Helping Students Succeed
Hello Folks -
Fall is upon us! The leaves are changing colors. The Seahawks are 5-1. The Kilmer Family Halloween decorations are up. And I even had to de-frost my windshield a couple of times last week. It’s officially autumn. Even the school year is moving along. This week, we’ve got Parent-Teacher Conferences.
It’s always amazing to hear about the outstanding work our educators are doing. Those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter know I visit a lot of schools. It’s persistently inspiring to learn about the work that educators are doing on behalf of our students. In fact, in the last two weeks, I visited nine different campuses.
Among other things, I did student town halls at the University of Puget Sound and Tacoma Community College.
For National Principals Month, I got to give a shout-out to Shani Watkins from West Sound Tech in Bremerton.
I visited with the new leadership at TCC’s Gig Harbor campus.
I met with the student leaders at the University of Washington - Tacoma and Olympic College.
And I even learned how to weld and draw blood at Peninsula College.
As the son of two school teachers and as the father of two school-aged daughters, I think a lot about our education system and the challenges that our students face as they prepare to step into the workforce. No matter what campus I am visiting, I hear from students who are particularly concerned about college affordability. I’m working hard on that, and even just introduced a bill to help students and their families.
Giving Students in Need Access to More Financial Aid
We know that education is the door to economic opportunity and for a lot of families, financial aid programs are the key to that door. Pell Grants are particularly important for middle class and less-well-off families. But even with that vital support, students and their families often end up saddled with debt.
For long-time readers of my newsletter, you’ll know that I’ve been working to increase the purchasing power of Pell Grants. I’ve sponsored bills to increase the maximum grant award and to expand eligibility for the Pell Grant. I successfully sponsored an effort to make sure Pell Grants are available year-round.
Additionally, earlier this month, I introduced bipartisan legislation called the Pell Plus Act of 2019. This new bill will promote college completion by establishing partnerships between colleges and universities to provide a Pell Grant bonus to low-income students in their third and fourth years on a path to on-time graduation. Our bill assures that on-time graduates receive the same amount of Pell Grant assistance as those who take six academic years to earn a degree.
Ultimately, the net effect of this proposal would be to triple the amount of Pell Grant assistance during the final two years of study for students who are on track to complete their studies within four years.
That’s a big deal for students and their families. The Pell Plus program will help students complete their college degree on-time, provide more financial aid, and lower their debt burden. This is a win for students, a win for educational institutions, and a win for local employers who are hungry for workers.
Combating Foreign Interference in American Elections
Foreign interests shouldn’t be able to influence American elections, period. With countless intelligence assessments confirming vulnerabilities in the American election system, and another election just over a year away, it’s vital that both sides of the aisle come together to take real action to protect our elections from foreign interference. This week, I was proud to be a lead co-sponsor of the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act, which will make a massive effort toward doing just that.
The SHIELD Act will:
- Create a duty to report illicit offers of campaign assistance from foreign governments and their agents.
- Help prevent foreign interference in future elections by improving transparency of online political advertisements (through a bipartisan, bicameral bill I championed called the Honest Ads Act).
- Close loopholes that allow foreign nationals and foreign governments to spend in U.S. elections.
- Restrict the exchange of campaign information between candidates and foreign governments and their agents.
- Prohibit deceptive practices related to voting procedures.
I was proud to see the Honest Ads Act, which is co-sponsored by 18 Democrats and 18 Republicans in the House, included in this legislation. This bill will ensure Americans know who is paying for the online ads they are seeing and to make it harder for foreign actors to use the internet to attack our democracy. It’s been a priority of mine for a long time - and you can read a great write-up of what the bill would do from the News Tribune.
Congress should take action to further protect our democracy without delay. I’m hopeful that this bill will pass the House by the end of the month.
There is a lot of division in our country these days and frankly, it takes work to try to find common ground. I’m a big believer that part of the way to better understand where people are coming from is to actually see where people are coming from.
With that in mind, I’ve been doing some “civility exchanges” over the last year in which I invite one of my Republican colleagues to visit our region and I go visit theirs. Last year, I visited eastern Washington with my Republican colleague Congressman Dan Newhouse, and I hosted him here.
