Congresswoman Escobar Remarks at El Paso Chamber 2021 State of Congress
El Paso, TX, August 17, 2021
Today, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar delivered remarks at the El Paso Chamber 2021 State of Congress. Below is a transcript of her remarks as prepared:
Good morning, everyone. I’d like to begin by thanking David Jerome and the El Paso Chamber for the opportunity to share our work with the business community, and I’d like to thank all of you for being here with us.
Before I get started, I’d like to introduce the members of my team who are here in attendance with us today – Eduardo Lerma, my Chief of Staff, Zahraa Saheb, my Legislative Director, Benjamin Harrison, Senior Legislative Assistant – all of whom came in from Washington – and Emily Loya, my District Director here in El Paso.
They are here representing our larger, talented and dedicated team in El Paso and D.C who couldn’t be here with us but who I hope are watching via zoom. I want to publicly thank them and acknowledge that none of the work I’m doing, none of the gains we’ve made would be possible without them. Our community is very fortunate to have their commitment and skills.
A year ago, we were unable to have this event because COVID-19 was ravaging our community. Little did we know that El Paso would ultimately become one of our nation’s hotspots.
It was yet another challenging crisis for our community – one that would take the lives of thousands of loved ones, shutter small businesses, send many El Pasoans into despair, and stretch our hospital and morgue resources.
Today, El Paso is one of the most vaccinated communities not just in the state but in the country, with 71% of people over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, while 84% have had at least one dose of an available vaccine.
I want to thank everyone who has made this possible – from OEM, the City, County, our FQHCs, hospitals and educational institutions – and express how proud I am of El Paso for yet again being such an exemplary community.
We all hoped to have completely turned a corner by today, especially with vaccines so widely and freely available, but a collective effort to reject them – along with state officials who have tied the hands of local leaders – has turned what could’ve been a decisive victory over COVID-19 into a prolonged, continued fight, this time against a variant that poses a heightened threat to everyone, especially unvaccinated children.
Last week, I met with our local healthcare leaders and they shared their concerns about what might lie ahead. They made it clear to me that although El Paso is faring well in the vaccination effort, we’re not out of the woods.
We need to encourage everyone we know – those family members and friends who trust us – that they should get vaccinated, and if they have questions to talk to their doctor.
We’re all in this together – on both sides of the border. Being a binational community means that we have shared opportunities and challenges and COVID-19 has been one of our greatest challenges.
From the get go, there were different testing and tracing protocols, and unfortunately, vaccines intended for border cities like Ciudad Juárez were sent elsewhere.
The lack of uniformity in approach has been a setback to getting our ports reopened – a priority for me and you, I know. This is why I’ve filed my Binational Health Strategies Act in 2020 and again this year.
Unfortunately for us, the prior administration failed to fund and empower the U.S. Mexico Border Health Commission and not only had no national plan for COVID-19, but no international plan either.
It’s clear that we will have to put binational pandemic efforts into law through my legislation so that no future president can ignore the complexities of a binational community. This probably won’t be the last global pandemic we face, and we must apply lessons learned so that we are better equipped to serve and support our region.
In Congress, we worked hard to meet the depth of the need. For me, especially, with everything that El Paso had already been through, it was critical that our community receive the resources necessary to survive the pandemic.
The Paycheck Protection Program – or PPP – money provided El Paso with nearly $576 million, helped over 6,000 businesses, saving tens of thousands of jobs.
We also brought home over one million dollars for shuttered venue operators and $54 million for the restaurant revitalization fund.
The economic impact payments made to individuals, which many of us in Congress called “survival checks” helped infuse money into households and the local economy.
The American Rescue Plan provided badly needed funding that helped our local governments – in total, El Paso saw over $337 million in federal funding from Congress to get us through some very dark days.
Congress’ significant investments in our community won’t end with COVID-19 funding. I’m committed to working with my colleagues and the White House to Build Back Better to make sure El Paso gets resources that will help our community across the board.
Part of that includes appropriations for Member-designated projects, which is funding that goes directly to specific community projects. I am proud of the process our office created to hear from stakeholders like you about our community’s needs.
