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U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi

A breakdown of current legislation on the gun debate

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Mass shootings and gun violence have rocked the nation, leaving people to ask the question:  What can be done to stop the violence?

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. File photo

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called on Democratic presidential candidates to support strong gun safety laws. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY2), in a show of bipartisanship, called for a vote on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 at a press conference Aug. 6.

Improved background checks, banning high-powered automatic and semi-automatic weapons and ammunition, and better mental health screenings have been among the top ideas suggested, some of the legislation relating to which is still pending.  Some are stalled at various levels of Congress.

Here’s a recap of what measures have been recently implemented or proposed. 

Bump stocks

In March 2019 President Donald Trump (R) signed into law a ban on bump stocks, devices which turn weapons into automatic guns that fire rapidly through the recoil of the gun itself.

Red flag laws

New York State passed a “red flag” law in February 2019, which takes effect on Aug. 24. A new report, entitled “Mass Violence in America: Causes, Impacts and Solutions,” which was released Aug. 6 by the National Council for Behavioral Health, suggests that red flag laws may be among the best tools so far suggested for reducing gun violence. Red flag laws enable people, concerned about the well-being of individuals who display violent tendencies or show signs that they may be at risk to engage in gun violence, to contact law enforcement to institute gun control measures through a court process. Under New York’s statute, three categories of people can submit a red flag on someone: law enforcement, school officials and family.

Background checks

H.R.8 Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 

H.R.1112 Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019

Both bills have passed the House and are stalled in the Senate, with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refusing to bring H.R.8 in particular to the floor for vote.

H.R.8 establishes background checks for guns transferred between private parties (unlicensed individuals.) Specifically, it prohibits transfer of firearms unless a gun dealer or importer first takes possession of the weapon and does a background check. The prohibition does not apply to gifts that transfer weapons between spouses.

U.S. Rep Tom Suozzi, who co-sponsored the event, takes the podium. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

H.R.1112 revises the background checks to applicable firearm transfers from federal licensed firearms licensee (or a gun dealer) to unlicensed person. 

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) is co-sponsor of both bills. Suozzi represents Queens and the North Shore of Long Island to parts of Kings Park and runs an office in Huntington. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) voted “no” on both bills.  

Zeldin defends his “no” vote record on these bills. When asked why, here is his response:

“In the case of Parkland, for example, Nikolas Cruz passed a background check, but clearly should not have had any access to firearms. The current system is flawed. Unfortunately, instead of addressing these shortcomings, H.R.8 and H.R.1112 zeroed in on law-abiding citizens. We need to improve our nation’s background check system by ensuring state reporting and the compilation of all relevant information. We cannot determine if certain people are unfit to own a firearm if we don’t have the necessary available information.”

H.R.4477 Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Act of 2017 

Passed as part of Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

H.R.4477 amends the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to require each federal agency and department to supply disqualifying records of a person prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Zeldin supported the Fix NICS bill, and had this to say:

“We need to ensure lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none. That’s why I supported the Fix NICS bill, which could have saved 26 lives at the First Baptist Church [of Sutherland Springs] in Texas, and why I called for a congressional hearing and action in the wake of the tragedy in Parkland. I support the Mass Violence Prevention [Reform] Act, which would improve information sharing to prevent and deter violence caused by criminal use of firearms, reduce the flow of firearms onto the black market and provide law enforcement with increased resources to keep our communities safe. I also supported the STOP School Violence Act that helps school personnel and law enforcement identify and prevent violence in schools.”

Concealed carry reciprocity 

H.R.38 Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2019 

The bill allows individuals to carry concealed weapons to other states that allow concealed weapons. The bill was introduced in January and referred to committee with no recent action. 

Suozzi voted “no” on similar legislation proposed in 2017. Zeldin is a co-sponsor of the 2019 legislation. 

A representative for Zeldin had this to say on the bill:

“The congressman supports the rights of law- abiding Americans to own firearms to protect themselves, their family and other loved ones. He believes lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none.”

From left to right: Laura Curran, Peter King, Tom Suozzi and Lee Zeldin urge tighter federal rules to protect drinking water and Long Islanders health. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

The Long Island congressional delegation has reached a tipping point. They’re ready for the Environmental Protection Agency to take action to better address concerns over water quality and its potential impact on human health.

U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Peter King (R-Seaford) and Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were joined June 18 by local elected officials and environmental advocates at the Town of Hempstead Water Department to demand that the EPA sets maximum contaminant levels for drinking water and act to help protect Long Islanders from contaminated drinking supplies.

“When it comes to our communities’ drinking water, there is no room for error,” Zeldin said following the press conference. “This is the drinking water for so many Long Islanders, and failure to act is not an option.”

