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April 16, 2008: John Lewis: Protecting Student Loans; Help for Taxpayers

In This Issue

  • Congressman Lewis Demands Solutions to Social Security Disability Backlog

  • John Lewis Chairs Markup Ways and Means Committee Passes Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act

  • Lewis Supports Important Public Health Legislation

  • John Lewis introduces The Elderly Care Tax Act of 2008

  • The Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act of 2008

  • Congressman Lewis Cosponsors Legislation to Ensure Availability of Student Loans through Economic Downturn

  • Georgia Fifth Congressional District 2008 High School Arts Competition

  • Upcoming Events
  • Congressman Lewis Demands Solutions to Social Security Disability Backlog

    Reducing the backlog in Social Security Disability claims is one of my top priorities.  I testified before the Budget Committee on the problems in the 5th Congressional District and demanded increased funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA), so that they can hire more staff to adjudicate these cases and get desperately needed benefits into the hands of those who deserve them.  Under Republican Leadership, SSA had not received the funding it needed for this purpose.

    Atlanta has the largest Social Security disability claims backlog in the country and it takes an average of 808 days to get appeals heard.   People are waiting YEARS for disability benefits that they deserve.  Every month I hear from people wondering how they will pay their electrical bill and their rent, because they are too disabled to work.  That is just wrong. 

    I have been working with the Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security and the Budget Committee to address the funding issues and I feel confident that they will be addressed. I have been encouraged that the Social Security Administration has responded to our demands and has announced the hiring of new Administrative Law Judges, but the Social Security Administration still needs to assure us that these backlogs will not go on any longer.  

    I look forward to questioning the Social Security Administrator Michael Astrue when he appears before the Ways and Means Committee to find out exactly what will be done to address the Atlanta area, which has the longest wait in the entire nation for resolving disability claims. I will not tolerate these kinds of backlogs that force disabled Americans to live in poverty, or to die while waiting for their benefits they are entitled to. 


    John Lewis Chairs Markup Ways and Means Committee Passes Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act

    Bill streamlines filing process and improves services for elderly, disabled and low-income taxpayers

    Last week, the Committee on Ways and Means held a markup and passed H.R. 5719 the Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act of 2008 by a vote of 23 to 17.

    As Oversight Subcommittee Chairman, I introduced the legislation along with Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), modernizes Internal Revenue Service functions to make filing taxes simpler while improving outreach to taxpayers.

    In my hearings in the Oversight Subcommittee we found that thousands of elderly and disabled persons may receive IRS notices for taxes owed for health care aides provided to them under government programs. The bill corrects this problem.  The bill also gives the IRS authority to stop programs that prey on low-income taxpayers.

    The Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act of 2008 is the result of hearings conducted by the Oversight Subcommittee. It is expected that the bill will be brought to the House Floor during the week of April 15th, the tax return filing due date this year, and I will be on the House floor managing the debate on the legislation.

    The provisions included in H.R. 5719 as agreed to by the Committee would:

    • Eliminate the special requirements for individuals to keep detailed records of calls made on employer-provided cell phones.
    • Delay for one year the imposition of a three-percent withholding requirement on government payments for goods and services made after December 31, 2010.
    • Stops federal contractors from using foreign subsidiaries to evade Social Security and other employment taxes.
    • Make the administrators of state and local government programs liable for paying the employment taxes on amounts paid by government programs to in-home care workers provided to elderly and disabled persons.
    • Repeal the IRS’s authority to use private debt collection companies to collect Federal taxes. 
    • Prohibit the misuse of Department of the Treasury names and symbols in misleading websites and "phishing" schemes.
    • Protect low-income taxpayers by prohibiting IRS debt indicators for predatory refund anticipation loans, allowing IRS employees to refer taxpayers to qualified low-income taxpayer clinics, and authorizing funding for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance ("VITA") programs. 
    • Require the IRS to notify taxpayers if it suspects theft of a taxpayer’s identity

    Lewis Supports Important Public Health Legislation

    Last week was National Public Health Week, a time when everyone, including Congress, was reflecting on the importance of quality public health programs in all of our lives – from effective childhood vaccination programs, to early screening programs for diseases, to ensuring Americans have access to critical treatment programs.  

