July 2, 2004 - Volume I: Edition IV
I would like to share with you some of the important issues I have been working on in Washington as we head into summer.
The fight for fair security funding for New York City
You may have read or heard about the federal government’s homeland security funding formula that sends $38.31 per person to Wyoming, while our state, target number one, only gets $5.47 per person. While the Administration and some in Congress stall on changing these unfair state grants formulas, my colleague from Saratoga, Rep. John Sweeney, and I tried to provide some immediate support to the cities that need it the most, like New York. Bringing together other members of our state’s delegation, including Reps. Vito Fossella (Staten Island) and Nita Lowey (Westchester), we offered an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill last week that would have shifted $450 million from those misguided state grants to the “high-threat” grant program, which is meant to aid only the most at-risk cities. The New York delegation banded together to fight for our city in a spirited House floor debate against some powerful rural Members and those in the leadership. While we were defeated in the end, we did make the point that money for homeland security should go where the need is greatest. In another amendment that Mr. Rangel (Harlem) and I offered during consideration of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, we proposed to cap the number of entities eligible to receive those high-threat grants at its current number - 80. Already, the Department of Homeland Security has let the “high-threat” list get out of hand, expanding it from an initial group of seven cities to 30 and then to 80 (50 cities and 30 transit authorities) last year. The more cities get added, the more “high-threat” no longer means high threat. A coalition mainly comprised of those who do not represent high-threat communities defeated the amendment. (Click here ) Should the Department of Homeland Security again decide to divvy up the high-threat money among even more cities this year, New York could face another cut in its high-threat grant on par with last year’s 69% reduction. Since there is no indication that the threat to our city has decreased, there’s no reason our assistance should. While this amendment lost as well, we continue to vigorously stress that we need to get the money to where it is needed the most.
We need to keep subway riders safe
As Chair of the House Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security, I have been looking into our nation’s security on our railways. Since New York City is America’s Rail Capital - with the nation’s largest subway system and Amtrak’s busiest corridor running right through our neighborhoods - this is an especially important issue in our hometown. I organized a National Rail and Transit Security Day, during which Members around the country spoke out about the need for more rail security. Here in New York, my colleague Eliot Engel (Westchester) joined me at Grand Central Station to call on the federal government to pay more attention to rail safety issues. (Click here ) The federal government has barely begun to work on rail security, even though the Madrid attacks showed us how real the threat is. To start with, we can take the very basic step of developing a national plan for every rail system to have equal safety measures. We also need a huge influx of funding for rail programs - our aviation security programs have gotten a much-needed $4.5 billion since 9/11, but we have managed to scrape up only $65 million for rail security.
Blitzing the UN Population Fund while soliciting UN help on Iraq? It makes no sense.
In the two years since the State Department made the decision to withhold America’s contribution to UNFPA (the UN Population Fund), I have struggled to convince our government to restore funding to help women’s and children’s health worldwide. What is happening now is not just egregious and ironic, it’s un-American. As we approach the UN to get much-needed help in Iraq, the State Department has widened its offensive against UNFPA based on the unfounded and refuted claim that UNFPA collaborated with the Chinese government in forced sterilizations and coercive abortions. Our government is now threatening two other noble organizations - the World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) - that they too may lose funding if they work with or even talk to UNFPA. This is a wholly un-democratic policy that threatens to hurt countless more women and children worldwide. I have asked Secretary of State Colin Powell for an official explanation of his department’s actions.
In defense of some of our most historical New Yorkers
In the immediate aftermath of former President Ronald Reagan’s death, many Members of Congress rushed forward to propose a flood of tributes and memorials for the late president. Some of the ideas that were given the best chance of succeeding were those that would replace some of America’s most influential historical figures on our currency with former President Reagan. Certainly, Congress can come up with some form of appropriate honor - allowing funding for stem-cell research is my favorite idea - without throwing New Yorker Alexander Hamilton of the $10 bill or New Yorker Franklin Roosevelt off the dime. I have urged that we all slow down before we disrespect some of our greatest Americans. I have asked proponents of these ideas to remember their history lessons - the way they have talked about Mr. Hamilton, you would think he was some “John Doe.” Not only was Mr. Hamilton a New Yorker, but he helped construct the Constitution and was the father of the very American banking system that circulates the $10 bill! I’m glad that the Senate has slowed down and set up a task force that will review all of the proposals and make recommendations in mid-July - an honor then will mean just as much as rushing to do something in the week after his passing. Even Mrs. Reagan has publicly opposed removing President Roosevelt from the dime, and at the very least, we should listen to her.