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e-News 9/29/17

The Federal Response to Hurricanes in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

Key Cosponsorships

Congressman Steve Scalise Comes Back to Serve

Bringing Suicide “Out of the Darkness”

Salute: 23 new American citizens

 

The Federal Response to Hurricanes in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

The personal accounts and pictures coming out of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are heartbreaking as the residents struggle in the aftermath of massive Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  The recovery effort has been very active. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) along with the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard and others, are conducting aggressive 24-hour operations, with an array of U.S. government and non-governmental partners, in an ongoing effort to provide immediate assistance to the residents of these two devastated territories.

According to FEMA, the top priority of the federal government is continuing to provide life sustaining resources to the islands, bringing additional essential commodities in and restoring power at hospitals, ports, airports, and other critical facilities.  There are more than 10,000 federal staff representing 36 departments and agencies, including more than 800 FEMA personnel, on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands engaged in response and recovery operations.

In Puerto Rico, 56 of 68 hospitals are partially operational, with one fully operational. Additional National Disaster Medical System staff arrivedThursday to support hospital assessments and medical needs of those in Puerto Rico.

Specific activities in other areas:

  • Officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico opened points of distribution in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for survivors to get meals, water, and other commodities. The Governor of Puerto Rico established 11 Regional Staging Areas around the island, serving 77 municipalities.

  • FEMA, working in coordination with federal partners, provided millions of meals and millions of liters of water to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additional meals and water continue to arrive to the islands daily via air and sea.

Life Safety and Life Sustaining

  • FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) visited all 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico conducting search and rescue operations, helping assess hospitals, and distributing commodities.  FEMA US&R task forces saved or assisted 843 individuals and five pets, while searching over 2,600 structures.

  • The DoD continues to operate from Roosevelt Roads Airfield, executing route clearance, commodity and fuel distribution, as well as providing helicopter support to assist officials fromDepartment of Health and Human Services (HHS) complete assessments of all Puerto Rican hospitals

  • The use of medium lift helicopters allows for the flow of needed commodities such as food, water, and fuel to remote areas disconnected from traditional supply lines. Six additional military medium lift helicopters arrived in Puerto Rico to continue commodity distribution to affected areas

  • The U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority drinking water system is back online, and other drinking water systems on the islands are top priority for receiving generators

  • The National Guard has thousands of Guard members on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands taking part in security and support operations. The Air National Guard is focused on transporting food, water, and communications capabilities as well as rapidly increasing airlift into affected areas.

Fuel, Transportation, and Debris

  • Fifteen United States Coast Guard National Strike Force (NSF) teams arrived in PR to conduct post-storm assessments and recovery operations.

  • The National Business Emergency Operations Center(NBEOC) is working with private sector companies to reach additional truck drivers throughout Puerto Rico to enable commodities to reach more remote parts of the island.

  • 11 major roads in Puerto Rico are cleared of debris and back open.

  • The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) made $40 million available to the PR Highways and Transportation Authority (PHRTA) for emergency relief work to impacted roads.

  • 26 chainsaw teams and one Incident Management Team (IMT) from the Department of Agriculture, United States Forest Service are in Puerto Rico are conducting emergency road clearance and manage logistics.

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) debris experts are assisting FEMA with debris management strategies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  • The federal government is working with its interagency and private sector partners to support availability, transportation and delivery of fuel, based on priorities identified by Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

  • The Army Corps of Engineers coordinated transportation of more than 300 FEMA or Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) generators from across the U.S. to meet anticipated requirements in the islands. Generators continue to arrive daily to meet temporary power needs.

Right now, our fellow Americans are suffering—especially the people of Puerto Rico. We recognize that when crisis hits, every dollar counts and so does every minute. Congress continues to work with the administration to make sure the people of Puerto Rico are getting additional help.  

While significant progress has been made, full recovery will be very long and very trying. But the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands should be reassured that they are entitled to equal treatment under the law and the Appropriations Committee and House Leadership will assure that every step of the way.  It is important to reassure residents and local officials that that we will help them rebuild.  

And of course, the people of New Jersey remain eager to provide whatever assistance they can.

The fastest way to help

As with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the most effective means to support recovery of communities affected by Hurricane Maria is to donate time or money to trusted voluntary-, faith- and community-based charitable organizations. This gives these organizations the ability to purchase what survivors need right now. In addition, when these organizations purchase goods or services locally, they pump money back into the local and regional economy, helping businesses recover faster.

It is important to remember unsolicited donated goods (e.g., clothing, miscellaneous household items, mixed or perishable foodstuffs) require voluntary agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing services to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.

Donate through a trusted organization

The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) lists trusted organizations receiving donations, many of which are already coordinating relief and response efforts in the Caribbean. The NVOAD website has information on non-profit organizations accepting or registering individual in-kind donations here. For corporate donations connect here.

