In the state of Georgia, we saw record-setting voter turnout for the general election on November 3rd. However, due to the increased use of mail-in ballots, this also meant confirming the official results of many elections could not be done overnight. With election results in several states across the nation too close to call – including here in Georgia – several steps had to be taken following the initial results to ensure an accurate vote count.
For example, in Georgia, election results yielded such incredibly close vote shares in both of the U.S. Senate races and in the U.S. Presidential race that Georgia election laws automatically triggered runoff elections for both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats and also required Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to launch a state-wide risk-limiting audit, which included a hand count of all ballots, to ensure voting machines yielded the correct results.
Following the conclusion of the audit – the largest hand count of ballots in recent history – Secretary Raffensperger reaffirmed the original outcome of the presidential race in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden and took action to certify those results on November 20th, meeting the statutory deadline set by Georgia election law. However, because former Vice President Biden’s margin of victory over President Donald Trump was less than 0.5% in Georgia’s certified election results, the Trump campaign is entitled to and requested a formal recount of Georgia’s ballots, a process that began last Tuesday to re-scan every legal paper ballot in the state to further ensure the validity of the state’s election results.
As I said before, there is no higher electoral priority than ensuring the confidence of the American people in our voting systems. I applaud the diligent efforts of our state and local election officials who have worked tirelessly to make sure we get it right. Of course, when allegations of impropriety are raised, those must be investigated. And this election cycle has demonstrated the ways in which we can do better. With all eyes turning to Georgia in these next two months given Georgia’s runoffs on January 5th, it is imperative that we do.
Last week, General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy announced the formal initiation of its role in making its services available to former Vice President Biden for this transition, and President Trump himself has asked that GSA move forward in its capacity as recounts continue. Ensuring a peaceful transition of power is a cornerstone of our democracy and is one that both Republicans and Democrats have always committed to, even formally this fall by nearly unanimously passing a resolution calling for that in both the House and Senate Chambers. While these election results paint a picture of a divided America, it also paints one of increased civic engagement and participation in our democracy, with roughly 5 million Georgians casting their ballot in 2020 compared to 4.1 million Georgian voters in 2016. Now more than ever, a willingness to engage with one another and push past our disagreements to find the best path forward will be necessary, and I hope we see that increased commitment to bipartisanship as the House and Senate returns this week for its likely final legislative stretch of the 116th Congress.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency, both private industry and the federal government have aggressively pursued the development and deployment of diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines to combat this virus. In particular, I know many of you have been closely following the news of the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, which I recently discussed, highlighting Pfizer and Moderna’s announcements about their vaccine candidates. Results from those Phase III clinical trials have been incredibly encouraging, reporting efficacy ratings of more than 90 percent, well-above the 75 percent efficacy rate that earlier this year stood as public health officials’ end goal. There are multiple vaccine candidates in the process of clinical trials, and last week, Astra Zeneca announced preliminary results of its trial data indicating anywhere from 62-90 percent efficacy, depending on how the two doses are administered and has the advantage of being stored at refrigerated rather than freezer temperatures.
As those studies continue, it is important to remember that our vaccine strategy is not singular, and the successful development of multiple vaccine candidates is needed to address the public health need. While federal leaders begin to outline distribution plans, with federal recommendations on how those should be distributed likely forthcoming, I will continue to call on Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader McConnell, and the White House to pass an additional relief package to ensure that a need for funding is not the roadblock in furthering our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has demonstrated the increasingly important role technology and online services have played in providing for the continuity of operations. We have seen that in a number of ways – from virtual learning in both K-12 and higher education, to shifts to remote work across large sectors of the economy. This also includes in the delivery of health care services, namely the increased adoption and utilization of telehealth which has played a critical role in preserving access to care when in-person services cannot be provided. Below are some of the messages I have received about telehealth utilization during this time.
David from Sugar Hill:
I urge you to take immediate legislative steps to make permanent many of the regulatory reforms instituted by federal agencies to fight covid-19. The crisis has exposed a tragic reality - harmful regulations often stand in the way of doctors, nurses, and medical researchers helping people.
Amelia from Lawrenceville:
Stories are coming in from all over the country from physicians and patients alike about the positive effects of expanding telehealth. It has allowed patients to continue to receive high-quality care using new digital tools. I strongly urge that telehealth services are covered and remain available as a viable option for patients during and beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) took decisive action during the onset of the pandemic to promote access to telehealth services. These actions include lifting geographic and site of service restrictions to allow telehealth services to be delivered wherever a beneficiary is located, expanding the list of services that could be furnished remotely, and expanding the types of practitioners who can provide telehealth services.
Truly, the COVID-19 crisis has served as the largest pilot program for many new public policies, telehealth included, and I am glad that these flexibilities have helped provide for continuity of care in a time when it is most critical. HHS’s report issued this summer shows just how important a role telehealth services have played during this emergency, with telehealth utilization for primary care increasing by nearly 50 percent at its peak in April 2020.
The benefits of telehealth, especially during this time, are evident. And I support the continuation of those policies, particularly as we are seeing increased rates of COVID-19 cases heading into the winter. Though with any broader or permanent extensions of these flexibilities, we must absolutely make certain that we maintain the robust privacy protections we have in place and ensure a high-quality standard of care for Americans and their families.
I absolutely expect these enacted flexibilities expanding the utilization of telehealth to continue as national emergency persists. And as the health care debate continues into the next Congress, I am excited about the prospect telehealth services will play in addressing our emerging health care needs, particularly across rural and underserved communities.
Time and again, I come across special members of our Seventh District community who commit themselves fully to the service of others. Last week, Suwanee resident Trenessa Beene Pearson and her nonprofit ministry, “Transforming You,” hosted its second annual Thanksgiving Day meal for individuals and families experiencing homelessness in our community. Pearson founded Transforming You to support and transform the lives of homeless women and children in our community, with the ultimate goal of opening a full-time shelter for those in need. Last week’s Thanksgiving event, hosted in George Pierce Park, was held with the support of local businesses and individuals who helped fundraise, prepare, and serve food and much-needed toiletries and gift cards for the event’s guests.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pearson and her volunteers did not hesitate to continue their service, modifying this year’s event to best protect those in attendance. After just a two-week hiatus at the start of the lockdown, Transforming You got right back to work. As Pearson said, “Put the masks and the gloves on and let’s go – and we did.”
I would like to thank Ms. Pearson and all volunteers and supporters of Transforming You for their selfless service to those who are most in-need in our community. Your generosity will go a long way in ensuring that our neighbors do not have to go without this holiday season.
As we head into the holiday season, I am continuously inspired by so many in our community who are working to give back to our neighbors in need. And for the past nearly three decades, the annual Buck Jones Toy Run has showcased the ways in which giving back is truly a product of the passions of our community. Through this event, over 400 bikers recently gathered for a record-breaking 29th annual Buck Jones Toy Run, riding from Cumming to Dahlonega to raise toys and money for local children. Started in 1991 by Forsyth County Police Chief Buck Jones, this year’s rally was met with historic turnout and benefitted multiple charities, including Meals by Grace in Forsyth. I hope you will join me in recognizing this year’s volunteers and bikers for their generosity and commitment to giving each child in our community the Christmas they deserve.
As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, there are still a number of legislative priorities that must be completed before the end of this Congress, including the National Defense Authorization Act which is currently in conference committee as both chambers begin to work out the differences between our two bills; government funding for FY2021 which the respective Senate and House Appropriations Committees have begun their discussions on how to move forward; and the ever-elusive COVID-19 relief package that has stalled these past few months.
However, rather than take up any of these important bills, the House will be returning this week to vote on H.R. 3884, the “Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act,” which would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and associated criminal statutes, in addition to establishing a trust fund to assist those who have been adversely affected by the criminalization of marijuana. While I welcome the debate on federal criminal statutes governing marijuana use, possession, and distribution, I believe it is the wrong time for the House to utilize such precious time discussing a bill with no path forward rather than delivering results for the American people who continue to struggle during this pandemic.
Member of Congress
As we head into this year’s holiday season, I want to wish you and your family a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. This year has been, without a doubt, a difficult one for so many in our country due to COVID-19. And celebrations around the dinner table will undeniably look different this year compared to most, with many families across the country opting to observe this day with one another virtually in order to best protect friends and loved ones. The CDC has issued updated guidelines on how to best observe Thanksgiving this Thursday, and I encourage you all to continue to follow public health and social distancing protocols to help prevent this virus’ spread.
Giving thanks in times like these can be difficult, yet we are all blessed in unique ways. Thanksgiving remains a time to reflect on those blessings. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the Seventh District for the past ten years, and I am thankful for your support, your instruction, and your encouragement every step of the way. May God bless each and every one of you and your families this Thanksgiving season.
Members in the House returned to Capitol Hill this past week and brought forward a bill – H.R. 8294 – to update the National Apprenticeship Act. Over 80 years ago, Congress enacted the National Apprenticeship Act, which created the national registered apprenticeship (RA) system under the U.S. Department of Labor. Apprenticeships prepare workers for specific and highly-skilled occupations through paid on-the-job training and related educational instruction. At a time when more than 45 million Americans hold over $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt, apprenticeships have and will continue to be an increasingly viable career option, creating an alternative pathway to high-paying jobs that ensure our workforce is well-trained and highly skilled. The National Apprenticeship Act serves a critical role in the apprenticeship space, graduating more than 80,000 apprentices last year in more than 1,200 recognized apprenticeable occupations. Most impressively, more than 94 percent of program graduates go on to retain their employment, virtually debt free, with an average starting salary of $70,000 a year.
Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agree about the merits of this program, and I was pleased to talk about those merits when managing rule debate for H.R. 8294 on the House floor. However, it is clear that there is room for improvement to modernize the national registered apprenticeship program to meet our needs in the 21st century. We were within an inch of passing a truly bipartisan bill, and I am disappointed that the Majority failed to adopt, both in Committee and when offered on the floor, any Republican amendments to cut down on the bureaucratic hoops to register more apprenticeships in the federal program. Businesses need the ability to tailor these programs to meet their individual needs, and we had an opportunity to provide 21st century updates to this 20th century program. Unfortunately, for reasons that I simply cannot explain, the majority chose to jam through a partisan bill that will now go nowhere instead of working on a bipartisan bill that could pass the Senate and be signed by the President. You can listen to my remarks by clicking the picture below.
Rep. Rob Woodall Manages Rule Debate for H.R. 8294, the “National Apprenticeship Act of 2020”
In the time we have remaining in the 116th Congress, it is a shame that our work continues to focus on pushing bills that have no future in the Senate and are ones that the President has indicated he won’t sign. We need to focus on delivering for the American people, which means getting bills signed into law. As I said on the House floor, opportunities for that success exist in a bipartisan agreement on police reform, bipartisan appropriations bills for funding the government for Fiscal Year 2021, bipartisan support for COVID-19 testing and vaccines, and additional support for businesses and workers, including renewing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). We can do better, and I will continue to call on Speaker Pelosi and the White House and Senate leaders to get it done.
