Washington Review, February 19, 2021
This week, I joined a roundtable hosted by Kean University to discuss reaching urban communities with vaccine messages. I signed onto multiple pieces of legislation to overhaul the immigration system in our country, support automatic voter registration, secure more working rights for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, require an aviation preparedness plan for future pandemics, and create a tax credit for individuals who purchase an electric bicycle. I signed onto resolutions to oppose the privatization of the Postal Service, to thank the National Guard for their service in Washington, D.C. Lastly, I signed onto a letter to encourage renewable energy production in Puerto Rico.
On Friday, I attended a virtual roundtable hosted by Kean University focused on reaching urban communities with important vaccine messages. I am grateful to Kean University President Dr. Lamont Repollet, and all of the panelists, for setting up this crucial discussion for our community. At the roundtable, I discussed initiatives I am taking to ensure urban communities are getting information on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. I shared my support for H.R. 173, the COVID-19 Prevention and Awareness Act, introduced by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY). This legislation authorizes over $2 billion in grant funding through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Community Health Centers (CHCs) to carry out COVID-19 direct services such as testing, contact tracing, caring for individual with pre-existing conditions, and disseminating information about the vaccine. Additionally, I shared my support for the COVID-19 Language Access Act, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), which would require all federal materials about COVID-19 to be distributed in over 20 languages, including information about the effectiveness of the vaccines. Ensuring Americans are taking the vaccine when offered to them is a crucial aspect in returning to some form of normalcy. We must be sure to disseminate information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine to all areas of our community and ensure its equitable delivery. I look forward to continuing working both in Congress and with the Mayors and those on a local and state level to inform the public about the vaccine.
The last four years saw former President Donald Trump chip away at our nation’s immigration system. I have always sought to strive for a more fair and compassionate immigration system for those coming to our country, which is why I have cosponsored the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA). This important piece of legislation would provide undocumented immigrants, specifically Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients with a pathway to citizenship. Additionally, this bill prioritizes family reunification for all those families that have been separated at the border and invests money to smartly manage our Southern border. Funds are included to address the root causes of migration from Central America and for the United States to focus on human rights. The United States has long been a beacon of hope for those wishing to build a better life for themselves and their loved ones, just like my family when we came to America as refugees from Cuba. I’m proud to cosponsor this important legislation that will build an immigration system that is compassionate and reflective of what I know this country can be.
I signed onto the Automatic Voter Registration Act, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). This legislation would ensure that Americans are automatically registered to vote in future elections. Specifically, the bill would require state motor vehicle registries to submit information of individuals who obtain services from the registry to the state’s election officials for automatic voter registration. Individuals would have the option to opt-out of this practice if they choose to do so. We need to be ensuring as many Americans as possible have the right to vote in our elections.
I also signed onto H.R. 903, the Rights for the Transportation Security Administration Workforce Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS). This bill would ensure all employees at the TSA are covered under Title 5 of the U.S. Code, which lays our federal workers’ due process and collective bargaining protections. When Congress first established the TSA following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, it exempted the agency from Title 5, giving it broad latitude to determine employees’ pay and benefits, as well as to discipline and fire workers. Employees there were not allowed to unionize until 2011, and even now have only abridged collective bargaining rights compared with the rest of the federal workforce. Under this bill, TSA employees would have full federal sector collective bargaining rights and due process and whistleblower protections, and it would tie their pay to the General Schedule.
Air travel has been hard hit in the past year due to COVID-19 and the risks associated with being in close proximity to others for extended periods of time. That is why I cosponsored H.R. 884, the National Aviation Preparedness Plan Act, introduced by Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA). This bill will require the development of a national aviation plan to prepare for future public health emergencies and restore confidence in air travel. This bill also requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in collaboration with HHS, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other relevant federal agencies, to develop a national aviation preparedness plan for communicable disease outbreaks. We must begin proactively planning for the next possible pandemic and these initiatives will ensure the viability and safety of the aviation industry.
I cosponsored H.R. 1019, the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act, introduced by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA). This bill would create a consumer tax credit for the purchase of an electric bicycle. The tax credit would cover 30 percent of the cost of a Class 1, 2, or 3 e-bike, up to a $1,500 credit and applies to new electric bicycles that cost less than $8,000, including cargo e-bikes. It permits the purchase of one e-bike for single filers, or two for joint filers, and is fully refundable, allowing lower-income riders to claim the credit. Electric bikes are a viable and climate friendly option for travel and commuting in many areas of the country. We must be doing all we can to encourage investment in more climate friendly methods of travel.
The Postal Service (USPS) has been essential to keeping our country moving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts by the Trump administration to weaken and privatize the USPS were shortsighted and also failed. I have joined colleagues in a resolution led by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) to oppose the privatization of the USPS. Specifically, this resolution expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the USPS should not be privatized. There are many other methods to reinvigorate the USPS, privatization is simply not one of them.
I also signed onto a resolution led by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) thanking the 26,000 National Guard Troops currently stationed in Washington, D.C. for their service and protection of the inauguration. Many of these National Guard troops deployed to Washington, D.C. with very little notice in an effort to assist authorities in protecting the Capitol following the horrifying attack on the Capitol on January 6th. I am deeply grateful to these troops for their commitment to protecting our country and a resolution honoring their sacrifice expresses how grateful myself and other members of Congress are for their presence.
I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) addressed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), encouraging the production of renewable energy in Puerto Rico. This letter calls on FEMA to encourage the transition to renewable energy as Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority (PREPA) makes use of the historic allocation of $9.6 billion to repair the island’s electric grid. This is a historic opportunity fore Puerto Rico to transition to renewable power and I am happy to support this initiative and continue fighting for greener, more climate friendly power methods.
Current Washington D.C. Office Status
My Washington D.C. staff continue to take meetings virtually during this time. Please know we continue to monitor our phone system, so while we are unable to speak directly with you, we respond to voice messages left. If you reached out to us through phone or e-mail, please expect an e-mail response. Be sure to check your spam or junk folders for a response from our office. We appreciate your understanding as we all navigate working through the pandemic.
Open Enrollment has been extended through May 15th. This year, instead of using the federal marketplace, New Jersey will switch to their own state-run marketplace. In order to browse health care plans you can visit: www.nj.gov/getcoverednj. Here you will be able to compare available plans, review financial assistance options, and select a plan that is best for you. This new marketplace is easy to use and helps to clearly identify plans that will be most beneficial to you. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial we leave no one behind and that everyone has access to affordable health care. If you need health care, be sure to visit the site. Open enrollment is open from November 1, 2020 to May 15, 2021.
With cases of COVID-19 continuing to rise across the country, and in New Jersey, it is imperative we remain vigilant and safe. Please continue to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing when possible. As always, please exercise caution if meeting with loved ones, and take necessary measures to ensure the safety of yourself, your family, and our community. Working together, we can help slow the spread of this virus. Please know that I will continue working to get the 8th District the resources it needs. If you have questions or need assistance please call my Washington, D.C. office at (202)225-7919 and follow instructions to be connected to my staff or send an email to NJ8inquiries@mail.house.gov. Together we can get through this.