Earlier this year, I hosted Congressman Steve Womack, the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, in our neck of the woods, and last week I visited his district in Northwest Arkansas. When Rep. Womack visited our region, I had the opportunity to highlight the ways the federal budget affects the unique culture and economy of Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. He toured Olympic National Park to learn more about the maintenance backlog and legislation I’m leading to address it. We visited the Port of Tacoma and discussed the importance of trade and improving our freight mobility. We toured Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to talk about the impacts of government shutdowns on federal workers and the need for infrastructure investments.
Last week, I participated in the reciprocal visit. While in Arkansas, I spent a day and a half learning more about the local economy, the opportunities and challenges of the region, and the people that live there. We toured businesses big and small, held a student town hall at the University of Arkansas, and talked to folks about the issues they’re facing in everyday life.
I appreciated being able to visit northwest Arkansas and learn more about that part of the country, the people that live there, and what that means to Congressman Womack’s approach to his job. He and I don’t agree with each other on everything - in fact, we disagree on a good chunk of things. But I’m a believer that we’ve got to be able to talk through issues, listen to each other, and not have everything turn into the Jerry Springer Show. When Democrats and Republicans make the effort to understand one another’s perspectives, our country has a better shot at making progress on key issues facing the American people.
Providing Opportunities for Students to Attend U.S. Service Academies
One of the best parts of this job is being able to consider students for nominations to our nation’s military service academies. Every year, there are a lot of great applications and reading through them makes it pretty clear to me that our region’s future is in good hands.
On October 23 at 5:30 at the Bremerton School District Administration Building in Bremerton, Team Kilmer will be hosting an information session for interested students to learn more about the application and admission process to these academies.
Students who are unable to attend, or who have questions about the application process, should contact my Tacoma office by calling 253-272-3515. You can also check out more information about the application process on my website!
The Return of “Quick Questions About Congress with Kilmer”
As a lot of you may know, over the years I’ve hosted a podcast called “Quick Questions About Congress with Kilmer.” I’ve heard from a lot of you that you missed these unique interviews, so I wanted to let you know that it’s back in action! For those of you new to the show, the podcast is meant to build understanding between lawmakers, forge new relationships, and create an avenue so members can work together to tackle critical issues facing our country. It’s also an opportunity for people around the country to learn more about the folks who serve in our nation’s capital.
These conversations help lead to collaboration on policies to help our constituents. For example, the bipartisan Pell Plus bill I introduced earlier this month was done in partnership with Episode 11 guest Congresswoman Susan W. Brooks. Last year, I passed the Stop School Violence Act, a bill to make schools safer and prevent gun violence, working in partnership with Episode 19 guest Congressman Ted Deutch.
Episode 22's guest is Congressman Tom Graves from northwest Georgia. We talk about southern hospitality, bipartisanship, and our collaboration on the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress to make Congress work better for the American people. Tune in here: https://kilmer.house.
Working For You
Checking in on Progress at the Boys and Girls Club
I had a great time visiting with my friend Norma Turner and the great team from the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula. I can’t wait to see the new finished clubhouse in Port Angeles.
Hearing the Stories of our Tribal Communities
It was an honor to join the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians at their annual fall conference at the Suquamish Resort. Listening to their stories has made me a better supporter for Indian Country.
Supporting Healthier Communities
The boat moves best when all oars are in the water, rowing in the same direction. It was inspiring to meet with the Olympic Peninsula Healthy Community Coalition; a group of amazing organizations focused on improving health and wellness in our region. Thanks to Commissioner Mark Ozias for his leadership and for the invitation.
Supporting our Workers
Last week, I was able to meet with a terrific group of leaders from the IFPTE Local 12 from the Shipyard. I also visited with my friends Larry Brown and April Sims from the Washington State Labor Council. I stand with them in supporting workers’ right to organize and negotiate better wages and working conditions. I appreciate their partnership in working for an economy that works better for everyone!
Eating a Ton at Oyster Fest!
It was another fantastic afternoon at the 38th Annual Oyster Fest in Shelton! I got to be a timer for an oyster shucking competition. I got to pour beer in the beer garden (and have some awesome discussions with folks I represent). I got to present awards to local wineries. And I got to eat a ton of shellfish. Thanks to the Shelton Rotary for everything you do to organize this incredible event - I look forward to it every year!
Ok - that’s it for now, folks. As always, I’m honored to represent you.
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