While the American people wait on House Democratic leadership to come to the negotiating table to deliver COVID-19 relief for our hospitals and local businesses, my colleagues did come together to pass a number of bipartisan resolutions under suspension of the rules last week, a process which expedites the oftentimes cumbersome legislative process. I am always pleased to see Congress speak in a unified voice on some of the most critical issues of our day, including the rising threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and other key geopolitical issues.
First, the House passed several resolutions condemning the CCP’s draconian human rights record, especially with respect to the citizens of Hong Kong and Tibet. The first, H.Res. 1033, expresses solidarity with the people of Hong Kong and condemns the Chinese government’s brutal crackdowns on peaceful protests there. The second, H.Res. 697, similarly expresses solidarity with the people of Tibet and their peaceful quest for real autonomy, despite brutal repression by the CCP. It is critical that the United States government continues to stand in support of human rights around the world, and I was encouraged to see both of these statements pass with resounding bipartisan support.
I was also pleased to see the House come together by way of H.Res. 809 and H.Res. 1012 to express our support for the U.S. – South Korea relationship, a geopolitical alliance that has, over time, strengthened into a true friendship based on shared ideals of democracy and respect for human rights. The former resolution also recognized the incredible contributions of Korean-Americans in our country. The U.S.-Korea relationship is truly unique, and I look forward to seeing the global impact this partnership will have in the years ahead.
Many of you may have seen friends and neighbors across our community, and across the nation, donning purple these last few weeks as part of a coordinated effort to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer. That’s because November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and this past Thursday was World Pancreatic Day – a time aimed at bringing renewed attention to combatting this cancer. Pancreatic cancer is projected to be the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States this year, and 2020 has reminded us why it is as important as ever to raise awareness and support to combat it. As many of you know, just this year, our nation lost my friend and colleague, Congressman John Lewis, to pancreatic cancer, along with roughly 47,000 Americans.
With nearly 60,000 Americans diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, a focus on basic research and early detection is needed, and I am proud of the increased commitment I have seen over the last decade in Congress in that endeavor. The bipartisan commitment we have seen to ensuring our leading federal research institutions – like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – are best equipped to fight this cancer, and the many other diseases and disorders that plague Americans, is significant. I was glad to join my colleagues in pressing for additional NIH funding, and I expect we will see increases again this year as Congress works to pass its final appropriations bills before the funding deadline on December 11th.
While it is undeniably true that political disagreements stand in the way of achieving some of our collective legislative goals, it is also true that you hear less about those bills that have wide support from Members on both sides of the aisle. Below are messages I have received from individuals back home about targeted bills and issues they would like to see Congress address.
Jamie from Peachtree Corners:
As a constituent and a member of the food allergy community, I’m asking that you co-sponsor the (FASTER) Act (H.R. 2117), a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by over 90 House Members. This bill is crucial to me as it protects the estimated 1.5 million Americans allergic to sesame by requiring sesame to become the ninth allergen listed on food labels.
James from Cumming:
Each year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean -- the equivalent of a full garbage truck being dumped into the sea every minute. This plastic waste litters our beaches, contaminates waterways and threatens marine wildlife. I urge you to support forthcoming legislation and to do all you can to help move our country beyond plastic.
As I described earlier, passing bills under “suspension of the rules” is a procedural mechanism that the House can deploy to bring legislation to the floor. Passage of these bills require two-thirds support of House Members and is used to advance those pieces of legislation that have broad, bipartisan support. While these bills are often smaller measures compared to the larger bills that pass through my desk on the Rules Committee, they comprise much of the House’s bill load and are often common-sense, targeted fixes that can better serve Americans.
Last week the House came together to pass more than 50 “suspension” bills, which you can read HERE. Among those bills passed was the bill that Jamie supported – the H.R. 2117, the “FASTER Act.” This bill directs the Food and Drug Administration to add sesame – the ninth most common food allergen – to its list of eight major food allergens that are required to be identified on food packages. The bill also requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand the collection of information about food allergies in the United States. Additionally, as James mentioned, the desire to protect our oceans from harmful pollutants is a shared one, and the House passed H.R. 4636, the “PLASTICS Act,” which directs the State Department and USAID to further their pollution reduction programs to reduce plastic pollution globally. Lastly, I was glad to see the Chamber pass several bipartisan Transportation and Infrastructure bills, including H.R. 8408, the “Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act,” which I spoke about in a previous newsletter and will update Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight, strengthening our aviation safety standards.
With the end of the 116th Congress drawing near, it is good to see bipartisan action across multiple committees and areas of jurisdiction. I hope that trend continues when my colleagues and I return to Washington soon for our last legislative stretch.
The Seventh District truly is home to some of the most remarkable students, faculty, and staff in some of the best schools in the state of Georgia. That tradition of excellence means I am never short of opportunities to highlight that good work, including the recent announcement that Forsyth Central High School’s Dr. Josh Lowe was recently named as Georgia’s 2021 Assistant Principal of the Year.
The Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals selected Dr. Lowe for this honor because of his long record of servant leadership in education. After 20 years as a teacher, coach, athletic director, and now as an assistant principal, Dr. Lowe is still as enthusiastic and service-minded as he was in the very beginning. From mentoring new administrators to working collaboratively with teachers, Dr. Lowe hopes to continue to build on Forsyth County Schools’ outstanding record of academic excellence.
We ask a great deal of our teachers and administrators who we task with our children’s educational upbringing, especially during this time. When there is an opportunity to recognize those who go above and beyond in that mission, we must seize it and let those servant leaders among us know how much we appreciate them. That is why I hope you will join me in congratulating Dr. Lowe and his team at Forsyth Central High School on this great achievement.
The efforts to address the harmful public health and economic effects caused by COVID-19 have demanded an all-of-government response that brings together federal, state, and local leaders to provide assistance. With federal support from the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund which provided $150 billion in assistance to state and local governments, Gwinnett County has launched Project Reset – a program providing past due rent payments to help families facing eviction. Project Reset is a partnership between HomeFirst Gwinnett and the Gwinnett Magistrate Court aimed at addressing the 400 active dispossessory filings currently in Gwinnett Magistrate Court where eviction for families is imminent. The second phase of the program will seek to help renters in the pre-eviction phase and before eviction notices are filed. I encourage those of you in need of this assistance to call 770-847-6765 or email MagistrateCourtProjectRESET@gwinnettcounty.com to learn what relief options may be available to you through this program.
As Congress takes a brief recess for the Thanksgiving holiday, there is still much left for us to complete before the end of the year. In the coming weeks, we will hold a series of elections to determine committee leadership for the 117th Congress, which in our case will determine the new ranking members for committees that I have served, including Budget. Additionally, the House must take up a number of legislative items including the Water Resources and Development Act, funding the federal government for Fiscal Year 2021, complete our work to finalize the sixtieth consecutive National Defense Authorization Act, and – potentially – an additional, much needed COVID-19 relief package to address the increase in cases of coronavirus, the anticipated rollout of vaccines and therapeutics, and assistance for small businesses as we enter the winter months of the pandemic. I believe all of my colleagues share the same desire to complete consideration of all these major bills before the end of the year, and I am hopeful we will take these next few weeks to hunker down and get it done.
Member of Congress
The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a public health crisis, and some of the most critical efforts to combatting this virus have centered on developing countermeasures, such as diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. There are several vaccine candidates in the process of clinical trials, and I know many of you may have seen Pfizer’s recent announcement, which says its vaccine candidate has demonstrated a 90 percent efficacy rate based on results from its Phase 3 trial. As you may recall, earlier this summer the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced an agreement, as part of its Operation Warp Speed, that would provide for the production and delivery of 100 million doses of this COVID-19 vaccine, with the ability to acquire 500 million additional doses, if it is proven safe and effective. Additionally, just this morning, Moderna announced equally encouraging data from its Phase 3 trial, indicating a vaccine efficacy of 94 percent. These results are undeniably encouraging, but those trials are ongoing. Any vaccine candidate will still need to demonstrate set standards of efficacy and safety, as well as receive regulatory approval from the FDA, before wider distribution.
Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for a new therapeutic treatment that has shown evidence to reduce hospitalization and emergency visits for COVID-19 positive patients at increased risk of severe illness from the virus. And last month, the FDA approved its first treatment, remdesivir, for use in health care settings for adults and children 12 and older who require hospitalization from COVID-19.
The federal government will continue to play a critical role in advancing vaccines and treatments to fight COVID-19, and as these efforts continue, we must continue to do our part and follow public health recommendations. The health of our communities and our further economic recovery is dependent on it.
You would be hard-pressed to find someone who would tell you our immigration system is working as intended. In fact, it is more common to find someone to tell you how the onerous process had failed them by way of delays, misfiled paperwork, and more. The issues plaguing our immigration procedures have real consequences for families throughout the United States. One issue specifically was brought to my attention earlier this Congress by our neighbors representing American Families United.
For those who fall in love, marry, and raise a family with a spouse who turns out to be undocumented, there is no path for those families to get right by the law. Rather, our laws unintentionally encourage those individuals to remain in hiding or else risk being separated from their families for three years, five years, or permanently as they are barred from ever returning to the U.S. While upholding our national security and safety of our citizens makes it necessary to keep some individuals from reentering the country, surely it was never intended to prevent American citizens from living in peace with their spouse.
After working for over a year with Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX), we were able to introduce H.R. 8708, the “American Families United Act.” For those cases that do not deal with security issues for the United States, this bill will enable immigration judges to use their discretion on a case-by-case basis to keep American citizens and their families together.
Families belong together, and I believe the American Families United Act serves that mission. I am proud of the strong product we have put together and hope this bill will be taken up in the coming months.
Many of you know that last Wednesday was Veterans Day ––a time of reflection, gratitude, and celebration of the honorable sacrifices that our nation’s veterans have made to protect our country. We certainly owe our servicemembers a tremendous debt of gratitude, which is why I was pleased to learn that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bernhardt recently issued an order granting all Gold Star Families and military veterans free entrance to our national parks, refuges, and other public lands.
A similar program is already offered to active duty military and their dependents, but expanding this benefit to Gold Star Families and veterans is truly symbolic of our lasting appreciation of their sacrifices. To benefit from the program, Gold Star Families or veterans simply need to present qualifying identification, such as a Military ID or a Driver’s License with a veterans designation, providing access to the roughly 2,000 public locations spanning 400 million acres of land managed by the Department of the Interior, the National Forest Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is only fitting that all of our nation’s servicemembers, both past and present, should have free access to some of the very lands they strived to protect and defend.
