As our economy continues to struggle, labor issues are being more important than ever. As such, the 111th Congress, working together with the Obama Administration, has made great strides for the American working family.
There are certain rights that all working Americans deserve: fair wages, right to unionize, a work place free from discrimination, and affordable health care for all. America's labor unions have always fought for these values, and continue to protect working families today.
In the past year, we in Congress have made significant advancements in each of these areas. I am a firm believer that when you support the rights of workers, you support stronger communities, stronger families and a stronger nation. As long as I am in office, I will continue to fight to ensure that workers everywhere are protected and treated equally to the fullest extent of the law. Below are some of the efforts I have championed in the 111th Congress.
Fighting High Unemployment -- I am proud to say that I was the only Inland Empire Area Representative to vote in favor of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This bill, signed into law by President Obama in February, 2009, has allowed thousands of Americans to keep their jobs. As of the end of October, the Recovery Act has created or saved over 640,000 American jobs. Specifically, the Recovery Act has authorized:
* $64 billion for state and local governments to prevent the layoffs of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other state employees
* $2.5 billion given to California for highway construction
* $400 Making Work Pay tax credit for over 12 million Californians
* $48.8 million in funding for municipal bonds to California's 43rd Congressional District
I was also the only Inland Empire Representative to vote in favor of the Jobs for Main Street Act, which passed the House in December. This measure will create and save jobs with targeted investments for highways and transit, school renovation, small businesses, police and firefighters, and hiring teachers. These will be fully funded by redirecting TARP funds that were used to stabilize our nation's economy. The bill will also provide emergency relief for Americans suffering from the recession by increasing unemployment benefits, strengthening COBRA provisions, and extending the child tax credit to all low-income working families with children.
I am also a part of the recently-formed Jobs NOW! Caucus. This bipartisan caucus affords Members of Congress a platform on which to share ideas on how effective job policies can be formulated in a quick and efficient manner. While our economy has begun to show the first signs of recovery from this recession, we all know that the crisis is not over until Main Street is repaired. I am confident that through the work of this caucus, Congress will be able to come up with common-sense solutions that will allow for business growth and job stimulation.
Providing Affordable Health Care for All Americans -- In November, the House of Representatives passed one of the most comprehensive bills on healthcare reform since Medicare was enacted in the 1960s. Rising insurance premiums and limits on pre-existing conditions have shut millions of Americans out of obtaining health care coverage. Moreover, because of a "donut hole' in insurance coverage, elderly individuals often cannot afford medication that they desperately need. A country as great as this one should not have a healthcare system that leaves out so many.
If passed, I believe H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, will be a giant step forward in our work to provide quality, affordable health care for all Americans. The bill ends denial of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Moreover it provides for a strong and robust public option that will be able to compete with the private insurance companies. Not only will this public option be available for all Americans to purchase, this competition will result in lower premiums for all Americans. The bill could also work to reduce our nation's deficit, and could help to slow down the out-of-control growth of health care spending.
H.R. 3962 also contains other long-overdue reforms to the health insurance industry, including:
* An extension of COBRA benefits for workers who lose or change jobs
* Provisions to prevent price gauging on insurance premiums
* Yearly caps on out-of-pocket medical expenditures
* Ending co-pays for routine checkups and preventative care; and
* Provisions to allow children to stay on their parents' health plan until they reach 27
Promoting Equal Pay -- One of the first achievements this Congress was able to accomplish was the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, of which I was proud to be an original cosponsor of and vote for final passage. This legislation restores critical protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers. On January 29, 2009 President Obama signed this bill into law.
The legislation rectifies a 2007 Supreme Court decision that overturned longstanding precedent and made it very difficult for workers to pursue discrimination claims. It sets forth a standard, preventing a court from dismissing a claim for not being timely as long as the claim is filed within 180 days of a discriminatory pay-check.
Ensuring Workers have the Right to Unionize -- I am proud to be an original cosponsor of H.R. 1409, The Employee Free Choice Act. This bill would give workers everywhere the freedom to choose a union and level the playing field between employers and employees. The passage of EFCA will restore fairness and spread the promise of the American Dream by strengthening and empowering the middle class, spurring economic growth, and expanding prosperity.