Just as I have throughout my life, I will continue fighting for women as Kentucky’s first female United States Senator. I learned the value of public service at an early age, and my passion has always been increasing opportunity for every citizen of the Commonwealth. I entered public service to give a voice to the voiceless – experience I gained as an attorney for victims of domestic violence.
As Secretary of State, I championed the first-ever address confidentiality program for victims of domestic violence to ensure their safety and security are not compromised when they exercise their right to vote. I have also ushered in a new law that maintains the integrity of the democratic process and protects the voting rights of our men and women in uniform and absentee voters. I am committed to guaranteeing that every eligible Kentuckian has access to the ballot box.
When elected to the U.S. Senate, I will work to create good-paying jobs, fight to close the gender wage gap, and raise the minimum wage to ensure middle class security for women and their families. I am committed to:
- MAKING CHILDCARE MORE AFFORDABLE:
Affordable childcare is out of reach for many Kentucky families. Over 140,000 working Kentucky mothers have a child under 6 , positioning them as increasingly likely to need childcare services. I strongly believe that we must begin addressing this problem by providing additional tax breaks to Kentucky businesses that create on-site child care centers or help their employees find child care services. We must also develop federal and state partnerships to improve access to quality childcare for rural areas, where working parents often face unique challenges. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has actually repeatedly voted to slash funding for childcare services in Kentucky. Under a proposal supported by McConnell, approximately 1,700 fewer Kentucky children would have child care through the Child Care and Development Block Grant .
- EXPANDING ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION:
I will also work with families, educators, and schools to ensure our children have access to quality education and are equipped with the tools and resources necessary to succeed. Education is the passport out of poverty, and every child has the right to a quality education. A good education is an economic necessity and should not be a luxury. Education is the gateway to good-paying jobs, economic growth and a strong middle class. Mitch McConnell negotiated a Washington budget deal that caused 1,100 Kentucky children to lose access to early childhood education  and cut an estimated $31.8 million from Kentucky schools . He also opposed legislation to hire and preserve jobs for teachers  and blocked legislation to preserve low interest rates for students .
- PROTECTING VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE:
As Secretary of State, I championed Kentucky’s first-ever address confidentiality program for victims of domestic violence to ensure their safety and security are not compromised when they vote. In the Senate, I will continue to be a voice for victims of domestic violence. According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, “a woman is physically assaulted every 15 seconds”  and one in six women in the U.S. will be victims of domestic violence over the course of her lifetime  – troubling statistics that must be addressed.
- KEEPING PROMISES TO KENTUCKY SENIORS: An estimated 600,000 Kentucky seniors rely on Social Security and nearly 800,000 Kentuckians depend on Medicare. I will protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare as Kentucky’s next U.S. Senator. Protecting these programs is critical to the economic well-being for the Commonwealth’s women and families. Women rely more heavily on income from Social Security than men do, and the majority of Medicare recipients are women.
Women have more health care needs, live with chronic conditions and have higher life expectancies than men. Therefore, women are especially reliant on the health care services provided by Medicare. The promise of a secure retirement is one we must keep for our nation’s seniors and make sure these programs are still intact for our children and grandchildren. I am focused on spending smarter, reducing waste in the Medicare system, and improving coordination of care.
Instead of strengthening and preserving these critical programs, Mitch McConnell wants to privatize Social Security and end Medicare as we know it, increasing seniors’ out-of-pocket costs by nearly $6,000 per year.
- ACHIEVING PAY EQUITY: Women are half of the labor force in this country yet still make 77 cents for every dollar – 23 percent less than their male counterparts. In Kentucky, women lose nearly five billion dollars in wages each year – a statistic that is staggering and unacceptable. With that money a working woman in Kentucky could purchase 78 more weeks of groceries, pay 14 more months of rent, make 8 more months of mortgage and utilities payments or buy 2,477 additional gallons of gas.In contrast, Mitch McConnell has called equal pay for equal work just another “special interest vote” and voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act – not once, but three times.
- INCREASING MINIMUM WAGE: In order to grow our middle class, we must raise the minimum wage to help hardworking Americans achieve a basic standard of living. An overwhelming majority – two thirds – of minimum wage workers in the United States are women. Consider a single working mother of two who makes the current federal minimum wage who brings home just $14,500 annually – nearly $4,000 below the poverty line.
Rather than forcing our own neighbors to choose between putting food on the table, getting to work and paying the rent, all Americans deserve a living wage that is consistent with our values. Raising the minimum wage would increase incomes for nearly 30 million workers in the U.S., and is an important step to ensure workers see the benefits of a growing economy.
Last year, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy pointed to a report detailing the impact a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour would have in Kentucky. According to this report, doing so would:
- Lift the wages of over one in four Kentucky workers.
- Increase annual earnings for the nearly 30 percent of Kentuckians who make minimum wage or just above by $2,369 on average and $863 million in total.
- Grow Kentucky’s GDP by $546 million by 2015 and create 2,200 jobs.
As Kentucky’s first woman Senator, I will continue being a staunch advocate for women and their families. I will seek common ground and work across the aisle for solutions that put Kentucky and our country back on the right track. The contrast with Mitch McConnell could not be starker.
Developing Kentucky’s energy will provide financial security to families across the state. Kentucky is leading the way in domestic energy development and the industry holds tremendous potential to grow our economy, create middle-class jobs and lower energy costs for families across the state. But Washington’s regulatory barriers and burdensome taxes threaten this critical development in Kentucky.
I strongly oppose President Obama’s attack on Kentucky’s energy industry. This Administration has taken direct aim at Kentucky’s coal industry, crippling our state’s largest source of domestic energy and threatening thousands of jobs. Washington Democrats and Republicans need to be realistic about what powers our nation and recognize that developing Kentucky’s supplies of coal is crucial.
We must secure America’s energy independence and reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Our nation’s energy approach should rely heavily on coal, oil and natural gas, along with alternative sources of energy. Kentucky will lead this effort through continued coal production and exploration and development of natural gas. While our nation is running a $45 billion trade deficit, Kentucky’s natural resources remain underdeveloped. In 2011, Kentucky contributed 7 percent of the nation’s total coal exports, but we can do more to develop these and other resources and reduce our trade deficit.
I have an unwavering commitment to protecting and strengthening Medicare and Social Security. We have a solemn obligation to make good on all of the benefits that we have promised to our nation’s seniors, just as we must preserve these essential programs for future generations. I will never vote to reduce benefits or eligibility for Social Security or Medicare, or to privatize or adopt a voucher system in either program. I will never support means testing for Social Security. Instead, we should spend smarter. In the Medicare program, we must reduce waste, fraud and abuse; we must improve coordination of care between providers and patients, and we should allow Medicare to negotiate better deals on the prices of prescription drugs.
Instead of strengthening and preserving these critical programs, Mitch McConnell plans to end Medicare as we know it. Under a proposal backed by Mitch McConnell, insurance company bureaucrats would be put in charge of making seniors’ health care decisions, and seniors would see their out of pocket costs increase by nearly $6,000 per year. Thousands of current seniors across Kentucky would be forced back into the prescription drug “donut hole,” costing them approximately $13,000 more between 2014 and 2022 than under current law. I believe we’ve got to balance the budget, but we’ve got to do it the right way, and that means protecting the benefits and programs seniors have paid into over a lifetime of hard work.
As a Senator, my number one priority will be putting Kentuckians back to work in good-paying jobs. Kentuckians lost more than 118,000 jobs at the worst part of the recession and they are still struggling to provide for their families. Mitch McConnell failed to put Kentuckians back to work. To increase family incomes, I will work to ensure that all Kentuckians and all Americans can earn a living wage for their work, and make sure that women get equal pay for the same work as men.
We must cut red tape and allow businesses to grow and create new jobs. As Secretary of State, I worked with both parties to create a one-stop shop for Kentucky businesses to interact with multiple state agencies through one point of contact, reducing tape and making it easier for business to grow and create more jobs. There are currently 854 federal regulations affecting small businesses. We must reduce this regulatory burden. Our federal government shouldn’t prevent small businesses from succeeding and creating jobs in Kentucky.
We must target burdensome federal regulation of Kentucky’s energy sector, allowing our state to create new middle-class jobs across the state. Kentucky is leading the way in domestic energy development and the industry holds tremendous potential to grow Kentucky’s economy, creating middle-class jobs across the state, but the federal government stands in the way. I will fight to reduce this regulatory burden on Kentucky’s energy industry.
