He’s five months into his first term as a congressman, just starting to tackle his agenda. Yet, Jamaal Bowman already is gearing up to face that biennial reckoning where he — and every other member of the U.S. House — go in front of the voters and hope they’ll approve another term in Washington.
And 2022 is especially important to Democrats as they hope to maintain, and maybe even strengthen, control of the House and the Senate.
Bowman is well aware that keeping Democrats in power is the only way he can begin to tackle the progressive agenda ahead of him. And he’s ready to battle for each and every seat.
“We got to be relentless, because (Republicans) are gearing up for 2022,” Bowman recently told a gathering of Northwest Bronx Indivisible members at a virtual forum. “We can’t let them take the House. If they take the House and we still have the Senate there, literally no work will get done. So it’s really important for us to keep organizing so that we can do the work that we need to do.”
That work for Bowman includes many of the platforms he originally campaigned on, beginning with affordable housing.
Many people were able to keep their homes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic thanks to rent and mortgage freezes. But those measures won’t be in place forever, and when they are lifted, hundreds of thousands — if not millions — could find themselves on the street if the government doesn’t step in.
But even without COVID-19, being able to afford rent has been a problem for a long time, Bowman said. Especially in New York City.
“The Biden administration is investing $50 billion” in affordable housing, the congressman said. “We need about double that. Annually.”
Housing is nothing more than a commodity to many who don’t have to plan paycheck-to-paycheck, Bowman said. And it shouldn’t be that way.
He wants to introduce legislation that would ensure families don’t have to pay more than quarter of their income toward housing.
“In this district right now, certainly in the high-needs parts, you have 30 percent of the people paying more than 50 percent of their salary toward rent or mortgage,” Bowman said.
It’s what the congressman has described before as “plantation capitalism,” where no matter how much someone works to try and keep their head above water, they continue to sink financially.
“Everyone should be able to put some money away to take a vacation, or to have some kind of paid leave,” Bowman said.
Homelessness is another issue that has seemingly been overlooked during the pandemic, the congressman added, and many seeking shelter aren’t just needing a roof over their heads, they need help through a variety of other services, too.
He cited a 2019 study published in The Lancet Public Health that claimed more than half of homeless people suffered some form of traumatic brain injury at some point in their life, and that nearly half of them have suffered a lifetime of either moderate or severe injury.
“So its about housing, but it’s also about services,” Bowman said. “If they can get housing and services together where they live, that’s the kind of housing we should be looking to build. It’s a holistic, community-based approach to deal with the issue of homelessness.”
The lack of available services also is a contributing factor to America’s other epidemic: gun violence.
“Many of our young people are at risk for a variety of reasons,” Bowman said. “And what we don’t do a good enough job doing is providing those who are at-risk and struggling with resources to help them. We don’t do it in schools with enough counseling services, we don’t do it in communities with enough social services and other programs.
“As a result, kids — and it’s mostly kids —get to the point where they ended up picking up a gun and using it.”
Having resources can make a difference, the congressman said, pointing to his own support network growing up.
“When I look at myself and my friends growing up who are now dead or doing long-term jail sentences, it’s because I had mentors and coaches and other things that they just never had,” Bowman said. “We need to bring all of that to all of our kids.”
Bowman wasn’t the only Washington representative invited to the Indivisible gathering. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also was there, vowing to ensure all the efforts to expand voting access leading up to the 2020 election are not thrown out the window by Republican legislatures across the country.
But the clock is ticking to pass some of the bills in Congress that could help preserve voting rights. Getting the votes in a razor-thin Democratic-controlled Senate has been tricky.
“If we don’t do it by August, then it’ll be too late for the Justice Department to come in and undo all these despicable Republican rules to limit people’s right to vote,” Schumer said.
“You want to hear one of the things these sons of guns are doing? They say in certain states you would need a notary public to vote by absentee, to come to your house. I’m not unsophisticated, but I don’t know how to get a notary public to come to my house to vote.
“So we have to get it done by August, so the Justice Department can undo all these rules in time for the 2022 election.”
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