the following activities the Administration has pursued to improve access to higher education and make it more affordable:

Expanding Pell Grants and College Tax Credits: The Recovery Act increased Pell Grants by $500 to $5,350 for 2009-2010 and created the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a new $2,500 tax credit for four years of college tuition.  Modernizing and Expanding the Perkins Loan Program: The President’s 2010 Budget proposes to make this vital program available to over 2,600 additional schools and an estimated 2.7 million additional students each year. By providing an additional $5 billion in Perkins Loans and continuing the low five percent interest rate, President Obama hopes that the neediest of students will have access to federal financial resources they did not have before.  Creating a New College Access and Completion Fund: In his 2010 budget proposal, President Obama proposes a five-year, $2.5 billion fund to build federal-state-local partnerships aimed at improving college access and completion, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
To help families in special circumstances during these challenging economic times, the Administration sent a letter in early April to financial aid administrators reminding them of their authority to make adjustments, on a case-by-case basis, to address circumstances, such as unemployment, not reflected on the original application.

More information on financial aid for college is available at http://studentaid.ed.gov.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

President Addresses Immigration Reform

President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Congressional leaders to discuss immigration reform. The bi-partisan group included Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Rep. Luis Guitierrez (D-Illinois), Rep. Nydia Velazquez (DNew York), Rep. James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), Sen. John McCain (RArizona), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). The Administration indicated this is the first of more working meetings to come up with practical solutions to immigration problems. President Obama also announced a new website that will allow immigrant applicants to get updates on the status of their applications online, or via e-mail or text message.

Summer Community Service – “United We Serve”

The Administration’s summer community service project—“United We Serve” continues until the National Day of Service on September 11, 2009. The First Family participated in packing backpacks for children of our armed forces at Fort McNair in D.C. The First Family was joined by several members of Congress and their families, with the goal of packing 15,000 backpacks for the children to bring with them to camp. The backpacks were filled with letters, healthy snacks, Frisbees, and a Bo Jackson baseball card!  The President encouraged all American families to get involved with community service, saying: “We want to ask every American to take some time out this summer to do something for others. Parents, take your kids….once a week, take them down—whether it’s to a soup kitchen or to volunteer on a community project -- teach them what it means to be a real citizen. You’ll find that actually the kids love it, and it’s going to make a lasting impression on them.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

President Applauds House for Passing Energy Bill

In a close vote, the House of Representatives passed an Energy Build supported by the President. Obama saluted this effort saying: “For more than three decades, we’ve talked about our dependence on foreign oil. And for more than three decades, we’ve seen that dependence grow. We’ve seen our reliance on fossil fuels jeopardize our national security. We’ve seen it pollute the air we breathe and endanger our planet. And most of all, we’ve seen that others countries realize a critical truth: The nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy…..Now, make no mistake—this is a jobs bill. We’re already seeing why this is true in the clean energy investments we’re making through the Recovery Act. In California, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant that will create 1,000 jobs.”

The bill must now past the Senate. The President hopes to sign it in early fall.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another White House First – Welcoming the Deaf and Blind

President Obama became one of the few sitting Presidents to greet and welcome persons who are deaf and blind to the White House Oval Office. The group, from the Helen Keller National Center, received a tour of the White House in addition to meeting with the President.

Official Bee-Keeper Brings Honey to White House

Speaking of Obama first’s White House carpenter Charles Brandts—a beekeeper in his spare time—has brought beehives to the White House.  The hives, tended by Brandts, pollinate the First Lady’s garden and provide honey to the White House kitchen.

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