New York Public Interest Research Group or NYPIRG, found in a recent study that Long Island has the most contaminated drinking water in New York state. Several contaminants, such as 1,4-dioxane and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS — were detected above the EPA’s reference concentrations, which are health-based assessments. 

The problem is widespread. Locally, the chemical 1,4-dioxane was found in at least two private drinking wells in Smithtown and also in wells serviced by Suffolk County Water Authority, including the Flower Hill Road well field in Halesite, as reported in The Times of Smithtown April 30 article, “County acts to address drinking water contamination concerns.” 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that 65 out of 80 commonly used household products that the organization had tested included at least trace amounts of the potentially toxic chemical 1,4-dioxane. CCE is calling for a ban on its use.

Zeldin is a member of the Congressional PFAS Task Force which was established to address the urgent threat of PFAS to help better protect communities from the harmful effects of the chemicals.

The use of industrial strength firefighting foam during past training exercises, such as those undertaken at the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton and Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, have been known to introduce chemicals, such as PFAS, into the surrounding groundwater, potentially contaminating drinking supplies.

PFAS is a man-made substance that is persistent in the human body and the environment. It can also be found in nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and packaging.

Some PFAS are no longer manufactured in the U.S., according to the EPA website, but can be produced internationally and imported to U.S. in consumer goods such as carpets, textiles, paper and packaging, rubber and plastics. 

The EPA Region 2 Office spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment before press time. 

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Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

The Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s homeless shelter closed their doors for repairs 18 months ago and never reopened.

Congressional leaders from all four Long Island districts want to know why and are demanding that the 50-bed facility, which they say is ready for inhabitants, welcome homeless veterans once again. 

“The closure of Northport’s on-site homeless shelter has forced veterans to find accommodations far from the medical services they need — the services that oftentimes help mitigate the root causes of homelessness,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in a prepared joint statement.

The veterans who stayed at the VA’s shelter suffered mainly from traumatic brain injury, post- traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to Frank Amalfitano, president and CEO of Beacon House, the non-profit entity that managed the facility before it closed.

“It would be a tragedy if the place didn’t reopen, because so many people need the convenience of the services offered in one location,” he said. 

Northport’s  shelter closed in January 2018 for renovations to the heating system. Its closure was prolonged because the contractor hired by VA failed to update the building in accordance with current fire codes, according to information provided by Long Island’s congressional leaders. 

“As it has been presented to us, Building 11 has now been brought up to code and is ready to be inhabited,”  they said in a press release. “However, due to VA’s decision to terminate the on-site contract with Building 11’s vendor, with neither a communicated reason nor a viable replacement, we now find ourselves sixteen months later with a renovated building and no vendor in place to provide this vital service to our community’s veterans.”

Levi Spellman, press officer for the Northport VA Medical Center, said the contracting requirements are changing for the shelter, so that it can potentially be awarded to a for-profit, veteran-owned business. “We are actively expediting this process and anticipate resuming on-site services before the end of the year,” he said. Spellman also stated that Beacon has done a great job for the VA. “Although housing moved off-site, the same vendor is managing those shelters and the care we provide our veterans has not changed.”

Amalfitano said his contract for the Northport shelter was supposed to last until 2020. He’s been encouraged to reapply, but his organization may no longer qualify.

Beacon House manages 42 residential programs in Nassau and Suffolk counties for veterans. The mission of the 25-year-old, non-profit, which is funded by United Way, is to “help veterans regain their self-worth and empower them with the tools necessary to rejoin their communities as independent and productive citizens.”

U.S. Reps. Peter King, Lee Zeldin and Tom Suozzi voice bipartisan opposition to the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 28. Photo by Alex Petroski

Components of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a federal tax reform bill passed by the House of Representatives in November and currently before the U.S. Senate, has achieved the seemingly impossible in finding common ground for Republicans and Democrats.

Members of Long Island’s congressional delegation from both political parties stood in front of the Internal Revenue Service building in Hauppauge Nov. 28 alongside business owners, representatives from local chambers of commerce, and town and county elected officials to deliver a clear and unified message: As currently constituted, both the House and Senate versions of the bill would harm Long Islanders.

“I view it as a geographic redistribution of wealth to propose eliminating [state and local tax deductions],” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said during the press conference, pointing to the elimination of the SALT deduction as a key sticking point in the bill. “You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

“You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

— Lee Zeldin

The SALT deduction, which was enacted 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid double taxation. The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle-class families.

The 2nd District U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) also attended the press conference to rally support for changes to the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it. None of the House Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

“There are some good aspects in both the House bill and the Senate bill,” Zeldin said. “Voters last November, when they went to the polls looking for that tax relief for them, for their families, for their community … this is not the tax relief that they had in mind. We may be upsetting a lot of people in our own party back in Washington right now, but we are not elected to be their congressmen.”

