Washington Review, September 25, 2020
This week, the House was in session in Washington, D.C. to extend funding of the federal government. The House also voted on legislation to protect benefits for veterans, condemn the forced labor of Uyghurs in China, and reinvigorate our economy with more clean jobs and innovation. I attended hearings focused on Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program, and the U.S. Agency for Global Media. I also signed onto legislation to condemn Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for reports of the agency preforming mass hysterectomies on women in ICE custody, to promote global education during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and to recognize National Rail Safety Week.
On Tuesday, the House voted on H.R. 8337, Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). This legislation temporarily extends funding for certain programs in the federal government. While a short-term solution such as this is never preferred, Senate Republicans and the Administration were unwilling to have good faith negotiations on the long-term funding of the government. I voted in favor of this legislation, which passed the House by a vote of 359-57, in order to ensure vital government services would continue to be operational. The legislation also includes several key funding increases, such as an additional $100 million for community health centers, which are helping to fight the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Also included is more funding to help process Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to help our small businesses, and funds to continue authorizing paid leave to employees during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Funding is also included to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to access the Disaster Relief Fund, and the National Flood Insurance Program. As our country grapples with crippling wildfires and an intense hurricane season these funds are crucial to ensure we can help people repair their homes and that FEMA will be able to assist all those who may be in need. H.R. 8337 also includes important funding for nutrition programs that are working to keep people fed during this public health emergency, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, to keep our environment clean, and Surface Transportation Program which has crucial funds for our airports and highways. While this funding fix was not ideal, there were many important funding increases that will benefit the American people during our current public health emergency. This legislation now awaits further action from the Senate.
The House also voted on H.R. 6210, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, introduced by Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA). This legislation condemns the internment of Uyghur’s in labor camps across the Xinjiang region of China and takes steps to eliminate the sale of goods made by forced Uyghur labor. Specifically, this legislation does not allow goods into the United States that were made in Xinjiang unless it can be proved that the goods were not made by forced labor. Additionally, this legislation would require the Administration to present Congress with a list of known entities using forced labor Uyghurs to make products. The detainment and internment of Uyghur’s in labor camps throughout the Xinjiang region is a gross violation of international human rights and one of the most horrid practices of the Chinese government. This legislation is an important step in standing up to these human rights abuses and showing the Chinese government that their behavior is unacceptable. H.R. 6210 passed the House by a vote of 406-3 and now awaits further action from the Senate.
On Tuesday, the House voted on H.R. 7795, the Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY). This legislation would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to publish disability benefits questionnaires which are used by medical providers to the VA website. Additionally, this bill requires the VA to continue to accept disability benefits questionnaires for up to one year if there is a change made to the form by the VA. It is unacceptable that those who serve our country would be denied benefits they are entitled to because of an inconsistency in paperwork. It is our responsibility to ensure our nation’s veterans receive the benefits that they deserve.
Also under consideration by the House this week was H.R. 4447, the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, introduced by Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ). This bill makes long-overdue reforms to U.S. energy policy and authorizes major investments in the transition to a low-carbon future. It includes programs to develop and deploy renewable and distributed energy resources; improve the efficiency of our homes and businesses; electrify our transportation sector; modernize the grid and enhance its resiliency; prioritize the needs of environmental justice communities; and reduce carbon pollution from industrial and traditional sources. these measures provide a path towards modernizing our energy system while taking an important step to tackling the climate crisis and growing our economy. I voted in favor of H.R. 4447, which passed the House by a vote of 220-185, and now awaits further action from the Senate.
On Wednesday, I attended a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing focused on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program. The DBE Program was established to remedy discrimination against minority and women-owned businesses seeks to ensure those businesses are provided equal opportunities to compete for contracts assisted by certain DOT funds administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). I asked the witnesses what percentage of concession businesses in airports were owned by minorities, and if minority owned businesses were included in airport expansion projects across the country. I also asked what role the DBE program played in helping minority owned businesses in airports through the COVID-19 public health emergency. I expressed my concern with the witnesses that it was crucial for black, women, and Latino owned businesses to be given a fair chance in the bidding process for airport vendors, and that the new terminal at the Newark Liberty International Airport should be inclusive of these minority owned businesses. We need to continue ensuring that all minority owned businesses are supported and allowed to prosper in all areas of our society.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on Thursday to conduct oversight of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, in which CEO Michael Pack failed to comply with a Congressional subpoena that was issued to compel his testimony. During the hearing, I condemned Mr. Pack’s arbitrary dismissals of staff and other actions as CEO of the Agency, highlighting that Mr. Pack’s decision to revoke the visas of many foreign national journalists is putting those individuals in harm’s way. I also expressed my commitment to continue fighting to ensure that the U.S. Agency for Global Media returns to being a voice for freedom of expression worldwide.
I became a cosponsor of H.R. 7911, the Global Learning Loss Assessment Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA). The COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures have disrupted education efforts all over the world. 86% of children enrolled in primary education in developing countries have been forced out of school during the second quarter of 2020 and the UN projects that 24 million children will drop out of school due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone. This legislation would require the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to submit a report to Congress on the impacts of COVID-19 on global learning and basic education programs. With worldwide school closures and an often too inaccessible route to online learning, it is crucial that we mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on children’s education and help provide a quality education to students around the world in any way possible.
I joined over 170 of my colleagues in a resolution led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal condemning the reports of unwanted and forced hysterectomies of Women in ICE custody at a detention facility in Georgia. As I have previously stated, reports that ICE preformed forced mass hysterectomies is an atrocious violation of human rights and should be treated as such. Congress needs to swiftly and absolutely condemn and investigate these reports, and ensure something so appalling is never allowed to occur again. This resolution expresses the sense of the House of Representatives in condemning reports of detained women at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia receiving unwanted, unnecessary medical procedures, including full or partial hysterectomies, without their consent.
I also signed onto H.Res.1106, introduced by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL). This resolution expresses support for the designation of Rail Safety Week from September 21, 2020 to September 27, 2020 and supports its goal of reducing rail-related incidents and fatalities. Rail Safety Week works to address, engage, and promote the need for safe driving and pedestrian behavior across a dedicated week. Transportation related injuries can often be easy to stop, it is important to raise awareness to these issues so we can save lives.
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.