Washington Review, July 16, 2021
This week, I spoke in solidarity with the Cuban people who are protesting the Castro/Diaz-Canel dictatorship in Cuba, and thanked President Biden for showing the United States’ clear support for democracy on the island. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a markup and a hearing where I asked USAID Administrator Samantha Power to do all that is possible to advance critical democracy and human rights programming on the island.
Additionally, my request to fully fund the National Neurological Conditions Surveillance System (NNCSS) was included in the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2022. I also cosponsored multiple bills including ones to provide a solution for childhood hunger year round, establish a climate service corps, create a national renewable energy standard, and more.
Importantly, Child Tax Credit payments began this Wednesday for families with young children. These automatic payments were an important provision included in the American Rescue Plan to support families with young children by providing $3,000- $3,600 per child annually, depending on the age of the child.
- Response to Protests for Democracy in Cuba
- Child Tax Credit
- Foreign Affairs Markup
- Cosponsored Legislation
This week, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the street to demand freedom and democracy in Cuba, after more than 60 years of living under an oppressive system. The Cuban economy is in shambles, and Cubans are struggling to afford food and other essentials for their families due to the incompetence of the Castro/Diaz-Canel dictatorship. Hunger and the lack of COVID-19 vaccines were the tipping point for Cubans who are tired of living under the Castro/Diaz-Canel regime.
On Monday, Mayor of West New York Gabriel Rodriguez and I held a press conference to show our solidarity with the Cuban people. I was inspired to see New Jerseyans gather in North Bergen in support of the Cuban protests this week. On Monday and Tuesday, I spoke to CNN about the importance of showing international support for the Cuban people’s movement for democracy and to express my appreciation for President Biden’s support of the Cuban protesters. On Wednesday, during a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the priorities of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I spoke to USAID Administrator Samantha Power about the importance of fully funding democracy and human rights programming in Cuba and asked about the agency’s plans to advance this programming despite the internet restrictions imposed by the Cuban dictatorship.
This week, I also joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in the House and Senate to unveil a resolution to reaffirm Congress’s support for the Cuban people’s movement for democracy. Now more than ever, it is important that the U.S. stands in solidarity with the Cuban people as they continue demanding freedom and protesting the oppressive regime. The resolution will be formally introduced on the House of the Floor next week. I will continue monitoring the situation in Cuba closely and relentlessly advocate for human rights and democracy on the island. See my full statement in support of the people of Cuba here.
On July 15, families with young children began receiving payments through the Child Tax Credit. This credit, which was passed through the American Rescue Plan, provides $250 per child 6-17 years old, and $300 per child under 6 years old in families who make less than $150,00 annually for dual income households, or $125,000 annually in single income households. Monthly payments will be made automatically for families who filed tax returns in 2019 or 2020. Families who did not file taxes are also eligible to receive the Child Tax Credit and should sign up for payments at ChildTaxCredit.gov.
In New Jersey’s 8th District alone, 86% of families and 143,400 children will benefit from the Child Tax Credit. It will lift 12,800 children in the district out of poverty, including 4,800 kids under the age of six. Despite opposition by every Republican in Congress, House Democrats worked tirelessly to assure that families are supported as the economy recovers from the pandemic. We are also working to make the Child Tax Credit permanent in future legislation.
This week, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs completed its markup of H.R. 3524, Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement (EAGLE) Act, introduced by Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY). The legislation seeks to assert United States leadership in the Indo-Pacific region, strengthen U.S. relations in Latin America and the Caribbean, and globally. H.R. 3524 provides guidance and authorization funding for U.S. diplomacy; increases personnel and resources in the Indo-Pacific region; increases engagement with key allies through leadership in international organization; as well as strengthens bilateral and trilateral relations. The final bill also includes an initiative I proposed to expand people-people exchange programs between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean to counter China’s soft power efforts in the region. The proposal would task the Secretary of State to create a strategy to evaluate and expand our educational exchange programs in an effort to intensify our engagement with our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. H.R. 3524 passed the Committee and was referred to the House Floor on Thursday, July 15.
