AIDING PUERTO RICO’S RESPONSE TO HURRICANE FIONA
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) released the following statement regarding Hurricane Fiona’s devastating impact on Puerto Rico.
“Our hearts are with our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico as they once again show courage and resilience confronting a weather catastrophe. Robust aid must be made readily available to help the island rebuild from this most recent natural disaster. In 2018, I traveled to Puerto Rico and saw the humanitarian and economic crisis of Hurricane Maria up close. I heard the heartbreaking stories from Puerto Ricans who didn’t have power or clean drinking water for over 100 days and who lived in temporary shelters for months. We cannot let this happen again and we cannot abandon Puerto Rico in their time of need. I will fight for comprehensive relief that provides all the tools for recovery so that Puerto Rico can rebuild from the destruction of Hurricane Fiona.”
— Blumenthal joined the Hispanic Federation, Take Action for Puerto Rico! and Members of Congress at a press conference calling for federal resources and assistance for Puerto Rico five years after Hurricane Maria and in the wake of new devastation from Hurricane Fiona.
“The people of Puerto Rico have courage and resilience and strength that is beyond words. And to them, I want to say you are not alone. We’re going to have your back,” said Blumenthal. “The time of throwing paper towels and counting it as action is over. We’re going to demand real action from the federal government. Not just rhetoric, but rebuilding and recovery. And to the people of America, let me just say, we have an obligation to our fellow Americans.”
As 3 million people in Puerto Rico, nearly the whole island, remain without power and nearly sixty percent of residents lack access to clean drinking water in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, Blumenthal called for a Major Disaster Declaration and urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use the $15 billion currently available in its Disaster Relief Fund to aid the island.
“We need a Major Disaster Declaration now. We need that $15 billion provided to Puerto Rico now. We need rebuilding of schools and hospitals now. We need rebuilding of the grid,” said Blumenthal. “Investment in Puerto Rico has to be done now.”
In his remarks, Blumenthal also discussed the need for strengthened oversight of FEMA to avoid the mistakes and missteps made during the recovery from Hurricane Maria. According to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report on the response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, it took an average of sixty-nine days for items such as food and water delivered to Puerto Rico to successfully reach individuals there.
“We’re going to be on FEMA like a hawk to make sure that there is delivery, actual performance. Not just rhetoric, but robust action,” emphasized Blumenthal. “In the long run, investing in Puerto Rico is investing in America and Americans.”
— Blumenthal spoke with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi and pledged his full support for an immediate and sustained relief effort.
“I just got off the phone with Puerto Rico's Governor Pierluisi. Encouraged and energized by our conversation, I pledge my full support for an immediate sustained relief effort. He told me of peoples’ courage, strength, and grace in the face of suffering and loss—truly inspiring,” Blumenthal said. “Governor Pierluisi urged, and I agree, that long term reconstruction of the electric grid and other critical infrastructure must continue without delay. Water, food, and other necessities must be delivered right away, but long term resilience must be a priority. We must match the resolve and resilience of Puerto Rico’s people by covering 100% of the cost of rebuilding—not just patching the damage, but rebuilding to the highest and best standards. Our fellow Americans deserve no less.”
— Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) joined a bipartisan group of forty-three colleagues in sending a bicameral letter to President Joe Biden urging him to issue a Major Disaster Declaration for all of Puerto Rico’s municipalities in response to Hurricane Fiona.
“Governor Pierluisi has formally requested a Major Disaster Declaration for all of Puerto Rico’s municipalities in response to Hurricane Fiona. We strongly urge you to approve this request to ensure Puerto Rico has all the federal resources available to respond to this disaster,” wrote the bicameral group of lawmakers to President Biden.
“Furthermore, 750,000 homes remain without potable water. Bridges have collapsed, roads are blocked with debris, and schools are damaged,” the lawmakers added. “FEMA Public Assistance is urgently needed to begin restoring this vital infrastructure.”
“These events have left Puerto Rico’s critical infrastructure vulnerable to extreme weather. We urge you to help the people of Puerto Rico equitably recover from these multiple disasters and access the federal funding they urgently need,” concluded the lawmakers.