We offered informational sessions to teach applicants in local government and non-profits how to apply and worked with them to ensure their projects would be competitive:
$925,000 for a digital healthcare infrastructure upgrade for Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe to allow them to better serve patients in their clinics.
$1.2 million dollars for UMC El Paso to purchase a surgical robot so they can expand their minimally invasive service offerings for El Pasoans, including the uninsured.
$2.85 million for the Cotton Valley Connect project, which would expand broadband service to students in both the Fabens and Tornillo ISDs.
One million dollars for the Casitas Community Project by the El Paso Center for Children to purchase and construct a tiny home community for 18-24 year-olds experiencing homelessness.
One million dollars for the Paso Del Norte trail to construct a new segment of the trail, which will improve connectivity for pedestrians and create a safe recreation space.
$1.1 million for water and wastewater projects in the Upper Valley, ensuring 412 colonia residents have access to basic infrastructure.
$525,000 to establish a body cam program for the El Paso Police Department to increase transparency for officer interactions while also promoting officer safety; and finally.
Two million dollars for the El Paso County Sheriff Office’s Crisis Intervention Team to allow the department to respond to mental health crises with mental health professionals instead of solely law enforcement officers.
And $964,000 for the UTEP’s Aerospace Center and the W.M. Keck Center to assist local manufacturing businesses in identifying and developing proposals to address Department of Defense contracting opportunities.
The projects selected ran the gamut from healthcare, broadband, addressing homelessness, transportation, quality of life, water and wastewater, public safety, mental healthcare and education and economic development.
We intend to do everything possible to ensure that these projects get included in our final reconciliation bill and ultimately funded by Congress.
Over the last few months, my team and I worked to help the House craft a transformative infrastructure bill, the INVEST in America Act.
The infrastructure bill included Member Designated Funding projects, made critically needed updates to outdated laws, and included several priorities I secured for El Paso, including $19.2 million for two local infrastructure projects: the Stanton Street Bridge Intelligent Transportation System, which would help modernize international crossings, and the John Hayes Street in fast-growing far east El Paso.
It also included aspects of my bill, the Colonia Infrastructure Improvement Act, which would allocate over one billion dollars in funding over the life of the INVEST Act that would help El Paso address the needs of the more than 300 colonias in our community alone.
The House infrastructure bill was crafted to meet the needs of today, with an emphasis on equity, which would help El Paso significantly, and it included changes to policies and law that would help address the climate catastrophe unfolding before our very eyes.
Last month, July 2021, was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. And according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, we must act with urgency now.
While many of the changes to our planet are already irreversible, there is still time to slow down the speed with which our planet is warming. But that window of opportunity is closing quickly.
As a member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, I know this is not the time for half-measures. I intend to pursue an urgent climate agenda with my colleagues to provide the funding and changes in law necessary this year, and the infrastructure bill we passed in the House reflected that urgency.
Weeks after we passed our bill in the House, the Senate passed their long-awaited bipartisan infrastructure bill.
While I applaud the work done in the Senate, I’m disappointed that it doesn’t adequately respond to the terrifying information we received in the IPCC report warning that humanity is at code red because we are a decade further into the climate crisis than we understood.
Acting on climate can be done effectively, not only so we can preserve as much of our future as possible, but so that we can also fuel a new segment of our economy, and the creation of jobs that reflect our new reality.
The bipartisan Senate bill also did not include the Member designated projects that were approved in the House or many of President Joe Biden’s priorities, including funding for human infrastructure, energy tax credits, innovation – and the investment that would make in American manufacturing. The Senate bill also has significantly smaller investments in clean energy, electric vehicles and transit, water infrastructure and broadband.
Because so many of the White House and House of Representatives’ priorities were left out of the infrastructure negotiations in the Senate, we are working on ensuring we pull as much as possible back in through a process called “reconciliation,” which is essentially an amendment process to the current budget.
Many of us, myself included, have informed our leadership that we will support the Senate’s infrastructure bill – once the reconciliation process has made it through the Senate.
