Categorized | Government, News

Updates from Hirono (April 1-8)



Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Pell Grant Protection Act, legislation that preserves and expands access to Pell Grants. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), the Ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee for Higher Education and Workforce Training, introduced the companion bill in the U.S. House.

Pell Grants have not kept up with rising college costs and this bill helps low-income students by converting Pell Grants into an automatic spending program with a cost-of-living adjustment similar to the formula used by Social Security.

The bill also restores Year-Round Pell Grants, which will help students get their degrees faster, with no gap in eligibility.

About 1 million students – including 1,620 in Hawaii – used Year-Round Pell Grants each year before Congress eliminated them in 2011.

“In today’s competitive economy, college costs are becoming more and more prohibitive for many students,” Hirono said. “I’ve met promising students in Hawaii who want to go to college so they can improve their futures and help their families, yet they know college is just too expensive. Pell Grants have changed the lives of countless low-income students, and the Pell Grant Protection Act will build on these critical resources for future students by enabling students to continue taking classes in the summer or winter and ensuring that Pell Grants keep up with increases in cost of living.”

“Pell Grants have become one of the most helpful and successful financial assistance programs that have made college affordable for so many students,” said Congressman Hinojosa. “In the state of Texas and across our nation many first generation college graduates, who came from low-income families, achieved their goal because of Pell Grants. I have seen thousands of successful college graduates who are thriving in our workforce and boosting our country’s economy all because they had a fair chance at higher education through Pell Grants. We want to make sure the door remains open for those who otherwise could not afford a college education.”

“The Pell grant is the cornerstone of our federal student aid programs and it needs to be preserved, protected, and strengthened for future generations. In the 1970s, the maximum Pell grant covered about 72 percent of the cost of attendance at a public 4-year college. For the 2014-15 school year, the maximum grant is expected to cover less than one-third of the cost. Investing in Pell grants is critical to ensuring the doors to higher education remain open to all students with the talent, drive, and desire to pursue a college degree,” said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.

“As the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, Pell Grants are now more vital than ever to families in Rhode Island and across the country,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “This legislation will help uphold Senator Pell’s vision that Americans should be able to obtain a college education, regardless of their financial resources, by ensuring stable funding for the program which bears his name. I’m proud to join Sen. Hirono in supporting this important bill.”

“Stabilizing and enhancing funding for the Pell Grant program is one of the most important actions Congress can take to support college affordability in Hawaii. The University of Hawaii is working to accelerate college completion for students through more strategic use of summer sessions statewide. So enhancements to support greater Pell utilization over the summer will enable our most motivated and needy students on all islands to meet their educational goals more quickly and join the workforce sooner,” said David Lassner, Interim President of the University of Hawaii System.

“The Pell Grant Protection Act would assist a significant amount of UH Manoa students in funding their higher education here in Hawaii,” said Richard Mizusawa, President of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii and 2014 B.A. candidate. “During the 2012-13 academic year, 4,813 UH Manoa students, approximately 25% of the student population we have on campus, used Pell Grants that went towards a huge portion of the cost of their education. Having access to education with the help of Pell Grants is pivotal in ensuring that access to college remains open for our students, as UH Manoa is a place where we want to serve students who can not only afford it, but for those who would not be able to otherwise. We want to see more students attending college in Hawaii to be able to give back to our state and nation, and reduce the amount of students leaving college for financial reasons, and/or defaulting on student loans. Having the Pell Grant Protection Act pass would show Congress’ commitment to higher education in our country, and I look forward to seeing more students on our college campus graduate if this bill becomes law.”

“In the past few years Congress enacted several restrictions and limitations on Pell Grant eligibility that reduced access to postsecondary education,” said Kimberly Jones, President of the Committee for Education Funding. “Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education projected that 145,000 students completely lost their eligibility for Pell grants. Since Pell is the cornerstone of federal student financial aid, it’s critical that it receive predictable guaranteed funding, so students and their families can plan for and count on Pell Grants to help them obtain much needed postsecondary education. We thank Sen. Hirono for her leadership on Pell Grants and college access and opportunity and pleased to support the Pell Grant Protection Act.”

“The Council for Opportunity in Education applauds the introduction of the Pell Grant Protection Act by Sen. Mazie Hirono,” said Maureen Hoyler, President of the Council for Opportunity in Education. “As a student who herself was first-generation to college and who relied on federal financial aid, Sen. Hirono has a unique understanding of the challenges faced by low-income students in pursuit of higher education. In particular, she knows that students need not be burdened by the uncertainty of whether federal funds will be available. By stabilizing the funding source for the Pell Grant and restoring the availability of year-round Pell Grant funds, this important legislation takes an important step towards meeting the needs of our nation’s low-income, first-generation students, such as those served by the Federal TRIO Programs. As such, we are pleased to lend our full support to the Pell Grant Protection Act.”

