Washington Review, October 5, 2020
This week, the House was back in Washington, D.C., to vote on critical stimulus legislation to aid the economy and the hard-working American people during this continuing public health emergency. I also attended Committee reviews of legislation for the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I signed onto legislation to help ensure long-term care (LTC) facilities are properly prepared for any future pandemics, to make mental health treatment more widely available in our communities, to protect reproductive health, and to raise awareness about domestic abuse. I also signed onto letters calling for FEMA to declare a major disaster from the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias and expressing my concern with Azerbaijan’s recent aggression.
On Thursday, the House passed an updated version of the Heroes Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that would provide much needed relief for hard-working Americans. After the release of the September jobs numbers it is clear our economy is still hurting from the COVID-19 public health emergency. 7.9% of the country is still unemployed, over 800,000 people filed for unemployment insurance for the first time in September, and there are still 10 million less jobs than before the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill includes a new round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), helping small businesses secure loans to keep their operations and payrolls running. It also authorizes a second round of $1,200 direct payments and the $600 unemployment insurance benefit that has been imperative for so many hard-working Americans. Also included is $436 billion in aid for state and local governments so that our frontline essential workers can continue getting paid the fair wages they deserve. Further, there is $225 billion in funding for education, to keep our schools running during these difficult times, and $57 billion in funds for childcare, which is critical to keep our essential workforce moving and to keep our children safe. Additionally, the updated Heroes Act includes $75 billion in funding to improve our COVID-19 testing and contact tracing infrastructure and provides billions in housing assistance to ensure Americans across the country can keep up with their rent and mortgage payments during these trying times. The bill also extends and provides more funding for the Payroll Support Program (PSP) helping to keep our many airline workers on payroll and employed. Funds are also included for a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure that no American goes hungry during this pandemic, as well as billions more in funding to secure our elections, guarantee an accurate census count, and preserve the postal service. This stimulus package passed the House by a vote of 214-207, and now awaits further action from the Senate, where I strongly encourage my colleagues to take up and pass this bill.
We also voted on H.R. 4764, the Timely ReAuthorization of Necessary Stem-cell Programs Lends Access to Needed Therapies (TRANSPLANT) Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA). This bill would reauthorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program and the National Cord Blood Inventory. Specifically, this legislation would renew federal funding for these programs to ensure transplants for blood cancer, sickle cell anemia, and metabolic and immune system disorders can help be treated. I voted in favor of H.R. 4764, which passed the House by a unanimous vote, and now awaits further action from the Senate. .
On Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 5469, the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). This legislation will help address disparities in the access and effectiveness of mental health care for people of color across the country. Specifically, this legislation would authorize $805 million in grants to help support and improve research into mental health and the disparities that come with it, and the treatment for mental health in underserved communities. H.R. 5469 passed the House by a voice vote on September 29, 2020, and now awaits further action from the Senate. Mental health problems are not bound by race or socioeconomic background, we must ensure that everyone struggling with a mental health issue has access to the appropriate care.
The House also passed H.Res. 1155, Reaffirming the House of Representative’s commitment to the orderly and peaceful transfer of power called for in the Constitution of the United States. The President’s recent refusal to commit to a peaceful of transition is very troubling and outlines a clear abuse of our nation’s democracy and constitution. This resolution expresses the sense of the House that regardless of the result of the November Presidential election the United States will be committed to a peaceful transfer of power, as we have been for over 200 years.
On Wednesday, I participated in a House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure review of legislation that advanced several bipartisan bills, including H.R. 8408, the Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act, which aims to reform the broken aircraft certification process that led to the two tragic crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircrafts in 2018 and 2019. H.R. 8408, the Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act, requires U.S. aircraft and aerospace industry manufacturers to adopt safety management systems, which include non-punitive, confidential safety reporting programs for their employees. The bill also requires an expert review panel to evaluate Boeing’s safety culture, and prohibits a manufacturer’s failure to disclose, to pilots and the FAA, detailed information on systems that can alter an airplane’s flightpath without pilot command and other augmentation and auto-flight systems. Additionally, the bill prohibits the delivery of airplanes that do not conform to their FAA-approved type designs except under limited circumstances, and more. The Committee also passed several other bipartisan bills and thirty-three General Services Administration’s (GSA) Capital Investment and Leasing Program resolutions including: H.R. 8266, the FEMA Assistance Relief Act of 2020, which Congressman Sires is an original cosponsor of; H.R. 4358, the Preliminary Damage Assessment Improvement Act of 2019; H.R. 8326, the CED Act; H.R. 4611, the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act II; and H.R. 5919, the National Children’s Museum Act.
