Washington Review, October 30, 2020
This week, I joined the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey to discuss affordable housing in the 8th District. I introduced legislation to support our economic partners in Latin America and the Caribbean and cosponsored legislation to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to schools, get surplus computers to our nation’s veterans and students, and reaffirm our commitment to marriage equality. I also sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regarding oversight of nursing homes, and signed onto letters to oppose the Administration’s plan to nationalize the 5G network, oppose new labor standards that would harm workers, to ensure the United States Postal Service (USPS) is ready to handle the influx of mail-in ballots in New Jersey, and to oppose the expulsion of unaccompanied minors.
On Thursday, I participated in a roundtable hosted by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey to discuss affordable housing needs in the 8th District. The COVID-19 public health emergency has had a large economic and public health impact and has put a major strain on many homeowners, renters, and affordable housing systems in the 8th District and across the country. I have long supported plans to prevent foreclosures and evictions during this crisis and provide support for those who need assistance to stay in their homes. In the House, we have taken concrete steps to help prevent foreclosures and evictions by passing the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act, which I proudly supported. This bill, among other things, extends a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and creates billions in funding to assist renters and homeowners so they can stay in their homes during these difficult times. As we continue to confront the COVID-19 public health emergency, I will continue working tirelessly to support and bring solutions that will provide critical affordable housing services in our communities. I will also continue to support long-term solutions that will help make housing more secure and affordable for everyone in the 8th District. As COVID-19 continues to affect our country, it is crucial that everyone have a safe roof over their head, and I will continue fighting in Congress to make that a reality.
I cosponsored H.R. 7566, the Computers for Veterans and Students Act, introduced by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA). This bill allows federal agencies to directly transfer surplus computers and related technology to refurbishers for distribution to schools, veterans, seniors, and other communities in need. Currently, the General Services Administration (GSA) is not permitted to send computers to refurbishers and distributes surplus computers to students and education nonprofits. Allowing these devices to be refurbished and expanding their reach to include veterans and seniors is an admirable way to get these much-needed devices in the hands of people who need them most.
I also cosponsored H.R. 8664, the Personal Protective Equipment for Safe Schools and Students Act, introduced by Rep. Jesus Garcia (D-IL). This legislation would provide $17 billion to school districts to pay for PPE, cleaning supplies, technical training, and additional support measures needed to keep students, educators, and communities safe. Specifically, this bill would provide $8.8 billion for PPE in schools and school buses, $1.6 billion in cleaning and health supplies, and $6.6 billion to fund additional demands of cleaning staff. As cases across the country continue to rise and with many of our children attending in-person classes, protecting students and faculty is of the highest priority.
I joined over 30 of my colleagues in a resolution led by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), reaffirming support for marriage equality in this country. Over the last few years, the Supreme Court has rightfully upheld that same-sex couples have the right to marry and are entitled to the benefits and protections afforded to marriage under the law. However, recently Justice Thomas and Justice Alito have released statements that some of these rulings in favor of same-sex marriage undermine religious liberty. The resolution notes the Supreme Court’s recent history of supporting same-sex marriage and emphasizes that supporting same-sex marriage is not in conflict with religious freedom. We have worked hard to ensure same-sex couples have the right to marry and enjoy the benefits they are entitled to and we must ensure these rulings are protected.
On Friday, I introduced the Advancing Competitiveness, Transparency, and Security in the Americas Act, the House companion to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) bill in the Senate. The legislation seeks to support the United States’ partners in Latin America and the Caribbean through expanding U.S. economic engagement, bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, and support for civil society and investigative journalism to defend human rights. Additionally, the bill requires a strategy for the executive branch to deepen its engagement with the Western Hemisphere and helps secure physical and digital infrastructure through technical assistance.
I sent a letter with Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) outlining our concern for the oversight of nursing homes during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The letter highlights the high rate of COVID-19 infections in nursing homes, particularly in New Jersey, and asks CMS how they take into account their star rating system that consumers can use to evaluate nursing homes. It is crucial we know the metrics that CMS uses to make these rankings so that we can ensure they are up-to-date and take into account the most important information potential residents and families of those residents need to know before making a decision about a nursing home. With the unfortunate strife that many nursing homes have endured during this public health crisis, proper oversight and dissemination of information regarding nursing homes is paramount to ensuring the safety of nursing homes going forward.
Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) led a letter to House and Senate leadership opposing the Trump Administration’s plan to nationalize our 5G network. Currently, the Department of Defense is exploring ways to own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations, which would undermine private sector efforts to deploy 5G nationwide. The letter expresses opposition to this proposal. Nationalizing our 5G network is a short-term solution that will lead to private sector harm and lower quality in our 5G network long-term. It is still possible to keep our nation’s 5G network secured through vigorous oversight and checks, rather than shutting out the private sector entirely.
I also joined Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) in sending a letter to the Department of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia opposing the Department of Labor’s proposal to narrow its interpretation of employee status under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which would leave workers vulnerable to employee misclassification. The letter expresses concerns that the proposal will lead to increase instances of employers misclassifying workers as independent contractors, which would deny workers basic wage and hour protections. Misclassification would not only result in a loss of benefits for many workers but would also cause significant losses in wages for workers. Further, as our local communities continue to struggle amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, this proposal could worsen conditions for small businesses and local governments, who are already struggling.
The New Jersey delegation, led by Rep. Pascrell, sent a letter to the United States Postal Service (USPS) calling for the agency to answer crucial questions about the ability of USPS to process the large influx of mail-in ballots expected for the November election. On September 30, 2020, Rep. Pascrell and I led a letter to the USPS asking these crucial questions and requesting a tour of the Dominick V. Daniels Processing and Distribution Center in Kearny, NJ. However, USPS never responded to our inquiries, and actively blocked our attempt to tour the facility. USPS blocking crucial and routine Congressional oversight of the facility was troubling, and this letter calls on USPS to explain their decision as well as answer all appropriate questions about their ability to handle many mail-in ballots. With millions of Americans in New Jersey and across the country mailing in their ballots the safety and security of these ballots is one of my highest priorities and I will do everything in my power to ensure these ballots are protected and processed correctly.
I sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo and Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Wolf regarding a DHS incident in Guatemala. A recent Senate Foreign Relation Committee (SFRC) Democratic staff report uncovered a January 2020 incident in which Department of Homeland Security officials participated in an illegal immigration operation in Guatemala. The report outlines that in January 2020, DHS agents in Guatemala misused State Department funds to rent unmarked vans and contract drivers to transport an unidentified number of migrants back to the Guatemala-Honduras border. Additionally, during initial inquiries by the SFRC’s Democratic staff, DHS provided false information to the State Department, stating DHS had not participated in the operation, causing the State Department to transmit misleading responses to Congress. The bicameral letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf requests that the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security provide Congressional offices with a full report of the January 2020 incident and take steps to ensure accountability and prevent future incidents.
I joined Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) and over 50 other House members in a letter to Acting DHS Secretary Wolf and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Redfield regarding the expulsion of unaccompanied children. On March 20, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order that bars unaccompanied children, along with the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers, from entering the United States. Pursuant to that order, DHS has expelled over 8,800 unaccompanied children, returning them without legally mandated protection screening, immigration court hearings, or other due process safeguards in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA). The letter calls upon the Administration to immediately cease expulsions of children, fully comply with the TVPRA and all other relevant laws and standards and respond to questions regarding the process and impact of the DHS’ 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.