PATERSON – Standing in St. Joseph’s Hospital in his hometown downtown, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) refused to badmouth his younger retiring colleagues or speculate on their reasons for departure amid grinding headlines about D.C. deficiencies and partisan politics.
But Pascrell, in criticizing Gov. Chris Christie today for obstructing the implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA), said now is the time to fight to cover those 95,000 New Jerseyans who will go without healthcare coverage if the state does not spend $7.67 million in ACA grant funds.
“I never think about retirement,” said Pascrell, standing with women in the human services field in the hospital.
“I know the easiest thing to do is cast a vote,” said the congressman. “I want the tough issues.”
He turned to the women behind him.
“They deal with this thing, they deal with tough issues every day,” Pascrell added. “I could not be a case worker. That’s what they do.”
The money Pascrell wants must be spent by Feb. 20th or the state loses it, but the congressman insisted there are ways of making sure New Jersey – by appealing for an extension – can re-secure the critical funds.
In January, Pascrell introduced HR 3884, the Ensuring Full IUse of Federal Healh Care Funding Act – legislation that would allow the feds to recoup any unspent grant funds and make them available to qualified entities to engage in ACA outreach, education and enrollment activities.
He wants Christie to act.
“We have nearly a million uninsured people in New Jersey who, thanks to the Affordable Health Care Act, have access to quality, affordable coverage, some for the first time in their lives,” Pascrell said. “Sadly, Governor Christie has prided himself on being an impediment to providing healcare to New Jerseyans instead of being a partner in implementing this law. It’s clear that obstruction is the name of the game for radical Republican governors across the country.”
Three of Pascrell’s colleagues – U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R-3), U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) – are done with congress, having announced their retirement in recent days (Andrews and Holt) and months (Runyan).
“I know Representative Andrews , Holt and Runyan,” said Pascrell. “I have worked with all three of them and they are all three good men of character.”
He didn’t dispute that each one of them would have something to say about the dysfunction in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But he insisted he feels energized for his causes, including this one.
The governor did not respond to a letter Pascrell said he sent in October of last year.
Christie’s office today did not respond for comment.
Jackie Clay, who worked for 35 years as a healthcare professional before losing her job last year, went to the microphone beside Pascrell, and broke down when she revealed her stage 3 cancer diagnosis in November and no accompanying healthcare coverage.
If New Jersey had tapped the ACA grants, “There would have been more resources out there,” Clay said, as the congressman steadied her. “I’m a working person. I’m someone who always had insurance.”
State Senator Nia H. Gill (D-34) also called on the Christie Administration to immediately submit a plan to federal officials to use the $7.6 million in grant funding to promote the federally-operated health exchange in New Jersey.
“New Jersey received this grant from the federal government two years ago. It is incomprehensible that the administration has failed to submit an acceptable plan to use this funding, and is now due to allow millions of dollars in vitally needed funds to expire,” Gill said yesterday in a statement. “Far too many New Jerseyans remain unaware of their ability to access health insurance on the marketplace and their potential eligibility for subsidies from the federal government. We have an opportunity to use this funding to reach those in need of healthcare throughout the state and to ensure they have the information they need to get covered. The administration has an obligation to act, and it must do so immediately. If they fail to meet the deadline, state officials must explain fully why they would leave behind this funding to the detriment of our state. The administration’s decision-making process concerning this funding has not been transparent, and the public deserves better.”