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As another year draws to close, news outlets will be highlighting many of the most significant people, places and events of the past year. As we all consider how much has changed in the last twelve months, I also know that the most important stories are the ones that impact us and our families directly. Births and deaths. New adventures. Difficult challenges.
Whether family, friends or kind strangers, we all touch so many lives. For me, helping people has always been a priority while serving in Congress. A helping hand really can make a difference and provide hope when experiencing challenges with the federal government.
In 2023 my staff and I were honored to help thousands of Arkansans who contacted me for assistance with various federal agencies. I hear from people through my website, in grocery stores and community meetings, and even the occasional hand-written letter. No matter how someone reaches out to me, each story and question is important.
I am grateful for the trust of so many Arkansans. By helping with these concerns, I have a better understanding of how our government is, and is not, working. It is very valuable to understand as we consider budgets and policies and I know it can help in very personal ways, too.
Many requests this year were unique because of an increased demand for international travel. After several years of staying home, more Americans than ever decided to take that dream trip, visit family in other countries, study abroad and make international business deals in person.
My office helped more than 600 Arkansans with passports and visas, most of them during June and July. I know my colleagues in the Arkansas congressional delegation experienced a similar influx of requests and delivered assistance. It was a very challenging time for federal agencies and for travelers.
In recent days the U.S. Passport Service announced it reached it goals of returning to pre-pandemic processing times, so I’m hopeful this will make it easier for Arkansans applying for or renewing a passport in the future.
My staff and I also saw an uptick in requests for help with military records and honors. One reason for this increase was because of changes to Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits allowing expanded eligibility under the PACT Act. These long overdue benefits impact Arkansas veterans with service-connected toxic exposure and other situations unique to their military service. I was grateful to be part of the legislative solution and my office is honored to help support veterans who are trying to work through this new process.
It was also a big year for Social Security requests with more than 200 Arkansans requesting help. Many federal agencies are still working through policies regarding appointments, remote work and other internal changes that happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. These bureaucracy problems can impact people applying for benefits and I am glad we were able to help when things got lost or delayed or needed an in-person solution.
I am blessed with a tremendous team in Arkansas and Washington, D.C. that shares my dedication to Arkansas. They have valuable experience navigating these situations. We are all here to help.
Before we celebrate 2024, I hope you have the opportunity to reflect on 2023 and recognize that, regardless challenges and joys of the year, you know people are here to help when you need it.