October 4, 2006 - Vol III: Ed XI
The last couple of months have been filled with activity in Congress and back
home in New York. Here's an update of some of the recent actions I have taken.
In this E-Newsletter:
- Fifth Anniversary of 9/11 Brings Attention to the 9/11 Health Crisis
- Manhattan Veterans Hospital is Saved
- Plan B Emergency Contraceptive Finally Made Available Without a
- Two Steps Toward Safer Vaccines
- Affordable Housing Must be Preserved
- Foreign Acquisition Security Measure Gains Passage
The somber fifth anniversary of 9/11 brought increased attention to the plight of thousands of men and women who were at or near Ground Zero and are now suffering from serious health problems. Helping these responders, residents and workers has been a main focus of much of the New York congressional delegation for years, but our concern has not been matched by the federal government. In the week before the anniversary, activity related to the health crisis was fast-paced, but it seems that the federal government still resists taking sufficient action to address the issue.
New legislation: Together with Rep. Vito Fossella (NY-13), I introduced legislation that would re-open the Victims Compensation Fund so that many of the people developing illnesses will be eligible for assistance. The bill is entitled the James Zadroga Act (H.R. 6045), after the NYPD Detective whose recent death was affirmatively link to 9/11 health effects.
Rep. Fossella and I also introduced a resolution (H. Res. 1031) under which Congress would request that the Department of Health and Human Services finally develops a long-term plan for dealing with the crisis.
In addition, we have new comprehensive medical monitoring and treatment legislation (H.R. 6124), similar to the Remember 9/11 Health Act , that also includes $1.9 billion in federal funds.
Scope of the crisis: Mt. Sinai Medical Center, which is part of a consortium of hospitals that monitors sick 9/11 responders, released a report before the anniversary estimating that up to 70 percent of those who worked at Ground Zero in the rescue and recovery effort are experiencing health problems. It could turn out that the scope of the problem is greater than anyone had anticipated, and the already tragic situation could become even more disastrous.
Meeting with the administration: Also in the week before the anniversary, the New York-area congressional delegation, along with sick responders, finally got a face-to-face meeting with HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt. We were able to get him to agree to distribute the very first federal dollars for 9/11 health treatment by October 1, in their entirety. HHS's original plan was to distribute them slowly, over as many as three years.
Secretary Leavitt also told us that he has tasked Assistant Secretary Dr. John Agwunobi to work with his Department's “A-Team” on the health crisis. That left us wondering what will happen to the supposed federal 9/11 Health Coordinator, Dr. John Howard, and who was working on the problem before, the “B-Team”? The bottom line of the meeting was that the federal government and the administration still have no long-term plan to deal with the crisis, no estimate of the cost to deal with it, and no plan to include assistance in the president's budget.
Hearing in New York: Three days before the anniversary, I took part in a congressional field hearing in New York examining the health crisis. The stories told by sick responders were tragic and compelling, and the Members of Congress showed strong resolve to take action. But until the administration decides to tackle the problem with all its might, just like our heroes did when responding to the 9/11 attacks, those sick as a result of 9/11 will continue to suffer and struggle to get help.
For months upon months, it seemed as if the Veterans Administration was bent on shuttering the Manhattan VA Hospital and selling the property to make money. This would have been a tremendous disservice to the men and women who have served and are serving our nation – the Manhattan VA is not only one of the most advanced veterans care facilities, but its central location in Manhattan with close proximity to public transit makes it one of the most easily accessible hospitals for veterans.
In August, our area's veterans were able to breath a big sigh of relief when Veterans Administration Secretary James Nicholson announced that the hospital would, in fact, remain open. I am thrilled that the Veterans Administration thought better of their original plans – our veterans will have better health care because of it.
After three years of stalling and ignoring its own scientists' overwhelming recommendations, the Food and Drug Administration has finally approved the application to make the Plan B emergency contraceptive available without a prescription. Scientific evidence, the comments of former FDA scientists, and a report by the Government Accountability Office made it clear that the FDA for years had ignored sound science when handling the Plan B application. Now that this emergency contraceptive is available over the counter, it will benefit women's health and reproductive health.
I do have concerns that the FDA's decision still prohibits women under 18 from obtaining Plan B over the counter. The scientific evidence shows that Plan B is safe for all ages, and the FDA should adhere to sound science.
Before the August District Work Period, I helped introduce two separate pieces of legislation meant to ensure that our nation's vaccine supply is as safe as possible. For years I have worked with my colleague Dr. David Weldon (FL-15) to eliminate the neurotoxin mercury from all vaccines. In July, the two of us expanded our efforts and introduced a bill that would create a new, independent office within the Department of Health and Human Services in charge of vaccine safety. This would eliminate the inherent conflict of interest that exists with the Center for Disease Control in charge of vaccine safety.
I also recently introduced a bill with my colleague, Rep. Tom Osborne (NE-3), that would answer lingering questions about the relationship of vaccines and autism by commissioning a study of autism in communities that do not administer vaccines. The spike in autism has confounded many parents and doctors, and we need answers.
Nobody knows better than New Yorkers how affordable housing, particularly in urban areas, is scarce and dwindling. That is why whenever affordable housing is lost, it damages our city.
You may have heard recently about MetLife's plans to sell the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village complex, which has provided affordable housing to thousands Manhattanites for 60 years. It is my hope that MetLife will sell to a developer that understands the history of the apartments and the need for affordable housing in our city and that tenants are not forced out.
I have requested a meeting with C. Robert Henrikson, CEO of MetLife, to express these concerns. In addition, I have requested that the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity hold a hearing on this sale and the loss of affordable housing in urban areas. We must keep New York and our nations cities open to all.
Before Members of Congress returned home for August, the House approved a reform for the system in which foreign acquisitions of businesses in our country are vetted. The Dubai Ports World fiasco made it clear that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States system was broken. That is why I worked with a bipartisan group of Members, including Majority Whip Roy Blunt (MO-7), to craft legislation that would toughen the vetting system while not chilling foreign investment. Our bill passed the House unanimously. Should it become law, the bill would implement a mandatory 45-day CFIUS review for all deals involving foreign governments, increase the role of the Director of National Intelligence and increase congressional oversight of foreign investments.
CAROLYN B. MALONEY
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