Washington, D.C. - Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) expressed major concerns over the President's Budget Plan released today. Senator Akaka, the Ranking Member on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, said access to first-class care should be a reality for all veterans -- especially while our nation is at war.
"The President's budget is a small step in the right direction. Sadly, President Bush does not go far enough to meet the needs of all veterans," said Senator Akaka. "If this budget -- and its misguided proposals -- were enacted, it would devastate VA health care."
He added, "Payroll and inflation increases for doctors, nurses, and medications cost more than $1 billion, but the President has proposed to give VA only half of what is needed. To make up for this shortfall, the budget forces more than two million 'middle-income' veterans to pay more than double for their needed medications and to pay a $250 enrollment fee."
The budget also destroys the relationship between VA and the States by calling on States to cover the entire cost of care for many veterans in these cost-effective nursing homes.
Senator Akaka stated, "So far, 192,260 veterans have been turned away across the country, including 502 in my home state of Hawaii. This sends the wrong message to our troops overseas. They need to know that we are there for them when they return home."
Senator Akaka said to make this budget add up, the President calls for $590 million in unspecified "efficiencies." Thousands of nurses and other providers would be cut. Thousands of nursing home beds would be shuttered. And more than a million veterans could no longer afford to come to VA for care.
The VA research program, too, would be devastated. "We would see a loss of 173 valuable research projects in the fields of aging, cancer, and traumatic injuries," added Senator Akaka. "I am disappointed, because this budget simply doesn't go the distance."
In education, the President's budget once again falls short of the funding level he promised under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). According to the Senate Appropriations staff, Hawaii will receive approximately $50.2 million in Title I funding for disadvantaged students, while it was promised nearly $88 million under the NCLB authorized amount. This translates into a denial of Title I services to approximately 11,820 keiki.
After-school program budget cuts are projected to affect 8,325 students in Hawaii, with approximately $4.9 million to go to the State under the President's request level, compared to more than $11 million authorized by the NCLB.
"The President has identified many valuable programs for termination in a somewhat arbitrary manner, including the Excellence in Economic Education Act which I authored as a part of the NCLB to provide resources for teacher training, evaluations and assessment, school-based activities, and the development of materials," said Senator Akaka.
"We must continue working to combat economic and financial illiteracy starting at the K-12 level and the EEE Act should be given the chance to work," he said.
Also included in the list of 48 programs recommended for elimination are civic education, arts education, safe and drug free schools, vocational education, Even Start, school dropout, and TRIO programs.