Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference with Congressman Soto on Affordable Housing and Health Care in Central Florida
Contact: Ashley Etienne/Henry Connelly, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Congressman Darren Soto, Rev. Mary Downey, Executive Director of the Community Hope Center, local elected officials and community leaders for a press conference to bring attention to key legislative priorities for Central Florida, focusing on affordable housing and protecting seniors’ Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much. Good morning everyone! Thank you for being such patriotic Americans to turn out on a Saturday, midday, to talk about how to make the future better for our children, and that’s what it’s all about, the children and our future.
It’s an honor to be here with here with Reverend [Mary] Downey, thank you for your hospitality, of course, but more importantly for your great leadership. For the values that you act upon to make – respect the dignity and worth of every person. In your comments, you reference that we’re all God’s children and referenced our Founders’ values to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is sort of where our country comes together in our values. So, thank you for your collaboration with so many groups to make success possible.
People always ask, ‘where is hope?’ I say, ‘hope is sitting there where it always has sat. Right there, between faith and charity. Faith, Love, Charity.’ If we believe, if we believe, in the charity of others, it gives us hope. We believe that love should prevail. It gives us hope. But in order for that to happen, we have to show the way. So thank you so much Reverend Downey for showing the way and again in this place named for hope.
You know, when Christ became man – since we’re in a religious setting – when Christ became man, when God became man, when Christ became man, his participation in our humanity, enabled to participate in his divinity. So every single one of us, has a spark of divinity in us.
And all of the people whose needs you serve have that spark of divinity that must respected. As I say to my colleagues sometimes, you have that spark too, you have a responsibility to act on it. So as long as we honor our values, we should be ok. But sometimes isn’t that quite.
And I want to thank all of you, and all of the elected officials here for the role that they play and I want to thank all of you for sending [Congressman] Darren Soto to the Congress.
He’s been a fighter for children’s health. He’s on the nutrition subcommittee for the Agriculture Committee, where the other side of the aisle just cut billions and billions of dollars from food stamps programs and they laughed and applauded when they did it. But 100 percent of the Democrats voted against that cut. Darren Soto led the way in that regard. So thank you Darren for your leadership on that.
Thank you Darren for fighting against the enormous tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, and now they have proceeded to say, well we have to pay for our tax cuts, now we have to cut Medicare, Medicaid, to the tune of two trillion dollars, the two of them combined – Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, education. It’s not a statement of our values. It’s not a statement of our values. But Darren Soto is there every step of the way to fight for those values, to fight for the people of his district, this state and the people of our country. Thank you Darren for your work in that regard.
He’s also fought for our native and public lands, public health, clean air and clean water, public safety, public monuments, public lands, public goods. Darren Soto is there for all of those purposes and he is fighting for the people of Puerto Rico. He was fighting for them before, and now that so many of them have come here, the already existing challenge of affordable housing in the area. He has been a knowledgeable champion on the issue and thank you for getting those extenders, but we still have to get more people into homes, beyond hotel rooms.
When you talked about Maria sending you a picture of her keys, she sent you a picture of her dignity. The dignity of having a home place where she could nurture her grandson and I’m sure a source of happiness to her, has to be a source of pride to all of you who have been part of that fight.
Darren mentioned that there’s – Congressman Soto mentioned that there was some issue with — I know coming from San Francisco about how the high cost of housing undermines the character of a community because it drives people out and it undermines our diversity, undermines our ability to keep families there, and teachers and firefighters because it is so expensive to live there. Seeing the situation here it is important to know we have an important national decision to make about having enough spots so that we have affordable and low-income housing and that we have it in a way that makes people hope and I thank you for that.
So what are some measures that Darren — Representative Soto — has taken the lead on? Advancing the low-income housing tax credit which we just had in the omnibus bill because of his initiative — that’s a very important piece of the affordable housing initiatives. The other is increasing funding for HUD, Housing and Urban Development, bill that we have in the Congress of the United States that increases that. An increase in how we allocate our resources, an increase in appropriations, an increase in how we deal with the tax code — all of it — to increase affordable housing in a way that people can improve the quality of their lives by living reasonably close to the place of their employment and the rest so the quality of life is good. Not having options but they are so far away that you will be spending a lot of time on the road.
And transportation is an important part of that. Darren and other Members from here, [Congresswoman] Val Demings and [Senator] Bill Nelson fighting for the funding of I-4 so thank you.
This all comes together. But, again, getting hope from the fact that we have to recognize the value of work, we have to have an increase in the minimum wage to respect the dignity of the worker.
Darren is courageously a co-sponsor of that legislation. It’s about increasing the minimum wage, as he mentioned, it’s about collective bargaining, it’s about safety in the workplace, all of these under attack. It’s also about pensions that people have paid into so they know they are there when they retire and that is at risk as well. Again, it’s about workers. It’s about America’s working families. It’s about families, it’s about children, it’s about our future. So it’s appropriate, in a place that is spiritually-orientated, that we recognize the value, dignity and worth of every person understanding the vision of our Founders: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. We must honor that vision.
We must honor the sacrifice of the men and women in uniform. Our veterans. Representative Soto spends a great deal of his commitment in Congress in honoring the sacrifice they make to keep us the great country we are and keep our freedom. Again, to acknowledge the aspirations of our children, the future, and in doing so, as we listen to the aspirations and apprehensions of America’s working families, you couldn’t be better served than the listener great challenger to the conscience of our country in the person of Darren Soto. So thank you for sending him to the Congress.
Q: I wanted to ask you guys, what would be the next step forward to helping these families?
Congressman Soto. So thank you for that, most of the help has been in the form of United Ways of Generous, to do deposit systems, and we’ve been helping place people into housing – much of which has been near here in Kissimmee and other cities further out, but we’ve been placing hundreds of different families.
