Washington Review, September 21, 2020
Last week, the country mourned the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away Friday evening. Her groundbreaking leadership on the court, coupled with her fierce dedication to advancing women’s rights and striving for equality for all will leave a positive mark on this country for generations to come. The House was also back in session and I was in Washington, D.C. to vote on important legislation to reauthorize and improve small business programs. I chaired a virtual hearing for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere focused on the health, economic, and political challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean. I also signed onto legislation to curb systematic racism in our healthcare, ensure diversity in any clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine, help schools make sure they can attain appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff and students, and supporting Israel’s normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Additionally, I signed onto resolutions to mark September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, to celebrate the role Hispanic healthcare workers have in our communities, and to recognize national small business week.
On Friday evening, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87. I join with the rest of the country in mourning her contributions to the court and our society, and express my deepest condolences to her family, friends, and loved ones. For over 25 years, Justice Ginsburg was steadfast jurist on the court, fighting to advance causes such as women’s rights, workers rights, LGBTQ rights, and the advancement of equality for all. Her leadership and dedication to our great nation cannot be questioned, and she will leave a positive impact on the Supreme Court, and the United States, for generations to come. She was truly the very best of us and believed in what our nation could be.
With the unfortunate passing of Justice Ginsburg, there is now a vacancy on the Supreme Court, with one seat available to be filled. President Trump has stated he will select a nominee in the coming days, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has stated he will hold a vote on any nominee put forward by the President. This troubling development is hypocritical and detrimental to the independence of our judicial system. In 2016, Leader McConnell refused to hold a vote on President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, stating that because it was an election year, no nominee should be chosen until after the election, so the people can have a voice in the selection. Leader McConnell should heed his own standard and allow the American people to choose their future before rushing in another Justice to the Supreme Court. You can read my full statement here.
Last week, the House gathered back in Washington, D.C. to resume legislative business. On Monday, the House voted on H.R. 6133, the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) Improvement Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-IA). This legislation reauthorizes the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) State Trade Expansion Program which provides foreign trade assistance to small businesses. The legislation calls for the SBA to collect information on the program and the small businesses applying to the program, in order to better assist these businesses with their foreign trade needs. Additionally, this legislation reauthorizes funding for the program through fiscal year 2024. H.R. 6133 passed the House of Representatives by a voice vote and now awaits further action from the Senate.
The House also voted on H.R. 6079, the Microloan Improvement Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ). This legislation would revise and improve the SBA microloan program, to make it easier for small businesses to take out loans and obtain lines of credit. Specifically, this bill would increase the average amount of loans available for small business through the microloan program and make certain small businesses eligible for 5% technical assistance grants. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, many small businesses in the 8th District and across the country have fallen on hard times. These two pieces of legislation will help our beloved small businesses access more funds as they work to continue serving their communities. H.R. 6079 passed the House by a voice vote, and now awaits further action from the Senate.
Last Tuesday, the House voted on H.R. 2639, the Strength in Diversity Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH). This legislation would direct the Department of Education to award grants to publicly funded elementary and secondary schools to develop and implement plans that will help schools reduce racial and socioeconomic isolation in certain districts. The funds must also be used to develop and implement plans aimed at improving educational outcomes for all individuals, regardless of racial or socioeconomic background. It is crucial that we give every student in this country an equal opportunity to succeed in their academics. Race and economic status should in no way determine the outcome of your schooling. I voted in favor of H.R. 2639, which passed the House by a vote of 248-167, and now awaits further action from the Senate.
Last Tuesday, I chaired a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, focused on the health, economic, and political effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had in the region, and how the U.S. can best help in the recovery. During the hearing, I highlighted the challenges to democracy and human rights that have become more acute during the pandemic, and underscored the need for the U.S. to be offering a steady and helping hand to our neighbors, instead of President Trump’s failed leadership. Members raised concerns about the political crisis in Venezuela, Mexico’s response to the pandemic, Colombia’s recent surge in violence, and the Trump Administration’s dismantling of the asylum system. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted countries across the world. It is imperative that we lend a helping hand to our neighbors in the region, and that we help to maintain free and fair societies for everyone during this public health emergency.
I became a cosponsor of the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). This groundbreaking piece of legislation aims to take steps to address systematic racism both in our society and in our healthcare system. Specifically, this bill would create a National Center for Anti-Racism at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct research and award grants to identify and eliminate any traces of structural racism in our healthcare. Additionally, this legislation would create a Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program within the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC. This dedicated law enforcement violence prevention program will take a healthcare approach to reducing violence from law-enforcement. As we continue striving to ensure our society is accepting and accessible for everyone, it is important for us to knock down racial barriers in healthcare as well.
