The Serrano Report, Vol. VII, #6

On Capitol Hill

Serrano Speaks out Against Afghan War

On Wednesday, Congressman Kucinich (D-OH) brought a resolution to the floor to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2010. He brought up the resolution under the War Powers Act, a law designed to ensure that the President cannot commit the country to an open ended conflict without the acquiesence of Congress. The resolution failed by a vote of 65-356.

Congressman Serrano, however, voted in favor of Kucinich's resolution to bring the troops home and spoke out in favor of it. His prepared remarks follow. To see Serrano delivering them on the floor of the House, please click here.

It is time for us as a Congress to have this long overdue discussion on our involvement in Afghanistan.  According to the War Powers Resolution, we have a role to play, and it is time that we as a Congress exercised our authority.  Whether you agree or disagree with the escalation in Afghanistan – we need to debate it – we need to vote on it – and we need to make a decision.  We must not give up the powers that we were given in the Constitution.

In the wake of 9/11, I did support a military response to the direct threat that Afghanistan posed to our nation. I believed that it was the correct response, in concert with our NATO allies.

Nine years later, I believe that Congress has the duty to reevaluate America’s involvement in a war that seems to have bogged down with very few signs of success.

I believe that had we not taken our focus off Afghanistan in order to invade and occupy Iraq, we would not be in the situation we are in today.

But pressing ahead without regard to our nation’s best interests, and ignoring Congress’ war powers prerogative is the wrong course.

Let us be clear, we cannot tolerate the presence of terrorists seeking to harm our nation anywhere in the world. But we must ask ourselves if long term occupations are the correct answer to this threat.

We must also be clear in our analysis of our situation in Afghanistan. We have a partnership with an Afghan government that seems increasingly unstable, corrupt and almost completely incapable of maintaining control over vast stretches of the country.

We seem unable to eradicate the Taliban enemy—they scatter before our troops into lawless regions, and then return once our troops leave. Without an effective Afghan government, it is hard to see this pattern changing, as the local population cannot count on the Taliban ever being gone for good.

This is a costly war without an end in sight.  It is costly to our brave soldiers and to their families.  It is costly because resources desperately needed to feed the hungry, to find a way forward on health reform, and to fix our failing schools are being re-directed to an effort whose success is questionable.

Here at home we have had precious little debate over this war. We have seen our troop numbers rise to above those in Iraq, and yet we have no real benchmarks or goals after which we can leave.

We continue to spend massive amounts of money to maintain the occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq. And worst of all, we ask our brave men and women in uniform to continue to sacrifice their lives and bodies to this war without our nation sacrificing similarly. The least we can do to honor their service is to debate and vote properly on this war, and ensure that our nation is not sending them into battle without careful thought and reflection.

Let me conclude by saying that I am from New York City, the place where 9/11 took place, and so I know firsthand the devastation that this caused to my own community. Although, I supported the effort to confront Bin Laden and the perpetrators of that act of terrorism in Afghanistan, I cannot now – nine years later – agree to an effort which has moved in a different direction with different goals. 

I commend Mr. Kucinich for raising this painful subject, and allowing our chamber to engage in an honest and open debate about the consequences of this ongoing occupation. Our troops and our nation deserve no less consideration.”

Serrano and NY Delegation Talk Health Care with Pelosi

Early this week, Congressman Serrano and the New York Congressional delegation met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to discuss health care reform and next steps in the process of passing a bill. After hearing presentations from key allies in the struggle for health care reform, the members of the New York delegation shared their thoughts on health care with the Speaker and the chairmen of the major House committees involved in the discussions.

Congressman Serrano expressed his concerns about the Senate bill, but said that passing the bill will be the first step towards health care for all, without exceptions. Serrano and other members of the New York delegation urged the Speaker to ensure that states like New York, which provide relatively generous health care coverage to those in need, not be punished by the reform package. They also conveyed their belief that immigrants should be able to take part in the system without penalty, but understood that the Senate had taken that option off the table.

“I was pleased to be able to convey my thoughts to the Speaker directly,” said Serrano. “While this bill is not the single-payer system that I originally favored, I have become convinced that we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I understand people’s concerns about an overhaul of the system, but I believe that when all is said and done, the result will be far better than what we have today. We cannot let the big insurance companies take this victory away from the people. All the fear that has been spread over the past year is based on their desire to kill any bill that threatens the status quo. For that reason and many others, I believe the time to take action is now.”

Currently the House and Senate are negotiating a manner by which they can fix and pass the two different bills they passed last year.