We must encourage manufacturing to return to Kentucky. I’m encouraged that companies like General Electric are opening manufacturing plants across Kentucky, but we must do more to create these new investments in our state. We should end tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas and expand tax credits for companies to invest in research and development and in new machinery and equipment here at home. We should also invest to develop an advanced manufacturing workforce in Kentucky.
The Federal deficit is out of control and it threatens the long-term strength of our nation. In 2001, the budget was in balance and the nation was projected to be debt-free by 2011. Now – after a decade of unpaid-for spending and the worst downturn since the Great Depression – this country owes over $17 trillion. The debt impacts our ability to make investments critical to growing our economy, including education, infrastructure and workforce training.
Mitch McConnell has failed to address our nation’s out-of-control spending. With him in Washington, Kentucky has repeatedly witnessed threats of government shut downs, gone to the brink of default and listened to overheated rhetoric that has done nothing to improve the lives of Kentuckians. We can’t afford for Washington and Mitch McConnell to continue to play the same old political games with the budget.
I believe that there is a responsible path to balancing the budget. We need to start by going line-by-line through the budget to cut waste, fraud and abuse and we must ensure that tax dollars are being used smartly and efficiently. Nearly 680 renewable energy initiatives across 23 federal agencies and their 130 sub-agencies costing taxpayers $15 billion is certainly not an efficient use of taxpayer dollars.  I also believe that we can make our Medicare and Medicaid programs more efficient without slashing coverage. Medicare spending is unsustainable. But rather than pushing for privatization, or vouchers, or shifting costs to seniors – supported by Mitch McConnell – we should be looking for ways to spend smarter on our entire health care system. And to ensure our country never goes into debt again, I will fight in the U.S. Senate to pass a balanced budget amendment.
Our veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice. We owe them the care they were promised and the benefits they have earned. As Secretary of State, I have worked to ensure that members of the military never have to ask, “Does my vote actually count?” I traveled to the Middle East to meet with deployed soldiers to learn how to improve voting procedures for military personnel stationed overseas. My recommendations formed the basis of a bipartisan bill that was signed into law that will allow military members and their families to register to vote and update their registration online, ensure that military voters have sufficient time to vote in special elections and extend existing protections to state and local elections and National Guard members.
Washington has fallen short of honoring our commitment to our veterans. Our veterans should not struggle to find jobs or access care. Kentucky is the home of 339,000 veterans. It is a disgrace that so many veterans across Kentucky have compensation claims pending, more than 6,000 in the Louisville VA backlog alone. I’m shocked that Mitch McConnell opposed plans to reduce this backlog and voted against veterans jobs legislation. This is wrong.
I’m committed to serving Kentucky’s 339,000 veterans and I will fight for the quality health care, benefits and treatment they have earned. We must expand education and training opportunities for service members and veterans, facilitating public/private partnerships that help them translate their military skills for the civilian workforce. We must improve access to health care services, including mental health, prosthetic care and wound regeneration. And we must improve collaboration between the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, ensuring that veterans receive the benefits and medical care they deserve in a timely manner.
Students in Kentucky and across the nation find a college education increasingly unaffordable. At a time when our unemployment rate is higher than the national average, Kentucky students carry loan debt of over $20,000 on average. And in 2012, 71% of Eastern Kentucky University students and 73% of Northern Kentucky University struggled with the burden of student loan debt. Families in the Commonwealth are devoting more of their income to tuition, and even higher numbers of graduates (and oftentimes their parents) are burdened by unsustainable student debt. The federal government can play a central role in helping students and families pursue educational opportunities, but that will require a senator who puts our future generations before today’s partisan politics.
