Washington Review, December 5, 2020
This week, the House voted on legislation to protect big cats from hostile internment, establish community advantage loan programs to help small businesses, and federally decriminalize marijuana. I also led a letter to House leadership highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on the affordable housing crisis in New Jersey and asking them to include relief measures in the next relief package. I joined letters to the House and Senate leadership supporting the inclusion of the RESTAURANT Act in an end of year package to support our local restaurants, to ensure that the college selection process is as transparent as possible and joined the New Jersey delegation in a letter asking what procedures were in place to protect long-term care facilities and their residents from COVID-19 during the upcoming winter. Additionally, I cosponsored legislation to compensate our essential and frontline workers, recognize the 5th anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, and to remove the federal felony drug ban penalty from nutrition assistance programs.
On Thursday, the House voted on H.R. 1380, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL). This bill revises the current requirements governing big cats (lions, tigers, cougars, etc.) by restricting the possession and exhibition of big cats. Further, this legislation restricts direct contact between the public and big cats. Under current law, it is far too easy for individuals to obtain big cats and keep them on private property. It also aims to fix this issue and in doing so, protects the well-being of these precious animals while simultaneously protecting the public. Big cats are vibrant yet dangerous animals that should not be taken as pets or show animals. This bill will help more big cats stay in the wild while cracking down on those who abuse big cats for profit. I voted in favor of H.R. 1380, which passed the House by a vote of 272-114 and currently awaits further action from the Senate.
The House also voted on H.R. 7903, a bill to amend the Small Business Act to establish the Community Advantage Loan Program, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). The Community Advantage Loan Program was set up as a pilot program in 2011 to provide low-interest loans to small businesses that have been historically underserved by loan providers, such as veteran owned, service-disabled veteran owned, and minority owned small businesses. This legislation would reauthorize additional funding for the program through 2025, increase the training and assistance offered to small businesses through the program, and require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the outcome of the program. Supporting our underserved small businesses is vital to the vibrance and success of our communities. Especially now, with the economic effects of COVID-19, we need to be giving small businesses as many tools as possible to succeed. H.R. 7903 passed the House by a voice vote and now awaits further action from the Senate.
On Friday, the House voted on H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). This bill decriminalizes marijuana and removes marijuana from the list of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. This legislation also eliminates criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana. Additionally, this legislation takes the much-needed step of establishing a process to expunge convictions and review sentencings related to federal cannabis offenses and prohibits the denial of benefits for individuals who have been convicted of a federally related marijuana crime. The war on drugs has had an adverse impact on communities of color and low-income communities, and this legislation will help to correct those systematic wrongs. I voted in favor of H.R. 3884, which passed the House by a vote of 228-164 and now awaits further action from the Senate.
I cosponsored H.R. 6909, the Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). This bill is modeled after the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and would create a fund that would provide compensation to essential workers and their families, who were required to leave their homes to perform their services and became ill or died as a result of COVID-19. On the frontline of this fight are our first responders, transit workers, health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery workers, and military, as well as many other federal, state, local and tribal employees who have been deemed essential workers. Research shows that essential workers often work in low-wage positions that require risky face-to-face interactions without adequate protection. They are most at risk of illness during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in many cases, least able to afford the financial setback that can result from any interruption in work.
With the 5th anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement approaching I cosponsored Rep. Alan Lowenthal’s (D-CA) resolution recognizing the 5th anniversary of the historic climate agreement. With President-elect Biden vowing to rejoin the Paris Agreement after the detrimental withdrawal carried out by President Trump, the timing of recognizing the Paris Agreement cannot be more important. We are already beginning to experience the ramifications of the climate crisis and these impacts will only get worse if we do not begin to address the issue. It is for this reason that the international community came together in Paris, France in December 2015 and committed to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring global temperatures do not exceed 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial eras. I have long voiced my displeasure at this Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The United States should be leading the world in our pursuit of a more sustainable, environmentally friendly future, not shirking away from the responsibility.
I also signed onto H.R. 7916, the Removing Barriers to Basic Needs Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI). This bill would waive the federal felony drug ban in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) through December 2022. These programs provide a minimum level of support during times of financial hardships, including now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Current restrictions unfairly prevent vulnerable citizens, primarily people of color and women, from accessing life stabilizing supports during this national emergency. This ban is a relic from punitive War on Drugs policies that must be repealed. H.R. 7916 is a step towards reducing recidivism and has been endorsed by more than 50 civil rights, reentry, public health, and faith-based organizations at the national and state level.
I led a letter addressed to House leadership highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the affordable housing crisis in New Jersey. In the letter, I outlined additionalspecific relief actions needed in any future relief or stimulus bill. These measures include extending the timeline for distribution of existing and future funds for public housing agencies, improving coordination between the Department of Housing and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and providing funding for housing agencies to operate tenant education programs. Additionally, the letter calls for mandating that all tenants facing eviction during a designated emergency period be provided with information regarding how to seek legal assistance, providing funding to help tenants pay back rent accrued during the federal eviction moratorium, banning tenant blacklisting by landlords for evictions that occur during a emergency period, and requiring that all tenants participating in voluntary eviction mediation during any federal eviction moratorium be provided with legal representation. Bringing fair and affordable housing to the 8th District has long been one of my highest priorities and I will continue to fight for this. Especially during this public health emergency, we must ensure people are able to maintain the roof over their heads.
I joined members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation, in a letter led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) to the New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli asking what procedures were in place to protect long term care facility residents from COVID-19 as winter approaches. It is disheartening and unacceptable that since the onset of the virus in March more than 7,000 residents and staff at long-term care facilities have died, and that there have been outbreaks at more than 1,000 long-term care facilities in New Jersey. Residents at long-term care facilities are often among the most vulnerable population to a severe case of COVID-19. As winter approaches, in combination with flu-season and easier transmittance of viruses in general, it is incumbent upon us to remain vigilant in our efforts to protect long-term care residents. The letter asks Commissioner Persichilli to address the steps being taken to protect against any outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities this coming winter.
I also signed onto a letter led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to House and Senate leadership urging them to include the RESTAURANTS Act in any end of year relief or funding package. The restaurant sector is the second-largest private employer after health care, and the food and beverage industry is still down 2.3 million jobs since the pandemic began, a number that is sure to rise with increasing infection rates and new restrictions. the RESTAURANTS Act would create a $120 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to provide structured relief to food service and drinking establishments. A June 2020 study on the legislation found it would generate at least $183 billion in primary benefits and $65 billion in secondary benefits – more than double the amount of the fund itself. Restaurants are often the cornerstones of our communities, during this exceptionally tough time for these establishments we must do everything possible to provide them with the relief and tools they need to continue succeeding in the future.
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.