Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

The Serrano Report - Volume XII, Issue #28

Dec 22, 2015
The Serrano Report

In Washington, DC

Serrano On Puerto Rico Provisions in Omnibus Bill

Congressman José E. Serrano released the following statement on the provisions related to Puerto Rico included in the Omnibus bill approved in Congress last week:

“I am extremely disappointed that Republicans have rejected our efforts to comprehensively address Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis.  While the provisions included in the Financial Services section of the bill will help address some of the many problems and disparities affecting Puerto Rico’s economy, they are not nearly enough to help the island face its economic crisis in the short and long term.

"Unfortunately, this is business as usual when it comes to Puerto Rico.  The island is too often ignored by Republicans in Congress- even in times of crisis.

"Millions of American citizens in Puerto Rico are suffering the effects of an economic situation that will only get worse if Congress doesn’t take action now.  The government of Puerto Rico will likely default on its debt in the coming months and will not able to provide its residents with essential services. Congress has a duty to take more forceful action, including at the very least, allowing Puerto Rico to restructure its debt and providing more equitable treatment under federal programs and the tax code.  My colleagues and I are not asking Congress to do anything they would not do for other parts of the U.S. We are only asking them to do what is only fair for millions of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. 
"I am thankful that Democrats fought hard to provide comprehensive assistance and fairness for Puerto Rico in the Omnibus, and I would especially single out the efforts of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, and Congressman Luis Gutiérrez.  I also want to thank all the elected officials and advocates who worked tirelessly to help Puerto Rico in the Omnibus.  To them I say that the fight is not over, and we will continue to work to ensure fairness for Puerto Rico.

"Lastly, I believe that this is not just an issue of political will or economic crisis.  This situation, both on the island and in Congress, highlight the need to change Puerto Rico's political status.  The current colonial arrangement is, I believe, at the heart of the fiscal crisis on the island.  Colonialism is what leads Puerto Rico to be treated inequitably under many federal programs.  Colonialism is what leads its plight to be ignored in Congress.  And colonialism will ensure that this situation will continue to repeat itself over and over again.  While we will continue to debate and discuss the challenges facing Puerto Rico in Congress, the result of the current discussions are clear- the status must change.
"This fight has united the Puerto Rican Diaspora like never before.  These efforts will be long remembered  by millions of Puerto Ricans in Florida, New York, and elsewhere."

Congressman Serrano Supports Introduction of Puerto Rico Emergency Financial Stability Act
U.S. Congressman José E. Serrano released the following statement in support of Democratic Leader Pelosi’s introduction of the Puerto Rico Emergency Financial Stability Act, H.R. 4290. The legislation would provide Puerto Rico with a short-term stay of legal actions by creditors as Congress considers legislation to allow the island to restructure its debt over the coming months:
“Leaving comprehensive assistance to help Puerto Rico address its economic crisis out of the omnibus bill was a glaring omission. Puerto Rico’s government is on the edge of default.  They are having difficulty providing residents with essential services, and without significant assistance, millions of American citizens will be the ones to bear the burden and suffer the effects of a terrible situation. This legislation will provide the island with some leeway as Congress considers comprehensive legislation to help the island. The Speaker has committed to addressing Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis early next year, and H.R.4290 will help ensure that it won't be too late.  I thank Leader Pelosi once again for her leadership and unrelenting efforts to help Puerto Rico recover from this crisis.”

Congressman Serrano Votes for Omnibus Appropriations Bill

Last week, Congressman Serrano voted with many colleagues in the House to adopt the FY 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which funds the government for FY2016.  This legislation makes critical investments in renewable energy, education, health care, affordable housing, research and development, and law enforcement. The measure passed by a vote of 316 to 113.

“While the Omnibus bill approved last week is not perfect and is not the bill I would have written, especially taking in consideration the fact that it hardly included any help for Puerto Rico, I voted in favor to avert a disastrous Republican shutdown and to make vital investments in the future of America’s hardworking families," said Congressman Serrano. “In the Omnibus package approved, Democrats won many victories compared to the FY2016 appropriations bill Republicans wrote earlier this year. All along, Republicans have only sought to continue making devastating cuts to the programs that are crucial to Americans and to economic growth. The bill we were able to negotiate is much better in comparison; it makes strong investments to create jobs and grow the economy.  Importantly for New York, the bill includes a vital reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

As Ranking Member of the Financial Services Appropriations Committee, Congressman Serrano fought to improve funding for many important areas including Community Development  Financial Institutions (CDFIs) program, the Small Business Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission, among many others . He also successfully fought to get rid of many poisonous riders impacting net neutrality, the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank.  Those riders did not end up in the final bill. 