Last Tuesday, I joined over 60 of my colleagues and became a cosponsor of H.R. 5986, the Environmental Justice for All Act, introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). This bill would take a number of steps to assist communities that are disproportionally impacted by harmful air and water pollution. Specifically, the bill would direct federal agencies to review and assist communities that are impacted by environmental hazards, create a Federal Energy Transition Economic Development Assistance Fund to support workers and communities who transition away from harmful greenhouse gases, and require federal agencies to consider cumulative health impacts to communities when approving new projects. Additionally, H.R. 5986 will provide $75 million in annual grants to help reduce health disparities in communities and improve environmental justice. This Administration has gone ahead with numerous projects without considering the public health impacts it could have on the surrounding communities. It is vital for our public health, and that of future generations, that we are taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint while protecting communities from the negative effects of pollution.
I also cosponsored H.R. 5554, the Clean Federal Fleet Act, introduced by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA). This legislation would require any vehicles purchased by the federal government to comply with Obama-era low greenhouse gas emissions standards. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions can have numerous health benefits from lowering asthma rates, to lowering instances of lung cancer, as well as preventing premature death. The federal government should be leading the charge in electric and non-polluting vehicles; however, in 2017, less than 1% of the federal fleet was electric. This bill will help move the government towards a safer, more reliable fleet of low-polluting vehicles that will save taxpayer money and reduce harm to the environment.
I signed onto H.R. 8307, the Masks for Students Act, introduced by my delegation colleague Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ). The bill would require the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to continue to reimburse local K-12 schools nationwide for the masks purchased to protect in-school students during the coronavirus global pandemic. FEMA officials said recently that the administration would stop reimbursing schools because it defined masks as an operating expense now and not critical emergency equipment during the coronavirus global pandemic. In the midst of back to school season it should be our top priority to help ensure the safety of both students and staff.
I signed onto another piece of legislation sponsored by my fellow New Jerseyan, Rep. Payne, to recognize September as National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Each year over 190,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and over 300,000 men die from prostate cancer, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States for men. I signed onto this resolution because it is crucial to raise awareness of prostate cancer, promote screening, and provide resources for those individuals and families struggling with prostate cancer.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), introduced a resolution this week to ensure that any COVID-19 vaccine trial supports racial and ethnic diversity. With many companies developing and testing possible vaccines for the COVID-19 virus, and with many clinical trials underway, there needs to be an effort to make certain that all ethnicities and races are included in these trials. Vaccines can have different effects on different types of people, which is why we must have diverse fields of candidates participating in these clinical trials. We need a vaccine that will work for all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, not just a few Americans which is why I joined Rep. Engel as a cosponsor.
Last Tuesday, I signed onto a resolution led by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) to designate September 20th through September 26th as National Small Business Week. There are over 30 million small businesses in the 8th District and across the country, generating over 1.5 million new jobs for our economy each year. Furthermore, small businesses are the backbones of their local community, providing valuable services and invaluable connections for the people that live there. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on many small businesses, and it is more important now than ever that we recognize the many contributions small businesses have in our societies and support them in any way we can.
I signed onto another resolution led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, supporting Israel’s normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Earlier this week, representatives from the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel met in Washington, D.C. to sign a historic agreement normalizing relations between the countries. I am supportive of these efforts, and of the new era of relations dawning for Israel and the Middle East. The United States is safer when it leads the world in pursuit of peace, and this new agreement represents concrete progress in the quest for peace in the region. The resolution also reiterates support for a peaceful two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians which I have strongly supported my entire time in Congress.
Last Tuesday, I joined over 100 of my colleagues in signing onto a letter led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), addressed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, expressing outrage of reports of mass hysterectomies for immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and calling for an investigation into the matter. Earlier this week, reports surfaced that the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia was preforming mass hysterectomies on immigrants detained there. These reports are shocking and represent a clear violation of international law and human rights. It is unacceptable that this type of activity is occurring, and the letter calls for a full investigation and report into the matter, so that appropriate action can be taken.
I also joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in a letter led by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), again expressing outrage and calling for an investigation into the reports of mass hysterectomies by ICE at a facility in Georgia. The letter, also addressed to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, calls for an investigation into the contractors of the facility, and asks what, if any, actions were taken when they became aware of these horrible practices. Our nation has a dark history of forced sterilization that was targeted at minorities and incarcerated populations. I cannot overstate the appalling nature of these reports, and the gross violation of human rights that has occurred. It is imperative that we find out the details and extent of actions behind these reports so we can take swift and appropriate action to correct them.
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.