Treat Students As Equal To Wall Street Banks
Give students the same loan rate as Wall Street banks. For far too long, Big Wall Street banks have gotten a great deal from our government, while our Kentucky students drown in debt. We should provide uniform treatment. In the Senate, legislation has been introduced that would for one year allow new student borrowers to be able to obtain a federally subsidized Stafford loan at 0.75 percent, as opposed to the current student loan rate of 3.4 percent. The low rate is the one now used by big banks under the Federal Reserve’s “discount window” to borrow money from the government. In the Senate, I will work across party lines to champion similar legislation to fight for Kentucky students and graduates. Mitch McConnell failed to lead on this legislation. He stands with the big banks, but not with Kentucky students and families. [Bank on Students fact sheet; Time, 5/10/2013]
Provide Refinancing Options
Allow students to refinance their loans. Congress has taken some action to attempt to hold down the rates on some federal student loans. However, many existing borrowers have been unable to take advantage of historically low interest rates to refinance their student loans. Mitch McConnell has blocked action on a proposal to allow borrowers with older student loans to refinance at the rates established in 2013 for new, taxpayer-backed student loans, and he previously opposed efforts to cut student loan interest rates in half. I strongly support this student loan refinancing legislation, because it would help nearly 360,000 Kentuckians reduce their student loan burden.
Champion Equal Pay For Equal Work
According to the American Association of University Women, paying back student loans can be a young woman’s “first encounter” with the gender pay gap. Their 2012 study found that “women and men pay the same amount for their college degrees, but do not reap the same rewards.” In fact, this even proved true for men and women who shared the same college major. A review of full time workers who were one year out of college found that 53% of women v. 39% of men were carrying high student loan debt burden, “defined as the percentage of earnings devoted to student loan payments,” and women college graduates were only making 82% as much as men. Due to the pay gap, oftentimes women have less money to pay back the same amount of loan debt.
Not only does McConnell believe students should not be allowed to refinance their loans at lower interest rates, but he’s an unabashed opponent of equal pay for equal work. Couple these facts, and it means Kentucky women have a senior senator who believes they should be forced to pay high student loan interest rates, while they continue to make less than their male counterparts in the workplace. And since on average Kentucky women make 76 cents for every dollar men make in the same job, this results in many women having even less income to invest in their future and their families. The federal government derives a large profit from administering the student loan program, and I strongly believe that should be reinvested in lower rates for students. [S. 2432; Senate roll call no. 185, 6/11/2014; Vote 113, 5/24/12; Vote 171, 7/10/13; Boston Globe,4/13/2014; American Association of University Women report; NWLC, 2/2014]
Fully Fund Pell Grants
Maintain full funding for Pell Grants. Pell Grants provide essential support to needy undergraduate students. Mitch McConnell has consistently tried to reduce funding for this vital program. Under a budget he favors, Kentucky students would receive over $48 million less in Pell Grant aid and nearly 10,000 students would be kicked off Pell Grants altogether. A long-term solution to financing the program must be found by 2017 in order to maintain grants at even current levels, which are inadequate. I am a vigorous supporter of protecting and boosting Pell Grants. Fully funding and ideally expanding Pell Grants, and ensuring that working families remain eligible for the grants, are critical to reducing student loan burdens on Kentuckians. [Ryan Budget FY14: Vote 46, 3/21/13; New America Foundation, 4/24/2014]
Support Creative Financing Solutions
Develop more options for college financing. A pilot program in Oregon, “Pay It Forward,” presents an innovative solution to the student debt crisis. Students can attend Oregon public colleges and universities for free and, upon graduation, pay a small percentage of future income for a fixed period of years to pay for the program to continue. “Pay It Forward” has been described as an “inverse of Social Security,” providing a form of guaranteed assistance for young people. Rep. Tom Petri has proposed a similar program at the federal level, which has attracted bipartisan support in Congress. Unlike Mitch McConnell, in the Senate, I will make exploring innovative options a priority. [Salon, 7/11/2013; H.R. 1716, introduced 4/24/2013]
Strengthen Community Colleges and Vocational Schools
Invest in community colleges and vocational schools, which offer students affordable higher education options. Community colleges work at a local level to develop the skills necessary for students to compete in a global economy. Associate degrees and certification programs offer students more affordable options, and two-year colleges often let students adjust to higher academic standards before moving on to four-year institutions. A fund was proposed to facilitate collaboration between business and community colleges to train workers in fast-growing career fields. Other efforts have focused on addressing high dropout rates at community and technical colleges. Additional federal funding and support will help improve the quality of instruction and completion rates for degrees at community colleges. [Community College to Career Fund Act, S. 1269]
