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Jones, Gardner introduce legislation to help student veterans recover unpaid costs

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senators Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, introduced the Fix Immediately Outstanding Underpayments (IOUs) for Student Veterans Act. The sponsors say that the legislation will force the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pay student veterans money they are entitled to, but did not receive because of the VA’s own error.

Veterans advocates say that when the VA failed to implement the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, many student veterans did not receive the full benefits they are entitled to. Last Friday, Jones sent a letter to the senior VA leader overseeing GI Bill benefits seeking answers from the VA about the situation.

“When young men and women step up to serve our country in uniform, we make a solemn promise to have their backs when they come home,” Jones said. “We commit to provide them the tools needed to re-enter civilian life and to earn an education that will enable them to serve our communities in new ways. When I heard that thousands of veterans in Alabama and across the country were being underpaid – or not paid at all – for their GI Bill benefits and that the VA might not make them whole, I was appalled. While I’m glad the VA has since begun to reverse course, action from Congress is needed to make sure that these veterans receive what they’re owed.”

Gardner echoed that sentiment.

“The VA let these veterans down and this cannot be tolerated,” Gardner said. “First, the VA made a mistake and did not properly pay student veterans the money they are entitled to; and now the VA is failing in their responsibility again by not providing a plan to pay those students back quickly. Most problems Congress addresses are complicated and do not have one ‘right’ answer. This is not one of those issues. To me, it’s pretty clear what the right thing to do is: Congress must act to ensure our student veterans receive every penny they are entitled to.”

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Jones also joined his colleagues last week in a bipartisan letter, led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and John Boozman, R-Arkansas, calling on the VA Inspector General to launch an investigation into allegations that the VA would not be reimbursing veterans for any missed or underpaid benefits.

The Jones-Gardner legislation will set up a commission at the VA to ensure all monthly stipends are audited, and force the VA to pay back students who were underpaid. Additionally, this legislation will ensure the VA does not take back money from students they overpaid through their error.

Jones is a former U.S. Attorney who was elected a year ago in a special election for U.S. Attorney where he defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R). Jones is the only Democratic candidate to win any statewide race in Alabama since 2008.

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Economy

Farm Bill passes the House of Representatives

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the bipartisan 2018 Agriculture and Nutrition Act, H.R.2, better known as the Farm Bill, passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill covers agriculture subsidies, conservation, rural development and nutrition.

The Farm Bill reauthorizes farm programs and directs the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years. The House and Senate had both passed differing versions of the Farm Bill prior to the general election. Following the Thanksgiving break, a conference committee met to resolve the differences between the two versions of the bill. This is the conference committee version.

“In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the largest employer. It is imperative that Congress honor our commitments to the hardworking farmers and producers across the country,” U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) said. “The 2018 farm bill provides certainty to the American families who work every day to provide the food and fiber we depend on. I was proud to support this legislation on behalf of the farmers I represent, and I am eager to see President Trump sign it into law.”

The 2018 Farm Bill supports and sustains Alabama’s farmers and foresters by reauthorizing farm programs and directing the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years. Despite recent gains in manufacturing, Alabama remains an agriculture state. Farming, forestry, livestock and crop production represent more than $70 billion in annual economic output in Alabama.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said: “Our farmers and foresters are our future. I am pleased to support this bipartisan legislation to better support our farmers in Alabama and throughout the country.”

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“The 2018 Farm Bill will allow for improved crop protections and loan options for farmers, incentivize rural development, support animal disease prevention and management, and will continue our nation’s commitment to agriculture and farmers,” Rep. Byrne said. “I am especially pleased to see the substantial resources provided to improve rural broadband access to communities. Providing Internet access to people in rural Alabama is absolutely critical to economic development and the success of these communities in the 21st Century.”

