We are getting ready to close the book on the 115th Congress. The past two years have been busy in Washington as we passed historic tax reform, rolled back needless regulation and implemented improvements to help Main Street lenders and job creators. I’m proud to be a voice for Arkansas in the nation’s capital, representing our shared values as Congress crafts polices that will make a difference in the lives of Arkansans and all Americans. We made great progress this year that will help our state.
The Arkansas Rural Water Association applauded a policy update, based on legislation I introduced, that was included in the water infrastructure bill passed by Congress in October. My proposal, which is now law, will modernize critical water infrastructure funding and increase access to financing, particularly for rural areas often unable to afford upgrades to aging water systems.
Throughout this Congress, one of my top priorities has been to strengthen the ability of Arkansas farmers and ranchers to continue to be leaders in feeding and clothing the world. The farm bill that President Donald Trump recently signed into law improves essential programs for Arkansans, and I was proud to play a role in writing this law.
As is typical at the end of a Congress, there is a flurry of activity on the Senate floor as members work to pass their legislative priorities. My staff and I were driven to get significant legislation across the finish line that includes passage of the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act. This bill will ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reimburses veterans for missed or underpaid Forever GI Bill housing benefits. The department’s failure to fully comply with reimbursement rates set by the Forever GI Bill resulted from IT systems that had not been properly updated and a lack of internal processes to get the VA the necessary information about payment rates. This bill will correct this problem so our veterans can receive the full benefits they were promised.
In recent days Congress also passed the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment (WEEE) Act. This legislation seeks to break down the gender-related barriers to economic growth for women in developing countries. Women make up the majority of the world’s poor. This is due in part to lack of access to financial services and credit. I was proud to bring this bill to the Senate floor and pleased my colleagues supported recognizing the importance of leveling the playing field for women around the world.
In Arkansas, parishioners of Walnut Grove Church in Garland County are celebrating approval of a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service. Working with Congressman Bruce Westerman and my Senate colleagues, we were able to facilitate a land exchange that provides the church ownership of the land it worships on, something the congregation has vigorously pursued for more than two decades. I was proud to guide this change through the Senate.
These are just a few of the achievements from this past year that are worth celebrating. There are countless others, including more targeted efforts to respond to and combat the opioid crisis, comprehensive legislation to reform benefits and services for our veterans and much more.
I’m pleased with what we have accomplished in the 115th Congress and I look forward to working to make our country better in 2019. I wish you and your family all the best in New Year.