Washington Review, July 13, 2020
Last week, I was in Jersey City to announce more CARES Act funding to assist small businesses in the area. A long-time Jersey City resident returned to the United States after being wrongly imprisoned in Egypt. I also attended a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing focused on the Administration’s response to reports of Russian bounties on U.S. troops. Additionally, I cosponsored legislation supporting equal rights in the executive branch and a women’s right to contraceptives and sent letters on the disappearance of Vanessa Guillen, the Administration’s cruel new immigration policy targeting international students, and urging the extension of unemployment benefits.
Last Thursday, I joined Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Hudson County Executive Thomas Degise in Jersey City to announce an additional $7 million in CARES Act funding that will be used to help small businesses in the area. Since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic and the economic shocks that followed, it has been one of my biggest priorities to support the small businesses that form the backbone of our community. These mom & pop shops are not only what makes the 8th District diverse, but also will help lead our local recovery. I will continue to fight in Congress to get the 8th District the funds it deserves so that we can work on our recovery.
Last Monday, longtime Jersey City resident and medical student Mohamed Amashah returned home after being falsely imprisoned in Egypt for 486 days. The Egyptian government’s decision to detain Mr. Amashah was egregious and baseless, coming after he participated in peaceful protests protected under international law. His safe return is a relief to his family, friends, and our entire community.
Last Thursday, I participated in a virtual House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Administration’s response to reports of Russian bounties placed on U.S. troops and coalition allies in Afghanistan. Such a bounty program is an appalling display of malice towards our brave men and women in uniform abroad. If, as has been reported, the Administration has known about this program for months but done nothing to hold Russia accountable, they have failed millions of courageous servicemembers, their families, and the American people.
I signed onto a letter, led by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), to the President urging the Administration to extend the $600 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payment. This supplemental payment is set to expire at the end of the month even as new hotspots emerge across the country. I previously voted in favor of the Heroes Act, which among other things, would have extended the $600 payment through the end of January 2021; however, that legislation has not been acted upon by the Senate. It is crucial that while states are still grappling with the economic effects of COVID-19, that we continue to support the millions of Americans who have been negatively impacted. Abandoning these measures now would leave countless Americans without assistance while our economy is still reeling.
On June 15th, the Supreme Court ruled in 6-3 landmark decision that discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity was illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This week, I signed onto a letter to the President, led by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), urging the Administration to apply this decision to all agencies of the executive branch. Among other priorities, this letter urges the Administration to review their transgender military ban and reverse a recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that allows for discrimination against transgender individuals in healthcare. Access to quality care and lack of discrimination in the workplace is an essential right that should be enjoyed by all individuals, and I will continue working toward that goal in Congress.
On April 22nd, Specialist (SPC) Vanessa Guillen went missing from Fort Hood in central Texas and her remains were found over two months later. On Monday, I joined colleagues in a letter led by Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), urging the Inspector General of the Department of Defense to open an independent and thorough investigation of SPC Guillen’s death. SPC Guillen had confided in her family that she had faced sexual harassment on the base, and how she had felt unsafe being there. The U.S. military has a responsibility to the men and women that vow to protect our country, and to their families. I’m deeply troubled by the seeming lack of urgency and the handling of the investigation as well as the ongoing lack of accountability in cases of sexual harassment and assault in the military. This is a tragic failure by the military, and I hope an investigation will be opened quickly so that SPC Guillen’s family can begin to get the answers and justice they deserve.
Last Monday, the Administration issued a new rule prohibiting international students residing in the U.S. from taking their college courses online when the fall semester starts. Under the new rule, students whose institutions move to online learning would either have to transfer to a new school or leave the country. I signed a bicameral letter led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), urging them to reverse the new rule. This decision throws the lives and hard-work of thousands of students in jeopardy, while restricting colleges from developing coherent plans to address COVID-19 when classes resume. The Trump Administration is using the ongoing pandemic as an opportunity to target hard-working international scholars that help make up the fabric of every campus community.
Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision upholding Administration rules that allow employers and universities the right to be exempt from providing birth control to student and employees if they have a religious or moral exception. That same day, I signed onto legislation introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), that would repeal these Administration rules and make birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act mandatory. Access to birth control is critical for women’s rights and health, and reproductive freedom should be a reality for everyone.
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.