Don Straney, Chancellor of UH Hilo:

“The importance of the Pell Grant Program to our students cannot be overemphasized. The University of Hawaii at Hilo has one of the highest rates of Pell Grant eligible students at 35%. The Pell Grant Protection Act will ensure that Hawai‘i Island students, many of whom are first generation college students, will have access to a postsecondary education. This improves the lives of the students, their families, and future generations.”

Noreen Yamane, Chancellor of Hawaii Community College:

“With over 47% of our students depending on Pell last year, The Pell Grant Protection Act will guarantee that the Federal Financial Aid will be available to Hawaii Island students at the current cost of education. In addition, the year-round availability of Pell Grant funds will allow students to complete their degree faster and start their careers sooner.”

UH Hilo
2012-2013 Pell Grant Recipients: 1,813
2010-2011 Year-Round Pell Recipients: 191

Hawaii Community College
2012-2013 Pell Grant Recipients: 2,016
2010-2011 Year-Round Pell Recipients: 11



Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the bipartisan Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act, legislation that will create jobs by boosting foreign travel and tourism to the United States.

The bill grants the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the authority to consider subnational territories currently treated separately from their countries under U.S. law for participation in the visa waiver program (VWP), enabling residents to travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less.

The territories that could be considered under the Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act include: Hong Kong (China), Macau (China), Bermuda (U.K.), the Cayman Islands (U.K.), the British Virgin Islands (U.K.) and the Turks and Caicos Islands (U.K.).

The Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act aims to help the U.S. better compete globally for tourism markets with strong potential. For example, territories such as Hong Kong and Macau, with a combined population of more than 7.5 million, have been a missed opportunity for our country.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, out of the 86.8 million estimated departures Hong Kong residents will make from their territory in 2014, just 132,400 are expected to visit the United States.

Hong Kong and Macau passport holders already have visa-free access to Canada, the European Union and more than 100 countries around the world.

“The bipartisan support for the Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act speaks to the strong impact this bill would have on jobs and our economy,” Hirono said. “Travel and tourism support 14.4 million American jobs, with one in eight of all private sector jobs supported by travel, and this bill will help our country develop opportunities in new foreign markets. With our current visa policy, our nation cannot compete fairly with Canada and the European Union for markets with tremendous potential, such as Hong Kong and Macau. This bill will help put us on a level playing field and I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan jobs bill.”

“This reform will help encourage greater tourism to the United States and increase economic activity. I am happy to join with my colleagues in this bipartisan effort,” Lee said.

“The expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will mean additional revenue for the United States economy, and will create countless American jobs,” Kirk said. “Every foreign visitor contributes on average $4,300 per visit, and the travel industry sustained 132,000 jobs in Chicago and raised more than $800 million in tax revenue for the city in 2012. Safely expanding the VWP makes sense for our nation and for the state of Illinois.”

“From hotels and diners to recreation and shopping, tourism can lift up local economies and help businesses grow and thrive,” Klobuchar said. “This commonsense, bipartisan bill would cut red tape and make it easier for visitors from around the world to come to America and support our U.S. businesses.”

Currently, 38 countries are VWP participants. Last year, Hirono attached a similar measure specifically for Hong Kong to the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate.

Hirono has long worked to promote tourism, Hawaii’s number one industry and about 19 percent of the state’s workforce. Hirono has teamed up with Lee on job-creating visa reform measures such as the VISIT USA Act and Encouraging Trade and Investment from New Zealand Act.

The Subnational Visa Waiver Program Act is supported by:
Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association
American Hotel and Lodging Association
U.S. Travel Association
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
National Retail Federation
National Tour Association
American Society of Travel Agents



Hirono has announced more than $10.7 million in federal funds for Hawaii homelessness reduction programs. This investment is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Continuum of Care Program, which supports programs including street outreach, client assessment and housing assistance.

Hawaii organizations receiving funding include: City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii Department of Human Services, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, United States Veterans Initiative, Salvation Army, Steadfast Housing Development Corporation and others.

“Homelessness is heartbreaking, especially when it affects families and children,” Hirono said. “I recently met a bright young woman at an Oahu public high school who achieves excellent grades and is a leader on campus, yet she and her family remain homeless. Her principal actually lets her and her brother into the school early each day so that they can shower. These significant Continuum of Care grants are good news for the organizations who are helping end and prevent tragic stories like this. We must continue to fight to ensure that these kinds of resources remain available even in the difficult budget environment in Washington.”

According to HUD, Continuum of Care grants are awarded competitively to local projects to meet the needs of individuals and families experiencing homelessness in their community.

The grants fund a wide variety of programs from street outreach and assessment to transitional and permanent housing for homeless persons and families. HUD funds are a critical part of the Obama Administration’s strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.

According to research from the University of Hawaii, nearly 14,000 people in Hawaii received support from either homeless shelters or other outreach services in the 2013 fiscal year.

Of these individuals, nearly 20 percent had either a part- or full-time job, almost 16 percent were families with children and nearly 10 percent were veterans.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.