December 22, 2014
I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season with the opportunity to spend some time with family and friends. As 2014 draws to a close I wanted to reflect on some of the work we have done over the last twelve months and look ahead to the New Year.
I am pleased to report some significant progress on several transportation initiatives. The Green Line Extension (GLX), which I have been advocating for since my time as Mayor of Somerville, was approved for a $1 billion federal investment when the Federal Transit Administration announced its intent to enter into a Full Funding Grant Agreement with Massachusetts. This marks a major milestone for the GLX.
In September the new Assembly Square Orange Line T stop opened to the public, the first new MBTA station in three decades. When I worked almost ten years ago to secure federal funding for this T stop, Assembly Square was still under development. Now it is a thriving urban neighborhood with retail, residential, employment and entertainment opportunities. If you haven’t been to Assembly Square in a while, you should come check it out.
Also in September, we learned from the Department of Transportation (DOT) that the MBTA was awarded a TIGER grant to revitalize Boston’s Ruggles Station. This is a very competitive program. The DOT received $9.5 billion in grant applications, which was more than 15 times the amount of federal money available for this round of TIGER grants. With the Green Line Extension, the new Orange Line T stop and the improvements being made to Ruggles Station, Greater Boston’s public transportation network received some significant federal support in 2014.
Public Private Partnerships
I had the chance in 2014 to delve deeper into some key transportation policy questions through my role as Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation’s Special Panel on Public Private Partnerships. While on the special panel, I focused on how to best invest limited federal transportation dollars and the role Public Private Partnerships can play in stretching those dollars. I enjoyed this panel, in particular the opportunity to work closely with Members on the other side of the aisle. I am particularly proud that the panel released a bipartisan report during a time when partisanship seems especially bitter in Washington. It gives me hope that there are areas of policy where Democrats and Republicans can find common ground. This special panel certainly didn’t agree on everything, but we worked together to prepare a series of recommendations that took into account the often differing views of all our members.
I recently gathered with local, state and federal stakeholders to celebrate a $310 million federal authorization for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Boston Harbor. This work will deepen the harbor’s navigation channels so that it can accommodate newer, larger ships. The economic benefit of completing this dredging is significant, creating jobs and stimulating additional activity.
Social Security Numbers
You may recall that I filed legislation to prohibit the Social Security numbers of deceased individuals from being made publicly available through the Federal government’s Death Master File (DMF). Easy access to this file has contributed to tax related identity theft. I was pleased that a provision limiting access to the DMF was included in the December 2013 budget agreement.
Saving and creating jobs whenever possible should be a priority for Congress. My colleagues and I were able to secure funding to save more than 100 jobs at MIT’s fusion lab in January. The money was going to be taken away from the university and instead directed to fusion programs overseas. This was very troubling to us for a number of reasons. Not only did it mean the elimination of good jobs in Cambridge, it also could have caused the United States to fall behind on important scientific research. We were pleased when the Administration finally agreed to keep those jobs in Massachusetts.
Also in Cambridge, the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center became the focus of future redevelopment opportunities. I have long worked on this issue because there is so much interest in that land, one of the last underdeveloped parcels in Kendall Square. My main focus has been on ensuring that Volpe’s employees and other stakeholders have a voice in the process and are not displaced by private development. In August, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Request for Information to gather ideas for redevelopment of that parcel, including construction of a space that can accommodate the current workforce within the existing footprint.
The Monuments Men
This year, H.R. 3658, the Monuments Men Recognition Act, passed by voice vote. I was the lead Democratic sponsor of the bill, and honored to be part of bringing this long overdue recognition to the men and women who served as the “Monuments Men” during World War II. The legislation awards them with the Congressional Gold Medal. These brave soldiers struggled, often behind enemy lines, to locate and preserve some of the world’s most precious artifacts. Without thought for their own safety, they helped save from destruction cathedrals, sculptures and other works of art.
National Housing Trust Fund
Late in 2014, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced it would allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to begin making contributions to the National Housing Trust Fund, an action I have been working on for years. Congress established the fund in 2008 to help construct and preserve affordable housing all over the country. The need for affordable rental housing and job and business investment has only grown since the Great Recession. I am pleased to report that the FHFA acted on our request this year.
Family Self Sufficiency Program
Congress this year expanded the Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Program for families who utilize Section 8 Project Based Rental Assistance (PBRA). I worked with my colleague, Rep. Waters, to increase access to this program, at no additional cost to taxpayers. The FSS program allows families to pursue educational opportunities, job training and other economic stability initiatives. Families who use PBRA could not access this program. At our request, the program was expanded to allow property managers to seek private funding or use surplus resources to develop FSS programming.