— Blumenthal and Murphy also joined Democratic lawmakers in sending a letter to President Biden asking to waive any local cost-share for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid to Puerto Rico.
“In light of the continued concerning news about the devastation the hurricane has wrought on the island, which has prompted Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi to announce his request for a Major Disaster Declaration for all of Puerto Rico’s municipalities, as well as the ongoing economic challenges faced by the island, we write to urge you to waive the local cost-sharing requirements by setting the federal cost-share at 100% for Public Assistance grants issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Puerto Rico,” said the lawmakers.
INVESTING IN MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES FOR FIRST RESPONDERS
— Blumenthal held a media availability following a private meeting with law enforcement officials to discuss the urgent need for more mental health support for first responders, as well as the need for trained professionals to help police respond to mental health crisis and domestic violence calls.
“It’s pressing & important to provide law enforcement with the mental health support they need. In my discussion with local police chiefs we emphasized breaking down barriers to mental health access & making sure trained professionals aid police responding to crisis calls.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, law enforcement officers report much higher rates of depression, burnout, PTSD and anxiety than the general public. Law enforcement officers are also 54 percent more likely than the general population to die by suicide.
While many departments have officers trained in peer support, more needs to be done to destigmatize seeking mental health care as a law enforcement officer. Additionally, more investment needs to be made into mental health crisis responders and social workers to reduce the burden on police officers responding to mental health crisis and domestic violence calls.
HOLDING M&T BANK ACCOUNTABLE FOR CONVERSION FAILURES
— Blumenthal led a group of Senators in sending a letter to M&T Bank urging the company to financially compensate customers who were affected by conversion failures during the transition of People’s United Bank accounts to M&T accounts.
“We write to request that M&T Bank commit to financially compensate all customers who incurred fees as a result of missed credit card, utility, or other payments, due to M&T Bank’s mishandling of the acquisition of People’s United Bank,” the senators wrote. “Additionally, all customers who were unable to access their funds during the conversion should receive some appropriate financial remuneration for the inconvenience, as well as an apology.”
Since the conversion at the beginning of September, new M&T customers have complained that they are not able to access their accounts, have endured long wait times and delays in payment processing, and did not receive adequate customer support. The senators’ expressed deep concern about these issues and urged M&T to quickly resolve the complications.
“It is imperative that M&T act swiftly to comply with all laws, regulations, and regulatory expectations relied on during the acquisition approval process and that all customers be fairly compensated if they were negatively impacted as a result of M&T’s mishandling of the merger with People’s United Bank,” the senators wrote.
The Federal Reserve approved M&T Bank’s acquisition of Bridgeport-based People’s United Financial, Inc. and People’s United Bank in May of 2022. Under the terms of the acquisition, M&T committed to having 1,000 employees in Bridgeport. Last week, the failed management of the conversion and lack of access to customer support for individuals and businesses has led Blumenthal to call on the Federal Reserve and CFPB to investigate this issue.
SUPPORTING TRANSITIONAL HOUSING FOR FOSTER YOUTH
— Blumenthal announced a $75,000 federal grant for the Annie C. Courtney Foundation in Waterbury to support their purchase of a multi-family home to house young adults who were formerly in the foster care system.
Through their New Beginnings Project, the foundation aims to purchase several multi-family homes in the Naugatuck River Valley to be rented exclusively to young adults with Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) vouchers which are issued through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The goal is not only to provide three years of housing stability for young adults but to also offer wraparound services to prepare them for future success.
According to HUD, 11 to 37% of youth who have aged out of foster care experience homelessness and an additional 25 to 50% of those youth are unstably housed.
CHAMPIONING MARIA KAHN’S NOMINATION TO THE SECOND CIRCUIT
— Blumenthal introduced Justice Maria Araújo Kahn, President Biden’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, before her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“As impressive as her immigrant story, as inspiring as her accomplishments are her incredible intellect, experience, integrity, and dedication to public service,” said Blumenthal at the hearing. “She is a judge’s judge. She is deeply and extraordinarily well-qualified…Her life experience, her depth of compassion and empathy, as well as her strict adherence and respect for the rule of law will broaden the quality of our Second Circuit Court of Appeals.”