In the early months of the COVID-19 public health emergency, there was much that we didn’t know about the respiratory contagion that has since spurred an ongoing global health crisis. But as the days and months have gone on, the important role that face masks play in preventing the spread of COVID-19 has become increasingly clear. Here is what some of you have had so say about the subject:
Mariah from Lawrenceville:
I am writing you this letter concerning the use of masks due to the life-threatening pandemic that is occurring. The lack of mask usage should not be taken lightly because the lives of our fellow citizens are being jeopardized. I understand that social distancing can be a little difficult in public, especially with many people around, but masks can prevent further spread of COVID.
Susan from Suwanee:
Mr. Woodall, it’s time to let our kids, teenagers and young adults go back to normal. They have sacrificed enough for this virus. For those that interact with young people as part of their job or living situation, wear a mask. I am sad for all that our kids have lost.
As you may recall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first implemented its mask guidance on April 3 of this year. Since then, the scientific community has found overwhelming evidence that properly worn masks help prevent the droplets carrying the COVID-19 virus from spreading person-to-person. As CDC Director Robert Redfield told lawmakers when testifying on Capitol Hill this fall, face coverings are the “most important, powerful public health tool we have.” In fact, as our scientific researchers continue their efforts to accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine that is proven to be safe and effective, the use of face masks, social distancing protocols, and other public health measures have enabled businesses to reopen, children return to school, and our nation get back to work.
As Susan said, the economic and mental toll levied on workers and families because of COVID-19 has been undeniable. But it cannot be said enough: our economic bounce back and return to normalcy is inextricably linked to our ability to control the public health threat posed by COVID-19. We will not have one without the other. As the winter months approach, and with people spending more time indoors in close proximity to others, we simply cannot afford to see a surge in new cases.
To ensure compliance with the CDC’s mask wearing guidance, some have suggested that the federal government pass a nationwide mask policy. While I think the sentiment beyond such calls – to protect our friends and neighbors – is universally shared, it remains the case that these policies should be state and locally implemented. Any policy is only as strong as its enforcement, and while our federal leaders should continue to let science be our guide when setting best practices, it is our states and localities that are ultimately tasked with enforcing any such policy. Of course, the importance of following public health protocols should be a message that is communicated at all levels of government. But as in many areas of public policy, our states and localities are the ones best equipped to assess their needs and determine how to specifically implement policies to best address them.
To Mariah’s concern, the good news is an increasing number of Americans are opting to wear masks. But with many states continuing to see increases in the number of confirmed cases, we must ensure we are continually adhering to these public health guidelines. Masks will continue to play a pivotal role in reducing transmission of this virus; let’s continue to do our part to protect our friends and neighbors, particularly those with underlying health conditions who are most vulnerable.
Here in the Seventh District, we are home to some of the most outstanding schools in the state, and even with the challenges posed by COVID-19, our students continue to demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence. That’s why this week, I would like to recognize Gwinnett County Public Schools for its success at increasing its student graduation rate, with 83.23% of students graduating from high school within 4 years.
As we all know, this increased graduation rate would not have been possible without the hard work of our teachers in ensuring students in the classroom are receiving a quality education. As you may recall from my previous newsletter, Gwinnett County Public Schools earlier this fall named its 139 “Teachers of the Year” for each public school in the county. Now, 6 finalists have been selected out of 25 semifinalists. This year’s finalists include: Lena Alonso from Lilburn Elementary, Katie Blum from Sugar Hill Elementary; Kelley Donovan from Coleman Middle School, Julianne Purnell from Five Forks Middle School; Philip Peavy from Paul Duke STEM High School; and Danielle Swaby from South Gwinnett High. The overall district winner is expected to be announced on December 10th.
I surely don’t envy the Selection Committee in making its final decision, and as we await word on this year’s winner, I know we are all grateful for the hard work of all of our teachers during this time. These educators have worked tirelessly to adapt learning models to continue to provide instruction both in-person and virtually (and oftentimes both at the same time). Thank you for all that you do.
As I discussed earlier, last week we observed Veterans Day to remember the bravery and sacrifice of those who have served to defend our country. Our military’s heroic efforts have preserved our freedoms. It gives me such pride to see our community give back in honor of their service and to share examples of those acts of generosity with you.
In Cumming, Dental Smiles collected 450 pounds of candy during their annual Halloween Candy Buyback by encouraging trick-or-treaters to donate some of their Halloween haul to Operation ShoeBox —a nonprofit that sends Christmas care packages to troops serving overseas. And that’s not the only business trying to ignite the Christmas spirit for our servicemembers. Another Forsyth business, Music Authority, is working with volunteers to create giftboxes through the Any Soldier program, gifting essential hygiene items to soldiers overseas along with handwritten notes to cheer on our military heroes. And while these and other businesses across our community have demonstrated a generous show of support for our active duty military overseas, our district has also come together to thank our local veterans by installing a new flagpole and monument in the Vickery Lake community.
These acts of kindness are undeniably important during this time, and I would like to thank everyone who made this Veterans Day one of hope and celebration. And on behalf of our District, I would like to again thank our veterans and troops for their service and sacrifice. We celebrate that today, but may we remember it always.
With the holidays just around the corner, our community has been gearing up to make this holiday season that much more special for children and families in need. That’s why I would like to highlight the efforts of Forsyth County Fire Department (FCFD) and The Place of Forsyth for their work to give our community a little extra holiday spirit. FCFD has kicked off its annual Aerial’s House toy collection drive, and they are asking for new, unwrapped gift donations for children of all ages to be dropped off at their contactless donation bins at the Forsyth County Fire Station or the Fire Department Headquarters from November 9th through December 11th, or in the lobby of the Forsyth County Administration Building in December. The toys will be distributed with the help of the extraordinary folks at The Place of Forsyth, a nonprofit that has truly strengthened our community with their dedicated service, especially during this challenging year. In fact, The Place hopes to continue supporting members of our community in need by preparing its Holiday Assistance Program, including Thanksgiving meal kits for over 500 families who are in need. With these efforts to give to those in need additional support, the Forsyth County Fire Department and The Place of Forsyth have truly gone above and beyond to bring joy to our community this holiday season.
Thank you to all of you who have already donated to assist our neighbors. Your acts of generosity and the enthusiasm in which you give back to our community are part of what makes our district so special.
Last week, Members-elect to the 117th Congress descended upon Washington, D.C. to begin new Member orientation sessions. Orientation will continue this week in addition to a number of organizational meetings for the Republican and Democrat conferences. That leaves us with a light load legislatively as we consider a number of bills under suspension of the rules and one bill under a rule, H.R. 8294, the “National Apprenticeship Act of 2020.”
While the 80-year-old National Apprenticeship Act is in dire need of modernization, H.R. 8294 falls short of providing meaningful reform to empower employers and others to pursue work-based learning innovation. Although Democrats on the House Committee on Education and Labor rejected the Republican alternative offered by Representative Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) which would truly bring the National Apprenticeship Act into the 21st century, I am hopeful the House will have a second chance to consider this option as an amendment on the House floor.
Member of Congress
Last week’s record-shattering voter turnout across our great nation – so much so that the vote count, primarily due to mail-in and absentee ballots – has meant vote counting continues. While I know many were hoping to know all the final results by late Tuesday night, the increased use of absentee and mail-in ballots meant that just wasn’t possible. We must ensure every vote that was legitimately cast is counted, and I am grateful for the state and local officials who have continued their thorough and diligent efforts to make sure the voices of the American people are heard.
While it is likely that the close nature of these elections in many states, including our own, may mean these results will face legal challenges, there are at least two takeaways we know that are clear. First, absentee and mail-in ballots are likely to only grow in the future. Ensuring the confidence of the American people in these votes is vital to our democracy, and thus all allegations of impropriety must be investigated. There is no higher electoral priority than ensuring confidence in our system of voting.
Second, we know that here in Georgia we will prepare to return to the polls on January 5th for a runoff election. All of America will be watching, and outside groups from across the nation—and perhaps the world—will be trying to influence our vote. I confess that I am comforted that the balance of power in Washington comes down to the vote of Georgia and Georgians. There is no group of voters that I trust more.
Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its most recent jobs report for the month of October. Coming on the heels of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’s report from last week that indicated real GDP increased by an annual rate of 33.1 percent in the third quarter, the latest jobs report continues to spell out good news for a further economic return.
In October, the unemployment rate dropped one percentage point nationally, down to 6.9 percent from 7.9 percent. With the addition of 638,000 jobs last month – exceeding economists’ previous predictions – the most considerable gains were seen in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade, and construction. These latest numbers mean that roughly 55 percent of the jobs lost due to the COVID-19 crisis have since returned.
The momentum is there for a strong economic return, but as much of our nation continues to grapple with increased cases of COVID-19, we cannot ease up. As we approach the holidays, the potential for increased rates of spread is undeniably present, and we must protect our family, friends, and neighbors by following social distancing guidelines and public health protocols.
After announcing its proposed rule to enact price transparency requirements to increase competition and lower health care costs last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its final rule late last month. Under this finalized rule, group health plans and health insurance issuers in the individual and group markets will be required to provide clear and easily accessible information about standard charges for the services they provide so that patients can better understand the casts of their care. This includes the costs of specific doctors, procedures, and prescription drugs, as well as the most accurate estimated out-of-pocket costs a patient could be responsible for. With increased awareness of the true costs of care, patients will have a better ability to “shop” and compare costs before receiving care, promoting competition between providers to offer the best price.
Injecting transparency across our health care systems is just one of the tools at our disposal that may serve to address the high costs of health care in areas where multiple options for care exist, and while this rule is facing legal challenges in the courts, I hope that we can continue to work toward solutions that encourage choice and spur competition, driving down costs in the long run.
Transportation and infrastructure development are issues that are important to folks on all ends of the political spectrum. As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I know just how critical it is to provide proper oversight and reauthorization to all that connects us in our community. Here is what some of you who’ve written to me about the topic have had to say:
Adam from Suwanee:
Infrastructure matters to me. Poor infrastructure is costing every family in the U.S. $9 every day and those costs will keep climbing without action. Congress needs to pass the Water Resources Development Act.
Mark from Norcross:
Ignoring the needs of America's aging and over-burdened infrastructure is not an option. If our nation is to remain prosperous, we must transform our infrastructure systems. As your voting constituent and a member of the construction industry, I understand firsthand the need for a significant, long-term infrastructure investment bill.
