Welcome to the first KVIA.com-Congressman Beto O'Rourke virtual townhall. It is being presented to El Pasoans so they can ask Congressman O'Rourke questions and bring up concerns they'd like him to address as he represents the city in Washington, D.C.
Our first question is from Truenea: How can we, the public, best help you in the fight to end this horrible sequestration that is hurting not only the 10,000 unemployed people, but their families and other businesses in the El Paso area?
I'm a little late ... here we go!
Fortunately the awful sequester is improved over its original impact -- VA, CBP, DOD and other departments were ultimately spared most of the worst aspects -- but Head Start, federal public defenders and dozens of other agencies and programs are still negatively affected. I voted to replace the sequester and I've spoken on the floor about it's negative affects on El Paso. I'm not a partisan person, but this is one where we need to put pressure on Republicans who don't seem to think that the cuts are negatively impacting our communities and federal employees -- reach out to them and let them know how this is affecting your life.
Funding financial aid programs is a priority -- talking with students at EPCC and UTEP, I hear how much they depend on grants, loans and workstudy jobs. We need to keep the rates low; we need to help students out after graduation by forgiving some of the debt if they dedicate themselves to public service (For example, teaching in an underserved community) and ensure that everyone in this country has the opportunity to earn an education and improve their chances in life.
We're already working on the VA hospital. I used my first meeting with Sec. Shinseki to press this issue and found him to be very responsive. I have also used hearings on the VA committee to get answers on how we can fund a full hospital in EP. I'm glad to tell you that we have three viable tracks that we're exploring -- 1st is to re-purpose the existing William Beaumont; 2nd is to partner with Texas Tech at the Medical Center of the Americas; 3rd is to co-locate with the new William Beaumont on East Bliss. I'm confident that in working with the VA, the community and partners in DOD we can make this happen.
Re: better health care and more access to the VA in El Paso -- I have been meeting with the new VHA director, John Mendoza, and letting him know that we are here to help him improve service while holding him and his team accountable. We are looking at wait times to be seen by a physician; the availability of mental health professionals; and customer satisfaction. But this ties back to earlier question -- we won't see world class care until we get a world class full-service VA facility. Thanks for the question
Beto, for a little bit more perspective, how many veterans are estimated to be in El Paso?
Hi Victoria, thanks for the question-- I haven't looked closely at this and I'm still learning when it comes to monetary policy, but I and my team will review the bill.
Re: Veteran population -- the estimate is that within our community there are 80,000 veterans
Hi Stu -- thank you for your advocacy and for the work you and the agents you represent do to keep El Paso and our country safe. I want you to know that we are pressing the case when it comes to ending the sequester; normalizing work and overtime hours; and fully supporting the men and women who put their lives on the line every day.
Re: overtime pay -- we need to get this fixed. I'm working with fellow Reps like Ron Barber to make sure that we are fully supporting the agents and I have meet with agents in Washington including the president of the national union, Mr. Judd.
El Mirrey -- two big questions. Now that 18 states, through their voters and legislatures, have made the decision to decriminalize, medicinalize and end the prohibition on marijuana, I think the federal government must recognize the will of the voters in those states at a minimum -- and then we must begin a national conversation on this failed 40-year drug war and what should replace it. I plan on being involved in that discussion. With 10,000+ murdered in Juarez over the last 5 years, with kids in El Paso having access to dangerous drugs, we owe our community better.
RE: long wait times from Veterans benefits admin -- We just wrote a bill "The Faster Filing Act" which will significantly improve wait times and filing process for veterans. Right now the average wait for a claim for an El Paso vet is 439 days. With this bill we think we can give veterans the option of resolving their claim within 100 days and getting an additional year of benefits. I think we're going to get this bill passed, it has bi-partisan support and doesn't cost the government a dime.
Thanks Luci - thanks for your advocacy, we were happy to join this caucus.
Great questions y'all. It's Friday but we don't want an easy day. Keep those great questions coming!
Hi Scott -- this is a tough issue -- the cost of healthcare has risen dramatically over the past couple of decades, but quality of care and outcomes hasn't necessarily kept pace. My understanding is that despite the rise in cost, the dollars aren't flowing to doctors and dentists in proportion. In addition to that, we have a problem of access in El Paso, where we have one of the lowest doctor and nurse ratios to patients in the country. You wait longer here to see a doctor than any other city in America. I am hopeful that we can improve the Affordable Care Act to take care of many of these problems; I also hope that we will graduate and place in residency more doctors and dentists so that we can solve our access problem and hopefully begin to lower the cost for the consumer.
Stu, I don't know. I'm hopeful that because the President, the Senate and the House have all submitted a budget for the first time since 2009 we have the basis for a compromise or "grand bargain" budget that will replace the sequester with something more rational, and something that doesn't undercut our federal workforce here in El Paso. I will keep pressing this with Sec. Napolitano and look for partners on both sides of the aisle to get this fixed.
David, I was honored to have the chance to commemorate the sacrifice of 1st Lieutenant Landrum, Staff Sargent Phillips, Specialists Cardoza, Prescott and Murach on the floor of the House yesterday. We want to make sure their sacrifice is remembered and that we also acknowledge that it is time to bring all of our soldiers back home, safely.
Scott has a follow-up question
regarding cannabis question -- I think it's now time for this issue to move beyond the municipal and state level, and for the federal government to begin to resolve the differences between state and federal laws -- and hopefully begin a process that will lead to the voters and states deciding what is in their own interests when it comes to laws regarding cannabis.
RE: immigration -- I'm glad that this is moving forward, but I want to make sure that it doesn't end up harming communities like ours. I'd like to see less emphasis on further militarizing the border -- especially since we are the safest city, one that is seeing record-low northbound apprehensions, record high deportations-- and more emphasis on facilitating trade, commerce and the efficient flow of people and families through our ports of entry. I will use my position on the Homeland Security committee to try to make this happen.
Victor, I just cosponsored legislation to keep interest rates on student loans from doubling later this year. We should fix that permanently. On Pell Grants- we should tie them to inflation so they grow with the cost of going to school. At UTEP, 64% of students depend on Pell Grants.
Scott, I want to get you a better answer, but I am not familiar enough with the issue of foreign trained professionals. Let me work with my team to do that and then give you something more meaningful. Can you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org ? thanks
Hi Paco -- we should build on the renewable energy efforts and the Net Zero initiative led by Gen. Pittard at Ft. Bliss -- once completed by the end of this decade, this will be one of the largest if not the largest communities in the world that is energy independent. What a great basis from which to extend this initiative into the rest of El Paso. This is something we can lead on. I will continue to support Net Zero at Bliss and will do my best to find opportunities to extend what we learn to El Paso at large.