You may also make financial donations to a National VOAD member organization to help voluntary or charitable organizations continue to provide services to Hurricane Maria survivors.

For more information, go to https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-maria.

Visit my website to access more information about Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands here:

 

Key Cosponsorships

In addition to the major legislation I have sponsored in the House of Representatives, I also lend my support to other legislation on a range of important issues.  Here is a sampling of my recent co-sponsorships:

H.R. 2721 - Seniors' Tax Simplification Act.  The IRS currently prohibits individuals over 65 years old from filing the 1040EZ form even if they have a simple return and choose not to itemize deductions. This bill directs the IRS to create a new tax form, the 1040SR, to accommodate the tax needs of seniors while extending the common sense convenience of the 1040EZ form.  This commonsense measure will reduce the burden of filing taxes for senior citizens.

H.R. 1991 - Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act.  This legislation would exempt volunteers providing firefighting or emergency medical services to a state, local government or charity from being counted as full time employees under the Employer Mandate provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  As you may remember, the ACA redefined what was considered a full-time employee for the purposes of the employer mandate, which determines whether towns and municipalities must provide health insurance to their workers or pay of fine of as much as $3,000 per employee.

H.R. 3441 – Save Local Businesses Act.  This legislation would clarify that two or more employers must have “actual, direct, and immediate” control over employees to be considered joint employers.  In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board re-defined the term “joint employer” to include employers making a business agreement that “indirectly” or “potentially” impacts their employees’ day-to-day responsibilities and working environment.

H.R. 3165 - Renovate and Enhance Veterans Meeting Halls and Posts (REVAMP).  This bill would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program to provide grants to veterans service organizations for upgrading local chapter facilities, including technology at such facilities.  Many New Jersey veterans organizations are struggling with declining memberships and deteriorating post facilities.  In the last Congress, I introduced a resolution regarding the eligibility of veterans service organizations for Community Development Block Grants. 

H.R.3176 - Disaster Assistance Fairness and Accountability Act. Under current law, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is permitted to require victims to repay disaster assistance if FEMA changes its determination on their eligibility, even if the payment was already made and the mistake was through no fault of the victim. This process, known as recoupment, is particularly troublesome because there is no statute of limitations on this type of action.  H.R. 3176 sets a statute of limitations of three years for disaster recoupment as long as the recipient’s application was made in good faith and they provided accurate information, and they did not receive assistance that was out of the range of what they were expecting to receive.  The measure does nothing to stop FEMA from recouping money from those who have defrauded the government.

H.R. 2765 - the Perpetual POW/MIA Stamp Act.  This legislation would provide for the issuance of a “forever stamp” to honor the sacrifices of the brave men and women of the Armed Forces who are still prisoner, missing or unaccounted for.  The Department of Defense reports that more than 83,000 service members remain missing since WWII. 

H.R 3329 – The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act.  Hizballah is Iran’s proxy army across the Middle East.  This terror organization poses a direct threat to American interests and Israel, props up the Assad regime in Syria, and has hijacked the Lebanese government. This bipartisan legislation would impose additional sanctions on the terrorist organization and those that support it.

For a complete listing of the bills I have sponsored and cosponsored, please visit my website here:

 

Congressman Steve Scalise Comes Back to Serve

The prayers of a nation were answered this week as my colleague, Rep. Steve Scalise, returned to the House of Representatives for the first time since he was gunned down by a would-be assassin on June 14.  His bravery and his family’s strength have been an inspiration to this House and to all the people it serves.

To watch Steve Scalise’s stirring return to the House and his plea for unity,visit:

 

Bringing Suicide “Out of the Darkness”

I was honored to be asked to participate by Mayor Curt Ritter last weekend in Chatham’s annual “Out of the Darkness” Community Walk where 250 local residents turned out to shine a spotlight on suicide, especially suicide among children. 

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America, claiming over 144,000 family members, friends, neighbors, and business associates each year.  On average, there are over 120 suicides every day.  Most of the people who die by suicide have an underlying mental health illness.

In the veterans community, we lose 20 of our comrades each day. These are twenty veterans who have left spouses, mothers, fathers, children, siblings and others wondering why.

The VA report indicates that the risk of suicide was 22 percent higher for veterans than those who have not served.

But among veterans and those who have not served, we all can make a difference.

If you know someone who is showing signs of depression or has talked about suicide, there are many ways you can help. For example, pay them a visit, meet up for coffee, or invite him or her to participate in a healthy activity like walking or biking.

In short: be there.

This week concludes National Suicide Prevention Month. But, in reality, it’s up to all of us to be on the lookout for anyone possible signs of suicide and take appropriate action.

Read more in Kathy Schwiff’s story in the Chatham Courier here:

 

Salute: Congratulations to the 23 new American citizens from 13 nations who took the oath of allegiance at the Morristown Historical Park this week! My fellow Americans!