Washington Review, March 1, 2021
Last week, the House passed the American Rescue Plan, a comprehensive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that will help hard-working Americans and reinvigorate our economy. The House also passed legislation to ensure equal rights regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. I attended a markup of the American Rescue Plan with the House Committee on the Budget and attended a markup for the House Foreign Affairs Committee on legislation to revitalize the State Department.
I signed onto legislation to ensure emergency care for veterans during COVID-19, guarantee that nursing homes have appropriate procedures in place to protect residents from future pandemics, celebrate black history, protect our nation’s water infrastructure, cut down on noise pollution from helicopters, and bring electric vehicles into underserved communities. I also signed onto letters to protect Medicare benefits for those living with HIV/AIDS or mental illness, and to urge the Speaker to bring the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to the floor for a vote.
Last Friday night, the House passed H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan, a comprehensive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that includes many initiatives to help hard-working American families that are struggling as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Previously, on Wednesday, February 3, 2021, I voted to advance the legislation out of the House Committee on the Budget. Included in this far-reaching relief package is funding to increase our COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and billions more in funding to establish a national vaccination program across the country that will set up vaccination sites in all of our communities. The relief bill also authorizes economic impact payments of up to $1,400 for individuals across the country, $130 billion in funding for schools to safely reopen for our students and extends unemployment benefits for those that have lost their job due to COVID-19. Additionally, this relief package will help get people back to work by authorizing billions in funding for small businesses through new targeted grants and through an expanded Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) grants to help businesses get back on their feet. Further, the American Rescue plan includes crucial provisions to assist Americans by authorizing funding for housing assistance, child care, nutrition assistance for those struggling with food security, and extends tax credits to help hard-working Americans keep more money in their pockets. COVID-19 has devastated both our economy and the health of our nation, with this far-reaching relief bill we have a roadmap and the tools to move forward and start building back our economy.
Last Thursday, the House passed H.R. 5, the Equality Act, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). This groundbreaking legislation amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ensure LGBTQ+ individuals are guaranteed the same protections under federal law as other groups. Specifically, this legislation prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity in areas including education, housing, credit, and jury selection. H.R. 5 passed the House by a vote of 224-206, and now awaits further action in the Senate. This legislation is long overdue, the LGBTQ+ community deserves the same federal rights we all enjoy.
Last Monday, I attended a virtual markup of the American Rescue Plan for the House Committee on the Budget. I gave remarks and led the review of the transportation section for this markup, which includes many laudable policies. Specifically the nearly $100 billion transportation and infrastructure portion includes $30 billion in targeted relief for transit agencies to help with operational expenses such as reimbursement for payroll of public transportation, operating costs to maintain service, the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and pay for administrative leave of operations or contractor personnel due to reductions in service. Additionally, included within the $30 billion are formula-based funds for transit agencies that serve communities of all sizes, discretionary funds to allow the Biden administration to target additional resources to the areas with the greatest need, and grants to ensure the solvency of major capital investments. The proposal also includes much-needed funding of $1.5 billion to keep Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor fully operational through fiscal year (FY) 2021 and help it remain viable for future generations. Additional provisions include: supporting unemployed railroad workers by ensuring they continue to receive parity with regards to unemployment benefits; directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to continue to provide funeral assistance for COVID-related deaths but at the 100 percent federal cost share; providing $8 billion in emergency air for primary airports, non-primary airports, and airport concessions; and establishing a $3 billion temporary payroll support program through the Department of Transportation to eligible U.S. aerospace manufacturing companies.
On Thursday, I attended a House Committee on Foreign Affairs markup of legislation to revitalize the State Department, support the people of Belarus, and condemn the recent military coup in Burma. I voted in favor of H.R. 1157, the Department of State Authorization Act of 2021, which includes provisions to help the State Department increase workforce diversity, bolster embassy security, and strengthen anti-corruption activities overseas. The Committee advanced H.Res.124, a resolution supporting the people of Belarus and their democratic aspirations and condemning the election rigging and subsequent violent crackdowns on peaceful protestors. The fallout over recent elections in Belarus have stemmed from the illegitimate Lukashenka regime grasping to power after clearly losing the election. We need to do all we can to support democracy around the world and this type of behavior is unacceptable. The committee also advanced H.Res.134, a resolution condemning the military coup that took place in Burma, and the military detention of civilian leaders in Burma. On February 1, 2021, the Burmese army staged a military coup after the party they backed lost elections. They imprisoned civilian political leaders and took control of the government. This resolution clearly expresses the United States’ fierce opposition to these actions. Overriding the democratic will of voters through force is an atrocious tactic that must be condemned. These pieces of legislation passed a full committee vote in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and now await a full vote on the House floor.
I cosponsored H.R. 584, the Emergency Care for Veterans During COVID Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH). This legislation would grant prior authorization through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for any care sought by veterans relating to COVID-19 or otherwise since the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency. This legislation would work retroactively to allow the VA to pay for services that veterans underwent since the beginning of this public health emergency. Additionally, the VA would become the primary payer for these expenses and would also cover emergency ambulance transportation costs. Our veterans have sacrificed so much to serve our country, we must provide them with quality medical care, especially during our current health crisis.
