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VIDEO: Blunt Touts Medical Research, Opioid & Education Priorities Included in Bipartisan Labor/HHS Funding Bill

August 22, 2018

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor/HHS), spoke on the Senate floor to highlight investments included in the Labor/HHS funding bill, which the Senate is considering this week.

Blunt noted that the bill increases resources for medical research, helps states combat the opioid epidemic, and provides funding for education programs to support students at every point in their academic career.

Following are Excerpts from Blunt’s Remarks:

“Mr. President, this is the first time in 11 years that a Chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee has had a chance to stand on the floor and present a bill. This is a subcommittee that I’m honored to get to chair… And it's a subcommittee that is led on the other side by Senator Murray from Washington, the ranking member on this committee. This is not a bill that either Senator Murray and I would have drafted on our own, but our job was not to draft a bill, that was a bill that I thought was the perfect way for me to vote on, the perfect way for all of these agencies to be run. There is a reason that this bill hasn't been on the floor in 11 years.

“This bill deals with everything from medical research to home energy assistance to employment opportunities and training programs and Pell Grants, for people who are trying to go to college that don't have the resources that would allow them to do that otherwise.

“In this bill, we talk about fighting the opioid epidemic, we talk about promoting college affordability, strengthening the workforce and having them better prepared for the jobs that are out there to be filled than they would otherwise see… We've been able to present a bipartisan bill to the full committee and have that bill referred out of the full committee, 30 yes and 1 no, bringing that bill to the Senate floor. It represents a compromise on both sides.”

Advancing Medical Research:

“Let's talk about some of the things it does, we’ve worked really hard, particularly over the past four years to do the kinds of things we ought to do on health care research. This bill, for the first time, reaches a long-held goal of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s disease of getting that annual research dollars up over $2 billion. In fact, it's $2.34 billion, exceeding what it had been the long-term goal. But the goal here should not be how much money we spend. It should be finding a way to solve this problem. This is a significant increase over where we were last year, but it quadruples where we were four years ago. We're spending $277 billion tax dollars a year on Alzheimer's and dementia related care… It is a problem that by 2050, if we don't find a solution, we'll be spending about twice today's defense budget, Mr. President, on Alzheimer's care. Twice today's defense budget, $1.1 trillion of today's dollars being spent on Alzheimer's care if we don't do what we need to. This is the only leading cause of death that doesn't have a treatment, doesn't have a cure, doesn't have a way to prevent it, and obviously, the right kind of discovery, the right kind of medical advancement can change the lives of millions of American families now and in the future if we do that. …

“I'm also pleased to see that after a 12-year period when there wasn't any increase in health care research spending at all, that we continue to find money in many cases by eliminating programs that weren't working to where we will have had a 30 percent increase in NIH funding over the last four years. And what a four years to be doing that, understanding the things we know now about the human genome, understanding how each of us is different than all of the rest of us and that in fact, each of us have a different capacity to fight disease than any other person does, if you can figure out how to maximize that, things like immunotherapy in cancer, where many cancers that, five years ago, were largely untreatable … are now treatable by just simply figuring out how, in your own system, you can maximize our ability to fight back. … This kind of research and commitment to NIH not only helps individuals and helps families, but, frankly, at a time when health care is dramatically changing, has the ability to help our economy. The economy that figures out new ways to be in this health care fight is also going to be the economy that has the job opportunities and the transformational opportunities to be part of that.”

Fighting the Opioid Epidemic:

“Not only are we looking at health care research, but also we're looking at research as it relates to the opioid epidemic. The opioid cost to the economy is now anticipated to be about $500 billion a year in lost work time, in other costs related to the opioid epidemic. This bill provides a significant targeted opioid funding. This is the fourth year in a row that we have increased our funding. … We've had to look at programs that weren't working and cut and reduce and combine those programs to really fight back on the opioid epidemic which is now, and for a couple of years, has been the number-one cause of accidental death in the United States. Number-one cause of accidental death in my state of Missouri. … We have $1.5 billion available for state opioid response grants, understanding that every state is different and, frankly, the more things that we try to do in different ways, the more likely we are to find the things that work. … There’s more money for community health centers to expand behavioral health and substance abuse disorder services. There's an increase here in the ability to improve surveillance and prevention efforts in the illicit drug space or the drug abuse space. More money to research pain management. Part of the NIH money, $500 million, is designed to find more ways to research for better pain management and better ways to, if you have become addicted to drugs and opioids specifically, to end that addiction in an effective way. More money for the hardest hit rural communities. And some of our members have advocated strongly for a drug problem that is more of a rural drug problem on a per capita basis than it is an urban drug problem. More money for children and families who are put at risk by opioids. I saw a news report just this week, of the number of kids, focusing on kids, being raised by their grandparents because their parents wound up with an opioid addiction problem that drove their life in a way that their children were not only in danger and ignored, but had to go somewhere else.”

Improving Education & College Affordability:

Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education:

“This bill prioritizes education programs through a student's life, focusing on programs that provide the most flexibility again, for states and communities to meet the needs of families, children, their workforce in their state. There are increases for Head Start, increases for Title I support for low-income schools to help them meet academic challenges. More money to meet the goal that the federal government set decades ago where individuals with disabilities are assisted within the school context as the federal government determine they had to be, but the federal government has been wanting and coming up with the money that was committed to do that decades ago. We continue to make steps in the right direction there, and I think in this bill, some substantial steps.

“The flexible funding so that schools can look at more science and math and STEM education, more computer science education, more ability here for schools to take some of their funds and look at school safety. Nobody wants to see kids go to school in an environment that's not as safe as we can possibly make it. … We look at Impact Aid and charter schools and programs that create both competition and fairness in a way that I think the people we work for will like.”

College Completion & Affordability:

“This bill maintains the significant investments that were made last year on college access. The best way to minimize college debt is to get done, is to finish. Year-round Pell, something we returned to after something years of having only the normal tradition school year Pell, year-round Pell is maintained in this as part of our federal commitment to have people going to school. And if you're an adult going back to school, if you're somebody who's a first-time college attender in your family or for whatever reason you're paying for your own school, the most likely way to get done is don't interrupt a pattern that's working, this bill allows that to continue.”

CLICK HERE To Watch Senator Blunt’s Remarks
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