August 1, 2008 - Vol V: Ed V

Aug 1, 2008

Dear Neighbor, 

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

In this E-Newsletter:

  • Shoring Up Our Struggling Economy
  • Working to End the War in Iraq
  • Opposing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008
  • Helping Working Parents Balance Both Work and Family
  • Reauthorizing The Debbie Smith Act
  • Easing School Overcrowding
  • Protecting the Health of the World’s Women
  • Creating a Successful New State Quarter Program

Shoring up Our Struggling Economy

This spring, Congress enacted an economic stimulus package that provided Recovery Rebates to millions of struggling families.  We also worked hard to extend unemployment benefits for those workers who have been unable to find a job in this tough job market. 

The first stimulus was a good start, but Congress is now working on a second package to help our still-struggling economy.  That second stimulus will probably include some form of home energy assistance for low-income Americans, and more money for state Medicaid and food stamp programs - among other provisions. 

There are no easy answers to our current economic problems, but one thing is clear: we must address the root of our weakening economy – the housing crisis.  We must keep families facing foreclosure in their homes and help other families avoid foreclosures in the future.

In July, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, comprehensive housing reform legislation.  “The Foreclosure Prevention Act” will provide much-needed relief to struggling homeowners, certainty to our financial markets, and stability to our communities and economy.
While we have made progress, there is still much more to do.  The Congress is working hard to keep the housing crisis from getting worse and bring greater oversight to our nation’s financial institutions. 

To read more about my thoughts on “The Foreclosure Prevention Act,” click here: 

Working to End 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 have voted against further funding for the war and for a responsible redeployment of our troops. 

In June, Congress took up a Fiscal Year 2008 emergency supplemental spending bill, which was the result of an agreement reached by congressional Democrats, Republicans, and the White House.  The proposal was taken up as two amendments.  I voted against the first amendment, which would have continued funding the war in Iraq and was basically a blank check with no provisions to ensure that American troops will be coming home by a date certain.

I did vote for the second amendment in the emergency supplemental spending bill, which included important provisions to meet the needs of our troops, fully restore GI Bill education benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, provide emergency assistance to Americans struggling in an economy on the brink of recession, provide urgently-needed disaster relief in the response to the floods and tornadoes in the Midwest, and block damaging Medicaid regulations.  Both amendments passed. 

Opposing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008

The Bush Administration has expanded the powers of the government to monitor the actions of American citizens with, unfortunately, too little oversight from Congress or the courts. As a Representative from New York, I know how important good intelligence is in ensuring that our nation does not face another terrorist attack.  However, we must also ensure that we do not trample on civil liberties in the process.  In fact, I have a sworn duty to stand up for the Constitution and for the rights of my constituents.  That’s why, on June 20, 2008, I voted against H.R. 6304, the “FISA Amendments Act of 2008.”

I appreciated the efforts to reach a compromise on this bill, but I still felt that it fell short of truly protecting the rights of the American people.  It allows for retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies that participated in the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which I find unacceptable.

Helping Parents Balance Both Work and Family

I have been working to expand the “Family and Medical Leave Act” (FMLA) for nearly a decade.  In June, we turned a corner in the fight to help America’s working families better balance the demands of work and family when the House passed my “Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act” (H.R. 5781).

This legislation is the first truly “family-friendly” bill Congress has approved since we passed the original FMLA back in 1993.  It will provide federal employees with four weeks of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

With over 1.8 million employees, the federal government is the nation’s largest employer.  It should be leading the way and providing every employee with a truly family-friendly workplace, but it’s not.  Instead, the current antiquated family leave policies are proving to be a talent drain on the government – they’re an incentive for skilled people to look elsewhere for work at the very time when our government needs them most. 

By failing to provide paid parental leave, the federal government lags behind both the private sector and other industrialized nations.  In fact, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not provide support for all workers with a new child. 

I am thankful to Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), who is pushing my bill through the Senate.  When we enact this bill into law, millions of workers will have the right to paid parental leave, and we will be setting a standard for the rest of the nation to follow.

For more information on my “Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act,” click here:

Reauthorizing The Debbie Smith Act

I’m pleased to report that an extension of an important federal DNA backlog processing program - the “Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act” (H.R. 5057) - passed the House in July, and is now headed to the Senate.

I authored the original “Debbie Smith Act” and this reauthorization bill.  The bill is 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 Elimination 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 and for the thousands of rape survivors like her.  This reauthorization will extend the important program until 2014 and ensure more crime survivors are able to see their perpetrators brought to justice. 

