As a strong proponent of Early Childhood Education, Senator Kennedy assisted in the Expansion of the Head Start Program which increased the number of low-income children served by 25%. Senator Kennedy also championed the Head Start Improvement Act which maintained quality, extended services and authorized the purchase of buildings to enhance program stability. His work on the Summer Jobs for Youth Program resulted in a $500 million supplemental appropriation that was allocated for fiscal year 1992 and provided an additional 300,000 youth with summer employment.
As Chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Senator Kennedy worked closely with President Clinton to expand opportunities for working families. His leadership brought about the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, which provided seed money for local school-to-work programs designed and run by local business, education, community and labor leaders. He also sponsored the Human Services Reauthorization Act which guaranteed the extension of ABCD and all Community Action core funding. It also put Head Start on a path to reach all eligible children by expanding the program to cover pregnant women and children under 3. This Act also reauthorized the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help families pay their heating bills.
Senator Kennedy, in his senior role in the Senate and as an acknowledged national spokesperson for the disadvantaged, continued to work on a vast array of domestic programs in the wake of an increasingly conservative Congress. He demonstrated his ongoing commitment at the dedication of the $8 million ABCD-controlled, HUD-funded conversion of the abandoned Michelangelo School in Boston's North End to 71 units of affordable elderly housing.
After the passage of the 1996 Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Act (welfare "reform"), Senator Kennedy acted to assist those most difficult to employ with Welfare-to-Work Initiatives. These initiatives provide individuals with access to job training, adult education, job placement, child care, transportation assistance and case management, and therefore really give families the opportunity to leave welfare and start life anew. ABCD, in partnership with Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, initiated a successful welfare-to-work program which was strongly supported by Senator Kennedy. Senator Kennedy championed the cause of the ABCD Urban College of Boston with the US Department of Education.
Senator Kennedy was the lead sponsor of the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act, which addressed the complex factors that have led to pervasive health disparities between minorities and other Americans in the United States. The approach included a commitment to research on minority health, and improved data systems to track the extent and severity of minority health problems. The law also included an authorization for significant resources to help enhance the delivery of health care to minorities. In addition, the Senators Kennedy and Frist sponsored legislation to improve the nation’s ability to respond to outbreaks of infectious disease. The Public Health Threats and Emergencies Act included initiatives to control the spread of germs resistant to antibiotics, and to protect the country against bioterrorism. Also that year, Kennedy authored the Pediatric Graduate Medical Education program (GME), which provided essential support for training programs at children’s hospitals across the country.
Senator Kennedy, as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass the landmark No Child Left Behind Act. The law contained substantial reforms to help close the achievement gap in public schools and improve the quality of education for all of the nation’s students. In addition, following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Senator Kennedy called together various disaster relief and mental health organizations to plan a coordinated response to the mental health needs of families of victims of the tragedy. His leadership provided immediate avenues for collaboration between disaster response agencies and ensured a timely and comprehensive response.
Following September 11th and the anthrax attacks in October of that year, Senator Kennedy introduced the bipartisan Bioterrorism Preparedness Act to help the country prevent, prepare for, and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. The law helped upgrade federal capacities to respond to bioterrorism, improved the response at the state and local level, and paved the way for new treatments and diagnostics. Senator Kennedy also sponsored the bipartisan Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which expanded the country’s intelligence and law enforcement capabilities to help identify individuals who have violated visas, or have links to terrorist organizations. The law safeguarded the entry of more than 31 million persons who enter the US legally each year as visitors, students, and temporary workers, striking an appropriate balance between isolating criminals and upholding America’s immigrant traditions.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Kennedy sponsored an amendment to provide funding for the procurement of additional armored Humvees for use in the war in Iraq. Senator Kennedy acted in response to reports that one quarter of all American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan occurred in unarmored Humvees, and that thousands more soldiers have been injured or disabled for life. The additional funding was used to purchase Up-Armored Humvees and armor add-on kits for the vehicles to meet the safety needs of American troops. In addition, Senator Kennedy led the effort to pass legislation that significantly enhanced law enforcement tools related to the exploitation and abduction of children. The PROTECT Act provided funding for AMBER Alert notification systems along U.S. highways, and awarded grants to states for the implementation of improved communication technologies.