King echoed Zeldin’s position on both versions of the bill, calling the position between the three representatives a “united front.”

“I strongly favor tax cuts across the board,” King said. “I believe they are necessary, but this bill, both the House version and the Senate bill, I am opposed to.”

“We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that.”

— Peter King

King reiterated that his biggest issue with the bills is the elimination of the SALT deduction.

“This is inequitable, it’s unjust and it’s wrong,” King said. “Long Island is really the main victim of this tax bill. We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that. Don’t make it worse.”

King, who has been a supporter of Trump and his agenda, also took the opportunity to send a message to the White House.

“My district twice voted for Barack Obama by four points and by five points,” King said. “Donald Trump carried [New York’s 2nd Congressional District] by nine points. That was a 14-point turnaround. The people of Long Island didn’t make that turnaround so the Trump administration could raise their taxes so the rest of the country could get a tax break.”

Suozzi, the lone congressional Democrat at the event, also preached unity on tax reform as it pertains to Long Islanders.

“This would be a punch in the gut to everybody on Long Island if this bill were to pass either in the House form or the Senate form,” he said. Suozzi added that he thought it took guts for Zeldin and King to be among the 13 “no” votes among Republicans in the House. “We’re united 100 percent in recognizing eliminating the state and local tax deduction would be devastating to our constituents.”

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the state income tax deduction for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the 2015 tax year was between $4,049 and $9,330. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes. The 2015 tax year is latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy.

Participants of a protest against the federal tax bill outside of Renaissance Technologies in Setauket Nov. 29. Photo by Kevin Redding

Representatives from local organizations stood outside Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket Nov. 29 to voice their opposition to the bill. Until recently, Robert Mercer was the chief executive officer of the hedge fund, though he is known nationally for his contributions to conservative and right-wing political campaigns.

“It’s clear that there are a lot of changes that are coming and for middle-class folks like us, they’re not going to be good changes,” said Peter Verdon a Suffolk County resident who was present at the protest. “The system is clearly out of whack, tilted towards the extremely wealthy and it’s continuing in that direction and enough’s enough. We can’t allow that to continue to happen.”

Bill Crump, a Lindenhurst resident and member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition political activist group also attended.

“We’re going to have a $1.5 trillion deficit and they’re going to cut our Medicare and our benefits,” he said. “It’s coming out of our pockets. Trump claims he’s going to give a tax cut. Maybe he’s going to give you a quarter while he reaches in and takes your wallet.”

This post was updated Nov. 29 to correct the income tax and mortgage tax deduction amounts under the two bills, and to include information about a Nov. 29 protest in Setauket. Additional reporting contributed by Kevin Redding.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said residents of Port Jefferson Village would get “whacked” by the elimination of the SALT deduction in the federal tax reform bill. File photo by Alex Petroski

Governmental leaders from virtually all levels in New York have come out in opposition to the federal tax reform bill, and now the Port Jefferson Village board can be added to the list.

The village passed a resolution at its Nov. 20 board meeting “expressing its strong opposition to any federal tax reform legislation that would eliminate or limit access to the state and local tax deduction.” The SALT deduction, which was enacted about 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid “double taxation.” The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle class families.

“We’re going to get whacked,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said of the bill during the board meeting.

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the state income tax deduction for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the 2015 tax year was between $4,049 and $9,330. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes. The 2015 tax year is latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy.

“New York residents already send $41 billion more to the federal treasury than the federal government returns to New York,” the village resolution reads. “The state and local tax deduction is a fundamental principle of federalism and without it our residents would be faced with double taxation, as they would be forced to pay federal income taxes on the taxes they must pay to state and local governments.”

Garant joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), New York’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D), U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), and U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) in opposing the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it.

“I view the elimination of the SALT deduction as a geographic redistribution of wealth, picking winners and losers,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The proposal taxes additional funds from a state like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere. For anyone who incorrectly argues that the rest of the country subsidizes our state, I would point out that New York is a net contributor to the federal coffers with regards to both tax policy and spending policy and that is even with the SALT deduction.”

According to www.censusreporter.org, about 62 percent of Port Jefferson Village residents earn between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual salary.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill shortly after Thanksgiving.

This post was updated Nov. 29 to correct the income tax and mortgage tax deduction amounts under the two bills.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer from New York was among the strongest opponents of the GOP-backed bill to repeal Obamacare. File photo by Kevin Redding

With a dramatic thumbs down gesture from U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) in the middle of the night July 28, the GOP-backed health care bill was effectively killed in the United States Senate, leaving the future of health care in the country, state and county a mystery.

“First: I want to thank Sens. [Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)], [Susan Collins (R-Maine)], and McCain for showing such courage, strength, and principle.”

— Chuck Schumer

As a result of the vote, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, remains the law of the land for the time being, despite rhetoric from President Donald Trump (R) suggesting the system is on the verge of collapse. In New York, a universal health care bill progressed past the state assembly and has been in committee since June 2016, awaiting state senate approval and a final signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). A New York State health care bill would supersede federal law.

“First: I want to thank Sens. [Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)], [Susan Collins (R-Maine)], and McCain for showing such courage, strength, and principle,” U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said on Twitter July 28. The three Republican senators voted in line with the 48 Democrats to effectively kill the bill, despite the GOP majority. “To everyone who called, tweeted, emailed, and raised their voice in any way: thank you. Your stories matter. But we are not celebrating. We are relieved — for the millions of Americans who can keep their insurance and breathe a little easier. Now, it’s time for the Senate to come together in a bipartisan way to fix the problems that exist in our health care system. We can stabilize the markets through funding cost sharing reduction and creating reinsurance programs, which keep premiums, deductibles down.”

U.S. Rep. for New York’s 3rd Congressional District Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) released a proposal July 31 with the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators which Suozzi serves as the vice-chair of, that would “stabilize the individual insurance market,” in the wake of the vote, according to a press release. The plan would create a dedicated stability fund to reduce premiums and limit losses of coverage, repeal the 2.3 percent medical device sales tax that is on all medical device supplies, provide clear guidelines for states that want to enter into regional control of their health care and create more options for customers, and more.

“Americans are desperate for Democrats and Republicans to work together to try and tackle the challenges our country faces,” Suozzi said in a statement. “The Problem Solvers Caucus, by proposing this major bipartisan first step, is like an oasis in a desert of dysfunction. We still have much more to do with health care and other issues and we hope our colleagues will join our efforts in this spirit of goodwill and compromise for the common good.”

“The Problem Solvers Caucus, by proposing this major bipartisan first step, is like an oasis in a desert of dysfunction.”

— Tom Suozzi

The New York State Assembly bill for the 2017-18 session, which is currently in committee, would establish The New York Health Act, to create a single-payer health care system.

A single-payer system requires a single-payer fund, which all New Yorkers would pay into to cover health care costs of an individual, instead of through private insurers. In a single-payer system every citizen is covered, patients have the freedom to choose their own doctors and hospitals, and employers would no longer be responsible for health care costs. Suozzi attended a March rally in Huntington in support of a single-payer system for New York.

The U.S. Senate version of the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives in May  would have resulted in drastic cuts to Medicaid funding for New Yorkers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to deliver health policy analysis to the public, nearly $92 billion in funding would be cut from New York’s Medicaid expansion dollars between 2020 and 2026.

The predominantly Republican support for the repeal of Obamacare stems from expensive premiums and an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance for all Americans with a fine for noncompliance.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office was no more optimistic about the GOP health care bill than the Kaiser Family Foundation. A July 20 report from the CBO on one of the many versions of the now-failed senate bill predicted 17 million Americans would be uninsured by 2018 had the bill passed, in addition to increases in premiums.

The second attempt passes House, will head to Senate for further scrutiny

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin weigh in on the AHCA, which passed the house last week. File photos

The battle to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, was left in the hands of the House of Representatives for a vote last week, and two representatives for the North Shore had differing opinions on the bill. The American Health Care Act passed in the House by a slim 217 to 213 margin, though before it becomes law it must also pass the Senate and ultimately be signed by President Donald Trump (R).

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) for New York’s 1st Congressional District was among those in favor of the bill, fulfilling a campaign promise of his own and the vast majority of Republican lawmakers across the country since Obamacare was enacted in 2010.

“Almost everyone agrees that our current system is deeply flawed,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The American Health Care Act provides relief from billions of dollars of crushing taxes and mandates enacted under the ACA. Additionally, the bill repeals the individual and employer mandates, taxes on prescription and over-the-counter medications, health insurance premiums and medical devices.”

“The revised version of the AHCA passed by the House is not sound health reform. … Access to insurance is meaningless if premiums are unaffordable and the coverage is not comprehensive.”

— Kevin Dahill

Zeldin also sought to dispel “outright lies” being perpetrated on social media and elsewhere about the new bill, the first incarnation of which he was slow to support unless important amendments were added, he said in March. One thing he specified as a misconception is the idea that people with pre-existing conditions might lose coverage, or that millions will be left uninsured.

“The bill protects people with pre-existing conditions, and gives states greater flexibility to lower premiums and stabilize the insurance market,” he said.

Critics of the bill have noted it was not subject to scrutiny by the Congressional Budget Office prior to the vote, and in the first version that nearly reached a vote in March, the CBO suggested about 24 million people were in danger of losing their coverage.