For more information on the original “Debbie Smith Act” and the reauthorization, click here 

Easing School Overcrowding

School District 2 in Manhattan is the second most overcrowded district in the city.  With new buildings rising throughout the area, and residents moving into neighborhoods that were once purely commercial, there is an urgent need for new schools. 

On July 14, I organized a meeting with the Department of Education (DOE) to discuss overcrowding in our neighborhoods.  The meeting was attended by virtually every official for School District 2, including Comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Borough President Scott Stringer, representatives of the Community Boards, representatives from Community Education Council 2, the United Federation of Teachers, and others.  We were fortunate that Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott led the meeting - a sign that the Bloomberg Administration is taking the issue very seriously.  We have a follow-up meeting scheduled with Chancellor Klein on July 28, and hope to gain a commitment from DOE to develop plans to address the overcrowding in both the short and long-term. 

One disappointing point came when Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh asked what the plans were to address overcrowding at PS 116, an East Midtown K-5 school that has experienced explosive growth in recent years.   We were advised that the plans were not yet ready, a response that I consider unacceptable.  PS 116 is operating at 113 percent of capacity.  Administrators have had to eliminate its Pre-K program, begin lunch at 10:20 in the morning, and consider eliminating G&T kindergarten.  Kindergarten classes have 25 to 28 students in each class, when state standards indicate that kindergarten classes should not exceed 20 students.

We were shocked that six weeks before the start of school, DOE still had no plan for PS 116, so I organized a press conference to call for specific plans.  I was joined by Borough President Scott Stringer, Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, Councilmember Dan Garodnick, and concerned parents and teachers. 

The crisis will only get worse without the Department’s intervention: there are at least 40 high-rise buildings with an estimated 3,377 new housing units currently being built in the surrounding neighborhood. All of the new developments are zoned for P.S. 116 and most apartments are sized to appeal to families.

Overcrowded schools do not make for healthy cities.  New York’s recent renaissance will not last if our schools have to put up ‘No Vacancy’ signs. 

We need new schools in Manhattan and unfortunately, we needed them yesterday.  I will continue working with my colleagues at the state and local level to help remedy the overcrowding problem at P.S. 116, on Upper East Side and throughout School District 2.

For more information on the work we are doing, and to learn more about the overcrowding problem, click here: 

Protecting the Health of the World’s Women

A woman in the developing world dies every minute from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth.  And, for every woman who dies, another 20 suffer from serious and debilitating injuries, including the painful and embarrassing condition known as obstetric fistula.  In fact, reproductive health conditions are the leading cause of death and illness for women of childbearing age worldwide.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is committed to improving the reproductive health of the world’s women.  It is the single largest source of assistance for global programs that help women space and time their pregnancies and deliver healthy babies.  UNFPA works in 153 countries, including all of the very poorest and many that U.S. aid agencies do not reach.  The investments UNFPA makes in reproductive health help save and improve lives, slow the spread of HIV, and encourage gender equality.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration recently neglected to fund UNFPA’s good work for the seventh consecutive year.  Congress has appropriated money to UNFPA every year since 2001, and every year the Administration has withheld its funding.  It claims that it’s withholding the money because UNFPA supports the Chinese government in forced sterilizations and coercive abortions, but this claim was flatly refuted by the State Department’s own fact-finding team.  The White House wouldn’t even accept my bill which would have dedicated every penny of UNFPA’s federal funding to help eradicate obstetric fistula - an objective we should all be able to agree on, whatever our family planning position. 

I believe the Bush Administration’s global women’s health care policies have imperiled the health of millions of women worldwide, and jeopardized our nation’s position as a respected leader in funding family planning and reproductive health care worldwide.  One of my top priorities next year will be restoring funding to UNFPA. 

Creating a Successful New State Quarter Program

I’m pleased to report yet another recent legislative success: a bill I co-sponsored with Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) to create a new quarter program that would continue highlighting the unique diversity of our 50 states by honoring a national park or historic site in each of them passed the U.S. House of Representatives in July. 

The “America's Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act” (H.R. 6184) is a great way to commemorate our nation’s diverse history and landscape, and combines all the best elements of a successful coin program: education, collecting interest, and a financial windfall for the Treasury.

At its heart, this legislation creates a new national teaching tool - a living timeline that parents and educators could use to teach children about our nation’s storied history, from the Liberty Bell to Yellowstone National Park.  As an added bonus, the U.S. Mint estimates that the original state quarter program will make more than $6.2 billion in revenue.  No doubt, a similarly popular national park quarter program would produce another huge benefit as novices and professional collectors alike are drawn to collecting a new series of coins.