Senator Kennedy was a leading cosponsor of legislation to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The legislation included bipartisan improvements to the program that provides special education services to six and a half million students in the U.S. The reauthorization provided for at least 30,000 additional special education teachers, improved education training, and expanded technologies available to disabled children. Senator Kennedy also sponsored and helped pass the Project Bioshield Act, which created a federal funding stream to guide America’s medical and biotechnology researchers in creating stronger defenses to biological threats. The National Institutes for Health, as well as universities and research institutions in Massachusetts and around the country, will benefit from the initiative, and lead the way in developing new bio-defense countermeasures such as vaccines, immunizations, and other treatments.
During consideration of the Iraq supplemental spending bill, Senator Kennedy introduced an amendment to ensure armored Humvee production remained at maximum levels. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Kennedy was successful in his efforts to pass Humvee-production legislation in 2003. However, mismanagement at the Pentagon had left production far short of what was needed to provide adequate security for US troops. Senator Kennedy’s amendment boosted funding to put production back on track. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in the country's history, Senator Kennedy joined his Senate colleagues in passing emergency funding to assist in the recovery efforts. In addition, the Senator met face-to-face with relief organizations working to provide support to victims, and discussed with them the best ways to implement relief and support services for those affected by the tragedy. Senator Kennedy also sponsored and helped pass emergency education funding for schools impacted by Katrina, and introduced the bipartisan Gulf Coast Recovery and Preparedness Act.
Senator Kennedy sponsored and helped pass the Family Opportunity Act, which provided states the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to children with special needs, allowing low- and middle-income families with disabled children the ability to purchase coverage under the Medicaid program. For many disabled children, Medicaid is the only health insurance program offering sufficient benefits to cover the required care, such as physical therapy and medical equipment. The Family Opportunity Act allows parents of disabled children to go to work and earn above poverty wages without losing coverage for their children.
Senator Kennedy led the successful effort to pass the first increase in the federal minimum wage in more than 10 years. His bill raised the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour and helped more than 13 million Americans, including the parents of more than 6 million children. Senator Kennedy renewed the Ryan White Care Act with greater focus on prevention, chronic care, quality of life, and new and emerging therapies. Congress also passed legislation proposed by Senator Kennedy to strengthen FDA's regulatory authority over drugs after they are approved. The bill was termed by experts to be the most significant strengthening of drug safety in a century.
Senator Kennedy's College Cost Reduction and Access Act authorized the largest increase in student aid since the GI bill in 1944 and established a loan forgiveness program to allow more college graduates to go into public service. The Senator held the first Congressional hearing on Iraqi refugees, and was the lead sponsor on legislation granting special immigrant visas to Iraqis who worked with US forces. Following an immigration raid on a factory in Massachusetts, Senator Kennedy worked with the Department of Homeland Security to develop guidelines on humanitarian screening for workers arrested in such raids.
Senator Kennedy worked with Senator Enzi, with the help of Senator Milkulski, to pass the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which reauthorized the Higher Education Act for the first time in a decade. This legislation focused on four major areas: expanding grant aid for the neediest students; addressing the ethical scandals in the student loan marketplace; simplifying the application process for Federal financial aid; and holding colleges more accountable for their costs. After more than 10 years of effort, Senator Kennedy and Senator Domenici worked together to enact the Mental Health Parity Act, requiring insurance companies to provide benefits for mental illnesses equal to the benefits for physical illnesses and assuring equity for 113 million Americans. Senator Kennedy also led the enactment of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, prohibiting insurers and employers from discriminating against people due to their genes.
Senator Kennedy championed the health and employment provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included incentives for the adoption of health information technology, provisions to expand access to unemployment insurance and to help those who lose their jobs to keep their health insurance, and investments to improve the quality of health. Senator Kennedy was also a leader in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to restore workers' ability to fight pay discrimination, the first major legislation signed by President Obama. In addition, Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch, led the enactment of the Serve America Act, which expands service opportunities for Americans of every age. Senator Kennedy had long been a leader in seeking to strengthen federal hate crime law. In 2009, the Senate passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, and is working to see that this long overdue legislation is finally enacted into law
Senator Kennedy's Health Committee was also the first committee in Congress to pass comprehensive health reform legislation called for by President Obama -- the Affordable Health Choices Act that will reduce health costs, protect individuals' choice in doctors and plans, and assure quality and affordable health care for all Americans.