Roby’s office said that H.R. 2 improves agriculture policy by: Providing a nationwide yield update for Price Loss Coverage (PLC), beginning with the 2020 crop year and allowing PLC to better respond to market conditions; Making several key improvements to Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC), including increased yield plugs and yield trend adjustments; Protecting and improving crop insurance; Investing in research, extension, and education projects; and Protecting farmers from additional costly and burdensome red tape.

H.R. 2 also strengthens the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) capacity to combat the opioid crisis and refocuses efforts to expand quality broadband to rural America.

The conference report to accompany H.R. 2 passed the House by a vote of 369 to 47. The Senate approved the bill yesterday 87 to 13. It now goes to the White House where it awaits President Donald J. Trump’s (R) signature.

The current legislation has been praised by farm groups for preserving safety nets for farmers while enhancing conservation and increasing USDA loan availability. One thing the bill doesn’t have is tighter work requirements for supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP – commonly still called food stamps) recipients, which was the major difference between the House bill, which only had Republican votes, and the more bipartisan Senate version.

Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan (R) explained that the farm bill protects more than just farmers. It serves to protect land and natural resources, develops new trade opportunities, levels the playing field for producers, strengthens rural communities and provides nutritious foods for underserved families.

“Alabama is blessed to have a congressional delegation in Washington that understands the importance of agriculture,” said Commissioner McMillan. “Our nation’s food security depends on strong agricultural policies that provide stability for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

With the President’s signature, this will be the first time since 1990 that Congress has enacted the Farm Bill in the same year it was introduced. It would also be the first time since 2002, that the new Farm Bill was enacted in the same year that the old one expired.

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Byrne remembers his cousin Sheriff Scotty Byrne

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in memory of his cousin, former Escambia County Sheriff Scotty Byrne.

“I rise today to honor the legacy of long-time Brewton, Alabama, resident and my cousin, G.S. “Scotty” Byrne, Jr., who passed away on November 18 at the age of 92,” Rep. Byrne said. “Scotty was a veteran of World War II, having served in the 351st Infantry Division under General Mark Clark, and later went on to serve as Sheriff of Escambia County for 24 years.”

“In college at the University of Southern Mississippi, Scotty was a premier two-sport athlete excelling in both baseball and golf,” Byrne continued. “He was the first athlete to be inducted into the USM Sports Hall of Fame for two sports. Throughout his life, he was one of the able golfers in our part of the state.”

“During his tenure as sheriff, he was a vocal supporter of the Alabama Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, providing resources for children in need throughout Alabama,” Byrne stated. “Without a doubt, Scotty was one of the most memorable citizens in Escambia County’s long history. So, on behalf of Alabama’s First Congressional District, I want to share our condolences with Scotty’s family. He will be sorely missed.”


Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

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The Byrnes have lived in southern Alabama since 1780 when Bradley’s great, great, great grandfather Gerald Byrne settled near Mobile. The Spanish Empire conquered Mobile and Baldwin Counties from the English that same year during the American Revolution – the Spaniards were allied with the Americans.

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National

Shelby, Jones vote for passage of the Farm Bill

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Senate voted in favor of passage of the conference committee version of H.R. 2, the 2018 Farm Bill. Both Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) and Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted in favor of passage of the bipartisan legislation.

“This bipartisan legislation provides much-needed predictability that will significantly benefit our state’s farmers and the entire agriculture industry,” said Senator Shelby. “I look forward to the lasting positive impact this bill with have on rural areas throughout Alabama and the nation.”

“This is a Farm Bill for rural Alabama and rural America,” said Senator Jones. “I’m proud that the final legislation ensures that our farmers have the support and resources they need to continue to do their important work. It also addresses several urgent issues for our state, particularly the need for expanded rural health care and broadband access. Since I arrived in the Senate in January, I’ve worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as farmers from across Alabama, to advocate for a strong Farm Bill for all of our rural communities. This bill reflects the priorities we share for a brighter and more secure future for Alabama.”

Shelby’s office said that the 2018 Farm Bill improves the crop insurance program, helps expand rural broadband initiatives, and includes many of the cotton industry’s priorities such as the continuation of the Seed Cotton program.

