Dr. Boozman's Check-up
As the death toll from the devastating earthquake and resulting avalanche in Nepal continues to rise, there is a sliver of good news to report. U.S. forces have rescued three Americans who were trekking in the Langtang area of Nepal when the earthquake struck. They survived the earthquake then lived in a cave for five days with about two-dozen people before they were found.
Along with search and rescue teams, the U.S. is helping on-the-ground with emergency relief and humanitarian assistance. The website for our embassy in Nepal is a good resource if you are interested in more details about U.S. efforts to help in wake of this tragedy as well as constantly updated travel alerts for the region.
For assistance regarding U.S. citizens in Nepal, the Department of State has established a public email address (NepalEmergencyUSC@state.gov) for all inquiries concerning U.S. citizens affected by the earthquake. You may also contact 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. & Canada) or +1-202-501-4444 from overseas.
Nearly one-third of Nepal's population has been affected by the 7.8 earthquake that struck the central part of the country. That’s more than eight million people across 39 of the country’s 75 districts.
The United Nations (UN) reports that approximately 2.8 million people countrywide are displaced following the earthquake which caused widespread damage and destruction.
The most tragic number is the fatalities. Over 5,800 have died, including four American citizens, with the death toll expected to rise to over 15,000.
Whenever natural disasters of this magnitude occur, the spirt and generosity of the American people become the bright spot in such a dark time.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has cataloged the humanitarian agencies that are helping in the recovery. If you are interested in giving, but uncertain to which organization, there are “Watchdog” groups that offer information on responding organizations that can help you decide if you are unsure which organization you would like including The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, The American Institute of Philanthropy, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator.
Please join me in keeping the people of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh in your thoughts and prayers in the aftermath of this tragedy.
Last week I introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act with Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). This legislation would change a provision in current law, lift the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, and help level the playing field for U.S. farmers and exporters.
Here are some of the highlights about the importance of this bill and our efforts to support and improve the export of American agricultural commodities to Cuba.
John Lovett reports that the move to normalize relations with Cuba and extend credit lines for agricultural products is supported by members of the Arkansas delegation, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson saying that U.S. Sen. John Boozman is "on the right track" with his efforts to extend credit lines to Cuba. (The Times Record, “Hutchinson: Senator ‘On The Right Track’ With Cuba,” 4/27/15)
Glen Chase of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Cuba trade would be a ‘boon to the farm community’ and Arkansas produces the type of rice preferred by Cubans. Rich Hillman, Vice President of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, called Boozman's bill “a first step toward normalizing trade with Cuba, which the bureau supports.” (Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “State's rice, proximity called ideal for Cuba,” 4/27/15)
“Although a broad embargo governs trade with Cuba, agricultural products have been granted some leeway, although the financing restrictions mean trade is far from free and open.”
“Short of full repeal, experts said, politicians might find agreement on further relaxing financial regulations, such as the credit ban.” (McClatchy “Farm-state senators introduce bill to ease ag sales to Cuba,” 4/22/15)
The Democrat Gazette reports that “Arkansas Rice Farmers Chairman Dow Brantley of Lonoke said Boozman's bill would open credit options for rice producers and remove a trade barrier with Cuba.” Brantley says there is “financial logic” in the Boozman bill. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “Senator pushes credit for Cuba,” 4/23/15)
Apr 27 2015
A year ago today, a massive tornado tore through central Arkansas killing sixteen people in Faulkner, Pulaski and White counties.
Faulkner County, particularly the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia, bore the brunt of the impact. Those two towns were devastated by the tornado.
The website of Faulkner County’s daily newspaper, the Log Cabin Democrat, today is featuring a series of stories reflecting on the disaster, detailing the recovery and remembering those who lost their lives. I encourage you to read some of these stories—both the somber remembrances and the uplifting stories of recovery.
There was a moving gathering in Mayflower last night and one scheduled for this evening in Vilonia. These events give community members an opportunity to honor the lives of the neighbors they lost in the tragedy as well as celebrate the efforts made to rebuild in the past year.