We’ve been trying to get the disaster assistance program passed which would have given up to 18 months for leases which would have been the humane thing to do. I, along with Senator Bill Nelson – but when the Senator proposed that on the Floor of the Senate to pass, the Republicans objected to it. So the other program that would have been a huge lifeline was rejected, only three or three and half weeks ago. So now it’s just a matter of getting people into different available apartments and town houses in the area.
Though we’ve had a lot of success we’re still working with 27 families left. Many of them are single parents, or person with disabilities, or seniors, and we will do everything we can to find a place for them to live. In addition, we are hopeful we might get another extension but it’s very difficult to know.
We’re gearing up, as July 23rd is the final date to see that we place people in all different areas, and we’ve had a lot of positive responses to that.
But I do want to talk about a little bit more – a longer-term issue. The Leader talked about how we had an increase of 10 percent in the HUD program. That’s a 10 percent increase in the Community Development Block Grant program. Which we have a local deficiency here I’ve been telling them that for a couple months now. And that’s going to be increased money for local projects like Reverend Downey is talking about.
That’s a 10 percent increase in Community Development Block Grant and a 40 percent increase in the home program, which is for home insecure individuals. So there’s more money coming down and contrast to the state legislature – where despite Senator Torres and John Cortez and others fighting all session long – Governor [Rick] Scott and Republicans swept two-thirds of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. That could have been used to help out this.
So, we at the Federal level are fighting for additional affordable housing, but we’re having some difficulty on the state level despite our representation’s best efforts to fight for that.
Leader Pelosi. So if I just may add to that. The focus of that question was about the immediate needs of these families, which is very, very important. That immediate need highlighted an existing need that existed here before, so we’re hoping to use this as – Representative Soto has been a champion on the issue of the immediate need that has been created, as you said an opportunity to continue his good work on affordable housing that has been created across the board, across the community, because the challenge is beyond the newcomers, as important as that is. It gives an opportunity to say, ‘it would be a lot easier if we had a broader, more comprehensive access to housing.’ You had that challenge even before [Hurricane] Maria.
Reverend Downey. We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing for the past 5 years, which is provide long-term advocacy and support, sticking around, building relationships with people, being with our advocates, sticking side-by-side with people, fighting for their rights to have affordable housing in their community and applying for all those funding sources that were just listed, so that we can do that well, and we can do that with hope and dignity.
Leader Pelosi. And that will be a model for the nation. So understand how significant the work you are doing in the non-profit and in the public, official way with Representative Soto. So thank you for the community activism, you’ve all been involved in.
So, I go back to Maria’s story. The stories are more persuasive, than statistics or anything else. The stories of the difference policy makes in people’s lives, the right decision, to champion a values-based decision, many more are standing behind us. These are champions for value-based decisions, those standing behind us. Thank you.
Q: Moving forward, we live in an area where this could possibly happen again, hurricane could hit an island and this could repeat. What is the course of action you are taking to prepare for future situations like this one?
Leader Pelosi. You’ve probably seen in the last day or so there was a report from FEMA. They did not have the resources to meet the needs of Maria in Puerto Rico and that was a clear call to us to make sure we are prepared because there is a sacred trust between the people and the government that when a natural disaster strikes, that a remedy will be there — immediate emergency relief but also recovery and it’s totally unacceptable that FEMA did not have the resources and they are now recognizing that. That means in our budget there must be recognition that we have to anticipate, know what the needs are, have lessons learned from what worked and didn’t work. When you have one hurricane and then another. Harvey and then Maria. Harvey was 150 million dollars, the most expensive hurricane in history. Maria was 90 million. Irma was somewhere in the middle. This is a reality. Whether climate change or something different is happening in our climate and in the severity of the hurricanes.
Putting that question aside and focusing on how we anticipate on the ground, in advance, how to have the resources to help the rehabilitation of the region and the personal relocation of people. It’s about funding. It’s about funding and that’s a decision. It’s unfortunate. I am glad that the head of FEMA came forward and made the acknowledgment because there were others in the Administration who were giving themselves gold stars and A+s in terms of how their response was and it was not. We are going to go in two weeks to Puerto Rico and to get the update on what is happening on the ground.
That’s the beautiful thing about Representative Soto. He listens. He doesn’t speak anecdotally, he speaks from fact and anecdotes sometimes because it’s a good story. But he knows what he speaks about and he has been a tremendous force in addressing the needs in Puerto Rico and those affected in the Virgin Islands and also those who have come here. And he has been a visionary in asking, ‘How do we deal with this in a way that lessons the impact on people personally?’
Congressman Soto. Leader, if I may, we are now on notice as a nation. There can be two or three hurricanes hitting an area in the country at once because we have global warming making these storms more intense. So the federal government and FEMA needs to be prepared for two, three storm scenario. We had a lack of personnel. They admitted that. There was a lack of supplies. They were slow-going.
We also need to be much more prepared with regard to islands. We have states that are islands, we have parts of states that are islands, we have our territories that are islands, so we need to be quicker at deploying resources over open water and, thirdly, we need to be better at employing housing-relief programs. We shouldn’t have to beg for five extensions for hotel vouchers under TSA when we have something like Disaster Housing Program that Senator Nelson and I put forward where we could have had up to 18 months of funding for leases in apartments and townhouses so families wouldn’t have to be crammed in one room for month-long intervals just awaiting to see if they will be renewed for a stretch of two to three months. That is not a way to treat American citizens. So those are some of the things we will be pushing forward in addition to the great resiliency in Puerto Rico where they really need it.
We are all set. Thank you.
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