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Washington Review, September 11, 2020

Sep 11, 2020
Washington Review

This week, I participated in virtual hearings for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the House Budget Committee, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. I also signed onto legislation to help ensure the short and long-term accessibility, safety, and affordability of housing. Additionally, I signed onto letters to promote clean air in communities across the country, extend the payroll support program, and to direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during our current public health emergency.

Hearings

On Wednesday, I participated in a House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials hearing focused on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Amtrak and Amtrak’s response. During the hearing, I asked Amtrak CEO William Flynn about Amtrak’s cleaning procedures in the face of this public health emergency, and about how Amtrak was implementing social distancing on their trains. With more people beginning to travel again, I want to ensure that Amtrak’s leadership is doing everything possible to provide clean and secure transportation for its riders and employees.

On Thursday, I attended a House Committee on the Budget hearing focused on artificial intelligence and the workforce. I spoke to the witnesses about what effects automation could have on our economy. It is crucial for me to ensure that, as our economy incorporates more and more automation, we continue to protect our workers and ensure that training programs are matched with the demands of industries and communities across the country. Many people work their jobs for far more than just to earn a living, people take pride in what they do and enjoy the sense of accomplishment from a hard-days work.  We must continue to give people this opportunity and satisfaction by ensuring that automation boosts our workforce

Also on Thursday, I attended a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment hearing focused on protecting democracy during COVID-19 and the recent democratic protests in Belarus. I asked the witnesses about the importance of the free press and spoke through my own personal experiences about how important press freedom really is. As a child in Cuba, I saw journalists suppressed, detained, and silenced. It is deeply disturbing that Belarusian President Lukashenko has followed a similar pattern especially during recent protests in the country calling for greater democracy. The regime in Belarus must be held responsible for the brutal crackdowns, arrests, and disappearances that the world has witnessed over the past month.

Legislation

On Wednesday, I became a cosponsor of H.R. 7312, the HOME Investment Partnership Reauthorization Act, introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). This important legislation would reauthorize the HOME Investment Partnership program, which is the largest federal block grant to state and local governments which is designed exclusively to create affordable housing for marginalized communities. Specifically, this legislation would reauthorize the grant program for an additional 5 years, providing $5 billion in funds each year. In 2019, New Jersey received over $32 million in HOME funding. This grant program is a proven federal tool to help create more affordable housing.

Also on Wednesday, I cosponsored H.R. 6492, the Ensuring Homeowner and Occupant Monetary Encouragement and Stability (HOMES) Act, introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL). This legislation would make it so that all mortgage payments that have been deferred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency are not due to be paid back until the end of the loan, rather than at the end of the deferral period. Additionally, this bill would also incentivize landlords to waive rent for their tenants, extend leases until after the public health emergency, and put a moratorium on evictions in exchange for a quarterly forgivable loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our country both in terms of a health emergency and financially. During this time, it is crucial we ensure everyone has continued access to safe and affordable housing.

I joined over a third of my Democratic colleagues in signing onto a resolution introduced by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should support the Affordable Care Act (ACA), during our current public health emergency, rather than trying to dismantle it. The Administration and the DOJ has launched partisan attacks on the ACA since taking office. Unfortunately, in the midst of a public health emergency spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOJ has continued their assaults on the ACA. This resolution expresses that the DOJ should be working to protect the ACA and cease its efforts to dismantle it. During this public health emergency, it is more important than ever to ensure all those who need it have access to quality and affordable healthcare. 

Letters

On Friday, I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), to Congressional leadership urging them to include an extension of the Payroll Support Program (PSP) in any future relief legislation. The PSP, which was included as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, has helped to keep hundreds of thousands of airline employees from unemployment during these difficult times. Currently, the PSP expires at the end of September, which will put over 750,000 airline workers at risk of losing their job. It is of paramount importance that we extend the crucial PSP to ensure that airline workers continue to be supported in their jobs while travel is further impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency.

I also signed onto a letter led by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), addressed to the NDAA Conference Committee leadership, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), urging them to fund the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grant program in Fiscal Year 2021 at $500 million. The DERA program provides diesel emissions reduction retrofits for heavy and light diesel vehicles, boats, trains, and non-road equipment. The public health benefits and taxpayer dollars we stand to gain from switching off of diesel-powered engines is immense. The increased funds for this program will help to ensure we are able to appropriately retrofit old diesel engines, with newer, greener, and safer options going forward to help our communities and the environment. 

I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), addressed to Secretary of State Pompeo regarding the current situation in Yemen. Before the emergence of COVID-19, Yemen comprised the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and experts warned that this environment might allow for wide and rapid spread of COVID-19, a prediction that tragically has borne out. In March 2020, the Trump Administration suspended $73 million in U.S. assistance to Yemen, rejecting the pleas of humanitarian groups and claiming that the cuts were a necessary response to interference by Houthi rebels. The letter urges Secretary Pompeo to restore the suspended assistance to Yemen, to redouble efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through U.S. assistance and marshaling additional international assistance, and to help advance a political solution to the Yemeni conflict.

Additionally, I joined Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) in sending a letter to the President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele about freedom of press in El Salvador. On September 4, 2020, Salvadoran newspaper El Faro published a months-long investigation that presented credible and detailed evidence suggesting President Bukele’s government had been negotiating with Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) to reduce homicides. Following the publication of the article, the National Prison Director Osiris Luna announced that he had given access to the Attorney General’s office to investigate the “false claims.” The letter, highlights this and other attacks against Salvadoran press outlets and urges President Bukele to respect freedom of press as a central pillar of any democracy.

Census

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

As we commemorate the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks this week, I would like to take a moment to remember the lives lost. We lost over 700 New Jerseyans in the deadly terror attack, with loved ones, friends, and family sadly passing away. We will never forget their memory and vow to never be intimidated by threats of terror, together we are stronger.

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.