Streamline and Promote Repayment Options
Promote greater awareness of student loan repayment options. With programs like Pay as You Earn — an income-based repayment plan — and loan deferment for the unemployed, there are opportunities for students and graduates to repay their loans in ways that fits their budgets. However, very few people take advantage of these programs because they lack accessible information. Making students aware of these options would lessen their financial strain and reduce loan default rates. The Department of Education, colleges and universities, and lenders should collaborate on making information about these initiatives available to all students and graduates. [Slate, 6/10/2014]
Simplify income-based repayment plans. Unlike other student loan repayment programs, which have fixed payments, income-based repayment plans calculate monthly payments by income and family size. This type of option makes payments more manageable for graduates in a difficult job market and reduces loan defaults. Low public awareness, along with a lengthy and confusing qualification process, has left these programs underutilized. Streamlining the application process and giving lenders more incentives to offer income-based repayment plans would make them more accessible to graduates. [U.S. Department of Education Income-Based Repayment Fact Sheet; Bloomberg Businessweek, 7/15/2013]
Enforce Veteran Protections
Protect veterans from predatory student loans and deceptive university marketing. In May, the Department of Justice settled a complaint with Sallie Mae, which agreed to pay almost $100 million in compensation for overcharging 60,000 military members on education loans. Veterans are often unaware of the many education benefits to which they are entitled, such as the new G.I. Bill and several tuition assistance programs. Worse, veterans are often the target of deceptive recruiting practices from for-profit schools that attempt to fill their coffers with VA education benefits. These schools frequently pressure veterans into enrolling in courses that do not help them reach their degree requirements, or they encourage them to take out hard-to-repay private loans. These brave men and women have made great sacrifices to protect our freedoms. The federal government must implement more protections to prevent abuses. [U.S. News and World Report, 11/11/2013; CNN, 5/13/2014; Federal Trade Commission, 10/31/2013]
Encourage Degree Completion
Encourage students from modest backgrounds to complete degrees by implementing support programs. Students from families in difficult financial circumstances often face the highest college dropout rates. According to The New York Times, only one-fourth of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will graduate from college by age 24. On the other hand, 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile complete their degree. In addition to the wasted talent and lost earning potential that come with dropping out, college dropouts are more than four times as likely to default on student loans. Programs aimed at students from needy families and historically underrepresented groups can ease the transition to college life by providing students support and guidance. The Department of Education can disseminate best practices and encourage colleges to provide these programs. [New York Times, 5/15/2014; Slate, 6/10/2014; Education Sector, accessed 6/17/14]
The student debt crisis has several causes.
First, college tuition rates — even for public colleges and universities — have risen dramatically, especially as financially strapped state governments cut back their support. Second, students sometimes receive little to no financial counseling and are often encouraged by private colleges, counselors and even peers to pursue the most expensive educational options, when a public university or community college could be a more cost-effective place to meet their goals. Finally, student loan interest rates remain one of the few types of loans that cannot be refinanced at lower rates, leading to extraordinary cases where senior citizens are still trying to pay off decades-old student loans. [Washington Post, 4/1/2012]
Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell continues to ignore the problems that students and their families in Kentucky face in affording college.
Recently, McConnell led a filibuster to block Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to allow existing student loan borrowers to refinance their loans at current, lower interest rates. I strongly support Sen. Warren’s bill. [S. 2432; Senate roll call no. 185, 6/11/2014]
In 2007, McConnell was one of only 12 Senators to oppose a bill — later signed into law by President George W. Bush — that increased funding for Pell Grants while reducing rates on student loans from 6.8 to 3.4 percent. As Kentucky’s next Senator, I will push strongly to protect and expand Pell Grants and to hold down student loan interest rates. [H.R. 2669; Senate roll call no. 326, 9/7/2007]
The alarming reduction in recent years in coal-mining employment, the shuttering of hundreds of mines and the abandonment of coal as the fuel of choice at many power plants have triggered economic hardship in Kentucky’s coalfields.
I have spoken out forcefully on this issue. I have condemned the Obama administration for misguided policies that harm hard-working Kentuckians and their families. I have laid out a jobs plan that pledges that as a United States Senator, I will fight for a national energy policy that has a prominent role for abundant coal, encourages and funds development of clean-coal technology and supports coal as an important export product.
