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Washington Review, February 5, 2021

Feb 5, 2021
Washington Review

This week, I voted in favor of passing the House resolution on budget reconciliation, and voted to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from her committee assignments, joined by a bipartisan group of House members. I cosponsored a multiple pieces of legislation including providing additional financial relief to unemployed individuals, expanding the number of transit agencies transitioning to zero-emissions bus fleets, providing grants to community health centers for mental health screening, and expanding awareness and services related to COVID-19. I also signed on to letters urging the reinstatement of a national measure limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which former President Trump repealed in 2018, and arguing for the overhaul of school ventilation systems nationally.

Votes

On Wednesday, I voted in favor of passing the House resolution on budget reconciliation, which is a legislative tool that will allow Congress to quickly enact and deliver President Biden’s relief plan to the American people by expanding vaccine distribution, extending unemployment to help those who have lost jobs during the pandemic, directing stimulus payments to households, and providing resources and funding for schools and small businesses. It is essential for Congress to pass and enact this plan to demonstrate that the federal government understands the many complex challenges the country faces and is able to respond appropriately.

On Thursday, I voted in favor, with a bipartisan majority, of removing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from her assignments on the House Committees on the Budget, and Education and Labor. Her disturbing public comments espousing conspiracy theories, denying the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Stoneman Douglas High School as “false flags,” and supporting the murder of political opponents, among others, make it abundantly clear that she should not have any congressional influence over education policy, or any issue area. Rep. Greene’s support of political violence, and embrace of destructive conspiracy theories have no place in the House of Representatives, and the bipartisan vote to remove her from a policy-making role on House committees is only one step toward addressing the broader issue her presence in Congress represents.

Cosponsored Legislation

I signed on to numerous bills this week, including:

The Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits Tax Relief Act, introduced by Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA). This bill would provide additional financial relief to unemployed Americans during this unprecedented public health and economic crisis by temporarily excluding the first $10,200 of unemployment compensation from federal income taxes for tax year 2020. This amount is equal to 17 weeks of the $600 per week federal enhanced benefits included in the CARES Act. Congress can provide additional assistance to unemployed Americans by reducing the tax burden that these workers may face and allowing workers to focus limited unemployment benefits towards caring for their families and supporting their local economy.

H.R. 512, the Green Bus Act, introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA). This bill will increase the federal cost share for zero-emission buses from 80% to 90% to encourage transit agencies to purchase zero-emission buses. It also requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a best-practices report on zero-emission bus programs to help states and transit operators share lessons learned as transit agencies transition towards zero-emission fleets. Additionally, the bill gives preference to zero-emission bus grant applications under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) grant programs for transit agencies that have completed full fleet transition plans, and establishes a national goal for the zero-emission transit transition by requiring all new buses purchased using federal funds to be zero emission buses, beginning on October 1, 2029. It is imperative that we expand the number of transit agencies transitioning to zero-emissions, as we work toward our energy efficiency goals. Transportation remains a significant portion of carbon emissions and moving the industry toward a sustainable future requires addressing and implementing these necessary measures.

The Community Health Center Mental Health Screening Act, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA). This bill authorizes $50 million per fiscal year for a new grant program through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The grant funding would be awarded to Community Health Centers (CHCs) for mental health screenings, equipment to conduct those screenings and to assist patients with the cost of mental health services. The pandemic has clarified the urgency of addressing mental health, and this bill would ensure CHCs have the resources they need to maintain quality mental health services, as their needs remain consistently high.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Act, introduced by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY). This bill requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make targeted grants for state, local, and tribal health departments to disseminate information on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. It would mandate that information related to the vaccine must be distributed in multiple languages. This legislation would also require grantees to address vaccine skepticism in communities of color. With an alarming number of Americans vocalizing skepticism about the safety or effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, it is imperative we take the necessary steps to inform hesitant communities about the vaccines, and ensure they are provided the appropriate available information.

The COVID-19 Prevention and Awareness Act, introduced by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY). This bill authorizes $2.12 billion for Community Health Centers (CHCs) to expand awareness and direct services related to COVID-19. The bill would also assist health centers who treat medically vulnerable individuals during the pandemic and help CHCs provide diagnostic tests and screenings for conditions that leave individuals vulnerable to illness and death if they were to catch COVID-19.

The ACCESS Act, introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). This bill would authorize an emergency supplemental appropriation of $50 million for the HHS’s Telehealth Resource Center Program to assist skilled nursing facilities under Medicare and nursing facilities under Medicaid in expanding their use of telehealth services. It would establish a grant program authorizing HHS to award funds to nursing facilities to support virtual visits for residents during the pandemic while there are still COVID-19 related health risks for in-person visits.

The COVID-19 Diaper Assistance Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). This bill would allocate a one-time, emergency appropriation for $200 million of targeted funding to states for diaper assistance through the Social Services Block Grant program. States would provide grants and subgrants for social service agencies and other nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and diapering supplies, including diaper wipes and diaper cream, necessary to ensure that a child using a diaper is properly cleaned and protected from diaper rash, to families in need.

Letters

I joined a letter, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), addressed to Department of Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, urging him to reinstate the national performance measure on carbon pollution from tailpipe greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the National Highway System (the “GHG measure”) that the Trump administration repealed in 2018. First promulgated in 2017 pursuant to MAP-21’s performance management requirements, the GHG measure would have required state and local officials to provide consistent information on the percent change in tailpipe carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the reference year 2017. Transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States, responsible for nearly 30% of our nation’s total emissions. We cannot effectively solve the climate crisis or its negative environmental justice outcomes without reducing emissions from transportation, and we cannot make progress toward emissions reductions without a program to measure and report on performance. 

I signed on to a letter led by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) to President Biden in support of ventilation for schools. The letter urges President Biden to support the creation of a dedicated program under the Department of Energy in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education to overhaul HVAC systems in schools, especially those in environmental justice communities. The letter also urges President Biden to prioritize clean and energy-efficient HVAC upgrades as a part of this program and include funding for schools’ energy efficiency efforts in any infrastructure proposal.

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.

Open Enrollment

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.