Washington Review, March 12, 2021
This week, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act, and President Biden signed it into law, allocating $1.9 trillion of relief to American families. The House also passed several other important bills aimed at protecting workers’ rights and strengthening gun safety laws. I attended a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with Secretary of State Blinken. I cosponsored several pieces of legislation this week focused on replacing diesel school buses with electric ones, assisting communities that have previously relied on the coal industry for employment, and reinstating the bicycle commuter tax benefit. I also signed on to letters requesting funding for HIV/AIDS programs, and prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
I am proud to have voted for the American Rescue Plan Act, which the House passed on Wednesday by a vote of 220-211, and will deliver $1.9 trillion in relief, and strengthen vaccination efforts. Specifically, the American Rescue Plan will provide $1,400 direct payments to individuals making up to $75,000 annually, $350 billion to state and local governments, and $14 billion for vaccine distribution efforts. The plan provides funding for schools to safely reopen, and expands the child tax credit, to potentially lift 4 million children out of poverty. There is also relief for small businesses and restaurants, which will receive $50 billion and $25 billion respectively. This plan represents an investment in American families and businesses, and is critical to restoring the economic losses suffered over the past year.
The House also passed H.R. 842, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, of which I voted in favor, by a vote of 225-206. This legislation would protect workers rights to organize and strengthen collective bargaining, as well as establish monetary penalties for companies that violate workers’ rights.
I voted in favor of two critical gun safety bills that would expand background checks on firearm sales. H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, passed 227-203, and H.R. 1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, which passed 219-210. H.R. 8 would establish background check requirements for gun sales between private parties, prohibiting transfers unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. H.R. 1446 would increase the amount of time a seller would wait to receive a completed background check from 3 days to 10 days. This bill targets the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which allows firearm sales to go through before a background check is completed. This loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase a gun prior to completing a background check, after which he murdered nine people at a historically black church in South Carolina.
On Wednesday, I attended a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with Sec. Blinken, and asked him about prioritizing human rights in the administration’s policy toward Cuba, combatting corruption in Central America, and maintaining emphasis on crises in Venezuela. I am encouraged by his responses, and look forward to working with Secretary Blinken, and his team, in addressing the multi-faceted crises in the region.
As the move to electric vehicles grows, it is crucial to address the areas of transportation where the transition to electric vehicles will be more impactful. That is why I cosponsored H.R. 1344, the Clean School Bus Act introduced by Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), which would create a new $1 billion program within the Department of Energy to replace diesel school buses with electric ones. This program would issue grants of up to $2 million for the replacement of diesel school bus with electric ones, to invest in charging infrastructure, and to support workforce development. Low income school districts would be prioritized for grant funding. School buses, which make up roughly 90 percent of the nation’s bus fleet and are the nation’s largest form of mass transit, traveled roughly 3.3 billion miles in 2017. Electric buses not only reduce dangerous air pollution for those riding a school bus but also for the local community and cars driving behind a school bus while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I also cosponsored H.R. 384, the Bicycle Commuter Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). The bill would reinstate the bicycle commuter tax benefit, modify the benefit to be used in concert with parking and transit benefits, and expand the bicycle benefit to include bikeshare and electric bikes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended the bicycle commuting reimbursement benefit through 2025, taking away a valuable financial incentive for people who choose to bike to work. This bill reverses the benefit’s suspension, changes the structure of the benefit to be more flexible to, and adds bikeshare as eligible for the benefit.
It is imperative that as we adopt more renewable energy methods, those areas that relied on the non-renewable energy industries not fall further behind economically. That is why I cosponsored the Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA). This bill would accelerate the release of more than $1 billion from the existing balance of the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Program funds to assist communities that have traditionally relied on the coal industry for employment or have recently experienced significant coal job losses. Many of these communities have abandoned mine lands within their borders that they simply do not have the resources to reclaim. Without reclamation, these lands cannot support the job-creating economic development projects that these communities may wish to pursue. This legislation would allow States and Indian tribes to restore polluted and dangerous sites and facilitate economic development on abandoned mine lands in communities where it is most needed.
The VA Employee Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), would grant health professionals at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) collective bargaining rights. This would apply to health professionals employed by the VA such as Physicians, nurses, dentists, and physicians’ assistants.
The EATS Act, introduced by Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), would permanently expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility to students attending college part-time or more. While the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 temporarily expanded SNAP eligibility to students, it does not include “attending an institution of higher education” as a form of qualification the same as work and students must meet additional eligibility requirements. Food insecurity does not end when an individual graduates high school, and expanding eligibility for SNAP benefits to older students would alleviate a significant stressor.
I also signed on to the Independent and Diverse Media Resolution introduced by Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). This bipartisan, bicameral resolution reaffirms Congress’ commitment to work with media entities and stakeholders to eliminate barriers to diversity. Without a representative media workforce, too many people are ignored and unheard. A diverse media ensures underrepresented communities have a voice, and brings attention to their stories and struggles.
I joined colleagues in a letter led by Rep. John Katko (R-NY) to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to prioritize vaccinations for individuals with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers in the next phase of vaccine eligibility. It is imperative that we vaccinate as many Americans as we can, while also ensuring that the needs of vulnerable communities are met.
I also signed on to a letter to President Biden, led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) regarding funding HIV/AIDS Programs appropriately in Fiscal Year 2022 Budget. Specifically, the letter requests funding for: the CDC Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention for testing, linkage to care, and prevention services, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP); to expand comprehensive treatment for people living with HIV; to increase clinical access to prevention services, particularly PrEP; The Indian Health Service (IHS) to combat the disparate impact of HIV on American Indian/Alaska Native populations; and NIH Centers for AIDS Research to expand research on implementation science and best practices in HIV prevention and treatment.
I signed on to a letter led by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) to the Biden administration calling for the inclusion of $450 billion in funding for Medicaid’s Home and Community Based Services in a future economic recovery package. The HCBS workforce supports millions of older adults and people with disabilities to live in their own homes and communities, and it is critical that we ensure services to these communities remain adequately funded.
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 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.
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.