Legislative Affairs

Weekly Update on Issues Impacting Your Family

 

 

January 31, 2021


Dear Neighbor,

 

After the Speaker rescheduled votes in Washington, D.C. last week, I remained here in the district working on your behalf. I was also able to conduct a few site visits and meet with several constituents, which was time well spent. I always get the best ideas for how to help our community by hearing directly from you.

 We did have our first virtual meeting of the Energy and Commerce Committee last week. I am excited by the work we will be doing this term in the areas of healthcare, consumer protection, and technology. I hope we will be able to find bipartisan, common ground on these important issues.

Unfortunately, President Biden's actions over the past two weeks through Executive Order have not reflected a willingness to seek common ground. His repeal of previous restrictions which kept our tax dollars from being spent on abortions performed around the globe is highly partisan. Additionally, his ban on new oil and gas exploration on federal lands and waters will hurt domestic energy production, cost American jobs and cause energy prices to soar. These measures continue to divide us rather than helping us to unite around common goals.

I am committed to finding shared, bipartisan goals that will help all Americans. I would like to thank everyone who participated in my survey last week to let me know which issues you would like to see prioritized this Congress. The top results included:

·     Preserving Constitutionally-Protected Rights,

·     Seeking Bipartisan Solutions to Challenges,

·     Protecting Veterans,

·     Fixing the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Process, and

·     Modernizing the Supply Chain

 You can be assured that your feedback will help guide my efforts this term. Please continue reading for some important information.  


Protecting Seniors

 Update on Vaccinations

 Many of you have shared the frustrating experiences you encountered as you tried to register for a vaccine over the past few weeks. I've provided that feedback to those in charge of the state process. In response, I was really excited to see the state roll out a new system on Friday. While there are still implementation issues to work through, I am optimistic that this will eventually alleviate much of the frustration that seniors have encountered.

 The state launched a new pre-registration system to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments for individuals 65 and older and frontline health care workers. Individuals throughout the state can pre-register for vaccine appointments by visiting this website. Each county also has a designated phone number that individuals can use to pre-register if they do not have internet access. You can find the complete list of numbers here. When you pre-register through the new statewide system, your place in line will be reliably reserved, and you will be contacted when it is time for you to receive your vaccine. This is a dramatic improvement.

This new statewide system is different from the individual registration systems used by various county health departments. Residents can still use each county's health department registration process to try to secure appointment slots as they are released. Pasco County is releasing more appointment slots at 2:00 p.m. today. In order to try to get an appointment through Pasco County, you have to use the county's registration system (not the new statewide system).

There has also been a lot of conversation recently about the rate at which Florida has vaccinated seniors. I was glad to read the Governor’s response to recent insinuation that our state wasn’t vaccinating seniors as quickly as possible. I have been clear that I do believe there are improvements the state can make. However, when reviewing all of the pertinent data, including reporting differences between the state and federal government tracking systems, it is quite obvious that Florida needs more doses of vaccine in order to improve the speed at which seniors are able to get vaccinated. I will continue to work in a bipartisan manner with other Members of the Congressional Delegation to ensure Florida has the support it needs as production of the vaccine continues to ramp up.

Please know, I will continue to do everything within my power to advocate for you. 

 


We’ve also seen throughout the pandemic that telehealth services have provided a critical lifeline for millions of Americans, especially seniors, allowing them to receive quality medical and behavioral healthcare from the comfort and safety of their homes. Last week, my colleague and I refiled the ACCESS Act, critical legislation which builds upon those lessons learned by ensuring that seniors in long-term care facilities have access to and are able to enjoy the benefits of telemedicine. 



Additionally, studies have shown the negative effect that isolation has had on many seniors throughout the pandemic. I am glad to see the Hudson CARES Senior Center is offering safe opportunities for local seniors to re-engage in activities that promote socialization. 


 

Expanding Access to Quality Healthcare

Last week, I had the pleasure of touring the Community Health Center of Pinellas’s expanded new facility. It is simply magnificent. Federally-Qualified Community Health Centers (FQHCs) provide high quality primary care, dental and behavioral health services on a sliding fee scale basis. They treat the insured, uninsured and underinsured, and by law- patients comprise at least half of the membership for each FQHC’s Boards of Directors. This is part of what is working in our healthcare system and I want to expand this invaluable resource in our community.  Click here to learn more about my visit.