An amendment to the bill the second time around introduced by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan), would establish funds for a “high risk” pool, which would be used to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

“The high-risk pool plan is an attempt to cover up for another provision in the bill, via an amendment by New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur (R), that would allow states to easily waive protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions in the individual market if they experienced a gap in coverage,” according to the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), of New York’s 3rd Congressional District, was among those critics. He voted against the bill.

“I’m disappointed that House Republicans chose not to work with Democrats to create a common-sense bill,” Suozzi said in a statement. He also called on the Senate to disregard the legislation and focus on working toward a bipartisan solution.

“It will result in skyrocketing premiums, higher out-of-pocket costs, a discriminatory age tax and will steal from Medicare,” he said. “And all of this was done without an updated Congressional Budget Office score to determine how much the new amendment to the bill will cost taxpayers.”

Suozzi also addressed what it might mean for New Yorkers.

“For New Yorkers, this legislation leaves 2.7 million people without proper access to health insurance,” he said. “$4.7 billion will be cut from our state’s Medicaid budget, putting seven million people who rely on Medicaid services and other important programs at risk. This is a bad bill for New Yorkers, plain and simple.”

The bill establishes limits on federal funding for state Medicaid programs beginning in 2020. States that exceed the cap would be subjected to reduced federal funding in the following fiscal year, according to the summary of the bill.

The most notable changes in the new health care plan compared to the existing one include an elimination of the individual mandate, which required all Americans to purchase health insurance or be subject to a fine — a sticking point for many Republicans on Obamacare; a cut of federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood for one year; adjusting tax credits based on age instead of income; and shifting Medicaid expansion set forth by Obamacare to the discretion of states instead of the federal government, among many others.

According to a map on the website of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to deliver health policy analysis to the public, issuing tax credits based on age instead of income will result in some lower income Americans paying more for coverage.

“Generally, people who are older, lower income or live in high-premium areas receive less financial assistance under the AHCA,” analysis of the bill by the foundation said. “Additionally, older people would have higher starting premiums under the AHCA and would therefore pay higher premiums. Because younger people with higher incomes and living in lower-cost areas would receive more financial assistance and would have lower starting premiums on average, they would pay lower premiums on average.”

Kevin Dahill, president and CEO of Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State, an organization that represents the advocacy interests of Long Island health systems including St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown, and John T. Mather Memorial and St. Charles hospitals in Port Jefferson, issued a statement regarding the House bill.

“The revised version of the AHCA passed by the House is not sound health reform,” he said. “About 70 percent of Medicaid spending in our state covers care for the elderly and disabled, including children. These people will still need care. And even more disheartening is the amendment to cut $2.3 billion in Medicaid funding by shifting the cost burden from the counties to the state. This amendment was advanced by [Republican] New York  Congressmen [John] Faso and [Chris] Collins and it leaves a huge hole in New York’s budget. … Access to insurance is meaningless if premiums are unaffordable and the coverage is not comprehensive.”

Dr. Gerard Brogan Jr., executive director at Huntington Hospital, said he would put the ACA and AHCA in the same category as flawed legislation during a phone interview. He also reiterated Dahill’s concerns that the changes put a large number of people at risk of losing their access to adequate care because of changes to Medicaid.

“There are portions that are either not derived from sound assumptions or won’t accomplish what are the issue that we need to deal with,” he said.

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint includes less funding for the EPA than any federal budget since the 1990s. Image by TBR News Media

The United States Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970 to do as its name suggests; protect the environment. However, if the words and actions of the new administration in the White House are to be believed, it might be the agency that needs protection.

In President Donald Trump’s (R) 2018 budget blueprint released March 16, among many other funding cuts at the hands of a $54 billion increase in defense spending, was a proposed $2.6 billion cut to the EPA’s budget and 3,200 fewer jobs at the agency.

“The budget for EPA reflects the success of environmental protection efforts, a focus on core legal requirements, the important role of the states in implementing the nation’s environmental laws, and the president’s priority to ease the burden of unnecessary federal regulations that impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefits,” the blueprint said.

Trump’s blueprint also calls for the discontinuation of funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs and climate change research, a plan the blueprint lauds because of the more than $100 million in savings it will mean for American taxpayers. The Clean Power Plan was a 2015 Obama administration initiative that aimed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, a decision the EPA called historic at the time. Trump signed an executive order March 28 to initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan and scale back enforcement of other climate regulations on businesses. During a press briefing March 28 by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, he declined to answer a question about whether the president still believes climate change is a “hoax,” an assertion he made in the past.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin calls for funding for two EPA programs relating to the Long Island Sound during a press conference March 13. Photo by Kevin Redding

The blueprint also calls for the elimination of 50 EPA programs, which will save taxpayers another $347 million. Some of those programs include Energy Star, created to promote energy efficiency in consumer products, homes and businesses; Targeted Air Shed Grants, established to help local and state pollution control agencies in developing projects to reduce pollution; and the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which screens the effects of chemicals and pesticides on humans’ endocrine systems. Their grants would be zeroed out in Trump’s budget. Cuts would also come in the tune of $250 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, targeting grants and programs for coastal and marine management, research and education.

Furthermore, Trump selected former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as administrator for the EPA, a man who repeatedly expressed his skepticism of climate change in the past. But during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in January Pruitt denied the president’s claim that climate change is a hoax.

“As I have repeatedly emphasized in my testimony to this body and elsewhere, promoting and protecting a strong and healthy environment is among the lifeblood priorities for the government, and EPA is vital to that mission,” Pruitt said during his opening statement during the hearing. “If confirmed as Administrator, I am committed to ensuring EPA’s decisions are conducted through open processes that take into account the full range of views of the American people, including the economic consequences of any regulation.”

During the hearing Pruitt also admitted to being involved in 10 lawsuits against the EPA in the past.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) a member of the committee, joined the rest of the Democrats on the committee in abstaining from the vote to confirm Pruitt. The Republican senators voted 11-0 to approve him.

“I have shared with Mr. Pruitt, and I will share with my colleagues today, that too much of what I have seen of his record of the environment and his views about the role of EPA are troubling, and in some cases deeply troubling,” Carper said.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) was among Pruitt’s supporters on the committee.

“It is my belief that Attorney General Pruitt will return the Environmental Protection Agency to its proper role as a steward for the environment, acting within the bounds prescribed by Congress and the Constitution,” he said.

U.S. Rep. for New York’s First District Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a fervent Trump ally in the House, opposed proposed cuts that would slash federal funding for programs designed to protect the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi speaks during a town hall Feb. 23. Photo by Kevin Redding

“While we have made great efforts to protect the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary so far, there is still so much more we can do to ensure these natural treasures are safeguarded for generations to come,” he said. “We must now redouble our efforts to protect the quality of our waterways, which are depended upon by millions of people. I am committed to making sure they remain funded, supported and preserved.”

Zeldin and Third District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were named co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Long Island Sound Caucus earlier this month. Suozzi responded to Trump’s Clean Power Plan executive order in an emailed statement.

“This executive order unravels important measures that are meant to keep the air we breathe clean for families and children,” he said. “Keeping our environment safe is not a partisan issue. As co-chair of the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus and a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, we need to work together to protect our ever-changing climate. Today’s actions go too far.”

In his 2016 campaign for congress, Suozzi was endorsed by the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, a grassroots nonprofit created to identify, recruit, endorse and actively campaign for pro-environment candidates for public office.

If Trump’s plan to cut funding for the EPA comes to fruition, the agency would be operating with less money in federal funding than any year since 1990.

Rob Freudenberg, vice president of energy and environment for the Regional Planning Association, a New York-based independent urban research and advocacy organization, addressed Trump’s environmental agenda in a phone interview.

“I think the Trump administration has proposed to increase defense and safety spending at the expense of other programs,” he said. “I have to just question, is it not safety and defense to invest in climate adaptation, coastal studying, reduction of climate change? We are concerned about the approach taken in the blueprint and I think it’s really up to congress to take a stand on these issues. As the budget blueprint stands today it would deal a serious blow to any progress we’ve made in terms of climate adaptation.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that analyzes health policies, has created an interactive map so Americans can compare changes in their premiums and tax credits from the Affordable Care Act to the American Health Care Act. Image from the Kaiser Family Foundation Website

Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, since its inception in 2010, and after much adieu, a bill has finally been introduced to take its place.

The American Health Care Act has been met with opposition from both parties, while elected officials and hospital administrators weighed in on what the changes might mean for North Shore residents.

The most notable changes in the new health care plan compared to the existing one include an elimination of the individual mandate, which required all Americans to purchase health insurance or be subject to a fine — a sticking point for many Republicans on Obamacare; a cut of federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood for one year; adjusting tax credits based on age instead of income; and shifting Medicaid expansion set forth by Obamacare to the discretion of states instead of the federal government, among many others.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to deliver health policy analysis to the public, has created an interactive map on its website to illustrate the estimated changes in premiums paid and tax credits for several demographics from the ACA to the AHCA.

“This is bad news for New York. … We cannot support this legislation in its current form.”

—Kevin Dahill

Tax credits, or the amount a taxpayer can offset what is owed in federal income tax, are a component of both the current health care law and the proposed replacement, though their implementation is very different.