This week, I was glad to see that the House Appropriations Committee included my request for full funding for the National Neurological Conditions Surveillance System (NNCSS) in the House FY22 Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations bill. NNCSS is a program within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which tracks data related neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s Disease. This data is critical to understanding and advancing potential treatments for MS and Parkinson’s Disease, which could greatly improve the quality of life of patients with these degenerative conditions. I am confident that the $5 million which I requested to fully fund NNCSS will be included in the final appropriations bill.
This week, I cosponsored H.R. 3519, the Stop Child Hunger Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA). This legislation would convert the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) pilot into a permanent national program. In 201, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Summer EBT program to help replace school lunch benefits during the summer months by providing an EBT card that could be used by families with qualifying students to purchase food. The program grew to 8 states by 2018. This bill would authorize EBT cards for eligible households with a balance worth the daily value of school lunch and breakfast to cover school closures of more than 5 days, including summer and winter school breaks and unanticipated school closures. In addition, it would allow eligible households to use EBT cards to purchase food only from retail food stores that have been approved for participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
I also cosponsored two bills to respond to the climate crisis. H.R. 4220, the National Climate Service Corps and Careers Network Act, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), would establish a new AmeriCorps program to promote community adaptation, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery from the effects of climate change while connecting participants with opportunities for long-term careers and job training. The National Climate Service Corps would assess community resiliency and climate adaptation and mitigation projects; promote sustainability; assist with disaster preparedness, response and recovery; and provide job training and placement. In addition, H.R. 3959, the American Renewable Energy Act, introduced by Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), would create a national renewable energy standard aimed at reducing carbon emissions and driving the deployment of clean energy resources around the country. This legislation would require energy producers in the United States to meet the goal for 70% renewable energy production by 2030. The bill would also require retail electricity suppliers to address existing pollution disparities through requirements to deploy an increasing share of their renewable energy generation in impacted communities.
I also cosponsored the Fair Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Seniors Act, introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). This legislation would adjust the federal benefits programs for seniors to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). The CPI-E annually indexes a .2% cost of living adjustment greater than the current formula. This would increase payments to seniors for social security, VA benefits, and supplemental security income (SSI).
In addition, I signed on to several bills to invest in our nation’s health, including H.R. 3572, the Increasing Access to Mental Health in Schools Act, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). This legislation would establish a new grants program that allows universities and colleges to pair with local low-income school districts to train and employ mental health professionals in those school districts. In addition, H.R. 3572 would establish a loan forgiveness program for individuals who spend at least 5 years in a low-income school district providing mental health services to students after graduation. I also joined a resolution introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) to establish September as National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month. Brain aneurysms effect the arteries in the brain and can lead to death or other health issues. The prevalence of brain aneurysm increases in adults over 50 years old, so it is important to raise awareness of this condition. In addition, I joined the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, introduced by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY). This legislation authorizes $100 million in funding to establish COVID-19 and Pandemic Centers of Excellence. These centers will be focused on COVID-19 research and preparation for future public health emergencies.
I also cosponsored H.R. 3577, the United States Army Rangers Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, introduced by Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO). In World War II, 7,000 volunteers signed up as U.S. Army Rangers. These volunteers experienced the most difficult conditions during World War II, including reaching enemy lines to assist troops during D-Day, leading the Allied Invasion of Sicily, and experiencing traumatic loss of life while liberating a POW camp in the Philippines. Of the 7,000 volunteers, less than 20 are still alive today. This legislation would grant the 7,000 volunteer Army Rangers the Congressional Gold Medal for their exceptional heroism and service to our country.
Lastly, I cosponsored H.R. 2724, the VA Peer Support Enhancement for Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Survivors Act, introduced by Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY). The Department of Defense estimated that there were nearly 15,000 sexual assaults against services members in 2016. This legislation would ensure employees at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) receive training on military sexual trauma to be able to support survivors.
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.
Vaccines are now available to all individuals 12 and older who live, work, or study in New Jersey. Each of the state’s six megasites are now offering walk-in vaccinations, so you do not need an appointment prior to your visit. These megasites are:
- Burlington County at 400 Route 38, Moorestown (until July 23)
- Middlesex County at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center, 97 Sunfield Ave. Edison
- Morris County at 301 Mount Hope Ave., Rockaway
You can find additional vaccination sites here.
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.
Open Enrollment has been extended through the end of 2021. 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 a health care plan, be sure to visit the site.