I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones in good health and good spirits. This has been an incredibly trying year for all of us, and it’s important to continue to support each other as we push through.
It has been the honor of my life and a humble privilege to represent NY-16 in Congress since I was sworn in on January 3, 2021. Ever since we won our primary in June 2020, we have sought to learn from and engage with all of you, to make transformative change in our congressional district.
Over the past year, we’ve experienced some incredible highs, but it has also been a year of tremendous loss. More than 700,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, millions more have been infected, and many still suffer from lingering health issues. The pandemic hit my family directly, with several of us including me, contracting the virus in November. On February 14, 2021, my mother passed away from COVID—only a day after we lost my father-in-law to cancer. My wife also lost her favorite uncle after his medical condition declined in isolation. The grief my family still feels is immense, and I thank everyone for their continued prayers and support.
The people of this district got us through the worst of times, which is why my office is doing everything we can to get this district through the pandemic. That’s why I voted to pass the American Rescue Plan, which delivered historic relief to Americans, including stimulus checks and expanding the Child Tax Credit— which will bring half of America’s children out of poverty. And knowing of our district’s high concentration of seniors and the high rates of comorbidities in our Black and Latino communities, we worked immediately with city, state, and federal leaders to bring vaccination sites to our most vulnerable, including in Co-op City, Edenwald, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, and New Rochelle.
But COVID isn’t the only threat we’ve faced. Three days after I was sworn in, Trump-supporting white nationalists stormed the Capitol and tried to overturn the election results, killing five people and injuring many more. This attack prompted questions that needed answers. That’s why, just days later, our office introduced our first piece of legislation: the Congressional Oversight of Unjust Policing (COUP) Act, to form a 9/11-style commission to investigate the attack and understand possible connections—as FBI intelligence indicated—between Capitol Police, federal law enforcement, and white nationalist organizations. A few months later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formed an almost identical 9/11 style commission that is still in the process of investigating what happened on January 6, 2021.
I am extremely proud that our office has continued introducing and supporting other pieces of transformative legislation ever since. I voted to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in order to stop racist voter suppression and get big money out of politics. I also supported the Bipartisan Background Checks Act so that we can finally pass common-sense gun safety legislation which will keep our communities safe. The House also recently passed the Women’s Health Protection Act because abortion is health care and reproductive rights must be protected everwhere. The House-passed American Dream and Promise Act would address our broken immigration system and provide a pathway to citizenship.
All of these essential bills are awaiting passage in the Senate — and I’ll continue to advocate for Senate to abolish the filibuster, a Jim Crow relic that entrenches minority rule and prevents progress on essential issues like these.
It’s important to note that we don’t draft or support laws and policies in a vacuum; instead, we decide which issues to pursue—and how to pursue them—in partnership with our community. For example, meetings with city agencies like NYCHA and local organizations looking to provide broadband access to low-income broadband deserts led us to introduce the Broadband Justice Act in March. This legislation would expand broadband access to 8 million more people, by making it a utility and free for anyone in federally-subsidized housing. That same month, we also announced our Care for All Agenda to give care providers a living wage, health insurance, paid vacation time, and the right to unionize. Care work is both a gender and racial justice issue, as care workers are disproportionately Black and Latino women. It is exciting to see that many aspects of our Care for All Agenda have been included in president Biden’s Build Back Better Act, and we are fighting like hell to keep it there.
After winning the primary, my office immediately began to work on a piece of landmark legislation for our public schools. In July 2021, we introduced the Green New Deal for Public Schools, which would invest $1.43 trillion over 10 years to retrofit, redesign, and build climate-resistant schools in every redlined and historically neglected community in the country. Right now, too many Title I schools exist in areas most impacted by climate change, serving populations where childhood asthma and upper respiratory illness rates far exceed the national average. These schools—lacking HVAC systems and hot water, while full of mold, mildew, rodent and roach infestations, and lead in drinking fountains—are a safety hazard. Our bill would save billions of dollars in energy costs, speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and create millions of good-paying jobs.
This year, the House Appropriations Committee also provided us the opportunity to collaborate with local elected officials and community-based organizations to identify projects in need of federal resources to fix or build. We reached out far and wide across the district and provided information and technical support to help localities through the appropriations process. After receiving hundreds of applications, our office worked with the House Appropriations Committee to identify ten projects most likely to meet the criteria and receive funding. The House then passed all of them, which now await passage in the Senate:
- $500,00 to WestHab, Inc. for Affordable Housing Preservation
- $500,000 to the YMCA of New Rochelle
- $100,000 to Mount Vernon Neighborhood Health Center, Inc.
- $500,000 to the Riverbay Fund in Co-op City for Improving Access to Green Space and Promoting Waterfront Resilience
- $800,000 to the HOPE Program in the Bronx for Intervine: Workforce Development
- $400,000 to NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi Medical Center for Stand Up to Violence Program (Requested jointly with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)
- $496,000 to the Yonkers YMCA
- $1,500,000 to the City of Mount Vernon for Sewage Cleanup Project
- $375,000 to the Westchester Public/Private Membership Fund for Aging Services for Telehealth Intervention Programs for Seniors
- $308,000 to the Town of Mamaroneck for Senior Center Renovations and Energy-Efficiency Upgrades
We also saw how Hurricane Ida directly impacted our district, including tragic loss of life and significant damage to people’s homes and our infrastructure. My office worked with our delegation, the White House, and state and local governments to respond. After our urging, the White House made a major disaster declaration for affected parts of our district, allowing us to secure direct relief for individuals and small businesses. We’re still working to ensure everyone who needs help is able to get support from FEMA and other agencies in their recovery.
This is just some of what our office has tackled over the past nine months. We’ve also handled more than 1,700 constituent cases on issues ranging from passports and immigration to Social Security benefits. And we’ve received and responded to thousands of phone calls and mail correspondence on issues ranging from youth violence in the Bronx, infrastructure in Mamaroneck, evacuating allies from Afghanistan, and Caribbean self-determination. It is my priority to stay actively engaged with constituents and the issues they care about, both within and beyond the district. So I hope constituents continue to share what they need and where we can improve, so we can continue to deliver for everyone who calls NY-16 home.
Although we’ve gotten off to a good start, there is so much more work to be done. As I write this, Congress is in the middle of one of the most consequential moments in American history. We are passionately negotiating the President’s Build Back Better Act. Following the American Rescue Plan, Build Back Better is a critical next step for our district. It would make the improved Child Tax Credit permanent and make essential, long-overdue investments in child care, education, housing, the environment, and infrastructure. It’s absolutely essential that we pass the president’s full agenda and don’t leave women, children, seniors, and people with disabilities behind.
We are also working to address the fact that parts of our district have extremely high incidents of violence per capita — a devastating reality for the families who’ve lost loved ones. We need to stop guns from getting into our communities, and provide education, mental health, employment, and improved quality of life opportunities for everyone. Elected officials, educators, clergy, community members, and law enforcement have to work together to stop the violence, and our office will continue to engage in this collaborative work.
This moment is our chance to think innovatively and equitably, to become a democracy where everyone is engaged and empowered—especially historically marginalized groups like our Black and Latino communities. I look forward to continuing this essential work with all of you. Sending peace and love to you and your family.