Decision Maker

Jackie Speier

  • CA14
  • Representative

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Petitioning Donald J. Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Jackie Speier, John A. Yarmuth, Doug Jones, Nita M. Lowey, Adam Smith

Stop denying earned survivor benefits to military surviving spouses

I am requesting support for over 65,000 military widows/ers whose spouses died on active duty, killed in action or in the line of duty or post retirement of a service caused disability or illness. We are the only widow/er in the entire federal government to be denied our full survivor benefits. Most of us are robbed of over $1,000 a month by the Dept of Defense as a result of an archaic law dating back to 1972. Congress over 20 years has failed to take care of those who sacrificed all.  My husband was serving his 30th year in the Navy when the F-18 he was riding in malfunctioned and crashed.  He was killed, and in a moment, my life changed forever. My three children, our families, and I were devastated and overcome with grief. Then I was horrified to discover that after they handed me the folded flag "on behalf of the President of the US and a grateful nation", that the Dept. of Defense was not very grateful in the least. I sacrificed my husband, my best friend, and the father of our 3 children, our sole provider, and now we were expected to also sacrifice financially!  We impacted surviving spouses need to change the law in order to receive our survivor benefits in full. It would be illegal for an insurance company to deny paying an insurance policy just because the beneficiary had another policy. But our government does this and Congress has failed for 20 years to fix this.  I need your help. 65,255 impacted military widows/ers need your help. Call your Congressman/woman and ask him/her to co-sponsor HR 553, the bill that will eliminate this unjust offset.  My husband’s earned survivor benefit insurance, the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), a insurance annuity, a benefit of employment that he earned, was not paid to me in full. When he died, I was informed that I would only be getting a fraction of the benefit I should have received. When I asked why, it was explained to me that those spouses who also were eligible to receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), an entitlement paid from the Veterans Administration to indemnify or hold the government harmless for causing my husband's death, over 65,000 of us, will have their SBP survivor annuity insurance benefits offset dollar for dollar by DIC.  Full SBP payment is unfairly denied to those surviving spouses. This is known as the SBP-DIC offset, and we must fight to end it. This is a purchased insurance. It is not the norm for one insurance to not be paid just because the beneficiary has another policy. "This is the only insurance one purchases and then is legally prohibited from collecting." Senator Bill Nelson, former insurance commissioner for the state of Florida. When I lost my husband, I lost 78% of our household income. His pay stopped the day of his death. With 3 children, a mortgage, and no job, after moving 26 times, life was difficult. I don't want this to happen to anymore widows. Every widow of every new fallen hero is subject to this same denial of survivor benefits. The Dept. of Defense reduces the Survivor Benefit Plan, a form of insurance that pays a portion of retired pay to the surviving spouse and/or children by the amount I would receive in DIC, which holds the government harmless for causing my husband's death. DoD claims these are duplicative benefits, yet 100% disabled military retirees may receive all their military retired pay plus VA disability compensation. But when they die, their widow is "double dipping". Disability compensation ends with the death. DIC is currently $1319.04 per month. That is what DoD deducts from SBP, leaving most surviving spouses left with zero in SBP and only DIC. This is wrong. Today, most SBP-DIC offset surviving spouses receive DIC and zero in the earned and purchased SBP.  These surviving spouses deserve better from their country. I’m calling on Congress to provide surviving spouses with 100% of the Survivor Benefit Plan promised. Our government is reneging on a voluntarily PURCHASED insurance plan whose entire purpose is to ensure that surviving spouses are taken care of financially should the sponsor pre-decease her/him. When a servicemember makes the ultimate sacrifice, their family shouldn’t have to worry about how they will survive. As a Navy spouse, I was there for countless others who experienced loss. When I lost my husband, I realized how negligent the government bureaucracy is towards families who have paid the ultimate price. I want to be there for those families again. Hopefully, if we can gather enough petition support, the government will not ignore us. Congress will change the law. DoD will be prevented from making a windfall profit off of our spouse's deaths by not paying in full their survivor benefits.  Please sign the petition to end SBP-DIC offset for military surviving spouses and ask Congress to pass House Resolution HR 553, (Rep Joe Wilson, SC) and Senate bill S.622 (Senators Doug Jones, AL introduced with 28 original co-sponsors, the two bills to change the law and end this unjust forfeiture of what our spouses paid for with blood and income. Use the Capital Switchboard number to be connected to your Representative and both Senators and ask them to co-sponsor these bills. toll free: 866-272-6622

Military Widows: SBP-DIC Offset Facebook group
209,605 supporters
Petitioning Consumer Product Safety Commission

Make play yard mattresses breathable to stop accidental infant suffocation.