However, it has never been enough simply to support the coal industry. Mining can be a dangerous occupation, with multiple risks of workplace injury or death and of severe long-term health problems.
Unlike Mitch McConnell, who has done next to nothing to enhance miners’ safety and health, I am committed as your next Senator to protect coal miners. They may work out of sight, but they should never be far removed from our efforts to ensure that every Kentuckian has the security of a safe workplace.
In the Senate, I will work to ensure that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration meets the following priorities:
- Ensures that mines are as safe as modern technology will allow
- Deploys a sufficient number of mine inspectors
- Encourages supervisorial support for inspectors who enforce safety laws
- Delivers effective corrective action for multiple, serious or repeated violations
In addition, MSHA and its parent Department of Labor must act aggressively to protect whistle-blowing employees who report safety problems and to back up inspectors who are subjected to intimidation by mine operators. It is also a particular concern – both as a safety and health measure – to ensure that coal-dust levels are within recognized safe limits and are monitored frequently and accurately. Violations must lead to effective corrective measures. Finally, when a terrible accident does occur, federal, state and company crews must have the best rescue and communications technology at their disposal. Underground refuges must be equipped with sufficient supplies of food, water and fresh air to sustain trapped miners until help arrives. And there must be full communication with the families of affected miners as rescue operations and accident investigations proceed.
Mitch McConnell has a deplorable record on mine safety and should be held accountable. In past years, McConnell turned a blind eye in the Senate as the Department of Labor cut more than 100 inspectors from MSHA, which reduced inspections. [Washington Monthly, 3/2007] Unfortunately, accidents that claimed five lives at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County happened after these cuts. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell was busy collecting money from companies with extensive mine-safety violations.
Indeed, the Center for Responsive Politics reported in 2010 that McConnell accepted $13,500 from “people and PACs associated with Massey Energy.” [Center for Responsive Politics, 4/6/2010] A Massey subsidiary owned the Upper Big Branch South Mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in a methane explosion in April 2010. McConnell is also the single largest recipient of money from Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal company. In 2013, Peabody shamelessly broke promises to its workers on health benefits – including black lung – by forming a shell company, Patriot Coal, to file for bankruptcy and avoid health care and other liabilities. [Center for Responsive Politics; New Republic, 2/19/2013] Although a settlement was reached, federal legislation is needed to protect miners’ long-term health care and other benefits. [UMWA statement, 10/10/2013]
Last year, I called on Mitch McConnell to join me in taking lead to push for crafting and passage of a Senate bill similar to the bipartisan Coal Healthcare and Pensions Protection Act in the House. Instead of making coal miners a priority, McConnell replied with typical Washington excuses and fingerpointing. When I’m in the U.S. Senate, I will co-sponsor and support such legislation. Mitch McConnell has also declined to co-sponsor the pending Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller. The bill would strengthen whistleblower protections and increase criminal penalties for safety violations, among other important provisions. McConnell also declined to co-sponsor versions previously introduced in Congress. [S. 805, introduced 4/24/2013; S. 3443, introduced 7/25/2012; S. 153, introduced 1/25/2011; S. 3671, introduced 7/29/2010; S. 2308, introduced 2/16/2006; S. 2231, introduced 2/1/2006]
When I am in the Senate, I will lead to pass similar legislation. I will be a tireless champion of our coal workers – fighting not only to protect their jobs, but to ensure that they work under safe and healthy conditions.
BLACK LUNG DISEASE
I have an unwavering commitment to making certain that all qualified miners, retirees and their widows should be able to receive their black-lung benefits easily and dependably. In this regard, I differ sharply from Mitch McConnell. In 2009, the late Sen. Robert Byrd led to ensure that anyone who had worked in the mines for at least 15 years and had debilitating lung disease is presumed to have black lung disease. His provisions also allow miners’ widows to collect benefits more easily. The United Mine Workers of America called the changes “vital, needed improvements.” Mitch McConnell has called for a full repeal of these pro-coal miner protections. While I have expressed my disagreement with some parts of the broader healthcare bill, which I will work to fix, I certainly support the Byrd amendments. [H.R. 3590; Senate roll call no. 396, 12/24/2009; UMWA statement, 1/20/2010] I would also support the pending Black Lung Health Improvement Act sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
Among other provisions, the bill would make it easier for coal miners to apply for and collect black lung benefits, provide more accessible legal representation for coal miners during the black-lung claims process, and create grants for research into black lung. Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, has failed to champion the needs of Kentucky’s coal miners. [S. 1416, introduced 7/31/2013] Black lung disease can rob miners of their breath and often their lives. Americans owe them the excellent care and full compensation that they have earned. That will be a top priority for me when I am in the Senate.
