November 24, 2020-U.S. Congressman Pete Aguilar-Meeting via Zoom

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Member/Alternates Only Meeting

Virtual meeting via ZOOM

Present:   Ruthy Argumedo, Deborah Barmack, Peter Barmack, Carole Beswick, Mike Burrows, Rachelle Bussell, Ken Coate, Michelle Decker, Kevin Dyerly, Louis Goodwin, Otis Greer, Milford Harrison, Fran Inman, Mark Kaenel, Lowell King, Pam Langford, Bill Lemann, Dan Little, John Mirau, Tomas Morales, Dan Murphy, Vikki Ostermann, Bansree Parikh, Steve PonTell, Catherine Pritchett, Brian Reider, Thomas Rice, Michael Rivera, Dan Roberts, Elizabeth Romero, Dan Schenkel, Paul Shimoff, Sol Teh, Kim Wilcox and Frank Zabaleta.

Guests:  Kathy Eiler, Simon Lopez, Boris Medzhibovsky and Marlena Sessions.

Announcements: 1) The Inland Empire Leaders will hold a virtual lunch meeting tomorrow marking one year since they began meeting.  2)  Next week will be a “member only” meeting to discuss Federal advocacy for 2021.

Louis Goodwin, Chair, presiding.

Motion by L. King / Second by T. Rice/Passed:  Minutes from November 17, 2020.

Health Net has requested that their primary representative be Carol Kim, Vice President, Strategic Alliances & Business Development.  Motion approved.
Motion by D. Roberts / Second by T. Rice/Passed: Carol Kim, VP of Community Investments & Government Affairs and Public Affairs will serve as the principal representative for Health Net.

Mike Burrows introduced U.S. Congressman Pete Aguilar who has recently been reelected to serve California’s 31st District and has been named Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.  The Vice-Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives is a leadership position that among other duties has a seat on the Steering and Policy Committee.

There are two weeks left in the legislative session before the holiday break, and the House is hopeful to move something relevant to assist with COVID relief.  The package must address personal protective equipment (PPE) and expenditure support for states local and county government.  If not successful, this critical work will then roll over to January as their first priority, including providing access and distribution of a COVID vaccine.

COVID relief has been stalled, and the House would like to see some signals from the Senate that they want a package since the HEROS Act was not well received.  Senate Majority Leader had responded he preferred a “wait and see” approach and commented that cities and counties “can declare bankruptcy”.  This attitude minimizes COVID and is striking given loss of life and the impacts economically for individuals and communities.  There is more to negotiations on legislation than the dollar amount.  The wording of a bill is equally or more critical on how the money will be spent.  An example in the HEROS ACT is that the House language used “the Agency shall” but the Senate wanted to use “the Agency may” which removed the specific directive.  Hesitation to help fund cities and counties has, in part, been due to concerns that it will be used/seen as debt “bail out” for pension obligations.  The House bill, however, contain specific formulas creating a bucket of funds to off-set health related expenses due to COVID.  As there is no national/federal strategy on testing, it has fallen to individual counties to orchestrate and pay for testing.  San Bernardino County, which has done an amazing job on testing protocols, has spent some $18-19,000 per month on testing and support, creating a substantial burden on local government.  If the HEROS ACT passed, the County would potentially get hundreds of millions of dollars for both expenditures and lost revenue due to the economic impact of the pandemic.  Cities that have been impacted with the economic downturn and loss of sales tax would also receive funding.   Vital services must be protected, and local infrastructure work and operations continue.  We do not want to see increased unemployment with city and county employees who are providing front-line services.

The new administration is basing their COVID response on science, and they will include working with public and mental health professionals.  Much thought and planning to provide access and distribution of a COVID vaccine is needed.  Further investments need to happen as telework is expected to continue as a larger segment of the workforce.  There is significant funding in the revised HEROS bill for investments in broadband to help bridge the digital gap.

Priorities for the 117th Congress will be very similar to last year.  No matter if government is divided or not, topics in the forefront include Voter Rights Act, infrastructure, and DACA.  These are all important to the Inland Empire and the American people.   He and others are happy to work with the other side on these topics and will try to figure out ways to move the needle.  Many of bills that the House passed had bi-partisan support, and they need to find ways to get them through the Senate.

His team is basically unchanged and asked that constituents contact Becky or Boris with issues they would like addressed.  New on his staff is Victoria Rivas, Legislative Director, who has a great deal of experience and is originally from Rancho Cucamonga.  Working from home during COVID was well received by staff, and they remain responsive both with phone calls and e-mails during the pandemic.

Another conversation that House members will be having relates to “member directed spending” (aka earmarks) from which our region has greatly benefited in the past.  The House and Senate have different sets of rules.  The Senate has a rule against earmarks, but the Congressman and his colleagues will “lean into” and open up this topic which will include appropriate restraints and “guardrails.”

It is unlikely tax reform will be implemented in the near future.  Discussions will begin, but the process will be lengthy.

Group advocacy for 2021 will not occur until later in the year (Spring), if at all.  Remote meetings should be considered, as should visits from very small groups.

A Q & A period followed.
Meeting adjourned at 9:04 a.m.