As we head into the House’s biennial “lame duck” session, my colleagues and I have a unique opportunity to advance bipartisan legislation, free from some of the political divisiveness which can permeate an election season. On the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have witnessed firsthand how across-the-aisle cooperation has produced meaningful infrastructure development bills. As Adam and Mark rightly said, strong, bipartisan infrastructure legislation will benefit the day-to-day lives and financial wellbeing of every American family. Currently, there are a number of the Committee’s transportation and infrastructure bills which I hope to see move forward during the remainder of this legislative session.
First, I am hopeful the Senate will take up and pass H.R. 7575 – the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA). This year’s version of WRDA, which passed the House in July, provides critical funding to rebuild our nation’s ports, harbors, and inland waterways—points of entry where nearly 80% of the goods we consume enter our country. WRDA also authorizes projects to prevent flood and storm damage, an increasingly dangerous problem which we must combat in order to protect the health and safety of our communities. The numerous water infrastructure projects authorized under WRDA will help to create numerous well-paying jobs across the country.
Several of my colleagues also recently introduced an important piece of bipartisan aircraft safety legislation, H.R. 8408 – the Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act. Aircraft safety is critical to the well-being of air travelers and our nation’s confidence in flying, and this bipartisan act, based on guidance from nonpartisan aircraft safety experts, will enact modernized Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight, ensuring the highest standards of aviation safety. In a similar vein, my colleagues in the House negotiated and passed H.R. 3409 – the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019. Aside from reauthorizing the Coast Guard for FY20-FY21 and addressing personnel issues, the bill sets important boating and shipping safety policies, ensuring the safety of workers and recreational boaters alike. And while I was pleased to see a clean, yearlong surface transportation reauthorization included in the continuing resolution signed by the president back in September, I am hopeful House Democratic leadership will reconsider its partisan approach to pipeline safety reauthorization and take up the Senate’s comprehensive and bipartisan measure that passed the chamber in August.
As the 116th Congress comes to a close, I look forward to building on bipartisan infrastructure progress made on both sides of the Capitol and get this meaningful legislation across the finish line.
This Wednesday, our nation comes together to honor each and every veteran who has risked their life to protect and defend the freedoms we are privileged to enjoy in this country. In my years in public office, I have found that our veterans represent the very best our Seventh District community has to offer. They are teachers, first responders, public servants, and business leaders. They are mothers, fathers, mentors and neighbors, and some of our most trusted friends. Even after their military service is complete, veterans are looked to by the American people for unity and strength. I am always humbled—but never surprised—to find our veterans continuing to give back to our community and country in so many incredible ways.
While many Veterans Day celebrations and events were held this past weekend, Gwinnett and Forsyth Counties will each be holding events this Wednesday saluting our nation’s heroes. Gwinnett County will begin its virtual Veterans Day Ceremony on November 11th at 11 AM, and the American Legion Cumming Post 307, in conjunction with the City of Cumming and our community's other veterans organization, will also begin its ceremony at the same time at the Cumming Veterans War Memorial. Attendance is free and open to the public, and guests are encouraged to wear masks and socially distance during the event.
On behalf of a grateful nation, I want to extend my appreciation to all the veterans and their families across our community for their service to our country. While we honor that sacrifice today, may we remember it always.
This Saturday, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and those of other faiths across the world will celebrate the annual festival of Diwali – the five-day celebration of the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. Last year, I had the honor of celebrating Diwali at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Lilburn, a truly unforgettable experience celebrated with so many good friends. While Diwali celebrations may look different this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 health emergency, the importance and symbolism of this festival is as important as ever.
We are truly blessed to have such a vibrant and diverse community here in the Seventh District, and I want to extend my best wishes for a happy Diwali to all those observing this special time in our community.
As we face a potential surge in new cases of COVID-19 during the winter months, we continue to rely on our health care heroes to combat the virus on the frontlines. That’s why this week I would like to commend a local group of nurses who have dedicated weeks and sometimes months on end away from their homes to travel to high-risk areas in need of nurses to treat those infected by COVID-19. In fact, more than 450 nurses working for Premier Healthcare Professionals in Cumming have gone to the frontlines in places with critical nursing shortages, including places as far away as New York City and Texas. These travel nurses have gone above and beyond to meet a critical need for nurses in places with both a history of nurse shortages and a high rate of COVID-19 infections, doing their part to protect all of us during this critical juncture in our history.
I would like to thank the nurses from Premier Healthcare Professionals as well as everyone who has pitched in to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines. Your efforts throughout the year have certainly not gone unnoticed, and your hard work is invaluable to the many patients you have cared for. Thank you, once again, for your service during a time when it is most needed.
It is remarkable to consider the outstanding health benefits that modern medications can have in treating various diseases, improving the lives of countless patients when they take their treatments and prescription medications safely and as directed. However, there is a global and national health and safety concern revolving around the misuse and abuse of prescription medications. That’s why I am pleased to share an example of the good work that is being undertaken locally to combat the opioid epidemic.
Forsyth County has registered three drop off boxes in Cumming, offering people a safe, reliable way to properly dispose of their prescription medications. In fact, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners partnered with the Drug Awareness Council, the Youth Council, and the Sheriff’s Office to launch the “Take Back Day” initiative, dedicating the third Saturday of every month to encourage anyone with unused medications to dispose of their prescriptions at one of the drop off locations in Cumming. You can now drop off your unused medications on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the North and South Precincts in Cumming, or in the county jail lobby 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In doing so, you can become a part of the solution to combat the growing issue of medication misuse and addiction in our community.
I would like to commend the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, as well as the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council, Youth Council and Sheriff’s Office for bringing drug misuse awareness to our community as well as providing a way for everyone to take part in the responsible use and disposal of prescription medications.
Member of Congress
As you may know, several popular tourist sites continue to be closed to the public due to concerns about COVID-19.
Although these sites have temporarily closed their doors to the public, many of these destinations can now be explored through virtual tours and other online educational opportunities. Please see below for more information.
The White House will be open for tours on Fridays and Saturdays between 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM with limited visitor capacity. As such, tour slots are rapidly being filled. Bookings must be submitted within three months before a prospective tour date and no sooner than 21 days beforehand.
You can access virtual tours of the White House at https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-white-house.
The House and Senate Sergeants at Arms have ordered limited access to the Capitol Complex. All tours of the Capitol Building have been cancelled through November 30, 2020. We do not know at this time whether the suspension of Capitol tours will extend beyond that date. We will post more information online when that is available.
Although the U.S. Capitol Building is currently closed to the public, you can still explore the Capitol virtually at https://www.capitol.gov/#.
BUREAU OF ENGRAVING AND PRINTING
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is closed to the public until further notice.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
The Library of Congress buildings and facilities will be closed to the public until further notice. Additionally, all Library-sponsored public programs are postponed or cancelled until further notice.
Please note, the Library of Congress is now offering virtual tours at https://www.loc.gov/visit/tours/online-tours/. You can also explore their online exhibits at https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/.
The Supreme Court is closed to the public until further notice.
You can access a virtual tour of the Supreme Court at https://www.oyez.org/tour.
OTHER TOUR INFORMATION
Information about the operating status of other D.C. tourist destinations (National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, National Park Service monuments, Arlington National Cemetery, etc.) can be found on the individual webpages of those institutions.
If you have any questions regarding these closures, please do not hesitate to reach out to my staff at 202-225-4272.Read More
Since 1845, the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November has historically marked Election Day in the United States, and tomorrow officially marks that time for the 2020 elections. Statewide, roughly 3.9 million Georgians have already cast their ballots, up from 2.3 million compared to this point in 2016— a truly historic turnout.
I know many folks have a close eye on the presidential race, but the upcoming elections are also critical to deciding our leaders at not only the federal level, but at the state and local level as well. This year is especially unique for those of us in the Seventh Congressional District, as we choose to elect not only both of our Georgia senators, but also a new U.S. House Representative. As I said before, voting is essential to participating in our democracy and making your voice heard. No matter how you choose to cast your ballot, I hope you will choose to exercise this right and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
Early voting in Georgia ended last Friday, and for more information about voting in-person on Election Day tomorrow, visit Georgia’s My Voter Page to verify your registration status, find your polling location, and preview what’s on the ballot. Remember to bring a valid state or federal government issued photo ID, and get in line before 7:00 PM when the polls close. Additionally, for those who have not yet returned your absentee ballots, please know that they must be postmarked and returned to your elections office by mail or delivered in person – or at a valid drop box location – by no later than 7:00 PM on November 3rd. I encourage you to ensure its delivery as soon as possible. For additional questions, please contact the Gwinnett County or Forsyth County Elections office.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released its latest data on the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the third quarter, showing a record 7.4 percent increase from the previous quarter and a historic 33.1 percent annualized pace. These figures show a recovery of two-thirds of our economic output since shutdown began. While this still puts the economy 3.5 percent smaller than at the end of last year, what it does demonstrate is that even with limited businesses reopening throughout the country, there is still enormous potential for us to rebound once restrictions are lifted.
This fact was further demonstrated by the U.S. Department of Labor report showing jobless claims are down by 40,000 from the previous week, bringing the total number to 751,000 – a total we haven’t seen since mid-March when the shutdown began. This too is good news, even with the understanding that the hardest hit industries are not yet operating at full capacity.
These latest reports show that our economy is ready to spring back into action, but with COVID-19 infection rates increasing throughout the country, it is likely that further economic growth will be stymied. That is why it is important for Congress to do its work and support our nation’s industries as we enter the winter months where many economists expect a contraction in the economy. Our country has waited too long for Speaker Pelosi to reach a compromise with the White House to provide relief to businesses and the American people. I remain hopeful that before the end of this Congress, I will be able to cast my vote in favor of a solution to help our nation weather the pandemic as we work to defeat the virus.
As we have all seen, the COVID-19 public health emergency has not impacted businesses and services in the same way. While some have been able to resume operations relatively quickly and adapt their business models to align with public health protocols, it remains a challenge for many others.
This includes Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) providers, whose programming offers opportunities for qualified Medicaid beneficiaries to receive services in their own home or community rather than in institutional or other isolated settings. HCBS providers deliver a wide range of services ranging from personal care, educational, and support services to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, mental illness, and older adults. However, these providers’ community-based approach to care often means that these services must be provided in person. And while HCBS providers have continued to look for creative ways to continue to provide services, many are still unable to provide routine services because they lack the infrastructure to operate virtually or remotely.
Without continued support, HCBS provider networks across the country remain at risk of collapse, and permanent closure could greatly impede individuals from receiving services in the future. That is why I led a letter, joined by Representatives Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), asking that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) continue to allow state agencies administering certain HCBS programming, who have received approval and elect to do so, to issue retainer payments to providers when routine services cannot be delivered. These payments cannot exceed payments for similar services, and funding from any additional sources cannot be used for the same purpose.
