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Congressman Capuano's
E-UPDATE
An update from the office of U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano
7th Congressional District of Massachusetts


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September 15, 2017

Progress on Local Transportation

I’d like to start this week by sending thanks to the Administration of Mayor Marty Walsh. Here’s why:

As a boy in the 1960’s I recall driving home from Celtics games with my father through Charlestown. This route home to Somerville never seemed to be congested. Years later as an adult, I often drove my wife to and from work in the North Station area via the “new” Rutherford Ave. Traffic had become a nightmare. The “new” street was designed to divert traffic out of residential neighborhoods, but there was a lot more of it and that increase was impacting the entire community.

Sullivan Square, which is actually a large rotary, was horrendous and got worse when the viaducts were removed. The generous width of the road and years of poor maintenance made it menacing for all and the pinch onto the North Washington Street Bridge backed up traffic quite a bit.

When I was elected to Congress, I relied on my experience as Mayor of Somerville to advocate for improvements along that important corridor. State Rep. Dan Ryan, who lives in Charlestown, was on my staff at the time. He was very familiar with the history of the corridor and the issues of concern to residents. I was surprised to learn that the city, not the state, owned the entire road even though it is assigned a state road number. I was also surprised to learn that the neighborhood had already gone through years of planning and several supposedly “final” plans were actually “adopted” … yet nothing concrete was actually happening. So I approached Mayor Menino about how I could help get something started. His request was simple but difficult — get us some federal money.

So my office and I went to work. In 2005 we secured three different “earmarks” for Rutherford Ave totaling $15.5 million. This down payment got the state’s attention and the city planning process started anew. The following year I was able to earmark another $1.5 million for a total of $17 million.

Earmarks are never enough to fund an entire project of this size but they were a good way to supplement state and local money. So this earmark was intended to help persuade the state and local governments to prioritize this project over others.

I have used a similar approach for other necessary infrastructure projects — the Green Line Extension (coming soon), Melnea Cass Boulevard (coming soon), a portion of Massachusetts Avenue (almost complete), a portion of Commonwealth Avenue (complete from Kenmore to the BU Bridge) and others. All of these projects were necessary but needed an infusion of federal funds to attract the attention of state and local officials who can then prioritize the project. Perhaps the most notable example is the Longfellow Bridge which is overseen by multiple agencies and spans two cities. There was a reluctance on the part of stakeholders to take responsibility for the whole project until the federal earmarks became available. Not all earmarks are a waste of taxpayer funding — most are vital components of important initiatives.

After years of community activism and support by stakeholders a critical regional roadway is about to be transformed for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers, starting with the North Washington Street Bridge. Some may think this is happening because of the casino being built near Sullivan Square — they would be mistaken. While this has certainly helped attract attention to the overall transportation problem, the real work has been done by citizens and their elected representatives for decades and will be completed thanks to the leadership of Mayor Walsh.

Equifax

The recent Equifax data breach is a deeply concerning invasion that impacts many millions of Americans. There is a great deal of information available about how consumers can take steps to protect their credit and their personal information. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a great resource for learning more about what you can do to protect yourself and we wanted to be sure to share the information they have prepared with you.

Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations

This week the House resumed consideration of the FY 2018 appropriations bills with H.R. 3354, the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act of 2018. You may recall that in July the House passed H.R. 3219 which included the Defense, Legislative Branch, Energy and Water, and Military-Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bills. None of them were considered under regular legislative order and the House still has not passed a budget resolution.

H.R. 3354 includes the following appropriations bills: Interior-Environment; Agriculture; Commerce-Justice-Science; Financial Services; Homeland Security; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education; State and Foreign Operations, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. H.R. 3354 is just as bad as H.R. 3219. Taken together, both bills come in higher than allowed under the Budget Control Act (BCA), which remains in effect. This means that every department and program covered could be cut by 13% because it has to adhere to the numbers agreed to in the BCA. If not, then the domestic programs would have to be cut even more dramatically in order to offset the higher than allowed spending in the military budgets.

H.R. 3354 cuts funding for far too many important programs. The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Economic Development Administration are all cut. Funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program is eliminated and Juvenile Justice programing also suffers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) comes in at almost $710 million less than last fiscal year. Recent events suggest we should be paying close attention to both oceans and atmosphere.

This legislation also underfunds important cybersecurity and homeland security initiatives, including research and development designed to combat threats. It eliminates the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Grant program, prohibits administrators from using funds for implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and eliminates federal reimbursement to Planned Parenthood for preventive health care.

