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Congresswoman Escobar Advocates for Health Infrastructure in El Paso in Appropriations Committee

Today, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16) testified before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies during the subcommittee’s Member Day hearing. In her remarks, she advocated for improvements to health infrastructure in El Paso and emphasized the urgent need for a binational strategy to combat COVID-19.

Click here to watch a video of her remarks and read her written testimony as submitted to the Committee below: 

Thank you, Chair DeLauro and Ranking Member Cole for this chance to discuss priorities I have before your subcommittee.

This year’s community project funding process was a great opportunity to engage with El Pasoans who are on the ground and know the needs of our region best. I am proud to have submitted two of these projects to your subcommittee for consideration.

The first project I would like to discuss is the UMC Robotics Expansion. The funding for this project would be used to purchase a Da Vinci Single Port robot for the University Medical Center at El Paso. As the only Level One trauma center in West Texas and as a facility that serves much of the uninsured population in El Paso, UMC is critical to the health infrastructure of the entire Paso Del Norte region. As a result, acquiring the Single Port robot will allow UMC to improve their minimally invasive service offerings and expand their high-level medical care for everyone in El Paso, including the uninsured. It will also give the Texas Tech Health Science Center residents the chance to train and gain valuable clinical skills using that will strengthen our future workforce. Finally, this robot will become a valuable tool in the treatment of urological cancer, a service which is not currently available in the El Paso area.

The second project I would like to bring to your attention is the La Fe Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Technology Upgrade. Like many FQHCs in El Paso and across the country, La Fe serves incredibly vulnerable populations like the uninsured, immigrants, and more. La Fe also works in economically disadvantaged communities known as colonias, which are unincorporated areas sometimes referred to as “The Forgotten America”. While the work La Fe is doing is vital to our community, their technological infrastructure is in need of a complete overhaul. The funding requested for this project would do just that by interconnecting their many health services, upgrading telecommunications equipment, increasing their server capacity, and more. This overhaul would allow La Fe to act as a more effective healthcare provider and ultimately benefit those who are most vulnerable in El Paso.

I would now like to move on to two appropriation report language requests I submitted to the committee for consideration. The first is language urging HHS to fund the U.S. Mexico Border Health Commission at 2 million dollars for Fiscal Year 2022. The Commission is an essential organization that focuses exclusively on the unique health needs and issues of southern border communities. However, during the previous administration funding for the Commission was minimal, dropping as low as 800,000 dollars for one fiscal year. This has led to the Commission being understaffed at a point when their expertise is needed most. If the border region is going to successfully put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, we need HHS to increase funding for the Commission so it can work at its full potential. This leads me to my next request.

Since the start of the pandemic, I have been ringing the alarm about the need for a binational COVID-19 strategy. This is not a partisan issue as I made numerous attempts to urge the Trump administration to develop a binational strategy and I have continued to advocate for it with the Biden administration. However, we still have not seen any action to follow through on these requests. Just yesterday, we heard President Biden announce that we will be exporting 20 million more doses of vaccine to other countries. While I commend the President for his action as getting shots in the arms of as many people as possible at a global scale is important, we still have not heard anything on whether these vaccines will be used to vaccinate Mexican border cities. Just a few weeks ago, Juarez, which is right next to my district, had to go into lockdown for a weekend because of an increase in COVID-19 cases. The reality is that border communities like mine will not truly reach herd immunity until our Mexican sister cities also begin seeing increased vaccination rates. My final report language request would urge the U.S. section members of the Commission to engage with their Mexican counterparts to develop a binational vaccination plan so communities on both sides of the border can begin returning to normal.

Finally, I would like to emphasize with this subcommittee, as I have with other appropriations subcommittees I have testified in front of, that it is essential you include mechanisms within your bill to guarantee federal funding will make it to its designated recipient. This is especially important for items like community project funds which are designated for local governments and other entities. As you may know, for months, Texas Governor Greg Abbott held critical COVID-19 relief funds hostage. This meant entities like schools have been unable to properly spend relief funds or reimburse themselves for expenses relating to COVID-19 safety measures. While Governor Abbott recently released some of these funds, he is also holding up federal funds to help local governments with migrants arriving at our nation’s front door. I urge the subcommittee to take this into consideration while drafting the final bill.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today and I look forward to collaborating with the subcommittee as you continue to draft the final appropriations bill.


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