ABOVE: Photo By Preston Middleton
Being an elected official can sometimes be a “thankless” job.
As an elected official, it often doesn’t matter how effective or engaged they have been, there will always be at least one person out there who will find fault in them as an elected official, simply because they have the title of an elected official. I mean, you have elected officials who could literally do 99 things that are believed to be the right things to do, but get crucified by many of those same people when they do one thing they do not agree with.
No elected official is perfect, but in all truthfulness, it is imperative for any elected official to do exactly what they have been elected to do, which is to lead and be a public servant.
In the midst of one of the deadliest pandemics in the history of the United States, there has been at least one elected official who has truly led the charge and been on the frontlines of dealing with addressing this unprecedented COVID-19 virus – that elected official has been none other than U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18).
Congresswoman Jackson Lee has been at the forefront of addressing the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. Her advocacy has made a huge difference across the nation, but the impact of her engagement has been most visible in the Greater Houston area.
The first presumptive COVID-19 positive case reported in the Greater Houston area occurred in Montgomery County, Texas, which borders Harris County, the location of the city of Houston. From the onset of that very first COVID-19 case being reported, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who serves as the Chair of the Congressional Coronavirus Task Force, began using her political platform to sound the alarm about the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee was one of the first elected officials to plead for access to more testing for the community, as well as for the necessary equipment, funding and resources that hospitals, doctors, small businesses and citizens needed to deal with the virus. From February until now, she has been an extremely busy elected official, proactively addressing the critical issues and concerns tied to the COVID-19 virus. She has used her bully-pulpit on the floor of the House and her relationships in the Greater Houston area community, to help spread her message of testing and to advocate for the aforementioned things.
On February 10th, Congresswoman Jackson Lee held the first press conference on the issue of COVID-19 at Houston Intercontinental Airport. She followed that up with a second press conference on February 24th to continue efforts to raise public knowledge of the impending threat. On February 26th, she wrote the Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security requesting to be briefed by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf regarding the preparedness of the Department of Homeland Security to address a possible pandemic. On March 19th, Congresswoman Jackson Lee announced an innovative partnership with United Methodist Medical Center (UMMC) to open the first drive-through Coronavirus Test Screening facility in the Greater Houston area. This partnership has proven beneficial to everyone in the Greater Houston area, in that since March 19th, she has worked with UMMC to open six other testing sites, totaling seven, that are located within high-risk communities in the Greater Houston area, to reduce the need for travel to get access to COVID-19 testing.
From the floor of the House, Congresswoman Jackson Lee took to the podium on May 14th and declared the following in support of one of the COVID-19 bills being considered:
“Universal testing for COVID-19 is a matter of life and death for millions of Americans, but it is also a salvation for millions of others who are living desperate lives behind locked doors.”
“The liberation of millions hinges on getting testing in every community so that we can shine a light on where COVID-19 is and where it is not present.”
“If we cannot see where COVID-19 is within a community, there is no reliable way to prevent its spread other than quarantine. If we do not dramatically increase testing, we will remain prisoners of COVID-19 until we have a vaccine widely available, which is not expected to occur until early 2021.”
“Testing is the key to reopening the economy and resuming our lives, and to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally.”
“But before we can get back on our feet economically and restore the booming economy inherited by the current Administration, Americans must be assured and confident that there is a plan and strategy to combat COVID-19 and the resources and commitment needed to implement the plan and execute the strategy. And that means testing, testing, and more testing, along with contact tracing.”
Going further, as more and more Coronavirus cases were being reported, infectious disease experts warned that unsanitary conditions in overcrowded jails and prisons made them extremely unsafe given what was known about the highly infectious nature of COVID-19.
In early March, news reports regarding the high risks for COVID-19 infections in jails and prisons provided early notice that these locations might become hot spots. There were major concerns that the unchecked spread of the virus would pose health risks to detainees, staff, and communities where they were located. In response to this issue, Congresswoman Jackson Lee worked with Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to provide COVID-19 testing for detainees and staff that started on April 21st and continues today.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee has been a strong advocate for legislation that deals with the Coronavirus epidemic, including her support of the following bills:
March 4 – Supporting the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental
Appropriations Act of 2020 (H.R. 6074); a bill drafted, seeking to provide $8.3 billion in funding to combat the novel Coronavirus. H.R. 6074 was enacted on March 6th, after being signed by the President, at a cost of $8.3 billion.
March 13 – Supporting the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 (H.R. 6201); a bill drafted, seeking to provide much needed protections for American families from the worst conditions that might arise as the nation fights the spread of COVID-19. H.R. 6201 was enacted at a cost of $104 billion, after being signed into law by the President on March 18th.
March 27 – Supporting the Senate Amendment to H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or ‘CARES Act’; the third bipartisan assistance and relief package passed by Congress, seeking to provide more than $2 trillion to address the adverse health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. H.R. 748 was signed into law by the President on March 27th, at a cost of approximately $2.2 trillion. The bill authorized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to send out stimulus payments to qualified Americans (a $1,200 or $2,400 check for single and married people, respectively), and it also created programs for qualified small businesses throughout the country to receive approximately $1 trillion in forgivable government loans during the shutdown, if they keep their employees on the payroll for eight weeks.
April 23 – Supporting the Senate Amendment to H.R. 266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act; an interim measure seeking to supplement the CARES Act, the assistance and relief package passed by Congress seeking to provide more than $2 trillion to address the adverse health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. H.R. 266 was enacted on April 24th, after being signed into law by the President, at a cost of $484 billion.
May 14 – Supporting the Senate Amendment to H.R. 6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act; seeking to provide the necessary assistance and relief provided by Congress to address the adverse health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. If signed into law as currently presented, it would provide emergency supplemental appropriations to federal agencies; provided payments and other assistance to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments; provide additional direct stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per individual; expand paid sick days, family and medical leave, unemployment compensation, nutrition and food assistance programs, housing assistance, and payments to farmers; modify and expand the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations; establish a fund to award grants for employers to provide pandemic premium pay for essential workers; expand several tax credits and deductions; provide funding and establishes requirements for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; eliminate cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments; extend and expand the moratorium on certain evictions and foreclosures; require employers to develop and implement infectious disease exposure control plans; as well as modify or expand a wide range of other programs and policies. This bill barely passed in the House (208-199), on May 15th, and has since gone to the Senate for consideration.
So often, we hear the question: “Where are our elected officials?”
While this may be a fair question for those who hold an elected office, it is also important to highlight those who are present and who are making a continual impact regarding issues that are important to the community and to the daily lives of American citizens.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee has served as the “gold standard” of public service since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic. She should be praised for her hard work and for the dedication she has exhibited, not just in support of her own district, but for the way she has advocated tirelessly for those who have been impacted across the Greater Houston area and beyond.
Thank you Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee for leading in the midst of an international crisis!