Washington Review, October 26, 2020
Last week, I introduced legislation in the House to ensure language access and multilingual materials for all resources coming from federal government. I cosponsored legislation to help struggling independent music venues, provide grants to communities which are struggling with COVID-19, establish proper procedures and policies for nursing homes during the current and future public health emergencies, supporting digital equity, and supporting the people of Artsakh and their right to self-determination. I also sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture expressing my concerns with self-promotion in letters from the President, and signed onto letters to the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure all COVID-19 tests are free, and Secretary of State Pompeo to impose sanctions on Azerbaijani officials for human rights abuses.
Last week, I introduced the Equal Access to Information Act in the House, a companion bill to Sen. Menendez’s (D-NJ) version in the Senate. This legislation would require federal agencies to provide equal language access and multilingual materials for all resources coming from federal agencies. Specifically, it would require demographic assessments by federal agencies to better establish and implement appropriate language materials and procedures in communities across the country. The United States is a proudly diverse country and we should actively ensure that all federal programs are understandable and accessible for those with limited English proficiency or disabilities. As exemplified during the COVID-19 public health emergency, making federal programs accessible to all is crucial to preventing further spread of the virus, getting assistance to those who need it, and making sure people are informed during all future crises.
I signed onto H.R. 8192, the COVID Community Care Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). This legislation authorizes emergency funding for community-based organizations and non-profits in medically underserved communities to provide COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and outreach to their communities. The bill would prioritize funding for communities struggling with high-rates of COVID-19, communities with high percentages of minority residents, and medically underserved communities. As new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in many parts of the country this funding to local organizations who have first-hand knowledge of their communities is crucial to combatting the virus and protecting the health of everyone.
Independent entertainment venues have been among the hardest hit from the economic fallout of COVID-19. That is why I cosponsored H.R. 7806, the Save Our Stages Act, introduced by Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT). This legislation authorizes an appropriation of $10 billion for a grant program helping entertainment venues. The grants can be used for rent, utilities, mortgage payments, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), maintenance, taxes, operating costs, and more. Unfortunately, the small business relief programs that were put in place, such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), were not designed for businesses that have no revenue, a high rate of part time employees, and are not set to reopen any time soon. 90 percent of small venue owners could have to permanently close if relief is not provided soon. Just like restaurants and other small businesses, local venues make part of the fabric of their communities. During these times when they cannot open their doors, we need to ensure they get the proper relief needed to sustain their operations.
I became a cosponsor of H.R. 8563, the Promoting Restoration of Emergency Preparedness and Advancing Response to Epidemics in Long-Term Care (PREPARE LTC) Act, introduced by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ). This legislation would require long-term care facilities to establish and maintain an infection prevention program and an emergency plan to protect residents in emergency and public health emergency situations. Additionally, this bill would prevent the Secretary of Health and Human Services from waiving or suspending any staffing reporting or critical inspections during a public health emergency, and mandates that any reporting developed for COVID-19 include information on infectious disease outbreaks within nursing facilities. We know that COVID-19 can be particularly harmful for individuals in long-term care facilities, and we must do everything possible to help protect and prepare those facilities.
I also cosponsored H.R. 4486, the Digital Equity Act, introduced by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA). This legislation requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to establish grant programs for promoting digital equity, supporting digital inclusion, and building capacity for state led efforts to increase adoption of broadband for residents. Specifically, the bill establishes the $125 million State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program to make distributions to states based on their populations, demographics, and availability and adoption of broadband. The bill also establishes the $125 million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program for supporting efforts to achieve digital equity, promote digital inclusion, and stimulate adoption of broadband.
I signed onto a resolution led by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), supporting Artsakh and recognizing its right to self-determination. On September 27, Azerbaijani and Turkish forces broke a long-standing ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia by invading Artsakh in the South Caucuses. These latest rounds of attacks have led to the deaths of hundreds of soldiers, dozens of civilians, and the displacement of roughly half the population. Specifically, this resolution expresses the sense of the House of Representatives in condemning the September 27th invasion by Turkish and Azerbaijani backed forces. It also calls for all involved parties to withdraw to their initial positions, honor negotiated ceasefires, and cease all attacks on civilians. This latest wave of violence in the caucuses is regrettable and the United States must do all in its power to stop the aggression and support the people of Artsakh.
Last Friday, I sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressing my deep concerns over reports that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to include letters signed by President Trump in boxes distributed through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. In the letter, the President claims to prioritize families in need, however, in May, when unemployment rates rose highly throughout the country, he doubled down on efforts to limit access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps many families get the appropriate food and resources needed to support their families. Additionally, this letter is inappropriate as it is self-promoting and appears to be political in the lead up to the November election. This program should not be politicized, and the USDA should be focusing on providing real relief to the millions of Americans that need it.
I also joined a letter led by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar urging HHS to change their guidelines to ensure all COVID-19 tests are free. When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, funding was allocated for COVID-19 testing, to ensure Americans who needed a test did not have to pay to do so. On June 23, 2020, HHS released new guidelines updating the testing terms, and limiting free tests to a small number of people. Under the new guidelines, HHS stated that tests can only be free if they are used to diagnose an active case of COVID-19. This would mean that tests for individuals who need to get cleared to go back to work, or those who have no symptoms but may want to get tested, would not be free. As cases of COVID-19 are on the rise again in our country we should be getting as many people tested as possible, not limiting access to free tests.
I joined colleagues in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, led by Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA), urging the State Department to sanction Azerbaijani officials for human rights abuses. The September 27th invasion of Artsakh by Turkish and Azerbaijani forces has led to a known 500 total deaths and 3,000 properties destroyed, leaving many homeless. As Azerbaijan continues to escalate their aggression and violate a temporary ceasefire, we must punish those responsible and ensure they are head responsible for their actions.
On November 1, 2020, Open Enrollment for health care plans will begin in New Jersey. 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 January 31, 2021.
With cases of COVID-19 continuing to rise across the country, it is imperative we remain vigilant and safe. Please continue to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing when possible. 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.