    I voted in favor of a series of seven public health bills which passed the House of Representatives and are so important to each of us and our families: 

    • Infants with Hearing Loss
      H.R. 1198, Early Hearing Detection & Intervention Act, to reauthorize through FY 2013 and improve the critical Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program, designed to identify and help infants with hearing loss.
    • Children’s Emergency Medical Services
      H.R. 2464,  the “Wakefield Act”, to reauthorize through FY 2011 and improve the Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC) program, which is designed to improve emergency services for children needing trauma or critical care.
    • Cervical Cancer Testing.  
      H.R. 1237, Cytology Proficiency Improvement Act, to improve the analysis of tests for cervical cancer by ensuring that health care professionals who read tests for cervical cancer are skilled in today’s medical technology.
    • Prevent Seniors from Falling
      S. 845, The Safety of Seniors Act, to direct HHS to oversee and support education campaigns focused on reducing falls and preventing repeat falls among older Americans.
    • Food Allergy Management in Schools
      H.R. 2063, Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act, to provide schools with guidelines on how to create appropriate management and emergency plans for children with food allergies.
    • Newborn Screening Expansion
      S. 1858, Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act, to award grants to states to expand screenings of newborn babies for congenital, genetic and metabolic disorders.
    • Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment
      House Amendment to S. 793, Traumatic Brain Injury Act, to reauthorize through FY 2012 and improve the Traumatic Brain Injury Act, which gives grants to states to provide treatment and rehabilitation for TBI patients.   

    John Lewis introduces The Elderly Care Tax Act of 2008

    During a hearing of the Oversight Subcommittee of Ways and Means, which I chair, the National Taxpayer Advocate brought a very disturbing situation to my attention.  Thousands of elderly people who receive in home services under government programs could find themselves getting a bill of employment taxes for the individuals providing those services. 

    In home services provided under government programs are currently run by fiscal intermediaries who get the money from the government, pay the home care workers and are supposed to pay the employment taxes for those workers.  If the administrators fail to pay these employment taxes, the senior citizen who gets the services is held responsible as if they were the “employer” even though they have no involvement in hiring or paying these service providers.  In the worst circumstances the elderly person faces garnishment of their social security benefits in these cases. 

    This legislation will solve this problem by making the fiscal administrators of these government programs that provide home care service workers to the elderly and the disabled liable for remitting the employment taxes, not the elderly person themselves.

    The Elderly Care Tax Act was included as part of a larger bill The Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act, which passed the Ways and Means Committee last week and will be considered on the House floor this week.  I will be managing the debate on this bill on Wednesday, so watch CSPAN for more information.


    The Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act of 2008

    I recently introduced The Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act, which allows home health agencies to use occupational therapists to provide initial assessments for Medicare home health beneficiaries.  This will help prevent delay in care for people who require Occupational Therapy as part of home health care under Medicare.

    Currently occupational therapists cannot conduct the initial assessments for Medicare home health cases and agencies are not able to fully utilize all of their professional staff for rehabilitation clients. This means delays in beginning care for people who need home health services.  Occupational therapy is a full rehabilitation benefit under Medicare in every post-acute setting except home health.  Currently only physical therapy and speech language pathology services qualify home health patients for coverage when they are not in need of skilled nursing care. Occupational therapists cannot currently be used to open cases and conduct the initial assessment even when occupational therapy is included in the physician’s order along with one of the qualifying services. 

    The bill removes the restriction on the ability of home health agencies to fully utilize their professional staff and can prevent in delays in initiating medically necessary care because of current requirements. With passage of this legislation home health agencies will be able to more effectively manage their staff to better meet patient needs.  It is expected that this legislation would be budget neutral as it does not expand eligibility for Medicare home health benefits but rather improves policy related to efficiency.

    The Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act is actively supported by the American Occupational Therapy Association and the National Association of Home Care and Hospice.


    Congressman Lewis Cosponsors Legislation to Ensure Availability of Student Loans through Economic Downturn

    I have said before and I will say again, “education is the great equalizer.” We must provide all of our children with the best education possible. Increasing college affordability and accessibility has been a priority of mine in Congress, and I will continue to fight for education funding and quality education for all.

    I am very concerned that the recent economic slowdown our country has experienced, could lead to a decrease in the availability of loans to our nation’s students. I recently cosponsored legislation, introduced by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, to ensure that even with the economic slowdown, student loans will be available to those seeking a college education.  This legislation will ensure that turmoil in the credit market or the lack of liquidity does not prevent students or their families from accessing the financial aid they need to pay for college. This bill recently passed out of the Education and Labor Committee and should be considered on the floor in the upcoming weeks. 

