January 05, 2014

Mend the safety net, advance early education

President Barack Obama recently said that "what drives me … as an American is to make sure that every striving, hardworking, optimistic kid in America has the same incredible chance that this country gave me." Right now, we are facing a period of profound economic challenges, many of which have been building for decades. Families and individuals in Hawaii understand these challenges firsthand. Far too many people in our state struggle to pay for education, buy a home and save for retirement.

I've listened to the stories of the people in our state and I know how hard things can be. Times are tough and it's important that we continue to provide a safety net for our keiki, kupuna and others who are in need.

That's why this year I will work to retroactively extend unemployment insurance and raise the minimum wage. In Hawaii, 1,900 families were kicked off their unemployment insurance last month. This is unacceptable. We must also take action to help those who work hard but are still at or near the poverty level. The minimum wage right now, in real terms, is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office, before Hawaii became a state. It's time to raise it.

Before Congress adjourned in December, we were able to come together in a bipartisan manner and pass a budget and a defense authorization bill. While not perfect, both laws represent a compromise. When we reconvene this year, I hope that we can continue to compromise and get things done on behalf of the people of Hawaii and the nation.

I know firsthand that education can be a great equalizer. It is also the key to building a stronger economy. To that end, Hawaii should offer universal preschool. Quality early childhood education provides opportunities for keiki to succeed in school and in life. And as children get older, we need to make sure that a college education is affordable for everyone.

Looking at our state's economy, our priorities should be to target emerging markets for Hawaii tourism, promote private sector investments, and leverage federal dollars to grow new industries. To create more jobs, we should work to build our innovation sector, support sustainable agriculture, and boost clean energy.

We must also maintain military readiness. Home to the U.S. Pacific Command and the East-West Center, Hawaii is our nation's gateway, playing a key role in our rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. Moving forward, we need to continue military construction projects to upgrade our current infrastructure and build for the future.

This year, I will continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform. Hawaii's culture has been shaped by generations of immigrants, like myself, joining our multicultural melting pot. I have met with the young people who are the DREAMers and they are intelligent, articulate and value what so many of us take for granted. They want to be able get an education, work and participate in our election process. They deserve a chance, and we've got to pass meaningful immigration reform for all who wish to come out of the shadows.

Whether it's reforming our immigration system, making a college education more affordable, working to boost our innovation sector or supporting sustainable farming — my priorities are to do all that I can so that everyone has the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. I look forward to continuing that fight in 2014.

Read the entire piece here: http://www.staradvertiser.com/editorialspremium/20140105__Mend_the_safety_net_advance_early_education_.html?id=238686821

By:  Senator Mazie K. Hirono
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser