Anna’s Weekly Update
May 24th, 2019
Weekly Report From Your Congresswoman
Highlights of What I Did in Congress This Week
Health Subcommittee Hearing on Drug Pricing Transparency and Lowering Costs for Consumers
This week my Health Subcommittee held a hearing on bipartisan legislation to improve drug supply chain transparency for consumers and reduce costs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries. Seven bills were considered, including the Creating Lower Cost Alternatives for Your Prescription Drugs Act which will help low-income Medicare enrollees afford their medications by eliminating cost-sharing for generic drugs and capping their out-of-pocket costs for other drugs. Nearly 25 percent of seniors who take drugs report it is difficult for them to afford their medications and this bill will not only save seniors money, it can also save lives.
We also considered four bills that expose how drug prices are set, and two bills that expose secret deals between Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and other stakeholders in the drug supply chain. To watch my opening statement and learn more about the legislation, click HERE.
Key Votes This Week
Voted YES on The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act
Americans are currently facing a retirement income crisis, with too many people in danger of not having enough in retirement savings to maintain their standard of living and avoid sliding into poverty. According to a recent study, one-third of American workers believe they will either face significant financial hardship during retirement or will not be able to retire.
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act addresses critical retirement security issues. Among its provisions the bill:
- Makes it easier for small businesses to pool together to offer retirement savings plans for their employees;
- Modifies 529 education plans (specialized savings accounts used to save money for college) to allow them to be used to pay for student loans and other purposes;
- Creates a tax credit for small businesses that automatically enroll employees in 401(k) plans;
- Corrects a provision in current law that prevents some home health care workers from participating in 401(k)s; and
- Corrects a provision in the Republican tax bill that taxed the children of fallen service members who receive survivor benefits.
Voted YES on The Consumers First Act
Congress created the independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in response to the 2008 financial crisis. The Agency stands up for consumers who are bilked by hidden fees, predatory lenders, and deceptive practices. They also make sure that the public has accurate information about the terms of their mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and other financial transactions. Sadly, under the Trump Administration the CFPB has gone through drastic changes that take away the emphasis on its mission of protecting consumers.
In response to these developments, the Consumers First Act requires the CFPB to put consumers first by doing the following:
- Directs the new CFPB leadership to reverse anti-consumer actions taken under the Trump Administration’s leadership;
- Restores the supervisory and enforcement powers of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity;
- Requires adequate agency staffing, including for supervision and enforcement;
- Mandates the consumer compliant database remain transparent and publicly accessible;
- Reestablishes a dedicated student loan office; and
- Reinstates the Consumer Advisory Board to ensure consumer voices are well represented and that diversity and inclusion are promoted by CFPB.
Legislation Anna Cosponsored this Week
The Protecting Americans Votes and Elections Act
Many constituents have expressed their deep concerns to me about securing our voting systems, and election security experts agree that paper ballots and regular, statistically rigorous audits are best practices to avert hacking of voting machines. To protect against the threat of adversarial interference in our elections, I cosponsored the Protecting Americans Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act which requires paper ballots for elections. The legislation gives the Department of Homeland Security the authority to set minimum cybersecurity standards for voting machines and provides state and local governments with $750 million to update voting machines and technology.
The Student Loan Interest Deduction Act
Student loan debt in the United States is a $1.5 trillion crisis affecting more than 44 million Americans. On average, a 2019 high school graduate who will depend on student loans for college can expect to borrow upwards of $37,400 in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. The outstanding balance of student loans within the United States grows by about $2,726.27 every second, according to MarketWatch estimates.
The Student Loan Interest Deduction Act significantly expands the current student loan interest tax deduction by increasing the maximum tax deduction for interest paid on any qualified education loan from $2,500 to $5,000 for individuals, and $10,000 for joint filers. It also permanently eliminates income-based phase-outs of $65,000 for individuals and $130,000 for joint filers to ensure all Americans are able to access this valuable deduction. This doesn’t resolve the entire issue of student loan debt, but it will help.
A Resolution Recognizing Chinese Railroad Workers
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad which linked the East and West Coasts across the great expanse of the United States. Some 10,000 to 15,000 Chinese immigrant workers constructed the line between 1863 and the railroad’s completion in 1869. They comprised 90 percent of the workforce along the Central Pacific Railroad’s line which ran through California, Nevada, and Utah.
Despite the Chinese immigrant workers’ contributions to the Transcontinental Railroad, their work often goes unremembered or is misrepresented. Many Chinese laborers risked their lives and many perished during frigid winters and blazing summers to complete the project. To commemorate their contributions, a resolution was introduced to recognize their pivotal role in completing what was at the time the most significant infrastructure project in the country’s history.
If you want to learn more about the issue, Stanford Professor Gordon H. Chang has written a new book, Ghosts of Gold Mountain, which takes one of the most comprehensive looks to date at Chinese railroad workers’ lives during the railroad’s construction. Learn more HERE.
The What Can You Do For Your Country Act
I’m always looking for ways to motivate students to enter public service, and in 2007 Congress established the bipartisan Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) which allows individuals to have their federal student loans forgiven after 10 years of working full-time for a federal, state, local, or tribal government organization or certain nonprofit organizations while making repayments on their loans. Unfortunately, flawed implementation of the PSLF program by the U.S. Department of Education and numerous loopholes have resulted in less than 1 percent of all eligible applicants receiving the loan forgiveness they deserve.
The What You Can Do for Your Country Act of 2019 closes loopholes in the PSLF program and provides a fair path to loan forgiveness in exchange for serving our country. The bill ensures that students who borrow to attend higher education can count on relief by streamlining the application and certification processes, and expanding who qualifies for the loan forgiveness program. I like fixing things!
Letters Anna Wrote and Cosigned
Letter to FTC about Predatory Marketing Practices that Target Children
American children spend a significant amount of time each day engaging with online content. While a variety of enriching content is available to children and teens online, they’re also exposed to predatory marketing. Children deserve special protection from these practices because they’re not able to discern the intent or impact of marketing, which leads to larger negative consequences as many peer-reviewed studies have documented.
I led a bicameral letter to the Federal Trade Commission, requesting that they investigate unfair and deceptive marketing practices associated with online content targeted to children. Beyond investigating possible violations, I also requested that the FTC issue guidance to help online creators whose content is made for children understand what kind of marketing is permissible and what’s not. This will help content creators acting in good faith to comply with the law.
Letter to the Bureau of Land Management and Secretary Bernhardt on Oil and Gas Development in California
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently announced its plans to make over 2 million acres of public land in California available to new oil and gas drilling, including plans for drilling near Butano State Park in our Congressional District. The proposed sites are near residential areas, agricultural farm lands, fragile water aquifers, and protected areas, including Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks.
I joined several of my colleagues from the California delegation to voice our opposition to Secretary Bernhardt and the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to expand oil and gas drilling in California. At a time when our state is taking steps to address the climate crisis by electrifying its transportation sector and transitioning to a 100% clean and renewable energy grid, it’s inexcusable that the Trump Administration is aggressively and unilaterally trying to open up over 2 million acres of land to new oil and gas development.
It was an honor to welcome to the Capitol the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Our Congressional District and our country have been made stronger by the rich cultures and pioneering spirit of the Asian Pacific community.
In the Words of My Constituents
Every week hundreds of my constituents call and write to me to express their concerns, share their passions, and ask questions regarding legislation and policies. Year to date, over 46,100 constituents have contacted me. This month, 7,954 did so. I actually read every communication and every constituent receives a personal response to their specific questions and comments. This week, 1,150 constituents contacted our office, including:
- 122 constituents wrote to me with concerns about the Mueller Report and impeachment
- 71 constituents wrote to me about the Big Cat Public Safety Act
- 51 constituents wrote to me about climate change
Anna’s Recommended Reading and Watching
Frequently, I read articles or see videos that I think my constituents would benefit from.
New York Times Column (5/14/2019) – “A Whitewashed Monument to Women’s Suffrage”
100 years ago this week, the House passed the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote. This column by Brent Staples is a reminder that a diverse group of women worked to advance women’s rights. I’m so mindful of all suffragists, both famous and unknown, for relentlessly pursuing a more perfect Union. They paved the path I walk today in Congress.