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Cancel the Sequester: Let Heriberto Leon Do His Job

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. Mr. Speaker, I rise to tell my colleagues about one of my constituents, Heriberto León, who wrote recently to explain the real-life consequences of the sequester, for him and for our country.

Mr. León is not asking Congress for much--he simply wants to be able to do his job as an EPA community involvement coordinator, helping to improve access to clean air and clean water for communities in the Chicagoland area.

My constituent spends his day providing information to communities that are dealing with well water contamination from benzene. He is working to address the environmental and health consequences of pollution, effects that are particularly harmful to children and older Americans. He obviously enjoys his work and he is making a real contribution.

Mr. León is not trying to enrich himself--in fact, he took a $20,000 pay cut when he took his EPA job in 2010 and has been living with a three-year pay freeze. It is clear to me that, like so many Federal workers, he is committed to serving the public. And, like so many Federal workers, he cannot understand why he is unable to do his job and is being asked to take an additional personal, financial hit because of the sequester.

Mr. León is being asked to take 13 furlough days, because of the arbitrary and harsh impacts of the across-the-board sequester cuts. That's about a $4,000--11% pay cut. We need people like Heriberto León at EPA, and I worry how we will be able to attract and retain dedicated Federal workers when they are faced with furloughs and budget cuts that prevent them from fulfilling their mission and impose serious financial hardships on them.

I hope that my colleagues will take the time to read Mr. León's full letter and that, after doing so, you will join me in supporting H.R. 900, the Cancel the Sequester Act. Our constituents are counting on us to act now.

LETTER FROM HERIBERTO LEóN

Re Furlough Imposed on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Employees.

DEAR REPRESENTATIVE SCHAKOWSKY: It is with much frustration and heartbreak that I write to you this letter to urge you to continue efforts to end the sequester and its impact on working class public employees such as myself.

Today is my second furlough day since the sequester began earlier this year. Because I'm not at work today, I am unable to attend to Americans struggling with the impact of soil, water and air pollution in their communities. As a community involvement coordinator in EPA's Region 5 office, I translate to Spanish EPA information for Chicago neighborhoods like Pilsen and Little Village and help explain to residents in Wedron, IL how the Superfund Law and the Clean Drinking Water Act each will help the EPA address the benzene contamination in their well water. I have similar assignments with communities facing contaminated sites throughout the Great Lakes states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. My workload is sufficient to keep me busy many hours beyond my regular work hours, which many times I am happy to offer because I love to contribute to citizens who are victims of industrial pollution. Instead I'm asked to not show up to work so that my salary can be used to save money for a made-up fiscal crisis.

According to EPA's announcement earlier this year I have a total of 13 furlough days between April and September, the end of the fiscal year. That means a pay-cut of nearly $4000, or 11% of my salary between now and September. That amount is almost what I will need in August to pay the second installment of my Cook County real estate tax bill! Shall I sell my house and move out of Cook County or Illinois altogether?

Congresswoman Schakowsky, I gladly took a pay cut of 20K to come to work for the federal government in 2010 as I understood that I would be able to progress through the federal employment step and grade system. However, that same year a now three-year-old pay freeze was imposed on government workers.

I have had many employers in my work-life from institutions of higher learning such as Loyola University Chicago to private contractors for the Chicago Housing Authority. Never have I experienced the utter disregard and insulting treatment I feel from my employer, the Government of the United States of America, and the politicians responsible for its policies. The most demeaning day for me was just a few days ago when my supervisor ordered me to fill out EPA's ``Request for Leave'' form to ``request'' my own furlough days. This sequestration was never supposed to happen. It is unfair and unreasonable. But it has happened anyway.

I am happy that Air Traffic workers and other co-workers throughout the federal government have by now been exempted from furloughs. It pains me terribly that no similar consideration is expressed for those of us who are charged with caring for the environmental, economic, health, housing and other equally important concerns of the American people.

Finally, I would like to thank your staff for listening to me and submit this letter for your consideration.

Sincerely,

HERIBERTO LEÓN.


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