This action is centered on the need to give states the flexibility to assess the continued public health threat in their area and determine what is best for them, removing federal time constraints that limit how long these payments can be utilized. Of course, we all want providers to be furnishing these services when possible. But if states make the determination that this relief option is necessary to keep their provider networks intact, federal rules should not stand in the way. If these providers close for good or more folks that normally receive HCBS services as a result of these closures are diverted to institutional care, this could increase costs in the long run. I hope CMS will act swiftly on our call-to-action to enact this flexibility.
While on the eve of the 2020 elections that will determine representation across all levels of government, it’s also true that the work of the 116th Congress is far from over. Apart from a final deal that remains to be reached on the next COVID-19 relief package, there are several must-pass items on the agenda for the remainder of this legislative session. Here are a few of the messages I have received about what lies ahead.
Donald from Duluth:
Dear Rob, please approve additional PUA. Hopefully the job market will improve, but that is not the current reality. Additional assistance is badly needed and critical right now. Georgians face dire consequences without additional support right now. Please vote to approve additional assistance during this crisis. Thank you in advance for your understanding!
Gary from Buford:
When Congress returns after the election and begins to craft omnibus spending bills that fund the federal government, it is essential that you begin to cut wasteful spending to prevent a major economic disaster.
While I have continued to join my colleagues in urging Speaker Pelosi to move forward standalone relief bills in the absence of a wider relief bill, it’s not the only priority that demands our immediate attention. As you may know, there are several significant authorizations that have expired or will expire soon that Congress must address before the end of the year.
Of most pressing concern is the need to pass appropriations bills to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2021. While in September Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) extending current funding levels, that CR only runs through December 11th. Among those programs that need to be reauthorized by December 11th include the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Child Care Entitlement to States, as well as a series of health care provisions, including authorizations for the mandatory Community Health Center Fund, the National Health Services Corps, and the Special Diabetes Program.
Additionally, there are several programs and tax provisions that will expire if not reauthorized by the end of the year. As Donald mentioned, this includes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program which provides up to 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits and expanded UI benefits for individuals (self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers) not traditionally eligible. In addition, roughly 33 energy, business, and individual tax provisions and many COVID-19 tax relief provisions will expire after December 31st. Further, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – which provides authorization of and establishes priorities for defense-related activities at the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy – remains on the agenda. Each year for 59 years, Congress has passed a bipartisan NDAA, and House and Senate leaders must continue their work to negotiate a finalized product.
Even as we approach a lame-duck session – the period of time Congress finds itself in after the November elections and before the start of the new Congress in January – a “wait-and-see” approach only hurts us in the long run. It is particularly important we work to reach a consensus on these priorities and provide greater certainty moving into 2021. And to Gary’s point, our long-term fiscal outlook indicates that we can only expect more difficult days ahead if we don’t make these funding decisions sooner rather than later.
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS BUILD MIDDLE SCHOOLER’S DREAM WHEELCHAIR
When students in our community find an opportunity to do good for one of their classmates, I am never surprised to see them go above-and-beyond all expectations. Art students at Gwinnett Central High School recently came together to custom build an incredible Black Panther themed costume and wheelchair shell for DJ Johnson - a beloved student at Alton C. Crews Middle School in Lawrenceville.
Part of the nationwide Magic Wheelchair program, the participating Gwinnett Central students not only got a chance to take part in a highly technical arts and engineering project, but also to create an unforgettable Halloween for DJ. Modeled after the Marvel Comic hero’s Royal Talon Fighter, the wheelchair shell, equipped with a touch screen and over 200 LED lights, is “awesome” in the truest sense of the word, as DJ himself said. I hope you will join me in thanking all of this year’s Magic Wheelchair student participants for their kindness and creativity. You set an incredible example for all of us in the Seventh District as we head into the holiday season.
A commitment to lifelong learning is a cornerstone of our Seventh District community, and I am always eager to share the creative ways our community comes together to improve our educational infrastructure. This week, the Forsyth County Public Library’s brand new, custom-built “Bookmobile” is set to arrive home after a long drive from Fort Lupton, Colorado, where it was built. By late November, the Bookmobile will be fully equipped with thousands of books, technological materials, and other resources—bringing the library directly to our neighbors across Forsyth County. At a time when access is limited for many due to the COVID-19 public health threat, I appreciate the incredible efforts of the team at Forsyth County Public Library to expand their reach and access to its books and services.
I hope you will join me in commending the Forsyth County Public Library staff for turning the vision of a Bookmobile into a reality for our community. Your hard work will go a long way in ensuring that library services are accessible to all our neighbors, regardless of location or mobility.
Member of Congress
Nearly 60 million Americans are estimated to have already cast their ballot for the upcoming 2020 elections, and early voting in Georgia is well underway. As a fundamental civic duty, voting is a right that we must never take for granted. No matter how you choose to cast your ballot, I strongly encourage you to exercise this right.
Before you vote, you can visit Georgia’s My Voter Page to verify your voter registration status, find your polling place, view a sample ballot, or download an absentee ballot application (if you choose to vote by mail). Early voting ends on October 30th, and those looking to request an absentee ballot who have not already done so should submit an application as soon as possible, as that deadline is this Friday as well. Absentee ballots must be postmarked and returned to your elections office by mail or delivered in person – or at a valid drop box location – by 7:00 PM on November 3rd. If you choose to vote in person, be sure to bring a valid state or federal government issued photo ID, which you can learn more about HERE. For other questions, please contact the Gwinnett County or Forsyth County Elections office. You can also visit the Secretary of State’s Voter Page to review helpful voter and election day information.
As you may know, earlier this year, President Trump announced the United States’ commitment to the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees Initiative aimed to better manage, conserve, and restore one trillion trees globally by 2030. And just last week, President Trump recently issued the Trillion Trees Executive Order, which creates the One Trillion Trees Interagency Council to coordinate federal forest conservation strategies with states, tribes, communities, non-profits, and the private sector. The Council will also assist in coordinating the United States’ efforts with this global initiative. With over a third of the U.S. covered in forest, conservation of our American forestland can serve as a vital recourse to combat climate change through carbon sequestration, with studies estimating that nature-based climate solutions could provide up to one-third of the mitigation needed to keep global temperate rise to 2°C by the end of the decade.
As a Member on the Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus, I appreciate efforts aimed at not only restoring but better managing our forest lands and public lands. But I also know there is still much work to be done to ensure the utility and beauty of our natural world persists for generations to come. I am encouraged by the widespread commitment from government leaders, industry partners, and citizens to promote conservation, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to find solutions that both address the impacts of climate change and uplift – not stifle – our economic growth, particularly as our long-term fiscal outlook demands that we do so.
As you may recall from last week’s newsletter, addressing disparities that exist in broadband internet access has been a continued priority across our nation, particularly among our rural communities. Last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue announced $3.1 billion in new funding made available through one such program that works to close the telecommunications gap - the Electric Loan Program.
These loans provide much-needed capital so that rural electric cooperatives and utilities can make investments in crucial electric infrastructure projects that increase the access and availability of affordable power and telecommunication services, including broadband internet. This supports the delivery of affordable power to not only residential homes but to commercial and agricultural sectors as well. I am pleased that a portion of this infrastructure development will occur right here in Georgia, as this funding will support roughly $218 million in projects across our state.
This program plays a critical role in supporting an efficient and reliable electric grid, and that is why each year Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, continues to ensure that funding is made available through this program. In Secretary Perdue’s own words, these kinds of infrastructure projects are the “cornerstone to prosperity” and I am encouraged by the continued commitment in Congress and through our federal agencies to provide for Americans’ critical telecommunications needs.
We all are aware of the important role our health care professionals play in providing quality care to Americans and their families. Amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, we have seen first-hand how critical it is to have a workforce that is equipped to address emerging health needs, particularly in areas where that need is the greatest. Federally-supported workforce programs play a critical role in ensuring that we have a dedicated and skilled workforce, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced half a billion in congressionally appropriated funding will be made available to support the recruitment and retention of health care professionals.
This new funding will be distributed through federal workforce development programs, including the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Nurse Corps, whose members have served on the frontlines for communities with high-need, particularly during the battle against COVID-19. Nearly 19 million patients receive care from NHSC and Nurse Corps clinicians throughout the United States, and their efforts are critical to increasing access to primary care and substance abuse treatment— two emerging health needs that plague our health care systems. This funding will support these workforce development programs, as well as loan repayment and scholarship opportunities to strengthen our health care workforce. I am pleased to see this funding come through in support of our health care professionals so they can provide the best possible service to our nation during this critical time.
As you know, a critical line of support created through the CARES Act was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which offers forgivable loans for many small businesses, nonprofits, and sole proprietors if those funds were used for eligible payroll and nonpayroll expenses. In June, Congress enacted reforms to add flexibility to the PPP, and with many borrowers now approaching the end of the extended covered period, here are some of the messages I have received from you about the forgiveness process for these loans.
Earl from Duluth:
When can we expect our banks to give us instructions regarding PPP-Loan forgiveness with the repayment terms beginning this December?
Martha from Grayson:
Nearly seven months into the pandemic and small businesses across the country continue to do everything they can to withstand its economic impact. But for many small businesses that applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, facing a complicated forgiveness process will add insult to injury and will push an additional administrative burden onto them at a time when they are still trying to recover. Congress has the opportunity to make it easier for small businesses that took PPP loans and pass S. 4117/H.R. 7777, streamlined PPP loan forgiveness legislation.
Since the creation of the PPP, Congress has allocated $659 billion in funding to the PPP to keep businesses afloat due to the harsh economic impacts caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. Over 5.2 million loans have been approved through the PPP, with roughly 80% of those loan amounts totaling $100,000 or less — a strong indicator of how this program has been able to serve as a lifeline for those small businesses most in need. A total of 174,000 loans amounting to $14.6 billion were approved in Georgia, but the program expired on August 8th and Congressional action would be needed to allow for the second draw of PPP loans.
I regret that so much uncertainty continues to exist surrounding the future of Congress’ next COVID-19 relief package. And in the absence of a wider deal, I have continued to join my colleagues in urging Speaker Pelosi to bring forth standalone bills to address Americans’ continued need for relief. That is why I have also signed on to a discharge petition that would bring H.R. 8265 to the floor for consideration to further the PPP, if it can garner 218 signatures from Members of Congress. As I previously discussed, H.R. 8265 would allow for the second draw of the roughly $134 billion remaining PPP funds that remain unused for businesses with 300 employees or fewer and demonstrate at least a 25 percent reduction in gross revenues. And to Martha’s point, that bill would, similarly to H.R. 7777, streamline the forgiveness process for loans under $150,000 while ensuring the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has the continued capability to review and audit these loans to guard against fraud.