      In general, the bill’s investments include priorities in the following areas:

  • Renewable Energy:  Provides a major boost to renewable energy by extending the wind Production Tax Credit for five years (through 2019), and extending the solar Investment Tax Credit for five years (through 2021), while phasing both credits down somewhat over time.  Extending the solar tax credit is estimated to create 61,000 jobs in 2017 alone.  It is also estimated that the wind industry will grow to over 100,000 jobs over four years with the renewed wind tax credit.
  • Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy R&D:  Provides an 8 percent increase over 2015 for R&D activities in the pursuit of new clean energy and energy efficiency technologies.
  • Overall Education: The bill restores the $2.5 billion cut in education that the GOP had proposed and also makes critical additional investments of $1.4 billion above 2015, in such areas as Title I that serves 24 million at-risk students.
  • Early Learning:  Investing in Head Start produces results – and this bill invests nearly $400 million more than the House GOP bill and nearly $600 million more than 2015 in this vital initiative.  The bill also provides $250 million for Preschool Development Grants, assisting 18 states across the country.  
  • Medical Research:  Medical research at NIH has been underfunded for the last several years.  This bill provides $900 million more than the House GOP bill and $2 billion more than 2015 for this life-saving research.
  • Infrastructure:  The popular TIGER grants are being used across the country to repair infrastructure and contribute to economic growth.  The House GOP bill had slashed TIGER grants by 80 percent, killing jobs, but this bill restores the funding to the 2015 level of $500 million.
  • Law Enforcement: The bill provides $187 million for COPS hiring grants, $7 million above the 2015 level and $187 million above the House GOP bill, which had eliminated the hiring grants.  The bill also provides $80 million for the Community Policing Initiative, including $22.5 million for body-worn cameras and $15 million for Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grants, an increase over the House bill.     

    Overall, the measure also does not include numerous GOP ideological riders that would have had damaging impacts on America’s women, consumers, workers, and children.  The damaging GOP “poison pill” riders that were removed from the final bill include:
  • GOP riders that would have gutted the Dodd-Frank provisions that hold big Wall Street banks accountable.
  • GOP riders that would have undermined the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, jeopardizing the health of our children and working families.
  • GOP riders that would have blocked moving forward on addressing climate change and reducing damaging carbon emissions.
  • GOP riders that would have blocked protections that allow workers to form unions and help them save for retirement.
  • GOP riders that would have limited women’s access to the full range of comprehensive health care services, including by defunding Planned Parenthood.

    Finally, the Omnibus includes several other important provisions: 

  • Reauthorizes the key James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, making the Health Program permanent and reauthorizing the Victims Compensation Fund for five years;
  • Delays the so-called “Cadillac” tax, a tax on employer-provided health plans worth over a certain threshold, for two years – from 2018 to 2020;
  • Includes the provisions of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which addresses issues raised by the terrorist attacks in Paris with reforms to the program; and
  • Reauthorizes the Land and Conservation Fund, which is one of our country’s most successful outdoor recreation and conservation programs and which Republicans allowed to expire on September 30.

Serrano Reintroduces Bill to Encourage Savings During Tax Season
Last week, Congressman José E. Serrano introduced the “Financial Security Credit Act of 2015,” legislation to encourage a higher household savings rate nationwide by incentivizing savings by low- and moderate-income earners at tax time. 
“We must address what is a daily crisis for too many families- the lack of savings to meet short term and long-term financial needs," said Congressman Serrano.  "Far too many Americans are living on the edge of financial disaster, and just the slightest emergency can tip them over the edge.  This bill will help address these problems by incentivizing working families to save a portion of their tax refund, and to hopefully maintain that savings.   If they are able to do so, then that the taxpayer will become eligible for a refundable tax credit of up to $500 directly deposited into their account. It has been proven to work in New York City, San Antonio, and elsewhere, and I believe it is time to expand upon this idea.”
More than 43% of American households lack the savings to cover basic living expenses for three months if a layoff or other emergency causes a loss of their income. Without such a safety net, during financial emergencies many families are forced to rely on bad options such as expensive credit cards and exploitative payday loans. 
Under the legislation, if an individual is unbanked or does not have an eligible savings option, then they are provided with the opportunity to establish an account on their tax form. Individuals can contribute to any of a number of savings options, including: basic savings accounts, 529 College Savings Accounts, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, qualified retirement plans like 401(k) and IRAs, certificates of deposit, and savings bonds.
This legislation builds on the successful SaveUSA program model, which was initiated in New York City, and has expanded to San Antonio, Tulsa, and Newark, NJ through the Social Innovation Fund.  These programs show that tax-filers, despite low incomes, can and will save if they have the right incentive at the right moment. Despite having average incomes of less than $18,000, program participants in New York City were able to save an average of about $550.  In New York City, about 76 percent of savers held their balance for the full year, and nearly 47 percent returned to save the following year.
“Building savings is crucial to developing financial stability and economic mobility,” concluded Congressman Serrano. “This legislation builds upon the important work of the New America Foundation, the Corporation for Enterprise Development and others, who have shown that we must do more for working families to help them protect against emergency, and to build for the future.  The Financial Security Credit Act will help families do just that. ”

In the Bronx

Congressman Serrano Writes to HUD in Support of AMI Changes for NYC

Last Friday, Congressman José E. Serrano wrote to Julián Castro, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in support of testing changes to the calculation of Area Median Income (AMI) in the New York region.  The current calculation for New York City includes the New York metro region, and artificially raises the median income used to calculate 'affordable ' housing in the Bronx.  As a result, many Bronxites and New Yorkers are unable to afford housing that is categorized as affordable.  Click here to read the full text of the letter: