Congresswoman Escobar Remarks at El Paso Chamber 2020 State of Congress
Washington, D.C., September 23, 2020
Today, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16) delivered remarks at the El Paso Chamber 2020 Virtual State of Congress. Below a transcript of her remarks as delivered:
Good morning. I’d like to thank the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce for the opportunity to address your membership again this year, and everyone tuning in. I wish we could be together in person, and I look forward to the day when we can be.
Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic is top of mind for all of us. As we worry about our loved ones, as we take precautions to avoid getting – sick, and as we pray for an end to what has been the most challenging global health crisis in our generation, I’d like to share the work I’ve done in D.C. and in El Paso.
Early on, we in the House of Representatives recognized that science should be central to our legislation. We prioritized and funded testing and tracing, research and treatment, and called on the President to utilize the Defense Production Act, and also called on him to create a national testing strategy.
In Washington, I worked to prioritize El Paso and vulnerable communities like ours because minority communities are disproportionately feeling the impact of COVID-19 and its deadly consequences. Early on, I shared with our local leaders what Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared with me: Hispanics are as vulnerable to contracting and dying from the Coronavirus as people living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. And unfortunately, that warning turned out to be true all over the country and in El Paso as well. I have also been sounding the alarm for the need for a binational COVID-19 plan. I’ve spoken with leaders at every level of government on both sides of the border and most recently asked Dr. Martha Vela Acosta, the Executive Director of the U.S. Mexico Border Health Commission to help craft the plan.
At home in El Paso, I hosted a number of virtual conversations with community leaders and constituents in an effort to circulate as much information as widely as possible. I hosted conversations for local leaders with nationally-recognized health experts like Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. James Hildreth, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College. I met virtually with small businesses who had questions about accessing Paycheck Protection Program loans and constituents who had questions about receiving their stimulus checks. I also heard from constituents who had questions for local education leaders about the start of school, with mental health experts and providers intended to help El Pasoans access resources they need during this crisis, and a number of other conversations to get support and information to our community.
In March, Congress moved swiftly to pass the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act on a bipartisan basis and since then, passed three subsequent bipartisan bills, including the CARES Act.
El Paso benefitted tremendously from this work, having received a total of $821 million.
Through various COVID-19 relief bills $39 million went to El Paso healthcare providers, including Community Health Clinics like Project Vida, Centro De Salud Familiar La Fe, and Centro San Vicente. Through the Paycheck Protection Program, over 83,000 jobs were retained in El Paso and an estimated $445 million was dispersed to businesses. El Paso businesses like childcare centers, hotels, restaurants, and beauty salons benefitted the most from PPP loans. Under the CARES Act, the City and County received over $145 million. There is still so much need.
We in the House have been adamant about – among other items – the need for Congress to provide funding to state and local governments. We know that their revenue shortfalls could result in tax increases later down the road and would most likely result in immediate cuts to education, healthcare, infrastructure and the social safety net in our communities. If the Heroes Act was signed into law, a bill the House of Representatives passed nearly four months ago, El Paso local governments would receive nearly $1 billion in funding over two years and help avoid catastrophe.
Unfortunately, support from the Senate for state and local governments as well as for programs intended to combat food insecurity and other protections for our families evaporated. We will continue to urge our colleagues in the Senate to recognize the needs of the American people in the hopes that they will come to the table with a compromise that addresses the crisis in a meaningful way.
Those of you who have lived in El Paso for some time or who have studied the evolution of our local economy have seen the success that comes with being honest about our challenges and bold about our future, creating a shared vision informed by community voices.
Before COVID-19 struck, El Paso was already dealing with a significant challenge to our economy – a renewed brain drain, the out-migration of young people seeking higher wages elsewhere. But the pandemic has created a crushing economic crisis that has devastated businesses, families, our state and local governments and non-profits. Many of us — myself included — are very concerned about what our post-pandemic economic future will look like.
Our location on the U.S.-Mexico border, home to our ports of entry and the trade they facilitate, remains one of our greatest economic advantages.
Our ports of entry are critical lifelines – connecting our families, our community, and our economy. I’ve worked hard to ensure my colleagues in the House understand the investment needed at our ports, to modernize and upgrade them. During my time in Congress, I brought nearly 20% of my colleagues to El Paso and had them visit one of our ports while here. I intend on continuing that effort post-COVID-19 to ensure we continue to have the support we need. The FY21 Financial Services and General Government House Appropriations bill, if it becomes law, will provide almost $700 million in funding to modernize and build additional capacity at the Bridge of the Americas.
Late last year I voted in favor of the USMCA after strong enforcement provisions reshaped the deal. It’s clear now that the signing of the deal created badly-needed stability in our region, and we hope it will help spur investment as well.
Just before the pandemic, my office convened a discussion about what the next phase of El Paso’s economic future could and should look like, one that would help increase wages to help us retain our talent. That conversation, called El Paso 2.0, included business, civic and political leaders.
Our need for a comprehensive economic strategy — rooted in leveraging our assets — is more important than ever, and I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure we realize our potential and focus on our local economic recovery.
From my perspective, there is tremendous potential in the work we’ve been focused on with two of our greatest assets and partners: UTEP and Fort Bliss.
The cutting-edge research at UTEP’s engineering department — specifically the Keck Center and their NASA Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research—represents significant economic opportunity for our community. For years now, I’ve had the privilege of working with UTEP’s leadership — first, Dr. Diana Natalicio and now Dr. Heather Wilson and the brilliant team of Dr. Ryan Wicker and Dr. Ahsan Choudhuri.
Many of you have heard me talk about the work they and their engineering students are doing in the realm of additive and advanced manufacturing. When linked with the Department of Defense’s need to modernize the military – their work presents a tremendous opportunity for our local economic development future.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have worked to leverage the talent at UTEP, the needs at Fort Bliss, and the potential collaboration with the Department of Defense.
Part of this work includes bringing military leadership to the UTEP campus so they can see the potential for themselves. I brought General Matlock of the First Armored Division, General Johnny Davis and now Colonel Tobin Magsig of Joint Modernization Command, and General John Murray of Army Futures Command to tour the Keck Center and discuss long-term partnerships and opportunities that our impressive additive manufacturing capabilities can deliver for our national security.
I have also secured funds via the appropriations process to help UTEP’s additive manufacturing program thrive: $10 million in FY20 and $24 million in FY21.
Also in the FY21 bill, I authored language establishing a National Institute for Space Research as a university consortium in support of the newly established Space Force. This ensures our military’s newest service gets the same excellence in research that universities, like UTEP, provide as partners in national security. This provision engages universities with significant expertise in aerospace and defense competencies and creates new opportunities for our clearance-ready, advanced student population.
In addition to working on this partnership with UTEP, I’ve also worked to prioritize our veterans and our military through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) infrastructure investments at Fort Bliss, one of our country’s most important military installations.
My conversations with local veterans and Veterans Services Organizations informs my work in Washington – work that has led to my co-sponsorship of over 40 bills and votes to advance nearly 60 bills in the House, legislation to support veterans, enhance transparency and efficiency at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and critical veteran benefits like a cost of living increase, holistic medical and mental health care and support to veteran students.
I’ve been particularly focused on supporting veterans care, suicide prevention, and working for diversity in our armed services at the highest ranks.
This summer I voted in favor of an ambitious infrastructure package that would rebuild our country in the most strategic way possible.
H.R.2, the Moving Forward Act is a $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild American infrastructure while creating millions of good-paying jobs, combatting the climate crisis, and addressing disparities in communities like ours across the country. The legislation includes investment in infrastructure in and around colonias.
The House also passed H.R. 7575, the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 which authorizes an additional $50 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and El Paso County to improve storm water systems, reduce flood damages, and overhaul other aspects of our region’s water infrastructure.
Our federal investments must boost our economy and also address the climate emergency that is only getting worse by the day. We must act urgently with a whole of government approach at the federal, state and local levels. But all sectors must act aggressively, including the private sector.
I’ve introduced major climate legislation, including the DoD Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act, which promotes climate action, planning and preparedness at the Department of Defense, one of the world’s major emitters. This bill was recognized in the U.S. House of Representative’s Select Committee on Climate Crisis 2020 Report: Solving the Climate Crisis.
I also introduced the Targeting Environmental and Climate Recklessness Act, or TECRA, which authorizes the United States to extend sanctions to the worst global polluters and abusers of environmental safety and transparency requirements.
Taken together, these pieces of legislation stand to reshape the manner of U.S. engagement in this urgent, transnational and sub-national challenge.
I have also worked to promote climate-sensitive policy through the NDAA each year. This year’s bill included a slate of provisions to re-orient administration priorities and bolster programs to privilege electric and hybrid vehicles, tackle water security challenges in the American Southwest, and promote renewable energy use. The bill also requires an update to the DoD’s Climate Change Roadmap.
But even aggressive public and private sector policies are not enough. We each also have a personal responsibility to shrink our carbon footprint. That responsibility starts with information. I recently hosted a Climate Action Virtual Town Hall for El Pasoans where I shared the work Congress is doing to address the climate crisis and was joined by environmental experts who provided information about how each one of us can change our consumption habits to combat this crisis.
There is no more time for us to squander, and we must each act with the urgency this crisis demands.
This summer marked an important and long overdue turning point for our country on race. After the world witnessed the brutal killing of George Floyd, hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets, demanding that we take action on police brutality and racism.
The House of Representatives took swift action. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I was proud that we delivered the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a sweeping police reform package to the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the Senate has yet to act on our bill.
There’s no more time to waste on commissions, committees, or studies. We know what we have to do, and we must do it. And like climate action, this requires a whole of government approach, from the federal level to the state and especially the local level. Because El Paso is not exempt.
I’ve met with constituents and I’ve read through court documents that show alarming trends in our community. It couldn’t be clearer that we’ve needed local reform for many years. My commitment to justice and equality doesn’t begin or end with my support for Black Lives Matter or police reform.
I remain committed to exposing the erosion of human and civil rights at the border in communities like ours, working to reform our federal law enforcement agencies like DHS, and I will continue to work for comprehensive immigration reform – striving for laws that reflect our nation’s values instead of policies that are rooted in cruelty. El Paso has been the testing ground for some of the most inhumane immigration policies we’ve ever seen, and it’s on all of us to fight for the dignity of every human being. I certainly am committed to doing so.
There are many other issues that I’ve tackled, but I want you to know that my priority is getting El Paso the resources we need, elevating our community and ensuring that decision-makers understand the potential and promise of our great community.
But the work I do would not be possible without an amazing team that works day in and day out on our priorities, ensuring we achieve legislative wins, secure resources, and provide constituent services to help our community. With 120 district events over this first term, over 700 constituent cases completed, and nearly $1.5 million returned to El Pasoans as a result of that casework, our team is second to none, serving our community with devotion and passion that I am so proud of.
Thank you to everyone who tuned in today and thank you for your work for our great community. Thank you for the privilege you’ve given me to serve our community and represent you in Congress. I am so incredibly proud of our community – resilient, generous, kind and filled with good will. In the face of every challenge, El Pasoans take care of one another. And in my office, we will always work to take care of you.