According to the map estimates, a 27-year-old living in Suffolk County making $30,000 per year would receive about 50 percent less in tax credits in 2020 if the new bill became law. A 27-year-old making $40,000 per year would see the tax credit slashed by only 14 percent, but a $10,000 raise would net that same 27-year-old an approximate additional 52 percent in tax credits under the AHCA compared to the ACA.

A 40-year-old Suffolk County resident making $30,000 annually would receive 24 percent less in tax credits, while a 40-year-old making $50,000 would see a 128 percent boost in tax credits. Additionally, a 40-year-old making $75,000 annually would receive $3,000 in tax credits — under Obamacare no tax credits would be received.

Similarly, a Suffolk County resident who is aged at least 60 and earns $75,000 per year would receive a $4,000 tax credit under the proposed bill, despite being ineligible for a tax credit under Obamacare. A 60-year-old making $30,000 annually would receive a 2 percent increase in tax credits.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has said in the past he would like to maintain certain aspects of Obamacare, like allowing people aged 26 or younger to remain on their parents’ health plans and coverage for people with preexisting conditions, weighed in on the Republican plan in an emailed statement through spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena.

DiSiena reiterated Zeldin’s stance on kids remaining on parents plans and coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions, though she added he believes a smooth transition from the ACA to the new plan is the most important thing.

“Obamacare has resulted in higher premiums, higher deductibles, lost doctors and canceled policies, among many other challenges,” she said. “Deductibles are so high, many people now feel like they don’t even have insurance anymore. One-third of the counties in our country only have one option left under the exchange. That’s not choice. That’s a monopoly.”

“Deductibles are so high, many people now feel like they don’t even have insurance anymore. One-third of the counties in our country only have one option left under the exchange.”

—Lee Zeldin

DiSiena also sought to dispel what she called misconceptions being perpetuated about the new bill and what the policy might do to people’s coverage. She said no one will be kicked off Medicaid under the new bill, premiums might rise in the short term but are expected to be 10 percent lower by 2026 than their current levels, and the claim by the Congressional Budget Office that 24 million Americans covered under Obamacare would lose coverage can be attributed to people who were forced to purchase health care opting to go without.

DiSiena added Zeldin is generally supportive of the bill as written but intends to monitor proposed amendments.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) was far less supportive during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” March 14.

“We have to continue to point out that 24 million people are going to be kicked off, that their premiums are going to go up, that there’s a transfer of cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and raising premiums on senior citizens and others,” he said in the interview. “This is really a life and death thing.”

Suozzi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Kevin Dahill, president and CEO of Suburban Hospital Alliance, an organization that represents the advocacy interests of Long Island health systems including St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, issued a statement regarding the House bill March 13.

“The House bill neither truly repeals nor meaningfully replaces the Affordable Care Act,” Dahill said. “This is bad news for New York. … We cannot support this legislation in its current form.”

Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital Michael Grosso said in an email his facility will continue to hold itself to the highest standards regardless of the federal health care law.

“That said, we must bear in mind as an informed citizenry that when effective, preventive health care is delayed or denied, society pays the price several times over,” Grosso said.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the bill today, March 23. House Republicans introduced several amendments to the original legislation earlier this week.

President Trump’s order halts entry from seven countries, seeks to reform policy

Airports across the country were the sight of massive protests. Stock photo

By Victoria Espinoza and Alex Petroski

The recent executive order by President Donald Trump (R) for immigration reform affected refugees and immigrants across the country this past week, including a North Shore-bound traveler.

Trump signed an order Jan. 27 to ban travelers from seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the United States for the next 90 days. The immigration reform effort has been met with criticism from federal legislators and activists, and protests against the ban broke out in airports and cities across the country, some starting just hours after the order was signed.

President Donald Trump suspended entry from seven countries last week. File photo

Other federal politicians and commentators support the action, citing the country’s need to strengthen immigration laws and secure the U.S. from terrorist attacks.

Stony Brook student detained

The travel ban and its hasty roll out impacted Stony Brook University president of Graduate Student Organization, Vahideh Rasekhi, who is pursuing a doctorate in linguistics.

According to a statement from university President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Rasekhi was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport when she arrived back in the U.S. from a trip to Iran to visit her family, though she arrived on a layover flight from Ukraine. She was detained and later released Jan. 29. Stanley addressed Trump’s executive order, urging caution from international students, and recommending students from the seven countries listed in the order not travel outside of the U.S. unless absolutely necessary during the 90-day period.

“In November, I shared a message with the campus community expressing the university’s unwavering commitment to diversity — anchored in our strong values of access and inclusiveness — and to creating a campus environment that welcomes all,” Stanley said. “I want to reaffirm the university is resolute on this stance.”

Stanley also offered international students contact information for the university’s Visa and Immigration Services Office, and planned to host an information session with legal experts at the Wang Center yesterday, Feb. 1.