Drug abuse and addiction, which have been building for years in Kentucky toward epidemic proportions, have exacted a devastating human toll, had a negative economic impact in the billions of dollars and endangering our next generation. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the difficult challenges posed by illegal drugs. I believe that the approach must be three-pronged – through prevention, treatment and law enforcement – and I will pursue each avenue during my service in the United States Senate. Unfortunately Mitch McConnell has shamefully played politics on the backs of families struggling through the drug epidemic. Just this year, McConnell told a Kentucky reporter that he would not take a position on a state bill to crack down on heroin trafficking “on principle.” Days later, he publicly supported a purely political, self-serving state bill that would benefit a political ally. When I’m in the U.S. Senate, Kentuckians will finally have a Senator who focuses on them, not on personal gain and party politics.
Increase funding for federal programs that empower community efforts against drug abuse. Several federal grant programs deliver meaningful support for effective local initiatives that educate young people and their parents about the real danger of drugs. For instance, the Drug-Free Communities Support Program helps local governments, while Partnerships for Success grants assist at the state level. Most importantly, these programs save $18 in eventual costs for every $1 invested in prevention programs aimed at youth. [Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2013 National Drug Control Strategy; Miller, T. and Hendrie, D. Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis, DHHS Pub. No. (SMA) 07-4298. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008]
Bring the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention to Kentucky cities. The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention is a federal program that unites community and faith-based leaders from cities across the country to share best practices on breaking the cycle of youth drug use, violence and crime. With a champion in the United States Senate, Kentucky’s large cities could participate in this valuable program. [Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2013 National Drug Control Strategy]
Create jobs and strengthen economic opportunity. Drug abuse is particularly prevalent in areas with high unemployment and limited economic opportunity. Creating jobs and fostering economic growth across the Commonwealth — something that I laid out in my Kentucky Jobs Action Plan and have made the top priority of my campaign — is one of the surest ways to reduce drug abuse across our state. Moreover, affordable employment training and educational options counter hopelessness and offer an antidote to the drug abuse epidemic. [“Substance Abuse in Rural and Small Town America,” Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire, 2006]
Increase federal funding to expand the “Access to Recovery” treatment program, which has proven successful nationwide. Funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this program gives states federal grant money to provide vouchers to people seeking or receiving treatment. This allows patients to choose the treatment and support they need. In addition, the program increases the number and type of treatment providers. Six months after admission to the program, more than 80 percent of participants nationwide reported no substance use during the past month. Access to Recovery allows for flexibility, meaning states can use the grant funds to address state-specific needs. [Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2013 National Drug Control Strategy]
Provide meaningful support for the thousands of active military and veterans who deal with substance abuse disorders. As the home to Fort Knox, Fort Campbell and more than 339,000 veterans, Kentucky is particularly affected by rising levels of prescription drug abuse among veterans and active military personnel. Properly addressing this issue demands increased funding for Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense programs that increase access to drug abuse treatment and instruct health professionals on substance abuse intervention. [Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2013 National Drug Control Strategy]
Provide full funding so federally supported health centers can continue their substance abuse care. Federally qualified health centers are funded under the Public Health Service Act and offer primary care at a local level. Their programs provide services to those in need by adjusting fees based on patients’ ability to pay and are frequently at the front lines of addressing drug abuse. These centers currently face a 70 percent cut in spending, which endangers their ability to provide substance abuse services to our most vulnerable citizens. [Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2013 National Drug Control Strategy; USA Today, 2/27/2014]