We are facing down pressing challenges and we can’t continue to approach them in a piecemeal way. Because of Senate paralysis related to the filibuster, we have to use the tool of reconciliation to meet the moment.
The COVID-19 era exposed the deep inequities that exist in our country – something El Paso knows only too well.
Lack of access to health insurance, broadband, paid leave and childcare created even deeper economic hardships.
That’s why, as the Vice Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, I am a huge proponent of investing in American families through reconciliation.
One of our biggest priorities in the caucus has been to ensure the Child Tax Credit is expanded. The Child Tax Credit is a tax cut for most families with children in America. Here at home, 94% of El Paso’s children will benefit and thousands will be lifted out of poverty. Research shows that making this tax cut permanent actually improves the economy over the long-term.
Another priority we will include is investment in quality child care, which we know will help our economy continue to rebound.
I will work hard to ensure that the reconciliation package includes child care for El Paso families, too many of whom have had to deal with insufficient child care, inadequate child care centers, and wait lists that leave them without childcare altogether.
I will be working with my colleagues to ensure we include funding to create public-private partnerships to address this need.
Other components of our reconciliation package will include lowering the cost of prescription drugs, lowering health care costs and much more.
A Moody’s Analytics Report showed that these recovery plans taken together – both the bipartisan infrastructure package and the Build Back Better Agenda we intend to pass through reconciliation will add 2 million jobs per year on average over the next decade, accelerate our work to achieving full employment, and increase total GDP by $4.5 trillion.
Already, our work is paying off. President Biden’s and Congressional Democrats’ economic plan to Build Back Better is: creating approximately 60,000 jobs every three days; raising wages for low-wage workers in the frontline industries hit hardest by the pandemic; and creating an economic boom that’s showing our economy to be growing faster than at any time in the last 40 years.
Also included in the reconciliation package will be long overdue changes to law, changes that El Paso has had a hand in shaping and changes that – according to a number of polls – have significant American support: and that’s immigration reform.
The House’s priorities for immigration through the reconciliation process are establishing pathways to citizenship for DREAMERS, TPS holders, agricultural workers, and essential workers—people who already live and work in the United States and call this country home.
The last time Congress made changes to immigration law was in 1996 during the Clinton administration, changes I’d say created some of the problems we see today.
Despite the fact that our immigration laws have long failed to meet our current immigration needs, Congress has punted on this important issue for decades, year in and year out.
I’m very proud of the fact that – as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I worked with colleagues in 2019 and again this year to pass the Dream and Promise Act, which would protect DREAMERS and DACA recipients.
We also passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would provide a path to legalization and citizenship for farmworkers and their families – the very people who throughout the pandemic ensured we had food on our table.
This year several colleagues and I have been working to advance the U.S. Citizenship Act, a bill the Biden administration gave to Congress weeks after the inauguration.
I’m very proud to share with you that I had the privilege of shaping that bill.
When President Biden was a candidate in the summer of 2020, he created 6 task forces to help craft policy on healthcare, climate, housing, criminal justice, education and immigration. I was honored to be one of 8 members of the President’s working group on immigration, which produced the framework for the immigration reform bill that Congress is considering.
Furthermore, I serve as co-chair of the Reconciliation Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, one of two members tasked with ensuring immigration reform makes it through reconciliation this year.
El Paso has been at the forefront of immigration, especially the last several years as we have seen more migrants from various parts of the world arriving at our nation’s front door, and that is why I invited Vice President Kamala Harris to come see the situation first hand.
I know we are all concerned about this and what we are seeing today is unsustainable. We cannot keep believing that the way to address immigration is to wait until vulnerable souls arrive at our border and then to be as cruel to them as possible in the hopes of deterring others.
It’s long past time for a new approach – real solutions.
I will soon be filing legislation that outlines a new vision for the border, but it’ll only work if done in concert with effective diplomatic collaboration with neighboring countries to address root causes of migration, and if Congress works together on legislation to meet the challenges we face today.
Once my bill is ready, I’ll be briefing my colleagues and our community on the path I think will best help us manage the border and preserve core American values that come from being a nation of immigrants.