Residents of Mayflower and Vilonia can be very proud of the progress that their communities have made to rebuild after the storm. The recovery efforts mark the first time that the state of Arkansas has used the National Disaster Recovery Framework, which brought all federal agencies under one roof to operate in a unified and collaborative manner. By all accounts it has made a positive difference in the process.
While tremendous progress has been made, more work remains to be done. I know that the community and state officials, as well as the entire Congressional delegation, all remain committed to finishing the job. Arkansans have always come together in the most difficult times to help neighbors in need. It’s clear that commitment continues today.
In Arkansas, it is an unfortunate truth that we are all too familiar with the destruction that Mother Nature can leave behind. However, that still doesn’t make it any easier. On this fateful anniversary, let us remember the sixteen lives the tornado took. Please keep their families and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers.
Apr 24 2015
It was a busy week in Washington that included the Senate’s vote on the Loretta Lynch nomination, passage of Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, and the introduction of new bills requiring employers use e-verify to ensure they don’t hire illegal immigrants and expanding more trade opportunities for Arkansas agriculture. Read all about these in the Week in Review and find out where you can dispose of your unneeded and unused prescription drugs for tomorrow’s Arkansas Take Back.
- Voted Against Loretta Lynch: The Senate confirmed Loretta Lynch to be the next Attorney General. I voted against her nomination because she has offered her full support for the President’s unconstitutional actions, including his attempt to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants.
- E-Verify: When we discuss how to deal with our nation’s illegal immigration problem, one vital component is providing employers the right tools to ensure they are hiring a legal workforce. That is why I am cosponsoring the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act of 2015.
- Trade Opportunities for Arkansas Farmers: I joined my fellow members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to hear from government and agriculture stakeholders on agriculture trade with Cuba, including Terry Harris, the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Risk Management at the Stuttgart-based Riceland Foods. Normalized commercial relations with Cuba are expected to create opportunities for Arkansas farmers in a nation that imports 80 percent of its food.
- Holding VA Accountable: Little Rock's Veterans Affairs Medical Center received an $8 million grant to the build solar panels, but since construction was completed in 2013, they were never activated because they were not compatible with the local electricity grid. Congressman French Hill and I are calling for an investigation into the due diligence failures that led to this and find out why the project was given the green light. On Tuesday, I asked the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs why this was allowed to happen and what’s being done to prevent this abuse of taxpayer dollars.
- Passage of Human Trafficking Bill: The Senate unanimously passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. If this bill becomes law, it can restore dignity to the victims of these heinous crimes and it can help end modern day slavery.
- Improvements Needed in IRS Customer Service: How was your experience filing your 2014 income tax? As the chairman of the Subcommittee responsible for appropriating the annual IRS budget, I’m working to hold the IRS accountable for its use of taxpayer dollars and make sure it’s addressing the needs of its customers – the American taxpayers. Read my column published in The Hill about improvements needed in the agency’s customer service.
- Arkansas Take Back: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. To help fight this widespread abuse I encourage you and you, your neighbors, friends and family to participate in Arkansas Take Back and get expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs out of the home. On Saturday more than 130 collection sites across the state will take old and unneeded prescription drugs. Find a site closest to you.
- Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce Visits: Members visited Washington as part of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce’s 56th annual fly-in as part of the outreach to members of the Arkansas Congressional Delegation. Watch the video.
The following column was published in the April 22, 2015 edition of The Hill.
Improvements needed in IRS customer service
By Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)
Did filing your taxes go off without a hitch? To comply with the tax deadline, Arthur in Cave City, Ark., has relied on the IRS forms provided at the local library for decades. Imagine his surprise when those papers weren’t available this year. What followed for Arthur was very inconvenient and time consuming, just to get the forms to comply with the law. He called the IRS only to be put on hold, transferred and given the website to print out the forms. Unfortunately Arthur, like many other Arkansans, doesn’t have the ability to print the paperwork. He turned to my office for help, and we provided him with the documents he needed to file his taxes. Stories like this are becoming all too familiar, because the IRS fails to make customer service a priority.
According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), a division of the IRS, taxpayer service is the IRS’s most serious problem. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen estimates that only 50 percent of taxpayer phone calls will be answered, and taxpayers who suffer patiently like Arthur will face wait times of at least 30 minutes. According to the TAS, “taxpayer service has reached unacceptably low levels and is getting worse.” I agree. The IRS must make taxpayer service a priority, but right now, taxpayer service is on hold, while the IRS focuses on other priorities.
Koskinen testified before the Appropriations subcommittee on financial services last month asking for $12.9 billion, a $2 billion increase in the agency’s current budget. This request is out of touch with the fiscal reality of our country. Instead of using existing funds to improve customer service, the agency is diverting money to implement ObamaCare. This law expands the role and power of an agency that too often fails to accomplish its duties. The IRS requested nearly $500,000,000 to implement ObamaCare in this year alone. The agency is already facing mounting criticism in its failure to properly collect the medical device tax, one of more than 20 new taxes created by ObamaCare. Assigning new responsibilities to an agency that has a proven track record of misuse of taxpayer money, problems with enforcement of tax laws and challenges with waste, fraud and abuse was never a good idea.
The agency has forgotten that its most important customers are the American people. We expect customer service to be a priority for the IRS, because more Americans deal with it than any other federal agency. As chairman of the subcommittee responsible for appropriating the annual IRS budget, I am concerned that the IRS is giving tax dollars to illegal immigrants, bonuses to its employees and choosing not to implement inspector general recommendations to prevent tax fraud by prisoners. Instead, the IRS should prioritize its funding to assist millions of Americans and Arkansans like Arthur. I will work with my colleagues to ensure common sense is used, when the IRS makes decisions as to how it spends taxpayer dollars.
Boozman is Arkansas’s senior senator, serving since 2011. He sits on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Appropriations; Environment and Public Works; Rules and Administration; and Veterans’ Affairs committees.
Apr 21 2015
“But that’s not going to happen in the future. It’s just not going to happen.”
This is the response I received from Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald when I pushed for a response to wasteful spending at VA facilities at a hearing today in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction & Veterans Affairs.
As an example, I highlighted the construction of solar panels at the Little Rock Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) that were never activated because they were not compatible with the local electricity grid.
As I stated to the Secretary, eight million dollars for a failed project is a large amount of wasted taxpayer money. VA can’t waste taxpayer money on projects that fail well before they can get off the ground. Every dollar VA wastes negatively impacts the services and benefits our veterans receive.
The American people need to be assured that this is not systemic and that it must not happen again. The Secretary was adamant it won’t on his watch. That is encouraging, but only stringent oversight will ensure that goal is met.
But it runs deeper much deeper. As I mentioned to the Secretary, these are issues of trust.
Another perfect example of a breach of trust on VA’s part is the ongoing delays providers are facing from VA when they seek reimbursements after providing medical care for veterans.
These delays have a negative impact on veterans’ healthcare. Working together to resolve billing and payment matters will ensure our veterans receive the healthcare they earned and our health facilities get the payments they are owed.
In Arkansas, we have 75 hospitals with 4,400 claims pending with VA, worth a total of $24 million. Some claims have been pending for years. I raised this to Secretary McDonald who laid out the Department’s strategy for rectifying this problem.
These are among the many serious trust issues at VA. If the public can’t trust VA to be wise with taxpayer money, Americans will lose faith. If the Department refuses to meet its obligations to providers, veterans will lose service. These problems require an immediate course correction on VA’s part and Congress must remain committed to holding the Department accountable.
Apr 17 2015
Read about how Little Rock recruitment center victims will be awarded overdue honors, how we are working to protect whistleblowers, Congressional efforts to eliminate the death tax and more in this Week in Review.
- Little Rock Recruitment Center Shooting Victims Will Receive Purple Heart: The Army has determined that two servicemembers attacked outside of a Little Rock Army recruiting center in 2009 will be awarded the Purple Heart. Private William Long of Conway was killed and Private Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville was wounded when a terrorist opened fire on the recruiting center on June 1, 2009. The two will finally receive the long overdue honors they deserve.
- Protecting Whistleblowers: I joined the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Caucus this week. This group of senators is committed to raising awareness of the value and need to protect individuals who call attention to fraud, waste and misconduct.