On Thursday, The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a review of twenty-eight bills, including several holding Russia accountable for violations of democracy and human rights, calling for free and fair elections around the world, and various other measures. During the review of legislation, I spoke in favor of H.R. 7673, the Represent America Abroad Act of 2020, highlighting how diversity is one of our country’s greatest strength, and in favor of H.R. 8259, prohibiting Russia’s participation in the G-7. The Committee advanced all legislation, with most having broad bipartisan support.
This week I became a cosponsor of H.R. 7816, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, introduced by Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL). This bill allows U.S. foreign assistance to provide access to abortion care for all people by removing the Helms provision from the Foreign Assistance Act and replacing it with proactive language stating that U.S. funding may be used to provide comprehensive reproductive health care services and information including the provision of abortion services, training, and equipment. It also makes it the policy of the U.S. government that safe abortion care is a critical component of comprehensive maternal and reproductive health care and should be included in U.S. foreign assistance programs. Reproductive health care is a crucial part of women’s health and it should be highlighted in our mission to provide aid across the globe.
I also became a cosponsor of H.R. 7950, the Emergency Family Stabilization Act, introduced by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY). This bill creates a new emergency funding stream administered by the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide flexible funding for community-based organizations to meet the needs of children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness in the wake of the coronavirus.
I also signed onto H.R. 3018, the Ensuring Equal Access to Shelter Act, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA). This bill would forbid the Administration from replacing the Equal Access rule, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) housing programs. HUD proposed replacing this rule in the spring of 2019. Everyone should have access to housing, and it is immoral that someone would be denied this right based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
On Tuesday, I signed onto H.R. 8351, the Community Health Center Mental Health Screening Act, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA). This legislation creates a new $50 million grant program to help community health centers hire and train personnel to conduct mental health screenings and provide mental health services. The funds would also be used to help patients with out of pocket costs associated with these mental health services. Community health centers play a big role in keeping our communities safe and healthy. Mental health is an important part of overall well-being and we need to ensure that community health centers have the tools required to offer mental health services.
Additionally, I became a cosponsor of the Protecting Residents with Oversight, Transparency, and Enforcement for Compassionate Treatment (PROTECT) in Long-Term Care Act, introduced by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ). This legislation would ensure that state survey agencies, which conduct inspections of long-term care facilities, receive $100 million in funding to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and help conduct their survey’s. Additionally, it would require long-term care facilities to provide weekly updates on how many people within the facility have been infected, how many have died, how much PPE is available, and if there are any staffing shortages. Further, it would require each state to set up a website and hotline where residents or their family members can call to anonymously leave a complaint or tip about a situation inside a long-term care facility. During the midst of the COVID-19 public health emergency, and any future public health emergencies that may arise it is imperative that we protect our vulnerable populations living in long-term care facilities.
I also cosponsored H.R. 7485, the Bipartisan Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Workers Act, introduced by Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI). To protect workers exercising their rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, this bill directs the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to develop swiftly a process and procedures for conducting union representation elections electronically. To accomplish this goal, this legislation repeals the harmful appropriations rider which has tied the NLRB’s hands on this issue since 2012. Furthermore, the bill authorizes sufficient funding to ensure the NLRB has the necessary resources to successfully implement an electronic voting system. The NLRB recently halted two mail-ballot elections to review their voting procedures. These decisions signal a clear intent to resume "business as usual," despite the ongoing pandemic.
I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) asking them to ensure Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) are sent to victims of domestic abuse. Caseworkers and advocates at domestic violence support organizations and legal aid clinics across the country have documented cases of abusive partners stealing or withholding economic impact payments (EIPS) from survivors. This horrible practice needs to be stopped and we must ensure that abusers are not able to withhold these payments from their victims.
I also joined the New Jersey delegation in a letter to the President requesting that a Major Disaster Declaration be declared due to the damage caused to NJ by tropical storm Isaias. On August 4, 2020, tropical storm Isaias hit New Jersey and caused considerable damage. A Major Disaster Declaration would trigger the process needed for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to free up more federal resources to help New Jersey recover from this storm.
I signed onto another letter led by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), addressed to Secretary of State Pompeo expressing my concern with Azerbaijan’s renewed aggression against Nagorno Karabakh. Recent conflicts in the region have led Azerbaijan and Armenia to come to arms with each other, increasing the possibility of a deadly and unnecessary loss of life. The letter calls on Secretary Pompeo and the Administration to use all available diplomatic tools to reduce tensions and end the fighting.
The Census response rate in the 8th District is far below the average for the rest of New Jersey. Completing the Census is not only a constitutional responsibility but also greatly helps your district and local community get the funds it needs. Census results are directly tied to funding for emergency first responders, hospitals, schools, and many other important federal programs. Completing your census takes less than 10 minutes total and can have a significant impact. To complete your census visit: https://2020census.gov/en.html
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.