Washington Review, August 6, 2021
This week, I wrote an op-ed calling for more Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. I also cosponsored several important pieces of legislation to support the resiliency of coastal ecosystems, encourage students to study STEM, remove taxes on diapers, research the effects of technology on the cognitive development of children, reduce noise pollution from airports, continue to provide expanded access to mammograms, and support veterans who were discharged due to their sexual orientation. I also joined letters to urge for EPA assistance cleaning the Hackensack River, to incentivize energy efficient technology, to support school nutrition programs, to fund cooling assistance during heat waves, and to emphasize the need for childcare investments to be included in the next recovery package.
This week, I authored an op-ed calling for a renewed push to get all Americans vaccinated. Now that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available and free for all Americans, we have an incredible opportunity to leave this pandemic behind us. The Biden administration has also taken extraordinary steps to improve access to vaccines, such as by assuring that all Americans live within 5 miles of a vaccine location, providing free childcare, and reimbursing paid leave to allow people to get to their vaccine appointment. Unfortunately, despite the ease of access to lifesaving vaccines, some Americans remain hesitant. These vaccines were developed and scrutinized by scientists and medical professionals for the benefit of the public health against a highly infectious and deadly disease. It is not too late to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19. Please read my op-ed here and ask your doctor about your vaccine related questions.
This week, I cosponsored two pieces of legislation to make coastal communities more resilient to climate change. H.R. 4092, the Coastal Habitat Conservation Act, introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), would authorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Coastal Pilot Program to protect and restore coastal habitats by directing the Secretary of Interior to identify natural resource problems and solutions in priority coastal ecosystems in partnership with federal, state, and local governments, and private and nonprofit organizations; build capacity of partners to carry out stewardship and conservation; and assist in development and implementation of monitoring protocols. It would authorize appropriations of $20-25 million for each fiscal year (FY)22-26 for the Coastal Program.
I also cosponsored, H.R. 3431, the Increasing Community Access to Resiliency Grants Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), which directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish a comprehensive website that will provide information on all federal climate mitigation and coastal resiliency grants administered by NOAA and other federal agencies. By streamlining this information, this legislation would provide better access to mitigation grants.
I also joined the American Workforce Investment in Next Generation Students (WINGS) Act, introduced by Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA). This legislation creates a six-year pathway for high school students training in STEM skills to graduate from community college and enroll in apprenticeship. Specifically, this bill directs the Secretary of Education to award grants to 10 partnerships among local educational agencies, community colleges, and youth apprenticeship or labor-management training programs. The bill would also create a six-year pilot program for high school students starting their junior year, taking them through community college and into an apprenticeship and creates a “career navigator” to connect students with opportunities.
To help families afford the costs of raising a family, I joined the Improving Diaper Affordability Act, introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). Currently, there are no federal or state child-safety net programs that allocate funds specifically to diapers, and presently 36 states charge sales tax on diapers. This bill would make diaper purchases tax free and Health Savings Account (HSA) reimbursable.
I also joined H.R. 2161, the Children and Medical Research Advancement (CAMRA) Act, introduced by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). This legislation authorizes funds for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lead a research program on technology and media’s effects on infants, children, and adolescents in core areas of cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional development.
I cosponsored the Quiet Communities Act, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). This bill would reestablish the Office of Noise Abatement and Control in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, it would require the EPA Administrator, using funds made available to the Office, to carry out a study of airport noise and examine the Federal Aviation Administration’s selection of noise measurement methodologies, health impact thresholds, and abatement program effectiveness.
I signed on to H.R. 4612, the Protect Access to Lifesaving Mammograms Act, introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). Regular mammogram screening has been associated with a significant reduction in breast cancer mortality. In order to maintain access to regular mammograms, this legislation extends a moratorium on the United States Preventive Task Force (USPTF) breast cancer screening recommendation, therefore continuing to allow individuals over 40 to get a mammogram without a copay.
I also cosponsored to protect and honor veterans by promoting transparency at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and correcting records for those dishonorably discharged for their sexual orientation. The VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization Program was appropriated $16 billion last year, however, reports on funds and spending have been missing information on how a large portion of the funds have been spent. The Veterans’ Affairs Electronic Health Records Transparency Act, introduced by Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-IN), would require that the VA submit a quarterly report to Congress outlining how all funds have been spent. I also cosponsored the Restore Honor to Servicemembers Act, introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) to require the Department of Defense (DoD) to notify veterans that they can file to change their discharge status if they were discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation. From 1970-1992 approximately 100,000 individuals were dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces due to their sexual orientation. This legislation helps veterans correct their discharge status and shifts the burden of proof from the individual servicemember to the government.
This week, I joined Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) in a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra to inquire about the usage and availability of Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds for home cooling and summer crisis assistance. As heat waves becomes more common, and temperatures rise, putting more people in hazardous and deadly situations, it is vital to ensure resources are available to withstand these temperatures. Specifically, this letter asks Secretary Becerra to report on the percentage of LIHEAP funds used for cooling assistance; barriers that might prevent or limit Americans from using LIHEAP funding for cooling assistance; and a list of states that have received funds for summer crisis assistance.
In addition, I joined on a letter with the New Jersey Delegation to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in support of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to add the Lower Hackensack River to the National Priorities List and start superfund cleanup. If nominated for the National Priorities List of Superfund sites, NJDEP and the EPA would work together to cleanup this important waterway from decades of industrial pollution. NJDEP emphasizes that the assistance of the EPA is necessary to set up the best sediment and water quality sampling and cleanup efforts.
I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to House leadership urging the inclusion of tax incentives for clean energy and transportation in the infrastructure package. As we continue to make plans to invest in America’s infrastructure, climate sustainability and energy efficiency must be prioritized. This letter urges the inclusion of clean energy, energy efficiency, and clean transportation tax incentives in the upcoming infrastructure package.
I joined on to several letters to request certain measures to support children and families. I joined Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) in a letter to Congressional leadership to urge that childcare be prioritized in the next recovery package. Specifically, this letter urges ensuring childcare workers receive $15 an hour; extending a universal cap on out-of-pocket childcare costs of 7 percent of household income for all families; eliminating barriers to affordable and quality childcare such as administrative burdens like work requirements.
Lastly, I signed onto a letter to request that House leadership and the Education and Labor Committee support school infrastructure, including school kitchens, to enable them to provide more nutritious meals, and allow school food professionals to provide more locally produced products. This letter, led by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), request seeks to prioritize funding for school districts with high populations of students who receive free or reduced meals.
Current Washington D.C. Office Status
My staff continue to work remotely during this time. Please know we continue to monitor our phone system, so while we are unable to speak directly with you, we manage all 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.
Vaccines are now available to all individuals 12 and older who live, work, or study in New Jersey. To find your nearest vaccine location and make an appointment, please visit Vaccines.gov.
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.
Open Enrollment has been extended through the end of 2021. 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 a health care plan, be sure to visit the site.
Congressional App Challenge
The Congressional App Challenge is now open for submissions and all middle school and high school students are encouraged to participate. To fosters students’ interest in STEM and computer science, this annual coding challenge tasks students with developing an original app, covering any theme and using any platform or coding language they choose. Winners of the challenge may be displayed in the U.S. Capitol Building. Students can submit their app design until November 1, 2021. Please see CongressionalAppChallenge.us for more information and to register.