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Washington Review, January 29, 2021

Jan 29, 2021
Washington Review

In the 117th Congress, I am looking forward to returning to the three committees on which I served in the 116th Congress: the House Committees on the Budget, Foreign Affairs, and Transportation and Infrastructure. I am honored to be returning as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. I cosponsored numerous pieces of legislation including a federal ban on water shutoff during the COVID-19 crisis; the creation of explicit federal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity; addressing systemic pay discrimination based on gender; and honoring the late US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick with the Congressional Gold Medal.

I also signed onto letters regarding the repeal of the SALT deduction cap, urging HHS to release demographic data related to the COVID-19 vaccine, and requesting that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) not be seated on the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Committee Assignments

I am honored to serve on the House Committee on the Budget once again. The Committee will have a critical role in working with the Biden administration to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis and rebuild an inclusive economy. We have a monumental task ahead of us, and I am eager to meet these challenges and deliver for my constituents.

New Jersey is a central transportation hub for the east coast, and I am excited to continue addressing, and delivering for, the state’s needs on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. I am most excited to work with the Biden administration to invest in key initiatives like the Gateway Project, and to ensure strong state and local partnerships with the federal government.

I am humbled to have been elected Chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. As a Cuban refugee, I am deeply committed to furthering U.S. engagement with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. With the new Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks, and the Biden administration, we have an important opportunity to strengthen diplomatic relations in Latin America, most critically, by addressing migration crises, and the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. I look forward to addressing these complex issues and working toward solutions in this Congress.

Cosponsored Legislation

The legislation I cosponsored this week includes:

The Emergency Water is a Human Right Act, introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). This bill prohibits service providers from disconnecting or interrupting a household's water supply during the COVID-19 emergency period. It also ensures robust water affordability protections for households with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 15 million Americans had experienced water shut off, especially in communities with high rates of poverty. This is unacceptable under any circumstance, and especially during the pandemic. This bill would require providers to reconnect water services for those who have experienced recent shut offs.

The Equality Act, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). This legislation provides explicit, consistent protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the following areas of the law: Credit, Education, Employment, Federal Funding, Housing, Jury Service, and Public Accommodations. It is long past time that equality based on sexual orientation and gender identity be protected under federal law, and I am hopeful this bill is signed into law in the 117th Congress.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). This bill requires employers to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons. In doing so, it ensures that employers who try to justify paying a man more than a woman for the same job must show the disparity is not sex-based, but job-related and necessary. It also bans retaliation against workers who discusses their wages, removes obstacles in the Equal Pay Act to facilitate a wronged worker's participation in class action lawsuits that challenge systemic pay discrimination, and improves tools for enforcing the Equal Pay Act.

The Save Education Jobs Act, introduced by Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT). The bill would establish an Education Jobs Fund to stabilize the education workforce. The fund would deliver up to $261 billion to states and school districts over 10 years and require school districts to use at least 90 percent of funding to pay the salaries and benefits of teachers, school leaders, and other school personnel. This funding can be used to recall or rehire former employees, retain existing employees, and hire new employees in order to provide early childhood, elementary, or secondary educational related services.

The Keep Our Promise to America’s Children and Teachers (PACT) Act, introduced by Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV). The Keep Our PACT Act would create a 10-year mandatory glidepath to fully fund both Title I, which gives assistance to America’s highest need schools, and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, ensuring that education is a priority in the federal budget.

The Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). This bill permanently repeals the global gag rule, which prohibits foreign organizations from receiving U.S. global health assistance if they provide information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or advocate for the legalization of abortion in their country, even if these activities are supported solely with non-U.S. funds. 

The Promoting Restoration of Emergency Preparedness and Advancing Response to Epidemics (PREPARE) LTC Act, introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ). Long-term care (LTC) facilities were unfortunately amongst the hardest hit during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in March and April of 2020. That is why this week, I joined legislation aimed at protecting LTC facilities, their residents, and staff. This legislation would require facilities to establish and maintain an infection prevention program and emergency plan to protect residents in case of emergencies or outbreaks. Additionally, this legislation would prohibit the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) from waiving reporting and inspection requirements of LTC facilities during a pandemic.

I also signed onto the Protecting Residents with Oversight, Transparency, and Enforcement for Compassionate Treatment in Long Term Care (PROTECT LTC) Act. This legislation, also introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), would provide $100 million for increased oversight of LTC facilities. This legislation would also increase the penalties that facilities face if they are found to not offer adequate protection to their residents from outbreaks. Further, this bill would require state-level oversight agencies to complete an assessment of a facility within four weeks of an outbreak and for every six months afterwards, to ensure they are complying with protection regulations for residents. LTC facilities house some of the most vulnerable parts of our population, it is incumbent upon us to ensure their protection from outbreaks such as COVID-19. I am confident that when put together, these pieces of legislation will make a difference in ensuring the safety and health of everyone in LTC facilities.

I also signed on to legislation introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) to honor the bravery and sacrifice of US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick by posthumously awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal. Officer Sicknick, a New Jersey native, died of injuries sustained during the January 6 attacks on the Capitol, while protecting those in the building. The award will be presented and given to Officer Sicknick’s parents.

Letters

I joined the entire New Jersey delegation in sending a letter to Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Schumer urging them to include the repeal of the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction cap in the next legislative package. The SALT deduction allows taxpayers to deduct local tax payments on their federal tax return, which reduces the amount of taxes paid to the federal government and prevents double taxation. The cap put in place by the Trump administration in 2017, limited what one could deduct from their federal taxes at $10,000, when previously there was no limit. The cap has hurt New Jersey residents as well as damaged the state’s ability to provide critical services. Removing the SALT deduction cap would strengthen the state’s public health programs and emergency response services and provide financial relief for state residents.

I joined a letter, led by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), addressed to HHS Secretary-designate Becerra urging HHS to release demographic data related to the COVID-19 vaccine. Specifically, the letter calls for HHS to disseminate available demographic data pertaining to who has gotten the vaccine. These metrics are crucial for understanding and addressing health equity and health disparities in certain communities. We need to ensure that all communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, are being given equal access to the vaccine.

I signed on to a letter led by Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) to Republican House Leadership, asking that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene not be seated on the House Committee on Education and Labor in light of her numerous past remarks espousing hateful rhetoric, and conspiracy theories about mass school shootings. Past posts and behavior on social media have shown Rep. Greene to be a conspiracist who thinks the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school was staged, and has harrassed survivors of school shootings. As the Education and Labor Committee has jurisdiction over school climate and safety, it is completely unethical and inappropriate to have Rep. Greene remain on the committee whose work impacts children’s safety. She must be swiftly removed from her post on the Education and Labor Committee.

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.