Washington Review, February 12, 2021
This week, I signed on to a number of bills including ones to provide funding for restaurants, develop an offshore wind workforce, and review and repeal of laws discriminating against individuals with HIV. I also joined letters urging congressional leaders to not narrow income eligibility requirements for stimulus payments, and to begin the offshore wind leasing process in the New York Bight. I also had meetings with Enes Kanter, activist and professional basketball player, and James Rajotte, Alberta, Canada’s Senior Representative to the United States.
Among the legislation that I cosponsored this week, was:
H.R. 793, the RESTAURANTS Act, introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). This bill would create a $120 billion restaurant revitalization fund that would be available to restaurants for expenses incurred between February 2020 and eight months after enactment. Restaurants would be able to use these funds for everything from payroll and benefits, to food, utilities, and rent. The first 14 days of the grant’s availability is only available to restaurants with annual revenues of $1.5 million or fewer, ensuring that the smallest restaurants are prioritized. Additionally, the legislation includes administrative funding toward outreach and engagement to restaurants owned and operated by women, veterans, and people of color.
H.R. 998, the Offshore Wind Jobs and Opportunity Act, introduced by Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA). This bill would create a federal grant program that will assist colleges and universities, state and local governments, unions, and nonprofits develop curricula, internships, health and safety programs, and other activities deemed appropriate to advance an offshore wind workforce. It also prioritizes grants to community colleges, organizations that service minority populations, and those helping workers from other industries transition to the offshore wind industry.
The REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). This legislation directs the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Defense (DOD), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a national review of state laws and policies that discriminate against individuals with HIV. These departments must develop and release guidance for states on best practices. A monitoring and evaluation system would also be created to monitor states progress in adhering to the law. Federal and state laws and regulations should not place a unique or additional burden on individuals as a result of their HIV status, and this bill works with states to modernize their laws.
H.R. 914, the Dental Care for Veterans Act, introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA). This legislation would expand eligibility for dental care to all veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system. There are many gaps in health coverage for veterans, and this bill would be one step toward strengthening healthcare for our veterans.
H.R. 431, the Access Technology Availability Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA). This legislation would create a $2,000 tax credit for blind individuals so they can purchase equipment that will enable them to join the workforce (screen readers, braille embossers, etc.). One’s disability should not hinder their contributions to the American workforce, and this bill will make working more accessible to those currently hindered.
The Domestic Violence Public Health Emergency Guidance Act, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA). This bill would direct the Department of Justice to work in collaboration with the Department of HHS, relevant law enforcement, and domestic violence prevention stakeholders to issue guidance and outline practices and resources to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies, with a unique focus on addressing domestic violence effectively while limiting potential exposure to COVID-19. Over the course of the pandemic, domestic violence incidences have risen at an alarming rate. Resources must be provided at the state and local level for law enforcement agencies to respond to these cases, especially as a means of keeping survivors safe from their abusers.
I joined a letter to led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to congressional leadership opposing the narrowing of eligibility requirements for Economic Impact Payments in budget reconciliation. Stimulus payments provided a lifeline to ease the financial impact of the pandemic for millions of families last spring. The conditions under which people received this stimulus has not changed. Many households continue to struggle to feed their families, or pay their bills. Sectors hit with job loss last March have still not recovered, leaving millions of Americans financially unstable. Lowering the income eligibility requirement to $50,000 leaves too many individuals financially insecure. To support the families hit hardest we must strengthen their access to stimulus payments.
I also joined a New York and New Jersey delegation letter led by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) to the Department of Interior to designate final Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) in the New York Bight. We urged the Department to jumpstart the offshore wind leasing process with transparency and expediency, starting with the issuance of final WEAs and subsequent lease auctions in the New York Bight in 2021. We also requested a briefing with Director Lefton of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and her team before February 24, 2021 to better understand how BOEM plans to move forward on WEA identifications and a New York Bight lease auction by 2022, as set forth in its fiscal year 2021 budget request. New York and New Jersey have set goals to generate 9,000 megawatts and 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind, respectively, enough energy to power up to nine million homes across both states. To achieve this goal, the states must enter agreements with developers who must first own a BOEM lease giving them the right to build a wind farm in federal waters.
On Tuesday, I had a virtual meeting with Enes Kanter, an activist and professional basketball player, regarding abuses by the Turkish government, including targeting journalists and political opponents, dissidents, and minorities, particularly Kurds. Mr. Kanter became a target of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he spoke out against corruption in Turkey in 2013, and President Erdogan revoked Mr. Kanter’s passport in 2017. He continues to criticize the Turkish government and advocate for human rights and democratic values, even as he has faced arrest warrants in Turkey and extradition requests. I support Mr. Kanter’s efforts to bring the Turkish government’s human rights abuses to light and give a voice to those who have been oppressed.
I also met with James Rajotte, the Senior Representative from Alberta, Canada, to discuss the trade relationship of New Jersey and Alberta. More than 18,000 jobs in New Jersey are supported by the state’s trade relationship with Alberta, and the province’s energy resources significantly strengthen the continent’s energy security. We also discussed the ways in which Alberta is addressing climate change by implementing policies like carbon pricing, and investing in carbon reducing technologies.
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.