May 28, 2008 - Vol. V: Ed IV

May 28, 2008

Dear Neighbor,

In my latest report to you from Congress, I want to share some of the great work we’ve accomplished in recent weeks.

In this E-Newsletter:

  • Jumpstarting Our Economy
  • Ending the War in Iraq
  • Making the Gender Wage Gap History
  • Advancing The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights
  • Reauthorizing The Debbie Smith Act
  • Holding Government Contractors Accountable
  • Solving Our Local School Overcrowding

Jumpstarting Our Economy

On February 13, 2008, "The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008" was signed into law. It will provide working families, and certain seniors and disabled veterans, with a one time tax rebate, or “stimulus check.”

The stimulus check is a tax credit for the 2008 income tax year that is intended to help stimulate our economy. Generally, you are eligible for a stimulus check if you filed a 2007 income tax return reporting tax liability or have earned income, Social Security income, or disabled veterans’ benefits of more than $3000.

Over the next few weeks, 8.3 million New Yorkers will be receiving stimulus checks totaling more than $6.7 billion.

Ending the War in Iraq

I remain committed to ending the war in Iraq and bringing our troops home safe and soon. That is why I voted against continuing to fund this misguided war and for a responsible redeployment our troops on May 15 when the House passed the Fiscal Year 2008 Emergency Supplemental Act.

The Supplemental was considered as three separate votes. I voted against the bill’s first provision to continue funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I voted for the second provision to redeploy our troops within 30 day’s of the bill’s enactment, with a goal of completing withdrawal of all combat troops by December 2009. And, I supported the bill’s third amendment to provide Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with a new GI Bill, extend unemployment benefits for those hardest hit by the economic downturn, and fund other pressing domestic issues.

The Supplemental includes constructive Iraq policy restrictions and makes the economic needs of the American people a priority. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen whether or not the President will choose to sign it.

Making the Gender Wage Gap History

April 22 was Equal Pay Day – a date that marks how much extra time the average American woman must work to match the wages her male counterparts earned the previous year. For example, this year, the average woman would have had to work from January 1, 2007 to April 22, 2008 to earn the same wage that a man was able to earn from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007.

It’s appalling that a gender pay gap persists in 2008, 45 years after we passed the "Equal Pay Act". Women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The disparity is even greater for African American and Hispanic women.  And, as women grow older, the wage gap widens even more: women nearing retirement earn only 71 percent of what men do.  Equal Pay Day serves as a strong reminder that while women have made some progress, there is still much more work that needs to be done. 

Equal pay is not just a women’s issue, it’s a family issue.  The wage gap hurts everyone – husbands, wives, children, and parents.  The impact of the wage gap is particularly pronounced in our current economic downturn as families struggle to pay bills, buy groceries, fill their gas tanks, and make ends meet on stagnant wages.  Single moms, many of whom are low-wage workers, are really feeling the pay pinch in this economy.  And, women are being disproportionately affected by the subprime mortgage crisis during this downturn. 

Two pieces of legislation being considered by Congress this year would help put us on a path to making the gender wage gap history.  I am an original co-sponsor of both “The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” (H.R. 2831), which would protect women against workplace discrimination, and “The Paycheck Fairness Act” (H.R. 1338), which would strengthen provisions of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and provide more effective remedies for closing the gender pay gap.

Advancing The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights

I am pleased to report that "The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights" (H.R. 5244), balanced legislation I introduced in February to reform major credit card industry abuses and improve consumer protections for credit cardholders, has gained tremendous momentum since my last report to you.

Members of Congress are clearly listening to their constituents who want – and deserve – credit card reform; I now have over 125 cosponsors on the bill. I have already held two hearings on the bill in my Subcommittee this year, and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, recently introduced similar legislation. "The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights" has also been endorsed by newspapers throughout the country, including The New York Times and Newsday. It also has the support of leading consumer groups, such as Consumers Union, U.S. Pirg, and the Consumer Federation, as well as The National Small Business Association and The Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Perhaps the greatest indication that we are on the verge of cracking down on credit card abuses for the first time in decades was the Federal Reserve’s historic move earlier this month to acknowledge that there are unfair and deceptive practices in the credit card industry, and propose regulatory rules for doing away with many of them.