It was nap time at our 7-month-old daughter Abigail's daycare. Her caretakers put her down on a play yard mattress pad to sleep, as they had many times before. But this time, Abigail slept stomach-down. An hour later, Abigail was unresponsive and unconscious.  She had suffocated with her face against the mattress pad. Doctors tried to save her, but it was too late. That was six years ago, and her loss still haunts us. It turns out there are no laws requiring mattress pads for babies to be breathable. We couldn’t believe this when we found out. We, and her daycare providers, had assumed her sleeping surface must be safe because it was manufactured especially for babies. We took it to court, as we could not stand the idea of another child meeting Abby's fate. As part of our case, we engaged top experts to conduct tests on 30 popular play yard mattresses: results proved that the one Abigail slept on that day had more in common with a plastic bag than a safe sleeping surface, and many other brands are as bad when it comes to breathability. This is unthinkable, and we must demand better regulation of infant products. Please, in Abby’s memory and for all infants who could fall into harm’s way, sign this petition calling on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to require all mattress pads for babies to be breathable. In our tests, some play yard mattresses proved very breathable. But there are no standards or labeling for this, so parents and daycare providers have no way to know which products provide a safe place to sleep, and which ones are no more breathable than a deadly plastic bag. We hope that our story, and the fact that the jury in our court case made history when it chose to hold the mattress pad’s manufacturer accountable for Abby's passing, will result in better regulations when it comes to mattress pad breathability. It would be a fitting and important tribute to our beautiful Abby, and a crucial safety measure for all babies to come. Now that we know the truth, we cannot allow our babies’ lives to be put at risk any longer. Please join us in asking the CPSC to make surface breathability a mandatory requirement in mattress pads for babies.

David Karow
176,828 supporters
Petitioning Donald J. Trump, Donald J. Trump, USCIS , Jeanne Shaheen, US State Department, Tim Kaine, David Perdue, Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Jack Reed, Richard Blumenthal, Mazie K. Hirono, Angus S. King Jr., Mar...