Preserve substance abuse parity in health care options. Recent federal legislation has ensured that coverage for substance abuse problems — and the mental health conditions that often accompany them — are affordable and accessible to more Americans. For instance, the Affordable Care Act included language to require insurers to cover substance abuse treatment programs. Senator McConnell opposed this legislation in its entirety, including the parity provisions, and seeks to repeal them. Although there are some parts of the act which must be changed, and I will work to do so, mental health and substance abuse parity are critical elements. We need a champion for them in Washington. [H.R. 3590, introduced 9/17/2009; Senate roll call no. 396, 12/24/2009]
Expand the Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) to include more of the state. HIDTA works to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States by coordinating efforts among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The Appalachian HIDTA currently covers 29 counties in Eastern and Western Kentucky and is widely viewed as effective. Many local law enforcement officials want similar resources in their counties. Either a new HIDTA-type program should be created or the existing Appalachian HIDTA should be expanded. [ONDCP HIDTA Program Report to Congress, 6/2011; Department of Justice, 8/29/2012]
Bring federal diversion pilot programs to Kentucky. Setting up sensible criminal justice reforms — such as implementing diversion programs that provide certain and swift punishment with treatment rather than lengthy jail sentences — is a strategy that has proven successful in numerous pilot programs supported by federal funds. Supporting these programs, and helping local officials bring the best programs to the Commonwealth with federal help, is a job for a Kentucky Senator. [The Atlantic, 9/2010]
Secure our country’s borders to reduce drug trafficking. Although incidents remain infrequent in Kentucky, dangerous drug trafficking gangs operating on our southern and northern borders have been able to send drugs into the Commonwealth. Providing additional resources to interdict drug cartels both at the border and inside the United States is critical to stopping this emerging trend before it takes root. [PBS, 3/24/2009]
Thousands of families have been torn apart by the drug abuse epidemic. In 2012 alone, more than 1,000 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses. There is a close correlation between drug abuse and domestic violence, which endangers women and sunders families. Hundreds of children have been placed in the foster care system because of their parents’ drug use. Tragically, births of babies already addicted have been on the rise. [Fazzone et. al. Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence: Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 25, DHHS Pub. No. (SMA) 97-3163. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1997; Kentucky Attorney General, January 2014]
Drug abuse takes a huge financial toll on the state and local governments. The health
care costs in Kentucky for emergency room visits and hospital stays for drug overdoses were $129 million in 2012 alone. That does not include the vastly higher costs for inpatient and outpatient drug treatment. Estimates of the lost wages and other economic effects of drug abuse total $6 billion annually in Kentucky. [Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, January 2014; Northern Kentucky’s Collective Response to the Heroin Epidemic (a report for eight counties of the Northern Kentucky Area Development District), November 2013]
Despite a crackdown, prescription pill abuse remains a problem. While the 2011-12 push to shut down the Florida-to-Kentucky pill mill pipeline and tighter enforcement of Kentucky laws at pain clinics have reduced prescription drug abuse, over 3,000 Kentuckians were hospitalized for prescription pill overdoses in 2012. Even worse, more than one in four Kentuckians report that a friend or family member has had problems caused by prescription drug abuse, and that number is significantly higher — 35 percent — in Eastern Kentucky. [Kentucky Drug Control Update, January 2013; 2013 Kentucky Health Issues Poll]
Methamphetamine is a curse in rural areas. Kentucky ranked fourth in the nation for meth lab seizures in 2012, with 919 labs seized. Although this number dropped from the 1,748 lab seizures of the previous year, Kentucky remains one of the states most affected by methamphetamine. Recent laws have limited the availability of meth ingredients, namely a drug found in common cold medication called pseudoephedrine. Despite these laws, meth remains prevalent in our rural communities. Individuals are still able to buy many small amounts of pseudoephedrine from multiple locations, a practice known as “smurfing,” in order to make methamphetamine. [DEA, accessed 6/17/2014; WKYT, 9/12/2013; Kentucky Drug Control Update, 1/2013]
Heroin has exploded in recent years, especially in Northern Kentucky. Drug rings in Chicago and Detroit have flooded the state with heroin, penetrating a market made vulnerable by cuts in the prescription painkiller supply. Court cases regarding heroin in the Northern Kentucky region have increased 500 percent since 2008. Recovery for heroin addicts is particularly difficult, and treatment programs are expensive. [Courier-Journal, 5/16/2014]