Nursing homes have unfortunately been amongst the hardest hit locations during the initial surge of COVID-19 in March and April of 2020. That is why I signed onto the Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 and Beyond Act, introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). This legislation would immediately tighten requirements for nursing homes during the rest of the COVID-19, and any future public health emergencies. Specifically, this legislation would require facilities to employ a full-time infection preventionist, provide training to employees on appropriate safety measures, increase weekly COVID-19 testing, and require facilities to report on daily COVID-19 cases and levels of personal protective equipment (PPE). Nursing homes are home to some of the most vulnerable in our population and protecting them from this virus needs to be one of our highest priorities.
February is Black History Month, a time for us to celebrate the history and contributions African Americans have made to our society. I cosponsored the Black History is American History Act, introduced by Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH). This legislation requires entities applying for, and receiving, grants through the Presidential and Congressional Academies to include Black history as part of the American history and civics related workshops and teachings offered to teachers and students. Additionally, It also promotes use of the resources offered by the National Museum of African American History and Culture for teachers and students. Black history is most certainly American history which is why we need to ensure this history is being vigorously taught to our students across the country.
I signed onto the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI). This bill creates a WATER Trust Fund dedicating $35 billion for water infrastructure improvements across the United States including dedicated annual support to: fully fund the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRF), provide funding for public schools to test and replace drinking water infrastructure, provide grants to replace lead service lines serving households, and increase funding to Native American governments for water infrastructure.
Noise pollution from helicopters has been an ongoing issue for residents of the 8th District. To help rectify this problem I cosponsored H.R. 712, the Air Traffic Noise and Pollution Expert Consensus Act, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA). This legislation would require the FAA Administrator to sponsor an Expert Consensus Report from the Health Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The expert committee would subsequently issue an Expert Consensus Report setting forth current scientific knowledge regarding the various health impacts of air traffic noise and pollution. Noise pollution can not only be irritating but also harmful for individual’s health, this legislation and the report it would create will help to nullify these issues in our community.
I also cosponsored the Electric Vehicles for Underserved Communities Act, introduced by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY). This bill directs the Department of Energy to expand access to electric vehicle charging in underserved communities by Establishing an Electric Vehicle Charing Equity Program to create 200,000 charging stations nationwide in underserved communities by 2030. Additionally, this legislation would perform a national assessment on the status of, challenges to, and opportunities for greater electric vehicle charging infrastructure deployment in underserved and disadvantaged communities and identify the communities with the least electric vehicle charging stations. As electric vehicles become more and more common on our roadways it is vital that we make access to electric charging stations, and therefore electric vehicles, equitable across all communities.
Libraries are not only a cornerstone of communities but one of the most effective ways for young people, and all people, to continue engaging their mind, especially in the midst of the current public health emergency. This week, I cosponsored the Build America’s Libraries Act, introduced by Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI). This legislation would provide $5 billion to build, repair, and modernize libraries in underserved and marginalized communities. Specifically, Funding can be used for conducting facilities condition assessments, needs assessments, and master planning; financing new library facilities; or making capital improvements to existing library facilities, including buildings, grounds, and bookmobiles.
I also signed onto the Fund for Innovation and Success in Higher Education Act, introduced by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ). This bill authorizes innovation grants that institutions can use to develop and scale evidence-based initiatives that improve outcomes in education, such as degree attainment by enrolled students and access to higher education for high-need students. Initiatives include things like comprehensive advising, career services, tutoring, and a stipend for tuition and textbooks.
I signed onto a letter led by Reps. Jared Golden (D-ME) and Andy Levin (D-MI) addressed to House leadership urging them to bring the newly reintroduced Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to the House floor for a vote. During the COVID-19 pandemic, unions have made the difference for many workers between safe and unsafe working conditions. Without unions, many workers have been forced to work without personal protective equipment, access to paid leave, or hazard pay. The PRO Act would respond to these needs with bold, comprehensive reforms to strengthen unions and the American workforce. Among other provisions, it would protect union elections from employer interference, require employers to negotiate with newly elected unions, ensure employees can’t be misclassified as supervisors or independent contractors, and impose meaningful penalties for violations of workers’ rights.
I also signed a letter led by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and the Mental Health Caucus, addressed to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) urging them to protect Medicare beneficiaries living with mental illness and HIV/AIDS. The letter urges HHS and CMS to protect the ‘six protected classes’ of drugs in Medicare. These six classes of drugs are antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antineoplastics, antipsychotics, antiretrovirals, and immunosuppressants, many of which are drugs that are crucial to help treat HIV/AIDS or those living with a mental illness. Recently, CMS has asked for revisions to payment plans in Medicare Part D which would restrict access to these six classes of drugs. The letter urges CMS to ensure protections of these six classes and abandon any changes which would see health plans not cover these drugs.
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.