But as congressional action remains stifled, borrowers should review current guidance from the SBA and the U.S. Department of Treasury on documentation that is required to apply for loan forgiveness. For example, just this month, SBA issued its new streamlined 3508S Forgiveness application form that can be used by eligible borrowers who received a PPP loan of $50,000 or less. Most importantly, borrowers should know that they are not immediately required to submit an application as soon as their covered period ends, with this guidance noting that “as long as a borrower submits its loan forgiveness application within ten months of the completion of the covered period, the borrower is not required to make any payments until the forgiveness amount is remitted to the lender by SBA.” Also, some banks are in the early stages of accepting PPP forgiveness applications, and many have only now just begun setting up their systems. Be sure to check with your lender; they may have their own requirements in place as it relates to this process.
Time and again, students in our communities reach outstanding academic milestones which I am honored to share with you. For the sixth consecutive year, Forsyth County students have achieved the highest ACT scores in Georgia, boasting an average score of 24.9—well above the state and national averages. The foundation of our students’ success is our district’s commitment to family and education, values which I know will live on in this next generation of student leaders as they head off to college. As Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden said: “We are committed to ensuring that our students can lead and succeed in the world.”
I would like to commend not only our outstanding Forsyth County Schools, but also our parents, guardians, and support systems who provide the love and encouragement necessary for our students to succeed in the classroom. Continuous achievements like this one reflect how truly special our Seventh District community is.
One of the things I greatly admire about our district is that individuals and organizations are not only answering the call to help our friends and neighbors when assistance is most needed, but they are also proactively looking for ways to give back to our community. Last week, Gwinnett County mobilized for its annual Great Days of Service, bringing together thousands of volunteers from across our district to gather, sort, and deliver food and supplies to those in need. Dozens of local organizations like Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful held food and supply drives to meet the needs of those struggling in our area, coming together to improve the lives of individuals and families one donation at a time. Gwinnett Great Days of Service has an incredible track record of success—last year, 26,000 volunteers gathered to collect and donate over 50,000 items. I look forward to hearing about this year’s achievements in the coming days.
I would like to thank all Gwinnett Great Days of Service volunteers and sponsors for their generosity and time dedicated to making our community a better place to live. Your service will go a long way in making sure that all our neighbors are taken care of in this time.
After Thursday’s vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, the full Senate is set to vote today to confirm her nomination. As political fanfare continues to grip the Chamber, I regrettably expect the final vote for Judge Barrett’s confirmation to fall largely on party lines. While I am disappointed in how this confirmation has taken place, I am pleased that Justice Barrett will be joining the highest court in the land.
Also, this week, we will be waiting to hear on the long, drawn-out negotiations to provide Americans relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the Speaker and the White House have indicated a deal is right around the corner, however, differences on both sides remain. I am hopeful we will be able to deliver for our constituents soon. Our nation is in need of relief and we must get serious about getting a deal done.
Member of Congress
While a holiday for some, last Monday kicked off a series of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee to perform its Constitutional obligation of advice and consent to advance President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the hearings were marked at times with feckless procedural motions to delay the confirmation process, the occasion was largely civil and constructive. In fact, Ranking Member Diane Feinstein (D-CA) even praised the hearings as fair and one of the best set of hearings she’s been a part of.
Senator Feinstein’s comments were a welcome reprieve from the partisan hyperbole surrounding the nomination of Judge Barrett and the judicial nomination process at large, where overblown statements about fairness and demonization of an individual’s character dominated the conversation. It is true that the loss of the 60-vote threshold on judicial nominees has compromised the Senate’s ability to work thoughtfully and collectively, but it is also true that the loss of the filibuster in this process was a direct cause of hyper-partisanship. The rules governing the Senate are what make it the world’s greatest deliberative body, and I am hopeful that we will be able to return to a place where level heads prevail.
At the conclusion of the final hearing, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) scheduled the committee vote to advance Judge Barrett’s nomination for Thursday this week, with full Senate consideration to immediately follow.
The good work our local Chambers of Commerce do has been perhaps no more evident than during this time. They have continued to provide leadership, assistance, and counsel to businesses across our communities who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. A full economic return is dependent on strong state and local leadership ensuring that conditions are in place to both properly protect public health and support businesses as they reopen operations. I appreciate the efforts of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce in that endeavor.
And I am grateful to know that even during this difficult time, our state’s local chambers are continuing to look for ways to connect with federal leaders and move forward their ideas to better serve our communities. Last week, the Gwinnett and North Fulton Chambers had the opportunity to discuss some of the most important issues facing our communities with leaders across the federal government, including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, who co-leads the Vaccine Task Force at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I had the pleasure to speak with the Chambers, alongside Representatives Jody Hice and Hank Johnson, about federal efforts to address the impacts of this crisis, as well as the need to maximize the utility of every dollar and investment in the long-term, given our nation’s troubling fiscal outlook.
Opportunities like these that connect local and federal leaders yield some of our most fruitful policy ideas and discussions. I appreciated the opportunity to continue our dialogue, and I am grateful for their work to serve organizations across the state of Georgia.
The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program plays a critical role in our nation’s public health response to the HIV epidemic, providing grant funding to states, cities, counties, and local community-based organizations to provide essential medical care and support services for uninsured and under-insured individuals affected by HIV/AIDS. Approximately 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and roughly half of those diagnosed have received support in some manner through the Ryan White Program. This program is a key component of the Trump Administration’s initiative to drastically reduce HIV domestically by 2030, with the goal of reducing the number of new infections by 90 percent over the next decade.
Earlier this year, as part of that Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America initiative, the Health and Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the CARES Act awarded $117 million and $90 million, respectively, to bolster the program’s offerings. And this month, HRSA awarded $2.24 billion in Fiscal Year 2020 grant funding to expand the program’s reach even further. This funding will support medical and early intervention services for individuals who need that support the most, including at Positive Impact Health Centers (PIHC) in Duluth. The Ryan White program has continually demonstrated a track record of success, and I have no doubt that the providers supported with this funding will continue its 28-year legacy in improving health outcomes and reducing HIV transmission rates.
If you are enrolled in Medicare, you are likely aware that October 15th each year historically marks the beginning of the “open enrollment” process. During this period, Medicare beneficiaries can review their health and drug plans and make changes to their coverage before the new plan year begins in January. Or if you are happy with your current plan, you can elect to keep your current plan and make no changes at all. However, it is important to review 2021 plan materials, including the “Evidence of Coverage” and “Annual Notice of Change,” even if you plan to remain in the same plan to make sure that your needs will continue to be met. The enrollment period runs through December 7th.
Whether you are looking to alter your Medicare Advantage plan, switch to Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage Plan, or change your Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, there are several resources available to help you navigate this process. You can use the Medicare Plan Finder at medicare.gov to compare coverage options and estimate plan costs. Additionally, the GeorgiaCares Program, which is part of a national program that offers assistance to ensure people with Medicare understand their benefits and coverage options, offers free, personalized counseling. You can contact them at 1-866-552-4464 or you may visit their webpage for more information.
As our country continues to spend a record amount of time and money online, the importance of access to fast and reliable Internet has been increasingly visible in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some of the messages I have received from you all on the topic:
Robert from Cumming:
Dear Congressman, as you know, Covid-19 has forced many of us to work from home. Fortunately, the Internet has allowed us to continue our employment. Our service was tolerable before the pandemic but now that we are working from home, we are finding it woefully inadequate. We have a vital need for better Internet service to keep our jobs and allow children to attend school.
Alice from Buford:
Over the past few weeks people have been told to stay home to stay safe. But without affordable, reliable Internet access this becomes increasingly harder. I’m writing to demand Congress pass funding to ensure Internet access for everyone.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has brought to light countless social and economic trends and issues, one of those being the important role access to broadband Internet places in connecting our communities. As we have seen, online services have been increasingly utilized during this time. Telehealth visits, virtual learning in both K-12 and higher education, and large shifts across multiple sectors to remote work have provided for continuity of operations in a time when doing so is critical to lowering the spread of COVID-19. Messages like those from Robert and Alice demonstrate that access to reliable Internet is indeed a critical need, but unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has also illuminated where disparities in access exist for millions of Americans, particularly across rural and low-income communities.
The most recent data in our state indicates that more than 1 million Georgians (500,000 homes and businesses) lack access to high-speed Internet service, with 70 percent of those residing in rural areas. Now, some of you may be asking what qualifies as the benchmark for broadband speed. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines this as a minimum 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download / 3 Mbps upload speed —a threshold that was set by the FCC in 2015. The agency notes this speed is one generally sufficient to provide for the average user to utilize email, web browsing, streaming HD video, video conferencing, and other basic functions.
I am proud of recent federal efforts to bridge the digital divide, including provisions in the CARES Act aimed at expanding broadband access and deployment. Specifically, the CARES Act included $100 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Loan and Grant program which provides funds for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment to provide broadband in rural areas, as well as $200 million for the FCC’s new COVID-19 Telehealth Program to assist medical providers in delivering telehealth services. Additionally, while the CARES Act allows states and local governments to utilize funding they received through the Coronavirus Relief Fund to support temporary Internet programs, as I recently discussed, I have joined my colleagues in urging House Leaders to ensure that those funds can be used for permanent broadband infrastructure construction as well.
The issue of broadband deployment is also one that has also been a key focus of our state leaders, most notably through the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) launched in 2018 by the Department of Community Affairs, the Georgia Technology Authority, and partnering agencies to expand broadband infrastructure and services in Georgia. In fact, the data I mentioned earlier is a result of GBDI’s work in our state, and this July, Governor Kemp announced the publication of Georgia’s Broadband Availability Map to more accurately map where those broadband disparities exist in Georgia.
Expanding broadband access has wide, bipartisan support across the nation, and I hope that Congress will continue its efforts at the federal level to provide for high-speed Internet deployment and its utilization.
When it comes to supporting our Gwinnett and Forsyth County nonprofits, there are many civic organizations who never fail to step up to the plate. Last week, the Rotary Club of Sugarloaf in Duluth raised nearly $25,000 at their annual “Gwinnett Duck Derby” in support of organizations like the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club, the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation, the Gwinnett County Library Foundation, and other local nonprofits. About 6,000 raffle ducks were purchased at the Duck Derby —a truly incredible turnout and show of support from our community.
I hope you will join me in recognizing the Rotary Club of Sugarloaf and all of the Derby’s participants and sponsors for their commitment to supporting our local nonprofits. I never cease to be impressed by the spirit of generosity that is embraced in our District.