FIGHTING AIRLINE CONSOLIDATION & ITS NEGATIVE EFFECTS ON CONSUMERS
— Blumenthal questioned U.S. Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights hearing on federal enforcement of antitrust laws about consolidation in the airline industry.
“I don’t think it will be a news flash to anyone in this room that Americans are beyond furious about cancellations and delays by airlines and they’re beginning to understand that the reason why airlines mistreat them and why they are mismanaged is because of consolidation,” said Blumenthal.
“In any competitive marketplace, it you paid for the product like an airline ticket, you would actually have a seat in a competitive marketplace,” Blumenthal continued. “It would not be cancelled at the very last moment or if you ask for your money back, you would get it at least with proper enforcement, not be given a temporary flight credit.”
Blumenthal emphasized the need of cross-agency cooperation in effective antitrust enforcement, asking Kanter:
Blumenthal: “Mr. Kanter, would you agree with me that both the antitrust division and the FAA, the FAA has a role here too, should be very skeptical, exceedingly skeptical of any mergers or agreements that will lead to more consolidation in air travel?”
Kanter: “We remain committed to fighting airline concentration when it breaks the law. As you indicated, Americans are furious and coopetition can yield a wide range of benefits to air travelers including better service, lower prices.”
Blumenthal: “I’m hoping you’re giving me a yes.”
Kanter: “I think so.”
— Blumenthal also joined Connecticut Attorney General William Tong in calling for increased protections for airline passengers.
“Long flight delays, unexpected cancelations, & other issues wreak havoc on airline travel. I’m working on legislation to help empower state AGs—like Attorney General Tong—to use their legal tools to enforce critical airline consumer protections,” said Blumenthal.
EXPANDING ACCESS TO THE BALLOT BOX & PROTECTING ELECTION WORKERS
— On National Voter Registration Day, Blumenthal and Murphy joined fifteen of their colleagues in introducing two pieces of legislation to make it easier for Americans to register to vote and to know their registration status. The Same Day Voter Registration Act would require states to offer same day registration at polling locations on Election Day and during early voting. The Stop Automatically Voiding Eligible Voters Off Their Enlisted Rolls in States (SAVE VOTERS) Act would prohibit states from removing people from their voting rolls unless the state has obtained objective, reliable evidence that a voter is ineligible to vote and establishes notification requirements once a voter is removed. These bills were included as part of the Freedom to Vote Act.
“No freedom is more important than the right to vote. We must protect the sanctity of this fundamental American freedom, which is why I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation with many of my Senate colleagues. Connecticut already offers same day voter registration but more than half of states do not — an unnecessary and unacceptable barrier that keeps people from voting. Guaranteeing that voters can register on election day and preventing states from purging their voter rolls without concrete evidence that the person in question is ineligible to vote, will make it easier for Americans to cast their ballots and participate in our great Democracy,” said Blumenthal.
— Blumenthal also joined U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and sixteen of their colleagues in introducing comprehensive legislation to address the rise in threats targeting election workers. The Election Worker Protection Act would provide states with the resources to recruit and train election workers and ensure these workers’ safety, while also instituting federal safeguards to shield election workers from intimidation and threats.
PROTECTING WOMEN’S REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH INFORMATION
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and five of their colleagues in a letter to Heartbeat International, an anti-abortion organization that supports thousands of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) across the country, calling on the organization to answer a series of questions about its collection and use of women’s personal data, including sensitive health care information.
Heartbeat International’s vision “is to make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for future generations.” To accomplish that goal, the organization has invested in a data collection system to keep track of personal information, including individuals’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and reproductive health information. CPCs and similar organizations are not legitimate medical facilities and therefore are not subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), raising significant privacy concerns.
“Heartbeat International – which is explicitly opposed to abortion rights – appears to be in a position to collect a significant amount of personal information from women about their pregnancies and potential plans for managing their care, but it is not under any legal obligation to maintain the confidentiality of this information, or keep it out of the hands of abortion bounty hunters,” wrote the lawmakers.
“We fear that, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that stripped women of their right to an abortion, this information may be used to put women’s health and freedom to choose in jeopardy, and to put them and their health care providers at risk of criminal penalties,” the lawmakers concluded.