    MORE INFORMATION


    Georgia Fifth Congressional District 2008 High School Arts Competition

    This competition is an exciting opportunity for young artists to share their talents with the community and to compete for national recognition of their work.  The winner of the competition and his/her teacher will be flown to Washington, D.C. for one day in June, to be honored at an awards presentation sponsored by the Congressional Arts Caucus.  The winning work of art will then remain on display in the United States Capitol Complex for one year.  Monetary scholarships to the Art Institute of Atlanta will also be awarded to the first, second and third place winners of the competition.

    The competition is open to all students who attend a high school in the Fifth District of Georgia. Students are encouraged to submit work through their high school art department.  Each school is allowed to submit up to two (2) works of art in the Congressional Arts Competition.  Artwork must be two dimensional and no larger than 30X30 inches framed.

    Participants will have their artwork on exhibition at the Youth Art Connection Gallery during the first two week in May.  The winning work of art will be announced at an event honoring participants on Friday, May 9, 2008 at the Youth Art Connection Gallery in Atlanta.

    Interested high school students in the Fifth District should contact their art teacher for complete guidelines for the competition as well as copies of the student release form.  Schools must submit applications and release forms for their two pieces of art to the District Office by Friday, April 18, 2008.  If you have any question, please contact Anna Cherry in the District Office by calling (404) 659-0116, or by emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .


    UPCOMING EVENTS

    Congressman John Lewis Hosts: “Educate Yourself: A Forum for Youth
    In Conjunction with the Congressman John Lewis Youth Council

    • Are you 17 ½ and want to register to vote?
    • Do you have questions about Georgia’s Teen Driving Laws?
    • Do you think there should be laws affecting how teens dress?
    • Are you affected by Global Issues such as Darfur, Sudan or the Environment?

    Special Guests: Cee Cee Michaela & Marshawn Evans

    Please come discuss these and other present day issues concerning teens!

    Date: Saturday, April 19, 2008
    Time: 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
    Location: The New Schools at Carver
    School of Entrepreneurship Auditorium
    55 McDonough Blvd., SE
    Atlanta, GA 30315

    For more information contact Rachelle O’Neil in the Atlanta office at (404) 659 - 0116

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    Foreclosure & Housing Issues Forum

    I will be hosting a forum on issues related to foreclosure on April 26, 2008 from 11:30-2:30 at the Dunbar Recreational Center gym.  I will have representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Trade Commission, Bank of America, the Office of the United States Attorney, Georgia ACORN, and others.  I hope to see you there.

    Date: April 26, 2008 (Saturday)
    Time: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
    Location: The Dunbar Recreational Center (GYM)
    477 Windsor Street SW  
    Atlanta, Georgia 30312

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    Congressman John Lewis’ 2008 Beloved Community Recognition Luncheon

    It is my belief that the Spirit of History leads ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  The Spirit of History calls people, and when the Spirit calls, you have to follow – no one can sit on the sidelines.  I want to recognize those individuals who have demonstrated that they will use their recourses for human needs.  They will strive to end conflict, violence and division.  They will strive to create a world community at peace with itself, thus creating the “Beloved Community.”

    I will honor exemplary individuals throughout Metro-Atlanta who are going the extra mile to strengthen our community through their commitment to Excellence in Education, Youth Achievement, Community Leadership, Volunteerism, Arts/Media Community Service and Environmental Activism.

    This time will be devoted to recognizing the work of individuals within the Fifth Congressional District and falls within one of six categories:

    1. Excellence in Education – teachers and educators to recognize students, teachers, groups, and schools whose excellence merits recognition whose examples will inspire others.
    2. Youth Achievement – students who have achieved despite their personal circumstances.
    3. Community Leadership – Individuals, who involve, influence and empower the public in decision-making and community coordination.
    4. Volunteerism – individuals who have proven to consistently give of their time and recourses.
    5. Arts/Media Community Service – entertainers, Arts organizations and entertainment organizations that through their community outreach provide resources and programs to uplift, enlighten and inspire.
    6. Environmental Activism – individuals who educate and advocate for clean energy resources and conversation of Georgia’s beautiful resources.
    Date: May 3, 2008 (Saturday)
    Time: 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
    Location:

    Rialto Center of the Performing Arts at
    Georgia State University
    80 Forsyth Street, N.W.
    Atlanta, Georgia 30303
    (404) 651-4727

    To RSVP for this event or for more information, please call (404) 659-0116 or via email to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

     
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