Rasekhi, who arrived at Stony Brook in 2010 after attending the University of California and California State University, declined an interview request, but addressed her experience in an emailed statement through a university media relations representative.

“I am now grateful to be back on the Stony Brook University campus, where I plan to complete my Ph.D. dissertation and continue my work as president of our Graduate Student Organization,” she said. “I would like to extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation to all who intervened on my behalf, including elected representatives, attorneys from the International Refugee Assistance Project and Legal Aid Society who volunteered their help, the ACLU, the [SBU] Linguistics Department and the leadership at Stony Brook University.”

Local officials react

The U.S. representative for New York’s 1st Congressional District, Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of Trump’s local supporters, said in an email through a press representative he played a role in Rasekhi’s release from JFK, though he said he supports the order.

“I sympathize with every innocent person looking to come to America for a better life but we must prioritize America’s national security first,” Zeldin said.

“I sympathize with every innocent person looking to come to America for a better life but we must prioritize America’s national security first.”

— Lee Zeldin

He added he would support a ban on all Syrian refugees entering the U.S. until vulnerabilities in vetting systems can be improved.

“America is a nation of immigrants and people should have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” Zeldin said. … “The ultimate humanitarian victory is to assist with efforts to stabilize these nations and eliminate the threats there to peace.”

He also said he plans to monitor the application of the order and intervene in cases where he believes it is being used incorrectly.

The 3rd Congressional District U.S. representative, Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), offered no such support for the order.

“While we all are concerned about the security of our people and our nation, we cannot abandon our values,” he said in a statement. … “This issue cannot become an excuse for discrimination. I am adamantly opposed to targeting whole populations of people based upon their religion. It is un-American.”

After the signing of the executive order Jan. 27, subsequent protests over detentions, the opinion that this order targets people based on religion and the apparent uncoordinated rollout, Trump issued a statement Jan. 29.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave,” he said. “We will keep it free and keep it safe. … To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban. … This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

A closer look at the order

David Sperling, an immigration attorney based out of Huntington Station, said he believes there is a need for reform.

“I’m an immigration attorney, I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” he said in a phone interview. “From being in immigration court I have seen there is a great deal of fraud even from people applying for asylum from the United States.”

He referenced a lack of documentation from refugees in areas like Syria.

Detractors of the ban have criticized the inclusion of the countries on the list — all of which have a Muslim-majority population.

According to New America, a nonpartisan think tank, “not one domestic terrorist attack since 9/11” has been executed by citizens of the seven countries now banned from entering the U.S. “Overall, terrorism in America is happening from homegrown radicals,” the think tank said. Foreign attackers have come from Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, none of which made the list.

The new administration has contended it has simply continued an initiative started by the Obama administration, which flagged the seven countries as possible areas of concern in 2015, and imposed limited restrictions.

“I’ve never in my career as an immigration attorney seen anything like this.”

— David Sperling

“I’ve never in my career as an immigration attorney seen anything like this,” Sperling said, though he added many aspects of Trump’s presidency thus far are without precedent.

During the 90-day period, the president has ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence to review the current information required from a country before a traveler is granted a visa or admission to the U.S. to ensure the country is not allowing in individuals who are security threats.

The executive order states the 90-day ban is needed to ensure research during this time is successful, the maximum utilization of resources are being used and adequate standards are established. The order also leaves room for special exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

A mission of this order is to eventually implement new uniform screening standards for immigration programs.

For immigrants and refugees, there is already an extensive system process in place.

For immigration screening, according to the State Department, the process includes submitting a petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, submitting financial and other supporting documents, and completing an interview.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe. … To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban. … This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

— Donald Trump

According to the White House, the refugee screening process involves multiple steps, including interviews with the United Nations refugee agency to confirm refugee status and conducting biographic security checks. While all of these steps are happening, each refugee’s file is being continuously reevaluated based on any new, relevant terrorism information.

Less than 1 percent of the global refugee population makes it past the first step in the process currently. The order also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, but plans to prioritize refugee claims of minority religious-based persecution in their home country.

The ban also sets a 50,000 cap on refugees allowed to enter the states in 2017, compared to the Obama administration’s goal of admitting 110,000 refugees, according to the Pew Research Institute.

The order intends to complete and implement a biometric entry-exit tracking system of fingerprints and digital photos for all travelers to the U.S. which was discussed by prior administrations and committees.

The order also intends that there will be more transparency in reporting facts and data collection to the public regarding the number of foreign nationals who planned or carried out acts of terrorism.

Sperling said most of his clientele come from Hispanic communities and are concerned about the future.

“They’re scared, they don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sperling said. “There’s a great deal of fear and uncertainty in the immigrant community.”