Save Aysha and Her Family from Being Executed by the Taliban

Aysha and her family are in critical danger because Aysha's father, Muhammad, is a heroic Afghan interpreter who worked for the US mission in Afghanistan for more than 10 years and was threatened with death by the Taliban. As NBC News recently reported, the Department of Homeland Security has been stonewalling several members of Congress for nearly a year on why Muhammad and his family were denied visas. The family’s case was recently re-opened, but they remain in critical danger as they wait. As a US military interpreter, Muhammad directly saved American soldiers' lives, including one time he dashed into an ambushed vehicle under Taliban fire. His military supervisors praised his work ethic, dedication, and trustworthiness, and his incredible skill of fluently speaking six languages made him indispensable on Special Forces night raids on Taliban insurgents. But the Taliban considers him a criminal and is working hard to find and kill Muhammad, his wife, and his young daughters. The whole family has been living in hiding for nearly five years. They are living in daily fear of being discovered and killed by the Taliban. Even the children are unable to leave their apartment. Leaks in the roof have made the young girls sick on several occasions from getting infections from bacteria in the water or getting cold in the winter. Since the family is in hiding, Muhammad is unable to work. If you are able to contribute to supporting the Kamran family while we work to get them visas, please visit our Go Fund Me page. Meet Aysha, Muhammad, and the rest of their family in our 2-min YouTube video and help us by sharing the video (especially with your representatives in Congress). As I wrote about in USA Today, my family and I tried to sponsor Aysha and her family for humanitarian parole to save their lives, but the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied the cases despite the strong support of a former Navy Lieutenant who personally worked with Muhammad in Afghanistan. Aysha's aunt and uncle in the United States offered to care for her and her sisters, but USCIS refused to even save the kids, making the ridiculous claim that Aysha and her sisters are “security concerns.” On May 22nd, Representatives Jamie Raskin, Tom Reed, Pramila Jayapal, and John Garamendi sent a letter to USCIS reiterating their request for a briefing on the family’s case. Previously, in July 2018, 38 bipartisan members of Congress, sent a letter to former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asking to review the reason that the family's refugee case was denied. USCIS took several months to respond to the letter, and they are still refusing to answer Congress’s questions about why the case was denied then Secretary Nielsen promising a briefing to Rep. Raskin in December 2018. USCIS has also ignored Senate offices that have contacted them about the case. Four bipartisan members of Congress then sent a letter on February 14th, 2019 demanding to know why the family's case was denied. In response, USCIS re-opened the case but is still ignoring Congress’s request to review the reason for the denial. Tell USCIS that ignoring Congress is unacceptable. USCIS must approve Muhammad and his family's case to save them from the Taliban before it is too late. USCIS doesn't question that leaving this family behind is a death sentence. They just don't care enough about refugees to even save a toddler from the Taliban. Muhammad and his family's story is summarized below and has been covered by NBC News, The Christian Post, USA Today, McClatchy DC, The Sacramento Bee, RedState, The Ithaca Voice (here, here, and here), No One Left Behind, and the Evangelical Immigration Table. You can also hear Muhammad's story in his own words in our 4-min YouTube video or in a recent interview on The Michael Calderin Show. Please contact your representatives in Congress ask them to help with the case. You can email me (save.aysha@gmail.com) for more information. If you want to contribute to supporting the Kamran family while we work to get them visas, please visit our Go Fund Me page. When the US military mostly pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban gained strength in Afghanistan and killed many interpreters or their family members in revenge. One of Muhammad's brothers and a nephew, Sahil, who was also an interpreter, were shot and left for dead in an assassination attempt on Muhammad and his family. After the Taliban ambush, Muhammad fled his home district, just in time to escape a second Taliban attack that destroyed their family home. Consequently, Muhammad lost all contact with US military personnel who could have helped him apply for an SIV visa. When I learned about Muhammad and his family's plight over a year ago, I was determined to do everything possible to save their lives. Muhammad had tried to apply to the US as a refugee on his own, but he was denied for “discretionary security reasons,” a very common problem for former military interpreters and their families. When Muhammad's refugee case was denied, he was devastated and lost all hope for saving his life and his family's lives. He said the only option left for him was to surrender to the Taliban, thinking that after the Taliban tortured and killed him, they would stop looking for his children. I told him not to give up and promised him to find a way to save their lives. Please help me keep my promise to Muhammad to save his life and his family's lives. They do not deserve to suffer and die because of Muhammad's service to the US military. My family hired a lawyer and filed a humanitarian parole case to sponsor Muhammad and his family to come live in the US while he works to get permanent, legal status in the US. Our humanitarian parole case for them may be our last chance to save their lives. In what our lawyer says is the most egregious case she has ever seen, USCIS denied Muhammad and his family's humanitarian parole cases because his refugee case had been denied and without even bothering to figure out why the refugee case had been denied. Thus, they denied Muhammad's humanitarian parole case for “discretionary reasons” without even knowing what those discretionary reasons were. This is effectively a death sentence for the entire family. When our lawyer pleaded with USCIS to at least let Muhammad's young daughters come live with their aunt and uncle in the US, the director of the Humanitarian Affairs Branch of USCIS, John Bird, refused to approve any of the family's cases and made the absurd claim that granting a one-year visa to anyone in the family, including Muhammad's 2- and 4-year-old daughters, was a security concern. Because of USCIS's policy and Muhammad's service to the US military, Muhammad's children were literally born with a death sentence. Mr. Bird acknowledges that Muhammad and his family meet all the criteria for humanitarian parole, and he does not question that they will be killed if left in their current situation. He just does not care enough about Muslim refugees to even save a toddler from the Taliban.  Worse yet, in October 2017 USCIS granted humanitarian parole to family members of Las Zetas drug cartel members who murdered US ICE agents in Mexico, so that the family members of the murderers could attend a trial in Washington, D.C. Thus, USCIS is literally treating Muhammad and his family worse than criminals. Sign the petition to tell USCIS to approve Muhammad's and his family's cases quickly. Muhammad is a hero who faithfully served the US military for over 9 years and is now in grave danger because the Taliban is determined to get revenge. He has already lost everything except his and his family's lives because of his service to America, but he is still proud of his choice to work for the US military. All he wants in return is the chance to bring his daughters to safety and to give them a future. If USCIS does not re-open and approve his case, he will be left behind to be killed by the same terrorists that he risked his life to fight for so many years. Please call your Congressional representatives and ask them to support our effort asking DHS for information on why they denied Muhammad's case. If you need contact information on your Congressional representatives, use this link to look them up: https://whoismyrepresentative.com/ Email me (Kristy Perano) at save.aysha (at) gmail.com to find out how you can help or for more information on Muhammad's case. Please also email me if you know Muhammad personally or if you know any government officials or reporters who may be able to help raise public awareness of Muhammad's case.

Kristy Perano
50,946 supporters
Victory
Petitioning The Governor of CA

Hold a Polluting Cement Plant Accountable to the Law

During a public hearing on February 10, 2011, the Office of Mine Reclamation(OMR) stated that Lehigh Southwest Permanente Cement and Quarry (Lehigh) in Santa Clara County has been operating outside of its approved Reclamation Plan since 2002 and is not qualified to be on the AB 3098 List. Quarries on the list are in good standing with the state mining laws. Quarries not on the list cannot sell cement or aggregate to government funded projects. Lehigh should have been taken off the list in 2002. However, to this day, Lehigh remains on the AB 3098 list, unfairly taking contracts away from those quarries in compliance.  It was estimated that Lehigh sold 85% of its cement to Government agencies.  If OMR removes Lehigh from the AB 3098 list immediately, OMR will get Lehigh’s attention right away and hopefully bring Lehigh into compliance of California Mining Laws quickly. Air and water violations: The EPA says Lehigh has been operating without a valid Title V Permit (Federal Clean Air permit) since 1996. According to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board,  its “...civil liability (ACL) against the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company (Lehigh)… is based on allegations that Lehigh discharged sediment-laden water to Permanente Creek that may also have been polluted by cement plant operations at its 24001 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Cupertino facility…”. We need to protect the health and safety of our community and continue to attract the most highly educated and talented high-tech workforce to Silicon Valley. Therefore, effective deterrents like removal from the AB-3098 list need to be enforced by government agencies when Lehigh Permanente Quarry and Cement adjacent to Silicon Valley is in violation of the law.   Please sign the petition to ask the Office of Mine Reclamation and the State Mining and Geology Board (SMGB) to remove Lehigh from the AB 3098 list immediately.  Please ask your friends and neighbors to sign as well.   Many of you told me that we are making Lehigh and Santa Clara County panic and sweat now.  Please keep up your good work.  Thank you very much for your help.

Barry Chang
28,227 supporters
Petitioning Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Patty Murray, Tammy Baldwin, Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Ben Cardin, Robert Casey, Catherine Cortez Masto, Tammy Duckworth, Dick Durbin, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamal...

"CAP" Private & FED Student Loan Interest

Dear Senator, In 2018 student loan debt had eclipsed 1.5 trillion dollars. With roughly about 44 million borrowers, that sets the average student loan debt at about 38K per student. Society’s taught us all at a young age, that education was the key to success. We were told “get a good education and this will assure you get a well paying job after graduating from college.” This message is embedded in our minds early in life. Unfortunately, for many this could not be further from the truth. I know this letter may come across your desk and potentially be overlooked, because I am not a constituent in your state. But within your state are many just like me (thousands maybe even millions). Many do not know what to do, so I would like to be their voice and beacon of hope. I am a private student loan borrower (Sallie Mae/Navient). I (like many) could not afford to pay for college out of my own pocket. Thankfully, I was able to fund my 4 years of college with both Federal & Private loans (mostly private). While I am grateful for the college experience and degree I earned, it’s been overshadowed by the enormous never-ending growing balance post graduation. I originally borrowed 55,532.88 for my college education from Sallie Mae/Navient. I graduated in 2005. Year-to-date I’ve made payments totaling 59,509.13. My remaining balance is still 64,143.21. Seeing these figures side-by-side on my excel spreadsheets literally sickens my stomach. However, I am proactively working on a plan to pay it back. The statistic shared earlier shows that student loan debt is a problem in this country we call the “land of opportunity.” For myself and many others, we feel the mounting pressures of the growing balance even after repayment has started. Defaults rates are well above normal and will continue to sore. This is why I’m putting this petition together to call for reform to specifically “private student loans.” Upon graduation, the original principal in some cases have doubled, tripled even quadrupled because of the “daily compounding interest.” I am calling for Government Representatives to step-in and set a “CAP limit” on the amount of interest Private loan providers can add onto original loan balances. Balances are growing on a daily basis. The payments most students are making is primarily going toward the interest that is still growing daily. How are borrowers suppose to ever make a dint in the principal balance? It’s virtually impossible. The interest rates are variable and set by the lender. Why do lenders need to collect 2, 3, or 4 times the amount borrowed? Income based repayments (which is primarily for Fed Loans) isn’t a solution; it’s a Band-Aid. This only lowers the monthly payment while the interest is still increasing, eventually increasing your overall balance. We need real reform. Reform that will truly help all student borrowers pay off their private student loans with a “reasonable” amount of interest. It feels as if private lenders purposely want to keep students in debt well into their elderly years. Which morally, simply is not the right thing to do. Education shouldn’t be a penalty. Private lenders are profiting 2, 3, and even 4 fold at an alarming rate from “interest only.” How many executives are receiving bonuses? Why do private lenders need so much interest it they are claiming to help struggling students pay for college? I can not predict the future. I do not know what happens if this student loan bubble bursts like the housing market did some years back. But students are being left with the short end of the stick and mounting balances unless Government appointed officials create and pass real laws that will bring change to this predatory system “Private Loan Providers” have taken advantage of for so many years. #CAPstudentloaninterest

N. Reed
16,964 supporters