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LAREDO MORNING TIMES: Cuellar discusses health, economic partnerships and Latino museum found in COVID-19 bill
Laredo Morning Times, January 11, 2021
Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) continued discussing Friday the various bills passed within the latest COVID-19 relief package.
Cuellar commented on the Omnibus Appropriations and Emergency Coronavirus Relief package. According to the congressman’s office, the bill helped secure language that will create a Latino museum in the nation’s capital, increase economic partnerships between the United States and Mexico, continue the Donations Acceptance Program for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, end surprise medical billing and expand universal charitable giving deduction for the tax year 2021.
“The partnership is to make sure that we work with Mexico with a focus on health, entrepreneurship and the education sectors, so this basically calls on the U.S. Department and of course working with Mexico to make sure that we work in energy, health, business and education sectors,” Cuellar said.
He said there are various community colleges and other educational institutions in the country that have already begun implementing programs where they work with Mexican students and that this helps the Republic of Mexico greatly. However, he hopes this bill helps foster even more economic partnerships.
In terms of health, he believes the need to look for healthcare workers that come from distant areas such as Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries is something that could also be done with the Republic of Mexico. He said it could help both countries foster more ties while also having more easy access to the resources needed for medically underserved areas.
In terms of vaccine distribution, he said this bill helps show how the federal government has done its part, but it is up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and for individual states to modify how they will distribute the funds for vaccines.
“I only think that the State of Texas has only distributed about 44%,” Cuellar said. “I call on the state to find a way to look for more vaccination hubs to get them out there faster as I understand the CDC had certain guidelines such as Phase 1A and 1B, and under 1B that covered law enforcement, of course that was the federal government, and the state then changed it to the elderly and those who had preexisting conditions, so there is a low difference between there.”
Cuellar said the new policy also attempts to prevent people from receiving any surprise bills when seeking medical care. He said many people who seek medical assistance and get a procedure tend to get a bill that is surprisingly high, and this is often caused by the individual going out of their network.
“We now have language there that requires health plans to hold patients harmless from surprise medical bills,” Cuellar said. “This would be applied to everybody and make sure that patients are only required to pay the in-network cosign amount and deductible if they will be charged for out-of-network procedures.”
According to Cuellar, this has even happened to him where he has gotten large medical bills that do not match with the networks they have. Many people around the county and the district he represents have had this happen to them as well.
Another focus of the omnibus bill is the construction of a Latino museum in the nation’s capital. Cuellar said this is needed as Hispanic and Latino influence has existed even before any other European influence in the United States as Spanish was the first European spoken language in the country. The first colony was also Spanish in Florida, and the way coins are made comes from Spain as well.
“We have put the authorization to make us look at the collection and the study and the research and the establishment of exhibitions whether it is Hispanic life, Latinos, history, culture, and now there will be a place in Washington D.C. just like the Native Americans and the African Americans,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar said the museum is needed as Latino influence in the area is often not highlighted or showcased as it is with other minorities. The fact that Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group in the country is another major reason why he believes this needed to be done.
A program called the Donations Acceptance Program for CBP that he enacted in 2014 was another policy found within the authorized bill.
The policy allows for the port of entries to take donations by various entities including private, public, city and even county governments to make sure that the personnel at the ports continue to have all the resources they need to continue their services. Cuellar said he worked with Texas Senator John Cornyn to ensure that this program could be put in place.
Taxes, especially regarding the charitable tax dedications, was another topic put into the bill.
“We were able to put in our legislation, Chris Smith (NJ-4) and myself, to make sure that we continue to have a deduction, and it’s up to $300 for a qualifying nonprofit organization, or if its a married couple that will go up to $600 for them,” Cuellar said.
The bill also included language that makes much more feasible for parents and children to get federal aid assistance. Also, the Pell Grant, which is one of the main grants offered by the federal government for college students, will be increasing for the first time in 10 years. More information about these changes will soon be offered.
“We will certainly be working in expanding outreach and awareness,” Cuellar said.
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