I am always grateful to hear of new and collaborative ways our state and local governments work together to keep our communities safe. The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety awarded the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office with a traffic safety grant of over $120,000, which will be used to directly combat car accidents on our roadways. The Sheriff’s office plans to use the grant to monitor impaired and reckless driving—issues which, according to Sheriff Ron Freeman, “are one of our citizens’ most prevalent complaints.” Traffic safety is a critical public safety issue, and I look forward to hearing about the improvements to highway safety that this grant program will directly support.
With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court this week, likely followed by a full vote in the Senate Chamber, the House remains in recess but eagerly awaiting movement on negotiations between House, Senate, and White House leaders on the next COVID relief package.
I regret that the progress surrounding this relief package continues to remain clouded in uncertainty, and I disagree with Speaker Pelosi’s hard-line position in negotiations, ignoring calls from her own party to move forward a larger relief bill or allow standalone relief bills to come to the floor. Undeniably, there are areas where agreement remains yet to be reached, but there is ample opportunity to come together and act on those things which we do agree. An “it’s my way or the highway” approach only continues to delay much-needed relief, and I will continue to press to consider a bill that can pass both the House and Senate and make it to the President’s desk for approval.
Member of Congress
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is Congress’ non-partisan scorekeeper, and each year, CBO publishes a report on the United States’ long-term budget outlook. CBO’s most recent report is the most troubling that I have seen. Driven by COVID-related spending, by the end of 2020, federal debt held by the public will equal 98 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That will grow to 107 percent by 2023, the highest level ever recorded in our nation’s history. And even though revenues are expected to rise, our overall financial situation is expected to decline. Our debt situation is projected to be so serious that by 2050, we’ll be spending more on interest payments to service our debt than we will spend on all of Social Security. What a tragedy to see that amount of money going to debt service rather than being invested in the American people.
We all know that the COVID-19 emergency has required more spending than anyone could have imagined, and I don’t begrudge the government spending money when it is necessary. But, CBO’s report shows us that every dollar counts, and we must make sure that we are using each precious dollar for its best and highest use. We know that sacrifices must be made in the future to ensure the U.S. Treasury is in a healthier place equipped to weather future, unknown economic storms.
You can read the entire 2020 CBO Long-Term Budget Outlook HERE.
Last week, President Trump issued an Executive Order that directs Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Brooke Rollins, Acting Director of the Domestic Policy Council, to form a Coronavirus Mental Health Working Group. The group will initiate an “all-of-government” approach to address the mental health impacts of COVID-19, including examining ways to maximize federal support through agencies like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) which was allocated $425 million in emergency funding, to provide for those in need. The Executive Order also directs the Working Group to support at-risk groups who may be disproportionately affected including veterans, minority populations, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and others.
I am glad the Administation is continuing to look for ways to address the emotional and mental toll levied on millions of Americans during this time, and I also appreciate that focus on improving mental health has continued in Congress as well. While I previously discussed some of the bipartisan mental health measures the House passed, we also recently advanced H.R. 1109, the “Mental Health Services for Students Act,” H.R. 7293, the “STANDUP Act,” and H.R. 2519, the “Improving Mental Health Access from the Emergency Department Act.” Collectively, these bills expand federal support providing grants for mental health services in schools, require certain federally-supported entities to implement school-based student suicide awareness and prevention policies, and direct grant funding to increase access to follow-up care for emergency room patients who experience an acute mental health episode. I hope the Senate will begin to consider some of these, and other mental health-focused bills, that have garnered larger, bipartisan support.
These efforts, coupled with the increased support from family, friends, and our surrounding communities that we have seen at this time, surely stand to better serve those in need.
Over the course of the public health emergency, I have commonly discussed many of the efforts, both at the federal level and across our communities, to serve families in need. We have seen some of the most significant federal efforts to provide relief through programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), like through its Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
The mission of that program was two-fold, to provide an outlet for farmers whose normal food distribution supply chains were disrupted and to direct fresh, healthy foods to those facing increased food insecurity, many unsure of where their next meal may come from. The USDA recently announced that it has surpassed more than 100 million food box distributions through the program since its upstart only five months ago! And we must remember, the issue of food insecurity isn’t just a domestic one; it’s also a global one, with estimates indicating that an additional 130 million may face insecurity by the end of this year because of the COVID-19 crisis. As we recognize World Food Day this Friday, I am proud of our country’s longstanding partnerships to end hunger and malnutrition, and the generosity of the American people to support families across the globe.
Additionally, USDA recently announced a second round of payments for agricultural producers through its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), dubbed CFAP 2. These funds will be used to support producers whose commodities have experienced sharp declines and those in need of additional support. Undeniably, the COVID-19 crisis has, in many ways, illuminated the need to strengthen the integrity of our food supply chains, and I hope Congress will continue to evaluate how we can be most successful in achieving that goal as discussions about long-term reforms move forward.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced an additional $20 billion in funding through the Provider Relief Fund to support health care providers serving on the frontlines during the continued public health emergency. As you may recall, one of the key components of the CARES Act was the creation of this Fund to reimburse providers for health care related expenses or lost revenues that are directly attributable to COVID-19. This new announcement follows the more than $100 billion in relief already distributed through the Fund, which has supported a variety of Medicare and Medicaid-supported health care providers, including skilled nursing facilities, rural hospitals, children's hospitals, safety net hospitals, and hospitals in high-impact areas. HHS has also said that this new "general distribution" has been expanded to include those mental health providers who have not yet been supported.
As we all know, with many states continuing to see a rise in new COVID-19 cases, we must continue to do our part to support healthcare providers by following public health guidelines and social distancing protocols. We cannot afford to overwhelm our hospital system and jeopardize care for the sickest, hospitalized patients.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee continues its hearings this week on President Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve as the newest Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, many of you may have heard about calls from legislators and others to reform the Supreme Court. One of the most pervasive and troubling proposals is to increase the number of Justices serving on our nation's highest court. Allowing the political party that is in control of the White House and Senate to "pack" the Supreme Court with more than nine Justices distorts other judicial viewpoints and casts aside over 150 years of precedent. Here is what I heard from some of you on the topic.
Kevin from Lilburn:
Court packing shouldn't be a partisan issue. Instead, it would divide the country even more than previously, and it would ruin the Court's legitimacy and cause everyone to see it as merely a political tool.
Jennifer from Peachtree Corners:
We demand that Congress and the States pass the Keep Nine constitutional amendment specifying that the "Supreme Court shall consist of nine members." We believe this constitutional amendment is vital to preserve the checks and balances at the heart of our system of government.
As some of you may know, the number of Supreme Court Justices is not defined in the U.S. Constitution, and that number has fluctuated anywhere from six to ten throughout the earliest days of our nation's history. However, the 1869 Judiciary Act, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, established for the last century and a half the longstanding precedent of a nine-justice Supreme Court. Since then, only one President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in response to the Court striking down pieces of his New Deal legislation, has tried to push legislation that would pack the Court beyond its current-numbered bench. That move, which would have added up to a total of 15, was widely criticized at the time not only by members of the President's party, including the Vice President, but also by then Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes.
Even Justice Louis Brandeis, the influential judicial activist cited as a major influence on the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opposed President Roosevelt’s measure, which harbored a clear politically-motivated intent. To explain, packing the Supreme Court could turn the bench into a political battering ram for the Majority party, permanently ending the Court’s status as an incorruptible body and as an institution that is devoid of the most pervasive types of political pressue that are all too common across our other two branches of government. Even though a Roosevelt-packed Court would likely have served Justice Brandeis’ own interests, he chose to stand for the Court’s integrity and independence over the gamesmanship of his own party. I agree with Kevin, Jennifer, and the late Justice Brandeis that the Court’s nine-justice bench ought to be preserved.
Politicizing the Supreme Court has and will always jeopardize the integrity of our judicial system. The credibility of the Supreme Court and the faith the American people have in its decisions are dependent on the vast reservoir of institutional legitimacy that the Court has vested over time, which I believe, in part, can be reflected in the fact the number of justices has long remained unchanged and immovable from the political whims of the day.
Time and again, the Seventh District is recognized for having some of the best schools in the country—an achievement that is only made possible by our incredible teachers. Last week, Gwinnett County Public Schools named 139 “Teachers of the Year” for each public school in the county. Nominated and selected by their peers, 25 of these outstanding educators will soon be named semi-finalists, and one will then be named District Teacher of the Year for 2020. That honor will be announced on December 10th in a virtual ceremony.
I would like to congratulate each of the Gwinnett County Public School Teachers of the Year for their outstanding work and service to our students. Our children’s futures are brighter because of your incredible dedication to their learning and growth, particularly at a time when providing for that instruction is not without its challenges. Thank you for all that you do.
When it comes to tackling some of our country’s most difficult problems, I am never surprised to see members of our community leading the charge. Recently, the Forsyth County nonprofit Purple Pansies raised over $1 million for pancreatic cancer research at their first virtual gala—an incredible testament to the generosity of our community and a powerful contribution to the fight against this cancer, one which has recently taken the life of two of our prominent leaders in government, Representative John Lewis (D-GA) and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with nearly 50,000 Americans each year. Founded in 2009, Purple Pansies partnered with Kroger for this year’s gala, and funding from the event will go directly towards research and clinical trials to treat patients fighting pancreatic cancer.
I hope you will join me in recognizing Purple Pansies and all of this year’s donors for their contribution to the fight against pancreatic cancer. Individuals across our communities never fail to answer the call to support those in need.
Member of Congress
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its most recent jobs report last Friday, revealing gains in sectors that were among the hardest hit during the pandemic earlier this year, including retail, health care, and leisure and hospitality. With the addition of roughly 661,000 jobs in September, the national unemployment rate dropped from 8.4% to 7.9%, and 11.4 million jobs have now returned since the beginning of the public health emergency. However, the report also indicates a 0.3 percent decline in the labor force participation rate, which some economists attribute to an increase in at-home schooling amid the start of the new school year.
While it will continue to take time to fully recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, we must remember the important role that adherence to public health guidelines will play in furthering our economic recovery. Particularly as the fall season moves forward which also historically marks the beginning of flu season, following public health guidelines will not only ensure the health and safety of the most at-risk among us, it will ensure businesses can continue to operate and reopen for the long-term.
As many of you may have heard, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) recently filed a discharge petition, a tool in the House that—if it can garner 218 signatures from Members of Congress—brings a bill to the floor for consideration. H.R. 8265 provides for the second draw of the roughly $134 billion remaining Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds that sit idle for businesses that have no more than 300 employees and demonstrate at least a 25 percent reduction in gross revenues compared to that of 2019. Additionally, it would expand the PPP to include certain 501(c)(6) organizations and would set aside $25 billion specifically for entities with 10 or fewer employees.