Serrano Holds Treasury Hearing 

On Wednesday, Congressman Serrano, the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, held a hearing on the Treasury Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2011. 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner responded to questions on a wide range of issues from TARP, to business lending, and bank bonuses.  Serrano expressed support for the proposed increase in funding for financial and technical assistance by the CDFI Fund, and said, “I believe the CDFI has done some of the most important work in lifting up disadvantaged communities.”

Serrano also highlighted areas of concern in the Treasury budget, in particular, the proposed reductions in grants for low-income taxpayer clinics, Tax Counseling for the Elderly, and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance grant program.  “All three programs assist low and moderate-income taxpayers.  I believe that supporting these taxpayers is of paramount importance and have made them a priority in my years as chairman of this subcommittee.”

Serrano questioning Geithner during the hearing

 Serrano questions Geithner during the hearing

In the Bronx

Serrano Hails Major Step Towards Closing NYOFCo

Today, Congressman Serrano hailed the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s recent decision to end its contract with the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCo) to process sewage sludge at the company's Hunts Point location. The NYOFCo facility, which incinerated up to 2/3rds of New York City's dewatered sewage, was the source of persistent odor complaints and safety and public health concerns for more than a decade. Serrano said it was a “major victory for the people of the Bronx, for their health, and for the incredible community effort that made this happen.”

“NYOFCo has polluted our community’s air for 16 years, and today is the beginning of the end,” said Serrano. “It is an end to the burning eyes, the coughs, the missed school days, even the asthma attacks, all conditions triggered by NYOFCo’s acrid odors.  It is an end to closed windows on hot days and ruined picnics in the park. It is an end to our community enduring odors that no other community in the City has to bear. We applaud the City for taking this action, and at the same time we say to them ‘never let this happen in our neighborhood or any other ever again.”

“The remarkable thing about the years-long fight against NYOFCo is that it became the tool that our community used to organize itself. We were fighting these battles in our own ways, but when we began to work together in the fight against this awful polluter, we organized in a way that has had a dramatically positive effect on our neighborhoods. The coalitions that formed in this campaign have gone on to fight on behalf of other pressing environmental causes – of which there are far too many in our borough – and have won many of those fights.  The work that was begun by the Hunts Point Awareness Committee and was carried forward by Mothers On the Move, The Point Community Development Corporation, and Sustainable South Bronx demonstrates this organizing power.

“The organizing efforts brought about by NYOFCo's longstanding odor problems have changed the face of the Bronx permanently, making it a healthier, more livable place. More importantly, perhaps, they have helped all of us recognize that our community doesn’t have to suffer indefinitely under the cruel effects of pollution and poor environmental conditions. Through this organizing work, our community has asserted its right to better conditions, and at the very least, the same right to clean air as New Yorkers in any other borough.

“This is a huge milestone in the Bronx reclaiming its environmental rights. I look forward to more victories like this one, but today’s is particularly sweet. The moment when NYOFCo’s lights are finally out cannot come too soon, but right now, I just relish the thought of that day in July when the city stops sending its sludge to be incinerated at the expense of our community. The South Bronx is no longer the City’s destination for sewage sludge and it never will be again. That is the true victory for our borough.”

2010 Census Forms Are on Their Way

Between March 15th and 17th, Bronx residents will receive their 2010 Census form in the mail.  Congressman Serrano urges all Bronx residents to fill out their form and quickly return them.

“The Bronx has traditionally suffered from large undercounts of our residents,” said Serrano.  “This has resulted in the loss of federal funds for schools, nutrition programs, and health care funding, among other things.  Quickly filling out and returning your Census form is the best way to ensure that the Bronx gets its fair share of federal funding.  It also saves the federal government money- for every 1 percent increase in the national mail response rate, the government saves $85 million.”  

The Census must be filled out by all individuals residing in the United States, regardless of citizenship status.  All information contained in the Census is completely confidential, and cannot be shared with law enforcement or immigration authorities.  There are no questions about citizenship or residency status on the form.

Many forms mailed in the Bronx will be bilingual in English and Spanish.  However, forms are available in Spanish should you not receive a bilingual English/Spanish form, as well as in four other languages (Chinese (simplified), Korean, Russian and Vietnamese).  To request a form in a different language, please call the phone number that will be on the back of the English language questionnaire.  In addition, Language Assistance Guides are available in 59 different languages to help individuals and families fill out English language Census forms.  These instructions are available at the 2010 Census website.

Grant Opportunities

Obesity Reduction Grant

Application Deadline: April 19, 2010

The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the availability of grant funding for reducing obesity and improving health. The funding is provided under the Communities Putting Prevention to Work and is provided for programs that work with communities to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and reduce smoking.  Public and private non-profit organizations with experience in organizing health outreach programs are encouraged to apply.

For more information about this opportunity, please click here.

For information on other government grants, please go to: