Washington Review, March 19, 2021
This week, we witnessed racism and misogyny on display as eight people were senselessly murdered in Atlanta. The rise in hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans in the last year follows a disturbing trend and is made worse by the discriminatory language used by leaders in our public spaces. The shooting in Atlanta is the latest violent act perpetrated on innocent victims, and another example that we don’t need of why this country’s gun laws do not keep us safe. We must do better to hold accountable those whose actions and inactions led to this week’s shooting.
I proudly voted in favor of two immigration bills, and a resolution to remove the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment. I also signed onto bills aimed at eliminating loopholes for oil and gas companies, expanding telehealth access, and addressing the rising cost of child-care. Additionally, I took virtual meetings with the US Travel Association, the New Jersey Primary Care Association, a representative from the Kurdish Regional Government, and AIPAC.
On Thursday, I voted in favor of both the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The American Dream and Promise Act, which passed the House by a vote of 228-197, would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which passed the House 247-174, would provide legal status to undocumented farm workers. Those who have lived, worked, and contributed to this country deserve a path to citizenship, and this pair of bills is an early step toward greater reform.
I also voted in favor of a joint resolution to remove the deadline for state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which the House passed 222-204. The amendment, which guarantees equal rights regardless of one’s sex, was introduced in 1972, and fell three states short of the thirty-eight needed to ratify. In January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, however, since the deadline for states to ratify had expired in 1982, adoption of the amendment has been contested. The passage of this resolution to remove the ratification deadline is necessary to enshrine guarantees equal protection under law regardless of sex.
I attended a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the impacts climate change has on the transportation sectors, and the ways in which a sustainable surface transportation system could expand job opportunity and decrease its negative environmental impacts. We also heard about ways to mitigate the most damaging effects of the transportation sector, such as converting the majority of vehicles to low- and zero-emission, and expanding low-emission modes of transportation such as transit, rail, and biking. We heard from business leaders in this sector, as they discussed the ways in which they are meeting the urgency of the climate crisis, and how they are contributing to our broader policy goals of emissions reduction and sustainability.
It is long past time to hold the gas and oil industry accountable for the environmental degradation caused by their resource extraction. That is why I became an original cosponsor of a group of bills called the “Frack Pack Acts,” which aim to close loopholes in regulations allowing for environmental contamination from the oil and gas industry. This package of bills will protect communities by requiring oil and gas companies to report on the impact their fracking activity has on water quality, and ensure that companies regularly test water sources within a half-mile radius of fracking sites, and make those results available in a public database. This package would not ban fracking, but would ensure that oil and gas companies do not hide the water impacts of their activities. The Frack Pack Acts would eliminate exemptions for oil and gas companies around the disposal of hazardous materials, require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate hydraulically fractured well and require public disclosure of chemicals expected to be used in the fracking process, and would close an exemption which currently allows fossil fuel production to emit a range of hazardous air pollutants without meaningful regulation by the EPA.
H.R. 366, the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), would eliminate most geographic and originating site restrictions on the use of telehealth in Medicare and establish the patient’s home as an eligible distant site so patients can receive telehealth care at home while allowing doctors to still be reimbursed. This bill would prevent a sudden loss of telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries by authorizing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service to continue reimbursement for telehealth for 90 days beyond the end of the public health emergency. It would also make permanent the disaster waiver authority, enabling Health and Human Services to expand telehealth in Medicare during all future emergencies and disasters. Finally, the bill would require a study on the use of telehealth during COVID, including its costs, uptake rates, measurable health outcomes, and racial and geographic disparities. Telehealth has become a useful tool during the pandemic, and access should not end with the pandemic.
We have an obligation to continue helping struggling industries hit particularly hard during the pandemic, that will take the longest to recover. That is why I cosponsored H.R. 1346, the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act, introduced by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV). This bill would establish a tax credit for the cost of attending or hosting a convention, business meeting, or trade show in the United States between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2024. It would also extend the employee retention tax credit aimed at reducing layoffs and keeping Americans employed.
H.R. 1994, the Stop for School Buses Act, introduced by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) and Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), would help states and local communities take the most effective actions to prevent illegal passing of school buses and ensure students are safe when traveling to and from school. Specifically, this bill would require the Department of Transportation to compile illegal passing laws in all states, review existing public safety measures and programs to prevent illegal passing of school buses; issue recommendations on best practices for preventing illegal passing; evaluate the effectiveness of various technologies that may help prevent illegal passing incidents; review driver education materials in all states to determine whether more information about illegal passing should be provided to drivers; research connections between illegal passing of school buses and other safety issues; and create and execute a public safety messaging campaign to promote safe driving when children are present and highlight the dangers of illegal passing.
The Improving Child Care for Working Families Act, introduced by Rep. Cynthia Axne (D-IA) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), is aimed at addressing the rising costs of child care, for which many families are increasingly making use of dependent care assistance plans (DCAPs). These plans allow working families to set aside tax-free dollars toward qualifying child and dependent care expenses. The IRS set the $5,000 DCAP contribution limit in 1986, but today this covers only half the annual cost of child care. While the DCAP limit has been lifted to $10,500, this change only applies for 2021. The Improving Child Care for Working Families Act would allow families to put more tax-free dollars toward child care by permanently raising the DCAP contribution limit to $10,500.
On Wednesday, I met with the US Travel Association to discuss the importance of protecting travel industry jobs and extending the application period of the PPP loans. The hardest-hit businesses in the tourism industry could take much longer to recover, which means providing tax credits to businesses that retain their employees, and relief loans for small businesses.
I also met with the New Jersey Primary Care Association (NJPCA) which includes most of the major community health centers in the 8th District. We discussed the importance of protecting the 340B drug pricing program, expanding access to telehealth after the pandemic, and the great impact Community Health Centers have had in assisting communities during the pandemic.
I had a virtual meeting with a member of the Kurdish Regional Government to discuss the U.S.-Kurdistan relationship. We talked about Iranian activity in the region and broader Middle East, as well as details on the Iranian-backed militia attacks on the U.S./coalition base in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan in Iraq. Lastly, I met with members of AIPAC to talk about U.S.-Israeli relations, and ways to promote peace efforts in the region. We also had a productive conversation about Israel’s vaccination efforts, as over half of the Israeli population has received at least one vaccine dose, and 90% of those over the age of 75 have been fully vaccinated.
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.
Though cases of COVID-19 are slowly falling, 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. Please know that I will continue working to get the 8th District the vaccines and 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.