It doesn’t spare education funding either — reducing resources for afterschool and summer programming, initiatives that seek to reduce socioeconomic and racial disparities in academic achievement. The legislation eliminates teacher development and literacy grants as well as federal funding for the Special Olympics. In a world no one believes is getting safer, H.R. 3354 cuts State Department funding by 17%. This will have serious consequences for everything from embassy security to international disaster assistance. It also eliminates the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant which helps communities afford large infrastructure projects such as Ruggles Station, which is being improved thanks to a TIGER grant. Public housing, community development block grants, and Amtrak all lose out too. I could go on and on but I think you now know what to expect.

Despite all these cuts, H.R. 3354 does increase funding for immigration enforcement, which is sadly not a surprise given the Administration’s approach so far. H.R. 3354 also ignores the President’s FY 2018 budget blueprint when it comes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That budget proposal cut FEMA by $71 million.

Now that the House has passed H.R. 3354 it will be combined with H.R. 3219 and sent to the Senate. I voted NO. H.R. 3354 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

210

14

0

16

DEMOCRAT

1

184

0

9

TOTAL

211

198

0

25

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

More Extreme Action on Immigration

The House this week also considered H.R. 3697, the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act. This bill was introduced in the House just last week. It has not gone through the regular legislative process and Republicans did not allow any amendments to it. H.R. 3697 broadens the legal definition of “gang members” under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Under the updated definition, someone can be classified as a gang member if they are part of a group of 5 or more and are involved in generally defined criminal activity. That sounds good so far, everyone wants to target gang members, but the legislation goes too far by including as gang activity “harboring” an undocumented immigrant. H.R. 3697 broadens the definition in such a way that a humanitarian or religious group offering food, shelter or transportation to an undocumented immigrant could be classified as a gang subject to punishment. H.R. 3697 joins the too long list of actions that can only be described as anti-immigrant. If this bill becomes a law, how would it apply during a natural disaster like a hurricane? Would aid workers now be required to establish proof of citizenship before providing assistance? Will they risk punishment if they don’t? I voted NO. H.R. 3697 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

222

1

0

16

DEMOCRAT

11

174

0

9

TOTAL

233

175

0

25

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

Behind the Curtain — More House and Trump Administration Actions You Don’t Want to Miss

Here are this week’s additions. If you need to catch up or share with friends, you can find the full list here.

  1. The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection announced in early September 2017 that it was proceeding on plans to build a wall along the Mexican border. Officials selected 4 companies to construct small sample walls. DHS won’t make the details of the contracts public, another example of the Trump Administration’s lack of transparency. Congress has not authorized the construction of the wall, yet that is not stopping officials from seeking samples with taxpayer dollars and keeping details under wraps.
  2. In early September 2017 the Washington Post reported that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has put public affairs staffer John Konkus in charge of vetting grants before they are finalized. Konkus is reportedly the last word on whether grants should be awarded and he has instructed staff to pay close attention to use of the phrase climate change, describing the concept as if it is profanity. He reportedly refers to it as the “double C-word”. Already almost $2 million in grant awards have been cancelled. Konkus does not appear to have any relevant environmental experience and what little he has leads him to target any research having anything to do with climate change.
  3. In early September 2017 we learned that Desiree Fairooz, who was arrested for laughing during the confirmation hearing of now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going to trial AGAIN. Here is the context. Fairooz was arrested by a Capitol Police officer after she laughed out loud when Sessions was described as “treating all Americans equally under the law.” A jury ruled in favor of the Justice Department in July, but a judge nullified the decision because laughter is free expression, not a crime. So federal prosecutors are trying again to get a conviction with the second trial scheduled to start in November.
  4. On September 7, 2017 the Department of Justice weighed in on behalf of a Colorado baker who would not bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple. The case is scheduled to come before the Supreme Court and the federal government is supporting the baker. This is one more window into the Trump Administration’s attitude toward the LGBTQ community and it is troubling that discrimination is being defended as “religious liberty.” A member of the clergy should not be compelled to perform a ceremony that violates his or her faith, but a baker or a florist is selling a product. Such discrimination is no more acceptable on the basis of sexual orientation than on the basis of race.

What’s Up Next

A District Work period has been scheduled. The next House votes will take place on Monday September 25th.

Mike


Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services

P.S. I welcome your feedback on our e-Updates. Please let me and my staff know what you think of this service by e-mailing our office.


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