 

Facilitating Economic Recovery

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is once again open to help provide relief to small businesses. The program is accepting applications for first time borrowers and 2nd draws for small businesses with less than 300 employees that have experienced significant revenue loss during the pandemic. We've clarified the steps which must be taken for these loans to be forgiven. Additionally, the loans are now tax deductible. So far in this newest round of funding, 19,425 loans have been approved for small businesses in Florida, totaling just over $1.5 billion in program assistance. Small business owners may apply through their local lenders.



Also, while we must continue working to rebuild our economy, it is great to see the Tampa Bay housing market booming.



Investing in Education

Last week we recognized National School Choice Week. It is great for parents and students to have the option to choose which educational environment is the right fit for their family. Whether they choose a traditional public, magnet, charter, private, online or brick and mortar school, I want all children to have access to a high quality, safe learning environment that meets their needs. I am grateful to all the wonderful educators who make that happen. An investment in education is a sound investment in the future of our society. 



Fighting Addiction

I have just received the 2020 Overdose Report for Pasco County, the results of which are very troubling. The pandemic has only exacerbated what was already a very significant problem in our community, with overdoses and deaths spiking during 2020. This problem impacts people of all ages, genders, ethnicity and socio-economic background. We must continue to provide access to treatment so that those who are willing can get the help they need.  


 

Advocating for our Heroes

I’ve re-introduced the Retired Pay Restoration Act (H.R. 303), legislation allowing Veterans to receive both military retired pay and VA disability compensation. The men and women who dedicated their lives to serving our nation should be compensated fairly for their sacrifices. My legislation would ensure Veterans who receive retirement payments following their military service can also receive disability payments from the VA. Under current law, many Veterans with service-connected injuries have their disability pay deducted from their retirement pay—even though they are completely different benefits. The Retired Pay Restoration Act would make sure these two benefits do not count against each other. Our Veterans deserve all of the benefits they were promised, and I will not stop fighting to rectify this injustice.



Also, congratulations to my constituent who lives in Pasco County, Kimberly Demers, on receiving the Department of Defense’s Patriot Award. It is great to see employers supporting our reservists when they are called to duty and helping to ensure a smooth transition upon their return to work. Also a special thank you to Major Kathy Lowe, an Army Reservist and local E.R. nurse, for her front line efforts throughout the pandemic.


 

Consumer Protection Connection

ICYMI- As noted in this article, I was excited to recently be named the Lead Republican on the Consumer Protection and Commerce (CPC) Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. I look forward to working in this new role to help protect all Americans from predatory scams, investigate potential social media monopolies, encourage and spur innovation of emerging technologies, and defend against security breaches involving sensitive consumer data. This position also provides a unique opportunity to help the travel and tourism industry - which is vital to Florida’s economy and job market - as it seeks to fully rebound from the global pandemic. As always, my constituents can be assured that I will remain focused on ensuring quality and affordable healthcare options for all Americans and that I will never stop advocating for our nation’s heroes, as well as seniors and the disabled.

Pro-Tip

Employers sending out W-2 Forms this month marks the start of tax season. It is important to remember that identity theft is a real concern, especially this time of year. If thieves have the right information, they can file a fraudulent tax return as early as January 20th and beat the legitimate taxpayer to his/her refund. Here are some important tips to help protect your identify.

 ·     Safeguard sensitive, personally-identifiable information throughout the year.

·     Taxpayers who file their returns online using shared wireless networks are at greater risk. If possible, use a private network when filing online. 

·     File your tax return as early as possible to help prevent tax-related identity theft. 

·     Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you no longer need.

·     Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.

·     Verify any emails or texts claiming to be from the IRS before responding to them by calling the local IRS office directly.

·     Research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.

·     Check your credit report at least once a year for free to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.

If you do find yourself a victim of this crime, please reach out to my office so my team can connect you with a Taxpayer Advocate who can help.  


 

Community Concentration

My team enjoyed attending the recent Grand Opening of Flawless by Inathe, Skin Firming and Lipo Laser at its new location in Palm Harbor. Congratulations to Inathe and her team. It is always great to see small businesses growing.



Congratulations to the Rivera Family of New Port Richey who recently received the keys to their new home through their participation in the Habitat for Humanity program. My team was proud to participate in the dedication and enjoyed celebrating this major milestone with the community!



My Aide, Bob Hatfield, recently had the privilege of speaking to the East Pasco Networking Group about the constituent services available to the community through my office. I have a team of talented caseworkers who work tirelessly to advocate for constituents when they encounter a problem with a federal government agency or program. We are here to help cut through the red tape. Mr. Hatfield also discussed the work we are doing in D.C. to restore our way of life, rebuild our economy, and renew the American Dream.