It has also been my privilege to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, as Vice Chair of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, advocating for our brave servicemembers and heroic veterans, especially those from our Fort Bliss community. My team and I stay closely connected to leadership at Fort Bliss as we work together on infrastructure and military personnel priorities.
As a member of the committee, I get to shape one of Congress’ most important annual legislative priorities: the National Defense Authorization Act – or NDAA.
I have focused on a number of issues throughout that process: working to reduce the carbon footprint of all our military installations, by introducing the Department of Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act; investing in UTEP and leveraging the talent in their school of engineering, especially in the fields of additive manufacturing and, hopefully, space; and ensuring our military remains a modern, ready force.
Additionally, over the last two and half years in my service on the Military Personnel Subcommittee, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many servicemen and women and to hear about their needs as they heroically serve our country. I remain committed to ensuring we do right by them.
That includes combating the scourge of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military.
It is my hope that reforms that my colleagues and I have worked on, including one of the boldest military justice measures, the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, will get into this year’s NDAA, helping ensure we continue to deliver justice for survivors and protect those who bravely put their lives on the line for our country.
The work my team and I do in Washington is rooted in community engagement here in El Paso.
Starting with constituent casework, my team helps ensure El Pasoans get help with federal agency. As a result of their work, our office has brought back $547,658 to El Pasoans this year alone, putting money in their pockets.
And meetings with the Chamber and the business community, local governments, child care workers, non-profits, education and healthcare leaders, the agriculture community, neighborhood groups, a number of other organizations and groups directly influences legislation we work on.
Every bill, every amendment, every appropriations request comes from conversations we have with our community.
I am very grateful for the time each person and organization spends with us ensuring we can deliver for El Paso.
To say we face significant challenges today would be an enormous understatement.
From the climate emergency, to immigration, to shocking efforts we’re seeing to limit access to the ballot box, to the escalating gun violence we’re seeing domestically, especially that which is rooted in white nationalism, to the mounting threats we face across the globe – China, Iran, Russia – including the dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan that’s unfolding before us as we sit here today. I can’t remember another time in American history when so many crises have converged in this way.
If we are to live up to America’s legacy as a country that can face down any challenge she’s confronted with, we have to come together to do it.
And that means preserving the source of our greatest strength: our democracy.
On January 6, during what should have been an uneventful but moment in American history – certifying the results of the 2020 election – the world bore witness to an attack on our Capitol, our Republic and our very democracy by domestic terrorists who believed the big lie and wanted to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
It’s a day I’ll never forget, and one I hope America never forgets.
I was in the gallery that day. My colleagues and I took cover as the attack escalated. I’ll never forget praying together for the law enforcement officers protecting us, praying for our collective safety, and praying for our country as the terrorists surrounded us in that deadly attack.
I wish I could say the worst is behind us, but everywhere we turn, misinformation abounds, conspiracy theories continue to be fueled by social media and irresponsible networks, and it feels as though we are more divided than ever.
We should be joining hands and working to ensure we save the democracy that we inherited from our founders.
We should be working together to preserve our planet, preserve our sacred right to the ballot box, transition to an economy that is more just and equitable, one that cares for the most vulnerable among us and truly values the talents of each one of us, using truth as our guide.
I began this address by praising El Paso. And I will say once again what I have said innumerable times: El Paso is exemplary.
If there is an American community that can show us the way – a community that comes together during the toughest of times, it is El Paso.
The way we bond together to welcome the stranger, providing good will and compassion; the way we unified and came together in the wake of a deadly shooting; the care we gave one another during COVID-19; and, the way I know we will work together to help our Afghan allies should Fort Bliss be chosen as a temporary site for them: El Paso is the shining example of what happens when we put love first.
That is the value I use as I legislate on your behalf.
And in closing I will say once again how grateful I am to serve you and our great community.
It is my absolute privilege to serve El Paso, work every day to secure resources and opportunity and use the platform I have been given to elevate every one of you.
Thank you for the honor of my life; I look forward to the work ahead alongside you.