ADDRESSING PFAS EXPOSURE AT MILITARY INSTALLATIONS
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and thirty-seven of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter to Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Lloyd Austin and White House officials urging increased funding for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) testing and remediation. The senators also called for improved PFAS-related planning to make use of the higher funding levels Congress is willing to appropriate to address the pervasive issue.
“As you know, PFAS chemicals have emerged as widespread contaminants to the drinking water sources of military bases across the country largely due to their presence in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used by the military. Members of the military, veterans and civilians who have served at military installations and/or live in the surrounding communities found to have been contaminated with PFAS face health risks related to exposure to PFAS chemicals, as these materials are found in AFFF, in personal protective equipment used by firefighters and in standard consumer products,” the senators wrote.
“Our service members, military families, veterans and defense communities deserve the Department’s full attention to appropriately address the scope and severity of PFAS contamination. We ask you to honor that responsibility and take the steps necessary to prioritize this hazard impacting our communities,” the senators concluded.
PROVIDING BENEFITS & SUPPORT SERVICES TO CT VETERANS
— Blumenthal attended the annual veteran and service member Stand Down hosted by the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) at the Bridgeport regional location.
Connecticut veterans and currently serving National Guard, Reserve, and Active Duty personnel and their families were eligible to attend to access a multitude of benefits and support services from DVA, VA Connecticut, State and Federal agencies, and other community providers.
INVESTIGATING JROTC’S FAILURE TO PROTECT STUDENTS FROM SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in opening an investigation into the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program, following disturbing reports of widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the program. The senators sent letters to the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Education (ED), which are tasked with shared oversight of the JROTC program, to learn more about current processes to ensure the safety of students in the program and to determine where those processes failed and left students vulnerable to sexual misconduct.
Recent reporting by the New York Times found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been charged in criminal cases involving sexual misconduct. Their analysis of arrest information for three of the country’s largest high school districts found that “‘the J.R.O.T.C. program has recorded one arrest for every 232 instructor positions … 68 percent higher than the next highest case rate’ of teacher-student sexual misconduct.” Across the country, there are numerous cases of JROTC instructors who were criminally charged with sexual misconduct and had been the subject of complaints from students in the past.
“The damage done by sexual abuse in the JROTC program can be devastating… it is clear that students have suffered incredible harm because ED and DoD currently lack the necessary oversight to prevent it from becoming a hunting ground,” wrote the senators.
IMPROVING COMMERCIAL MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY
— Blumenthal joined safety leaders in Congress and the Truck Safety Coalition in calling for immediate action to advance critical truck safety reforms following the sobering release of the “Deadliest Truck Crash States” report. The report comes on the heels of one of the worst years for roadway safety ever recorded. NHTSA reports that large truck fatalities surged 13% over the previous year reaching 5,600 deaths. Annually, there are over 146,000 injuries. Since 2009, truck crash deaths have increased by 66%. Despite this alarming trend, policymakers are acting with little urgency to curb the carnage on our roads.
“This report highlights the need for urgent action by Congress to stem the rising tide of truck crashes and fatalities. NHTSA’s data makes it clear that without stronger precautions and safety measures, commercial motor vehicle incidents – including deadly underride accidents – will continue to plague our roads. I’m proud to stand with advocates and families of victims to demand comprehensive, lifesaving solutions,” said Blumenthal.
RAISING AWARENESS TO FIGHT MALNUTRITION
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) in introducing a resolution designating the week of September 19 through September 23, 2022, as “Malnutrition Awareness Week.” Malnutrition is a significant problem in the United States and around the world that occurs when a person does not get enough nutrients, and disproportionally impacts children. In 2021, five million American children lived in food-insecure households. Additionally, disease-associated malnutrition in older adults costs the United States more than $51.3 billion each year.
“There are millions of children across the country living without access to sufficient, nutritious food. The devastating impacts of childhood malnutrition on long-term health and wellness cannot be understated. More must be done to support federal programs to ensure every child, adult and senior has the nutritious foods they need to live a long, healthy life. I am proud to co-sponsor this resolution to raise awareness of the impacts of malnutrition and to recognize the professionals devoted to providing nutritional care and access to food for those in need,” said Blumenthal.