Additionally, my team was honored to participate in the POW/MIA Flag Dedication Ceremony recently held at the Elfers Senior Center. We will never forget our heroes! During the same ceremony, a new United States Flag was also dedicated.



It’s also wonderful to see this partnership, which will benefit youth in West Pasco while fostering a love of hockey. It’s truly a win/win for kids in the area. Tampa Bay is lucky to have a community partner like the Lightning! 

 

Constituent Corner


I recently received this message from a senior in my district.

I want to thank you for sharing information on your Facebook site about when I could log on and select an appointment to get my vaccine. I did exactly as instructed- with the help of my daughter who is better at the internet than me. I was able to sign up for a vaccine last week and now I am scheduled for my second shot. I kept hearing confusing things on tv about when and where to go but your information was straightforward. I'm excited to be able to see my grandchildren again soon.


This is just one example of the work we do each day. Constituent services are a critical element of our congressional office. The federal government is a massive operation, and my office is available if you ever need assistance in navigating the bureaucracy or cutting through red tape. We are here to serve you!


Sincerely,



Gus Bilirakis

Member of Congress

 

 


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Welcome to the new Legislative page.  As MOAA is an organization that Lobbies Congress on Military Affairs it is incumbent on our members to be fully informed on current legislation on our benefits.  Visit often to see what is happening on the National, State and Local level. 


MOAA Continues Fight to Preserve Arlington Burial Eligibility for Retirees

MOAA Continues Fight to Preserve Arlington Burial Eligibility for Retirees Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery

The public comment period for proposed eligibility changes to Arlington National Cemetery may be closed, but the work of MOAA and The Military Coalition to shape the final regulation is far from over.

 

MOAA members made significant contributions to the 1,965 comments on the proposed rule change at the Federal Register before the Nov. 16 deadline. These comments highlighted many of the same concerns MOAA and The Military Coalition, a group of military and veterans service organizations representing a combined 5.5 million-plus membership, have communicated to DoD leadership, the Arlington National Cemetery Advisory Council, and lawmakers. MOAA and the coalition will continue these efforts until we can secure grandfathering for those currently eligible and a concerted effort by the Army and DoD to secure noncontiguous expansion of the cemetery.

 

[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmakers to Preserve Eligibility for 20-Year Retirees]

 

In the COVID-19 environment, it is important to call, in addition to writing, your lawmaker.  Congressional staff members have already indicated It is not too early to reach out to your elected officials and voice your concerns; you can do so via MOAA’s toll-free Capitol Switchboard: 1-866-272-6622. 

 

Some important talking points regarding the proposed changes: 

  • A national cemetery that provides full military honors is an enduring mission that should not be reduced as a cost-saving measure.
  • The proposed eligibility changes are discriminatory by service, gender, and military specialty. 
  • This rule change would force many retirees to alter plans made over 30 years ago and would represent another broken promise made to veterans and their families.
  • Grandfathering those currently eligible is a matter of national conscience. We owe our best efforts to those who have already earned eligibility through their service.  
  • When the cemetery runs out of room, expansion will be necessary. The 114th Congress passed Public Law 114–158 in 2016 requiring exploration for expansion beyond the boundaries of the current cemetery. When it comes to the process that resulted in the current proposal, expansion was not considered with the same fervor as reducing eligibility. 

 

You can read The Military Coalition’s letter on the proposed changes at this link. You can also write to DoD leaders to express your concerns. 

 

What’s Next?

It likely will take more than a year to reconcile and resolve comments and legal challenges as part of the federal rule-making process before changes of eligibility are implemented. Existing eligibility standards will remain in effect during that time. It may take language in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to change the trajectory of the Army’s current strategy for Arlington National Cemetery.   

 

As the process moves from public comment into the halls of Congress, MOAA’s path forward includes: 

  • Seeking meetings with leaders on the Hill and in DoD, especially those new to their positions in the coming year, to express member concerns with the changes and to ensure the 1,965 comments on the regulation were heard and understood.
  • Working alongside The Military Coalition to amplify messaging efforts within and outside the military and veteran community.
  • Building support among House and Senate lawmakers for inclusion of language in the FY 2022 NDAA that supports MOAA’s goals.

 

Every call and letter can make a difference. MOAA will continue to keep its members informed on these efforts via The MOAA Newsletter and regular updates at MOAA.org 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)
Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)

Belinsky retired in 2019 after serving 22 years, with overseas tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, and Germany. He joined the MOAA team in 2019 as Director, Currently Serving and Retired Affairs.

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