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Schatz supports social security equality, water resources


U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz co-sponsored the Social Security and Marriage Equality (SAME) Act of 2014 to make sure all legal marriages are treated equally by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The bill would ensure that same-sex spouses receive the same spousal benefits afforded to married, heterosexual couples.

Because the Social Security Administration uses an individual’s current place of residence to determine benefits, many legally married same-sex spouses who live in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage have had their applications for Social Security spousal benefits put on hold.

The SAME Act would eliminate this discriminatory standard.

“Same-sex couples legally married in Hawaii or in the many other states that recognize same-sex marriage should have access to the Social Security benefits they have paid into,” Schatz said. “Equality under federal laws doesn’t end when you cross state lines. Social Security is a vital lifeline for so many seniors and our bill will make sure that everyone is treated equally, providing Social Security spousal benefits to those legally eligible, regardless of who they love and where they live.”

In its 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act through its finding that the federal government may not, through its statutes, create two classes of marriage. To implement the ruling, the U.S. Attorney General issued a memorandum to his department on February 10, 2014, that repeatedly relies on a “place of celebration” standard in determining the validity of marriages, including between same-sex couples. Under this standard, a marriage is recognized as valid in the state the couple married, not where the legally married couple resides afterward. In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Social Security Administration should be afforded the same standard to avoid further discrimination against legally married same-sex couples.

The SAME Act, introduced by Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D- Colo.) would amend the Social Security Act to:

• Confer Spousal Benefits to any individual legally married in United States.

• Eliminate the requirement that the spouse reside in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage in order to be eligible for Social Security benefits.

• Ensure spouses legally married outside the United States are eligible for Social Security benefits.

Earlier this year, Schatz introduced legislation that would help service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation correct their military records to reflect their honorable service and reinstate the benefits they earned. Since World War II, more than 100,000 Americans are estimated to have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation.

Those forced out of the military may have left with discharge statuses of “other than honorable,” “general discharge,” or “dishonorable,” depending on the circumstances.

As a consequence, many of these service members may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits that they earned and are entitled to, such as veterans’ health care and GI bill tuition assistance, and may not be able to claim veteran status.

The consequences of a negative discharge status can be far-reaching, preventing some veterans from voting, and making it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.

The Restore Honor to Service Members Act would cut existing red tape at the Department of Defense and simplify the process for veterans who were discharged because of their sexual orientation, allowing service members a chance to have their records corrected to reflect an honorable discharge, and give them all rights, privileges, and benefits associated with their honorable service.



In advance of the release of the bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), Schatz, Chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Water and Power announced key provisions included in the bill that would improve Hawaii harbors and provide resources for flood control, water supply, and wastewater infrastructure projects.

“As an island state, our harbors and waterways are gateways to communities and are essential to connecting people and goods across our state,” Schatz said. “This agreement dedicates funds for Hawaii and authorizes funding for our harbors and water projects, which are important to jobs here and will help protect our precious water resources.”

Schatz supported the following provisions that will benefit Hawaii:

Streamlining small harbor project approval and dedicating funds for Hawaii

Schatz supported this provision which is a major overhaul of how port and harbor projects can be built in Hawaii. The new law will allow small projects to avoid a cumbersome approval process in which they had to compete for funding with much bigger ports. Under the agreement, small, remote and subsistence harbors in Hawaii, Alaska, and the U.S. territories can receive dedicated funding of up to $15 million per project.

Improving the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF)

WRRDA makes several important changes to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s CWSRF program. The bill allows more flexible loan terms, including lower interest rates and principle forgiveness, in communities that have difficulty raising revenue for projects.

It also extends the repayment period from 20 years to 30 years and expands eligible uses to include implementation of watershed plans, water conservation, stormwater recapture, and technical assistance to small and medium treatment works.

Since 1988, the Hawaii Department of Health has used funding from the Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF Programs to issue over $675 million in low interest loans to Hawaii’s four counties to construct high priority drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems.

These loans will help the counties save millions of dollars in interest costs for projects like: improvements to the Lahaina wastewater pumping station; construction of sewers on Hawaii Island to allow closure of cesspools; and energy efficiency improvements at the Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Plant.

New funding instrument for water infrastructure projects

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) establishes a five-year pilot program that will allow the Corp of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to provide loans and loan guarantees for flood control, water supply, and wastewater infrastructure projects. WIFIA will augment rather than compete with the State Revolving Fund and will only fund projects which do not receive SRF funding.

It will also include a set-aside for rural and small community projects for areas under 25,000 in population and allow some funding provided each year to finance more than 49 percent of a project’s total cost.

Expanding funds for ecosystem restoration, navigation, and flood control projects

This bill increases authorization and funding for small ecosystem restoration, navigation, and flood control projects. It will also now allow projects of up to $10 million without requiring an onerous Congressional approval process. Expanded funding will support projects like the Kuliouou stream project, which helps provide flood control and protects the Maunalua Bay watershed.

Preparing for extreme weather

As a strong proponent for preparing our infrastructure to withstand the effects of climate change, Schatz supported a provision in WRRDA that requires the National Academy of Sciences to begin a comprehensive evaluation of how to improve water infrastructure to better respond to extreme weather and to mitigate risk associated with these disasters.

The provision also calls on the Corps of Engineers to use resilient construction techniques when building new water infrastructure.

The Senate passed its version of the bill (S. 601) last May by a strong bipartisan vote of 83-14. Schatz voted in favor of the bill. After the House passed its own version, a conference committee began meeting to iron out the differences.

The bill is now headed to both houses of Congress for final passage.

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