U.S. Senator Doug Jones today supported passage of a final Farm Bill that includes several key priorities for Alabama that he championed. The bill is the result of months of bipartisan negotiations in the Senate and House.

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The Congress passes a Farm Bill and is only once every five years.

Jones’ office says that it strengthens important commodity safety net programs and other protections for farmers who take on this risky and costly venture. It also provides increased funding for communities across the country and addresses issues from rural development to conservation to food assistance and more.

The Farm Bill includes several specific provisions that were championed by Senator Jones for Alabama’s rural communities.

These include: The Rural Health Liaison Act (S. 2894) which establishes a rural health liaison at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better coordinate federal resources and expand health care access to Americans who have for too long struggled to receive quality, affordable care in their own communities.

The Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (S.2772) expands the USDA’s Household Water Well System Grant Program to provide grants of up to $15,000 to low- and moderate-income households in rural areas for installing or maintaining individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems.

The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act (S. 1676) which increases the authorization from $25 million to $350 million annually for the USDA to provide loans and loan guarantees for broadband services in rural communities.

The Community Connect Grant Program Act (S. 2654) which authorizes $50 million annually for the USDA Community Connect Program, which provides broadband grants targeted to the most rural, unserved, and high-poverty communities in the country. The program expands high-speed internet by providing new grants that will connect unserved households and businesses with modern internet access and streamlines broadband application process.

The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act (S. 3117) requires the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide farm numbers to farmers with certain documentation, including in concert with Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Laws in some states. The bill also authorizes FSA to make loans to qualified intermediaries to re-lend to families seeking to resolve heirs’ property issues.

The Assist Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Act (S.2839) and the Next Generation in Agriculture Act (S. 2762). These two bills were combined to create permanent, mandatory baseline funding to educate the next generation of farmers and reach more minority farmers.

Agriculture is Alabama’s top revenue-producing industry, generating an annual impact of over $70 billion. With over nine million acres of farmland and more than 48,500 farms, the state is a national leader in food production and a global competitor in the poultry, catfish, timber, cotton, and livestock industries.

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National

Rod Rosenstein tours Huntsville

Brandon Moseley

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited Huntsville Tuesday to tour facilities at Redstone Arsenal including the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), the ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research (NCETR) and NASA. The visit was announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town.

“It was an honor to receive Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today and tour the many impressive facilities aboard the Redstone Arsenal campus”, Town said. “It comes as no surprise that the DAG was impressed by the growth and capabilities here. We began the day touring NASA, a remarkable ambassador to the 40,000+ employees that serve aboard the Redstone Arsenal each day. Touring NASA is always impressive. The FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center and ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research and National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) facilities truly reminds us of the impressive advancement that law enforcement has made in order to stay ahead of criminal threats to the public. We were fortunate to be joined by ATF Director Tom Brandon as well. Our federal law enforcement capacities are tremendous but are only successful due to the hard work, dedication, and bravery of the men and women of all of our federal law enforcement agencies.”

Rod Rosenstein was appointed Deputy Attorney General by President Donald J. Trump (R). When it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met with the Russian Ambassador twice during the 2016 election campaign, Sessions recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself meant that he could not be a part of the decision on how to investigate the charges that the Trump presidential campaign had colluded with Russian intelligence to discredit Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton (D).

Rosenstein made the decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the collusion allegations against the President and his campaign.

Rosenstein has been criticized by the President and by many conservatives for his decisions in the Mueller investigation, which has continued to this day. While some Democrats have suggested that Mueller has found compelling evidence to impeach the President, Trump himself has said that he has been vindicated by the investigation.

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Trump recently asked for and accepted Jeff Sessions’s resignation. Chief of Staff John Kelly has also announced that he is leaving the administration. Rosenstein, however, remains as Deputy Attorney General.

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Jones, Gardner introduce legislation to help student veterans recover unpaid costs

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 2 min
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