The abusive practices the Fed identified as unfair and deceptive are the same ones that I proposed curbing in "The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights." The Fed clearly agrees with the need for solid and balanced credit card reforms. By the time the Fed gets around to finalizing its regulatory proposals, however, they may be watered down and come too little too late for struggling consumers who need help now. Just as we couldn’t wait for the regulators to get around to helping the millions of Americans facing foreclosure, we can’t count on them now to act quickly and help the millions of Americans being driven deeper into credit card debt. Legislation is the only solid and lasting solution.

I look forward to building upon the tremendous momentum that we have already gathered, and passing credit card reform legislation this year.

Reauthorizing The Debbie Smith Act

I’m pleased to report that "The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008" (H.R. 5057) was recently voted out of the House Judiciary Committee.  The legislation would extend an important federal DNA backlog processing program through FY 2014 and is now headed to the House floor for a full vote.

I authored this bill and the original "Debbie Smith Act."  Both are named for a courageous rape survivor who testified before the House Government Reform Committee in June 2001 about using DNA evidence to solve rape cases.  Debbie was raped near her home in 1989, and for six and a half years she lived in fear that her attacker would return to kill her.  She was finally able to live without fear when she learned that her rapist had been identified because of DNA evidence and was already in prison.   

The original "Debbie Smith Act" was signed into law in 2004 as part of "The Justice for All Act," comprehensive legislation that ensured that DNA evidence could be used to convict the guilty and free the innocent.  Since then, millions of dollars of federal funding have been appropriated under the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to process the thousands of unprocessed DNA evidence kits - including rape kits - across the country. 

Passing the original Debbie Smith bill was a huge victory for Debbie Smith, and for the thousands of rape survivors like her.  Unfortunately, that bill is set to expire at the end of FY 2009, but the reauthorization bill would extend the important program until 2014.  I will not stand by and let rapists roam free while the DNA evidence that could convict them goes unprocessed.  I am committed to reauthorizing "The Debbie Smith Act" to ensure we continue to keep dangerous rapists off our streets and put them in prison where they belong.

Holding Government Contractors Accountable

In April, the House passed my "Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act" (H.R. 3033).  This bill would create a comprehensive, centralized database that would more efficiently monitor the federal procurement system and help protect U.S. taxpayer dollars.  Currently, no central database exists to track fraudulent federal contractors and prevent them from continuing to do business with the federal government.  Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.   

Why do we need this bill? Because right now, there is nothing stopping a fraudulent contractor from bouncing from federal agency to federal agency, fleecing U.S. taxpayers the whole way.  Contractors that have repeatedly violated federal law still receive millions of dollars in contracts from the federal government.  In fact, according to data from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the top 50 federal contractors have paid approximately $12 billion in fines, penalties, restitution, and settlements for more than 350 instances of misconduct since 1995.  Nine of the top 50 federal contractors have a total of twelve resolved criminal cases totalling $161 million in penalties paid since 1995.

I believe Congress can and should do more to fortify the federal procurement system, and show the door to contractors lining their pockets at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.  In fact, I have worked hard to improve contracting accountability since my days on the New York City Council where I led the effort to implement Vendex, and ensure that city contracts were handed out responsibly.  I look forward to working with Senator McCaskill to ensure this important bill is made law.

Solving Our Local School Overcrowding Problem

Elementary schools in Manhattan, particularly those in District 2, are experiencing an overcrowding crisis. Right now, more than two-thirds of the elementary schools in District 2 operate over capacity, and several schools operate at or exceeding 150 percent of capacity. As a result, principals have been forced to cut pre-kindergarten programs, eliminate art and music programs, or schedule lunchtime early in the school day.

It’s clear that the Department of Education hasn’t allocated enough money in its Capital Plan to build the schools we need in the communities where overcrowding is severe. What’s more, the Department has refused to discuss their plans to address this crisis with elected officials or community members.

Parents deserve to know what the Department is intending to do to curb the severe and growing overcrowding taking place in their children’s schools. That’s why last month I joined with a number of our local government officials in urging Education Chancellor Joel Klein to meet with us to discuss the severe overcrowding problem in District 2 and his plans to deal with this crisis.


Member of Congress