My staff devotes much time and effort to constituent service. Legislative gridlock does not affect the good relationships we have with federal agencies and US Embassies abroad. Many times we have been able to help constituents by explaining the emergencies they face and getting the quick action they need. While we cannot share the specifics of individual cases because of privacy reasons, we can give you an idea of some of the types of cases we encounter every day.
I am privileged to represent great universities, research institutes, and teaching hospitals. We are often asked to expedite work authorization for brilliantly gifted young people who would otherwise be forced to leave the United States and continue their research or launch their start-ups overseas.
We also work with hospitals on compassionate cases, such as helping with visas for potential organ donors or relatives of the terminally ill. This summer, a mother who had not seen her son in 13 years arrived in time to be with him during his last two hours of consciousness.
Sometimes, we help coordinate essential efforts. Recently, a young woman, brutalized in an arranged marriage, gave birth to a seriously ill child. She arrived in Boston with a proper visa because an American embassy recognized the dangers they faced. A faith-based organization, a pro bono lawyer, a family court judge, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, MassHealth, and a great hospital did all they could. The baby did not survive, but the grieving mother knows she is not alone. Many Americans helped her and will support her claim for political asylum.
We expedited a passport for a disabled veteran who is a naturalized citizen, so he could be his brother’s best man and expedited naturalization for a young man so he could qualify for ROTC.
We regularly help constituents navigate federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration (SSA). We recently helped a woman who had been trying to get her case resolved for months, in person and through numerous phone calls. We worked with her and the SSA, and I am pleased to report a satisfactory resolution.
While I am happy to report on some of the successes that we have had this year, many issues will still require attention in the 114th Congress. Comprehensive Immigration Reform did not advance and I am hopeful that Congress will find common ground. I will continue advocating for my legislation, The Best Return on America’s Investment Now Act (BRAIN), which will encourage highly educated foreign students to remain in the United States. The bill amends the Employment Based Visa (EB) program to create a new category drawn from the current visa limit for persons who have earned Doctorate Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Not enough Americans seek enough of these degrees to satisfy our national needs and we should want to keep these graduates here to help expand our economy. While I am hopeful that an initiative like this will be part of CIR, I will refile my legislation in 2015.
The emergence of new technologies should prompt all of us to think about what the latest innovations in cell phones or other devices mean for our privacy. I filed several pieces of legislation aimed at regulating data collection and protecting privacy. The We Are Watching You Act was filed in response to reports that companies were developing new DVR technology that could record people in their homes as they watch television. The Black Box Privacy Protection Act would ensure that all the data collected by a vehicle owner’s event data recorder (EDR) or “black box” is the property of that owner and could not be accessed without a court order. The Reasonable Policies on Automated License Plate Readers Act seeks to establish privacy protections for the information obtained through automatic license plate readers. It is long past time to have a real discussion about just how much data we are giving up in exchange for the latest technology and how much data our government should be able to collect and store about us. In the weeks ahead I will be reviewing these bills with the intent of refiling them after updates to account for recent advances in technology that may pose new risks.
I am sorry to say that Sudan and South Sudan will still need our attention in 2015. December 15th marked one year since the beginning of the South Sudan conflict. Millions of South Sudanese have been forced from their homes and thousands killed since fighting erupted in the newly independent nation. The Congressional Caucus on Sudan and South Sudan recently wrote the President, asking him to increase diplomatic efforts to end this brutal conflict before more civilians suffer and the region is further destabilized.
While the House voted to extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program (TRIA) for six years earlier this month, the Senate did not act before adjourning. TRIA was created in the aftermath of 9/11 after terrorism insurance suddenly became unaffordable and limited. Its high cost stymied activity in many industries, affecting workers compensation coverage and halting new construction. TRIA created a federal backstop to help make terrorism insurance available and affordable again. The measure has twice been extended. I have introduced legislation on TRIA starting in 2004, most recently with my Republican colleague, Rep. Peter King, in advance of this year’s program expiration. Because the Senate did not act, TRIA will expire on December 31st, so we will refocus our efforts in the New Year.
I will continue working on campaign finance issues, including legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which fundamentally rewrote the nation’s campaign finance laws.
I am energized for the new Congress and looking forward to working on your behalf with returning colleagues and new members. I thank you for your support of this newsletter and all the feedback we received this year. Please keep it coming and I wish you a Happy Holiday Season.