BANNING U.S. RECOGNITION OF UKRAINIAN TERRITORY ANNEXED BY RUSSIA
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and twenty-five of their colleagues in introducing the Non-Recognition of Russian Annexation of Ukrainian Territory Act, which requires U.S. policy to not recognize any Russian claim of sovereignty over any portion of the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine. The legislation also prohibits any federal department or agency from taking any action or extending any assistance that implies recognition of Russian claims over Ukraine.
HONORING OUR COMMITMENT TO OUR AFGHAN ALLIES
— Blumenthal visited a group of Afghan refugees and veterans outside the U.S. Capitol to call for passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would allow Afghan allies with temporary legal status to apply for permanent legal status in the United States.
“Thank you to the Afghans & veterans standing #FireWatch outside the Capitol. You are bravely & boldly shining a light on the critical importance of passing the #AfghanAdjustmentAct—providing safe haven for at-risk Afghan allies fleeing Taliban persecution.”
— Blumenthal announced a $5 million grant for a consortium of Connecticut community colleges, including Capital Community College, to train students from historically underrepresented communities to enter Information Technology and other in-demand jobs. The funding will allow Capital and other colleges to address equity and workforce gaps by connecting students from marginalized and underrepresented communities in Connecticut with the education and training they need to enter high-quality, good paying IT and technology jobs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently found that college graduates earn twice as much as those with only a high school diploma, which underscores the economic disparities faced by those with access to quality career and technical education programs.
“Capital Community College is making an important impact. Excited to announce a $5M federal grant for the expansion of their career & technical education programs. This funding is a solid investment—helping people train for the jobs of the future & achieve great careers.”
— Blumenthal joined Pathfinders, Inc. and local officials to announce the purchase and preservation of Deer Lake Scout Reservation. The 300-acre property was purchased from the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts, by Pathfinders Inc., a local non-profit. Pathfinders will continue to operate the Deer Lake summer camp and Wilderness School.
“The legacy of Deer Lake welcoming generations of campers will continue thanks to the hard work of activists & environmental stewards fighting against the tide of development. Fantastic to join their celebration today to announce its purchase & preservation.”
— Blumenthal visited New Haven’s PRIDEFest.
“PRIDEFest on the New Haven Green—a magnificent celebration of the LGBTQ+ community’s culture, art, history, health, & more. American values of inclusiveness, equality, & equity compellingly on display. Thanks to all the organizers.”
— Blumenthal congratulated four Connecticut schools for being named among the National Blue Ribbon Schools.
“CT schools are striving for educational excellence—closing learning gaps & inspiring the next generation of young minds. Congratulations to Great Plain School, Whiting Lane School, Booth Hill School, & E. O. Smith High School on being named National Blue Ribbon Schools.”
— Blumenthal attended the Seymour Pumpkin Festival and the Berlin Fair.
“Glorious day for the Seymour Pumpkin Festival—with families enjoying picture perfect skies & lots of fun activities & food. A fantastic valley community event.”
“True to tradition, the Berlin Fair brimmed with excitement & enthusiasm. Something for everyone. What’s not to like on a sun filled September Sunday at this iconic celebration of community.”
— Blumenthal joined the CT Voice Honors Gala to honor U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
“Wonderful to present an award to Rep. Rosa DeLauro at CT Voice Honors Gala. A brilliant evening! Great job hosting by Dennis House & Chion Wolf. Thanks to James Tully, Owner, & Christopher Byrne, Editor, of Seasons Publications.”
— Blumenthal attended a ceremony honoring the distinguished graduates of Lee Career High School.
“Lee Career High School in New Haven honored 14 of its distinguished graduates, including new U.S. Attorney Vanessa Avery at a beautiful gala. A tribute to extraordinary individuals, great education, & dedicated families. Heartwarming & inspiring.”
— Blumenthal attended Mystic Aquarium’s annual Ocean Commotion Gala.
“Mystic Aquarium’s annual Ocean Commotion gala drew a record turnout of supporters, celebrating wondrous education, research, rescue & much more. Thanks to Board Chair George Milne Jr. & Vice Chair Susette Tibus for your leadership. A magnificent evening for a magical destination.”