Washington Review, December 14, 2020
Last week, the House voted on the Conference Report to accompany the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) funding bill and a crucial stopgap funding bill to help avert a government shutdown while a larger package is negotiated. On Wednesday, I was honored to receive the In Defense of Christian’s 2020 Congressional Champion Award. I cosponsored legislation to protect providers from Medicare cuts in the midst of the pandemic, help those people facing eviction, support children with disabilities, and supporting human rights across the globe. I also signed onto letters to extend Federal unemployment benefits, include cash relief payments in the next relief bill, urge the incoming Biden Administration to complete the Gateway project, and to urge the incoming Biden Administration to offer Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status to children that have been separated from their families.
Last Tuesday, the House voted in favor of the Conference Report to H.R. 6395, the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), by a vote of 335-78. I voted in favor of this legislation, which takes many steps and provides numerous amounts of funding to improve the lives of our courageous servicemembers. The conference report includes many provisions that House Democrats, along with my colleagues and I in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, fought hard to incorporate, including a 3% increase in pay for our servicemembers, ensuring all federal employees are granted access to paid parental leave, and requiring the Department of Defense to remove all names and symbols honoring the Confederacy or those who served voluntarily with the Confederacy from their assets. Further, the conference report included funding and provisions to establish a chief diversity officer at the Department of Defense to promote and ensure diversity inclusion in all branches of the military, create a task force to better deal with incidents of sexual assault in the military, authorize child care for members of the military and Department of Defense, and authorize millions more in funding to help the military’s response to COVID-19. Our brave men and women in uniform deserve these benefits, and I am confident the provisions included in this conference report will help to improve the lives of our servicemembers while honoring our country’s values.
Last Wednesday, the House passed a crucial stopgap funding bill to keep the Government funded through December 18th and avert a government shutdown. While short-term, stopgap bills are not ideal, it would be worse to let our government enter into a reckless shutdown. The continuing resolution passed by the House will keep our government open as we continue working to reach a full funding deal and more meaningful coronavirus relief for the country. House Democrats and I will continue to negotiate in good-faith to bring much-needed relief for the American people, but the Senate and White House must join us in this effort.
Last Wednesday, I was honored to receive an the Congressional Champion Award from the In Defense of Christian’s organization. I received the award this year for my efforts advocating for persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Africa. Throughout the 116th Congress I cosponsored and voted in favor of legislation recognizing the Armenian Genocide, sanctioning Turkey for invading Syria, and supporting Coptic Christians. Much of the 8th District is made up of a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and countries, many of whom, like myself, have fled violence in order to be here. In this respect, and as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it is incumbent upon me to represent my district in promoting human rights and condemning hate and violence across the globe. As we enter the 117th Congress I look forward to maintaining my commitment to fight against persecution, hate, and human rights violations around the world.
Our health care providers are on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, that is why I cosponsored H.R. 8702, the Holding Providers Harmless from Medicare Cuts During COVID-19 Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA). In 2021 the Medicare physician fee schedule, used to reimburse providers for services they provide under Medicare, is set to increase for Emergency Management (E/M) services and decrease for many other providers. Certain providers will be facing a decrease in reimbursement rates at a time when many providers are either struggling financially or experiencing obstacles due to COVID-19. The midst of a pandemic is not the time to cut funds to any of our medical providers. This legislation would provide funds to providers who are facing cuts in 2021 which would fund them at 2020 levels. It is imperative we give doctors and providers the funds they need so that they can continue offering care for those in need during this current public health emergency.
I cosponsored H.R. 7847, the Housing Emergency Lifeline Program Act, introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). This important legislation takes steps to protect those facing eviction during the pandemic by authorizing $10 billion in Emergency Solution Grants (ESG) to fund legal counsel for those facing or at risk of eviction. Furthermore, this bill directs the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish a database of eviction information gathered from all State and local entities that receive covered housing assistance, restricts credit reporting of evictions in cases where the landlord won in a final judgement or the tenant was not a minor, and requires covered landlords to inform their tenants of their rights and responsibilities. Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and during, I have long fought as an advocate to protect homeowners, tenants, and increase affordable housing. The middle of a pandemic is not the time to be evicting people; instead, we should ensure that everyone has the means to stay in their home.
I also cosponsored H.R. 8523, the Supporting Children with Disabilities During COVID-19 Act, introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). This legislation would increase funding for children with disabilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by appropriating $11 billion for state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Additionally, this legislation would provide $1.2 billion for early childhood education programs, $55 million under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, and requires recipients of funds to report to Congress on how the money is spent and how it benefits children with disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has been testing for everyone but can be especially stressful for children with disabilities as they form new routines and are removed from many of the learning resources they have at school. This funding will go a long way in ensuring children with disabilities have the support they need during the remainder of this pandemic.
On December 10, 2020, we celebrated the 72nd anniversary of the United Nation’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first comprehensive agreement among countries as to the specific rights and freedoms of all human beings. In light of this, I cosponsored a resolution introduced by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) supporting human rights. The resolution expresses support for global human rights, human rights defenders around the world, and calls for the United States to observe Human Rights Day and continue a commitment to upholding freedom, democracy, and human rights around the globe.
Last Thursday, I joined over 45 of my colleagues in a letter led by Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-MI), addressed to the President urging him to include an extension of federal unemployment benefits. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act both included provisions which had federal unemployment assistance for those individuals who had lost their job as an impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, throughout the pandemic millions have lost unemployment, and there are currently still 10 million Americans unemployed, 6.7% of the workforce, far higher than the 3.6% at January 2020. As these individuals continue to struggle it is imperative we extend this federal aid so that they can continue to be secure until this pandemic is over. No one chose to lose their job because of a pandemic, but we can, and must, take steps to mitigate the struggle that many individuals and families are facing.
I also joined colleagues in a letter led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) addressed to House and Senate leadership urging them to include relief checks in the next COVID-19 relief package. As the end of the 116th Congress grows closer, it is of the utmost importance that we are able to deliver a robust stimulus for the hard-working American people. One of the provisions that must be included in any future relief bill is the inclusion of more stimulus checks. The first economic impact payment of $1,200 was worthwhile, but not nearly enough to support those who continue to struggle due to COVID-19. The letter outlines the importance that another round of economic impact payments could mean to the American people and asks leadership to definitively include this provision in any future deal.
I joined my colleagues in the New Jersey delegation, led by Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), in sending a letter to President-elect Biden urging his incoming Administration to prioritize the completion of the Gateway Project. Specifically, the letter calls for the completion of the Hudson River Tunnel project and the Portal North Bridge Project. I have long been fighting to get the appropriate funds and the completion of these projects, and I am glad to see the project is finally ready to move forward. I am confident that with the incoming Biden Administration, we will be able to complete these projects and revitalize the Gateway region and Northeast Corridor, which is of crucial importance to New Jersey, the Northeast, and the entire country’s economy.
I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) addressed to President-elect Biden’s transition urging his incoming Administration to provide Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status to children that were separated form their families. DED is an immigration benefit that allows individuals from certain designated countries facing political or civic conflict or natural disaster to stay in the United States. It is unacceptable that these children would have been separated from their families in the first place. Because of this unfortunate reality, we must do all we can to protect these children and give them the tools to succeed.
On November 1, 2020, Open Enrollment for health care plans began in New Jersey. 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 January 31, 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. I wish everyone in the 8th District a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. 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.