- Kill the Death Tax: Part of the American Dream is to build an inheritance that will benefit our future generations. The death tax works against that idea by making planning and passing on family farms and businesses to the next generation even more difficult. That’s why I’ve cosponsored legislation to eliminate the death tax.
- Talking with KASU: In case you missed our interview with Jonesboro’s KASU radio, you can listen to the interview here. We talked about foreign affairs issues including Iran, coalition efforts to defeat ISIS and the deteriorating situation in Yemen. We also discussed trade, our recent visit to Jonesboro, our efforts to get VA to reimburse Arkansas medical facilities for services they provide our veterans and the upcoming Senate Ag Committee on Cuba trade.
- Early Childhood Education Funding For South Arkansas: Families and Children Together, Inc. received a $3.2 million grant to provide comprehensive early childhood and preschool services to children and families in Calhoun, Columbia, Dallas, Ouachita and Union Counties.
- Responding to Constituents: In order to represent the people of Arkansas, I need to hear from you. One of my responsibilities is to respond to Arkansans who write and call my office to me about the issues facing our country. It is my goal to respond to those who take the time to reach out and be proactive in our government. I encourage you to let me know how you feel about the issues and policies debated in Congress. I want to share answers to some of topics I’ve been asked recently.
Apr 17 2015
Benjamin Franklin once said, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
That doesn’t mean death itself should be taxed.
Death should not force the sale of family farms or the closure of small businesses. Hardworking Americans should be allowed to pass along the results of their success, which they were already taxed on during their lifetime, to their families without having to pay even more to Washington when they pass away.
Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to permanently abolish the estate tax, more commonly referred to as the death tax. It passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 240 to 179.
Over in the Senate, we recently approved an amendment to the Budget that encourages Congress to eliminate the death tax. I supported that effort, but we still need to pass separate legislation that makes the repeal a reality.
That is why yesterday’s action in the House was so important. Likewise, a companion bill in the Senate, which I am cosponsoring, is of equal importance. I will be working with my colleagues to get either of these bills passed during the 114th Congress.
According to a study by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, repealing the death tax would create 1.5 million additional small business jobs and would decrease the national unemployment rate by nearly one percent. This could be an important boost to our economy, which clearly continues to lag under the Obama Administration’s watch. Repeal of the death tax will allow job creators to grow their operations, instead setting aside those resources to pay an unfair penalty to Uncle Sam.
Part of the American Dream is to build an inheritance that will benefit our future generations. The death tax works against that idea by making planning and passing on family farms and businesses to the next generation even more difficult. That’s why the death tax needs to eliminated.
Apr 16 2015
In case you missed our interview with Jonesboro’s KASU radio, you can listen to the interview here. We talked about foreign affairs issues including Iran, coalition efforts to defeat ISIS and the deteriorating situation in Yemen. We also discussed trade, our recent visit to Jonesboro, our efforts to get VA to reimburse Arkansas medical facilities for services they provide our veterans and the upcoming Senate Ag Committee on Cuba trade.
Arkansas hospitals and other healthcare providers are facing hurdles to getting reimbursed from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after providing medical care for veterans.
I’ve heard concerns from more than 60 health facilities around Arkansas about billing and payment issues with VA. Some claims have been pending for years.
As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs owes Arkansas health care facilities approximately $24 million for care they've given to VA patients, according to the Arkansas Hospital Association.”
I’m concerned that the reimbursement times will have a negative impact on veterans healthcare. Working together to resolve billing and payment matters will ensure our veterans receive the healthcare they earned and our health facilities get the payments they are owed.
On Wednesday, my office hosted an event with Arkansas healthcare providers and VA officials from Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN 16) in Flowood, Mississippi, and the Veterans Health Administration Chief Business Office, Purchased Care in Denver, Colorado, to address issues that can influence the time it takes for reimbursement to Arkansas healthcare facilities including processing and coding.
Learn more about this issue and the meeting:
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette “$24M in claims still unpaid, Arkansas hospitals tell VA” (subscription required)
Arkansas Business Journal “John Boozman’s Staff Talks Reimbursement with Health Providers”