I have signed the discharge petition, but it still remains short of the 218 signatures needed. As congressional leaders still remain at an impasse on reaching a larger bipartisan COVID relief deal, we cannot continue to let that inaction mean none at all. I hope more of my colleagues will join me in signing on to this effort to support businesses and individuals who remain in need of additional relief.
While bigger bills remain mired in partisan fights, smaller bills are having more success. Last week, I discussed some of the bipartisan bills that the House was able to move forward, and I am glad that trend continued into this week. While you can read a full list of the more than 50 pieces of legislation the House advanced HERE, I want to highlight some bills in particular, many on which I heard support for from folks back home.
Included among those bills that the House passed this week was legislation I cosponsored, H.R. 4439, the “Creating Hope Reauthorization Act,” which permanently authorizes the rare pediatric disease priority review voucher program at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This program incentivizes the pharmaceutical industry to develop treatments for rare childhood cancers and diseases. Another bill which I cosponsored, along with 261 of my Republican and Democrat colleagues, that was included was H.R.1754, the “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.” This bill designates a new, independent Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority to implement and enforce safety and anti-doping standards to better ensure the safety of equines and strengthen the integrity of this industry.
The House also passed H.R. 4764, the “TRANSPLANT Act” to reauthorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, which supports patients with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, or other metabolic disorders who are in need of life-saving bone marrow transplants. To follow, the House passed H.R. 6813, the “Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act” which strengthens our ongoing efforts under the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act that Congress passed and the President signed into law in 2017, by ensuring training materials developed under this act prepare law enforcement and first responders to recognize and manage abuse cases involving Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Additionally, the House passed a resolution reaffirming our commitment to the peaceful transition of power after Presidential elections, a cornerstone of our Constitution and democratic system, following the Senate’s unanimous passage of a virtually identical measure in its Chamber last week.
Lastly, the House considered and approved H.R. 5912, the “Expediated Delivery of Airport Infrastructure Act,” which allows funds dedicated to the Airport Improvement Program, which provides grants to public agencies for public-use airports, to be used to make incentive payments for the early completion of airport construction projects that can be completed quickly and safely. This follows models already being deployed for other existing transportation projects, helping airports reduce costly delays and saving taxpayer dollars.
As you can see, from bills ranging on the topics of health, to judiciary, to transportation and infrastructure, there is more opportunity than fewer to set politics aside for progress. Bills like these demonstrate that the House’s commitment to the American people can and must supersede partisan politics.
Last week, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a series of bipartisan bills to send to the House floor, including H.R. 8408, the “Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act,” legislation that was crafted in response to the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed over 300 people. The bill includes a number of reforms to the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft certification process for all aviation manufacturers, and a number targeted to Boeing specifically to ensure their previous missteps are not repeated. It also bolsters whistleblower protections, increases transparency and accountability, and limits conflicts of interest between industry and oversight officials. I am pleased the Committee was able to work across party lines to craft such comprehensive reforms to ensure we are employing the safest standards for aircraft that fly our skies and protect airline passengers for years to come.
Additionally, the Committee considered bills to improve the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This included H.R. 8266 which would amend the federal cost share formula when providing disaster relief to states and localities impacted by multiple catastrophic events. Another, H.R. 4358, would help to improve FEMA’s preliminary damage assessment process and foster better relationships and communication between the agency and target aid organizations. Both of these bills provide common-sense solutions to addressing our nation’s disaster response and readiness, and I’m hopeful we will see these on the House floor soon.
This August, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued its proposed rule for 2021 implementing certain changes under Medicare’s Physician Fee Schedule – which determines payment for physician services under Medicare Part B. Below are some of the messages I have received from individuals and medical providers across our community about those proposed changes.
Alexis from Cumming:
I am very concerned that the dramatic rate reductions included in the CY 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule will result in decreased access to care and services for older adults and individuals with disabilities who rely on Medicare. I am contacting you to ask that you please add your signature to a Dear Colleague Congressional sign-on letter to the HHS and CMS regarding the significant cuts to the 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS).
Mohammad from Snellville:
Recently, CMS recently finalized a major rule that will increase reimbursement rates for evaluation and management (E/M) services. These services are the foundation of primary and cognitive care and are critical in diagnosing, treating, and managing patients with chronic conditions like Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s. It has been widely accepted across the house of medicine that E/M services have been long undervalued in the Medicare physician fee schedule, limiting access to care for the most vulnerable patients. I strongly urge you to support its implementation without delay.
This year’s proposed Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), that upon issuance of a final rule would go into effect beginning January 2021, includes increased payments for office and outpatient Evaluation and Management (E/M) visits, additions to the telehealth services list, and new payment rates for immunization administration services, among others. However, the annual budget neutrality requirement in the PFS means that payment increases for certain services must be coupled with equal reductions to others, which inevitably results in some provider groups benefiting and others facing cuts.
Annual adjustments to the PFS is surely no easy task, and I appreciate the efforts of CMS each year to evaluate formulas for payment and do its best to balance the needs of multiple provider groups and patients in determining coverage for services. However, I absolutely recognize the immense financial strain that providers, including procedure-oriented providers, many of whom would face cuts under the 2021 PFS, are under during the continued COVID-19 public health emergency. It is critical that these changes do not jeopardize these providers’ ability to keep their doors open to continue to provide care.
As Alexis referenced, I joined a bipartisan group of members in sending a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CMS asking that they, where possible, use their authority to mitigate the impacts of cuts on these providers while moving forward with their proposals to increase payments for primary care and other practitioners, like Mohammad, who are largely reimbursed under E/M visits. I am glad that more than 160 Members joined in that effort.
While I am eager to hear CMS’s response to this congressional effort, it is also important to remember, as with any proposed rule, these suggested changes will be subject to rigorous review, debate, and public feedback. The good news is that this is the rulemaking process working as intended, and I hope HHS and CMS will continue their work to support providers and medical professionals across our community during this time.
The Department of Education recently announced its “National Blue Ribbon School” award winners for 2020, recognizing the extraordinary work of 367 public and private schools across the country serving grades K-12.
Since 1982, the U.S. Secretary of Education has given this award to schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps between student groups. This year, nine schools in the state of Georgia were named as Blue Ribbon Schools, including Cornerstone Christian Academy in our district.
I would like to congratulate Cornerstone Christian Academy and all our Georgia schools on this recognition for their hard work and dedication to their students’ long-term success. Well done, and keep up the good work!
Time and again, individuals across our communities find fun and creative ways to give back to those who dedicate their lives to serving others. Residents across Cumming recently gathered at Central Park for a day of softball and charity to benefit B.A.D.G.E., a Forsyth County nonprofit dedicated to supporting Sherriff’s Office employees and their families in times of need. Honorary Mayor Charlie Westbrook threw the first pitch, and teams from the fire department, local government, Sheriff’s Office, and school district came to play. By the day’s end, the Back the Blue Tournament had raised $60,000 for B.A.D.G.E.—an incredible accomplishment and a well-deserved gift to our Forsyth County Sherriff’s Office families.
I would like to thank B.A.D.G.E. and all the softball tournament players and donors for taking the time to give back to those who serve us. Our district never fails to exceed expectations when it comes to supporting our first responder families.
Gwinnett and Forsyth Counties have so much to be proud of when it comes to our students, which is why it comes as no surprise that some of our nation’s largest businesses are investing in our kids’ education. Last week, Amazon announced that it will be donating $20,000 to support Lawrenceville Boys and Club participants who are engaged in virtual learning. That donation will provide these students with at-home STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) kits to explore and engage with. With Amazon’s Gwinnett County Fulfillment Center that is estimated to bring 1,000 jobs to our area set to open soon, the company took a keen interest in investing in our young people. “You become a part of a community by embracing the people, the needs, and the spirit of that community,” said Andy Ngo, the general manager of the new center.
STEM is a critical building block of early education, and I want to thank the efforts of all our Boys and Girls Clubs who are working to supplement instruction and provide educational programming so that students can continue investing in their education. Your continued support at a time when that is most needed is critical and appreciated.
As you have undoubtedly read or heard, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reached out directly to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to try once again to craft a compromise, bipartisan COVID-19 legislative package than can pass the House, the Senate and receive the President’s signature. While everyone hoped they would find that still-elusive compromise last week to provide additional support for small businesses, schools, individual workers, and healthcare institutions continuing to face COVID-related economic difficulties, that wasn’t the case.
Instead, the Speaker brought to the floor and jammed across another partisan COVID bill. Actually, it was virtually the same partisan COVID bill that she forced across the floor earlier this year, but it was revised to reflect an October passage that only slightly lowered its price tag. Perhaps what was most disappointing is that this $2.2 trillion package wasn’t a sincere effort to reach a bipartisan compromise, but was simply another reiteration of the same partisan messaging priorities, including a laundry list of liberal priorities that have no COVID nexus, like benefitting blue states by eliminating the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap and expanding opportunities for marijuana dealers in western states. We have seen this liberal wish-list before, and Senate leaders had already indicated earlier this year it would not consider the bill and the President had already indicated he would not sign it into law. Thus, moving the bill again was simply another partisan charade. The only thing bipartisan about the bill was the opposition to it—as every Republican and 18 Democrats voted against it.
I know millions of Americans are praying for President Trump and his family this week, after the President and First Lady recently tested positive for COVID-19. The news from the White House is very encouraging, and the conversations between the President and House leaders continue to focus on COVID relief and encouragement to “Get it done!”
The official House Calendar does not show any voting days this week, but Secretary Mnuchin is still trying to bring Speaker Pelosi to the negotiating table. I hope that his work succeeds, and if it does, the House will vote on the measure as soon as it is ready. Georgia’s businesses – large and small – and the workers those businesses employ need action. Many cynical commentators are suggesting that the House leadership doesn’t want to solve any problems before the election. But while that certainly seems true, I simply do not believe it. When families and family businesses are suffering, I believe everyone wants to help. That is why we had a big bipartisan vote against Speaker Pelosi’s messaging exercise this past week, and why we will have a big bipartisan vote in favor of a negotiated solution. Stay tuned.
Member of Congress
1724 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Rob Woodall serves the 7th district of GA in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves on the House Committee on Rules, the House Budget Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Rob was born and raised in Georgia, graduated from Marist School in 1988, attended Furman University for his undergraduate degree and received his law degree from the University of Georgia.
Rob has served in a variety of leadership roles during his short time in Congress ranging from Chairman of the Budget and Spending Task Force, where he authored the most conservative budget to come before Congress in the last 5 years, to Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the caucus comprised of the Republican conference’s most conservative Members.
Rob is guided by the principles of freedom, and his proudest accomplishment is helping Seventh District families one at a time through casework and creating a Congressional office that functions for the people.
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Children and youth across our country deserve families who love and support them each day. This… https://t.co/0faGtzgGyH