Local Priorities in NY-1
In the first part of this two part op-ed, I discussed my local efforts to improve security, the economy, and support for our veterans and law enforcement in the First Congressional District. While these are some of my highest priorities in 2017, there are still a number of other important areas where we can advance the direction of our district in the coming years. In this second part of my two part op-ed, I will focus on the education, infrastructure, healthcare, and environmental priorities facing our district.
There are so many ways we can improve the quality of education for Long Island’s students. This Congress, I am reintroducing the Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act to reduce testing to pre-No Child Left Behind levels and shift the focus from testing to teaching in our Long Island classrooms. I also remain committed to advancing legislation to boost Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs to prepare students in our communities for jobs in the 21st Century. We are so fortunate to have a vibrant science community on Long Island with centers such as Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University. In response to the student debt crisis, I will reintroduce the Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL) Act to replace the current broken student loan system with an individualized loan repayment program tailored to our students’ needs. I will also be working hard to expand Pell Grants for higher education. A recent study has shown that the average graduate in New York has over $32,000 in student debt; this crisis must be swiftly addressed.
Long Island’s infrastructure is in critical need of continued support. Last Congress, I got my Safe Bridges Act signed into law as part of a five year, fully funded highway bill. Under the Safe Bridges Act, over 80 bridges and overpasses across the First Congressional District are eligible once again for federal funding. I will continue to drive funding from this bill to local infrastructure projects, such as Hospital Road Bridge. We must also modernize and stabilize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to better help Long Islanders threatened by storms and floods, as well as to encourage mitigation and improve transparency within the NFIP. Air travel is very important to many Long Islanders, and my office and I will be working with local airports like MacArthur and Gabreski to improve travel options within the district, but we also must mitigate aircraft noise over the East End, especially for residents of the North Fork.
We must also improve health care on Long Island as a top priority. Obamacare has been nothing short of a disaster for countless hardworking families and our economy. This flawed law has resulted in higher deductibles, higher premiums, cancelled policies, less choices and lost doctors, among many other challenges. We must repeal and replace Obamacare with a new reality that will work better and make healthcare more affordable for Long Islanders, while continuing to cover those with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parent's policy. I will also be working to ensure facilities such as Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory have the funding necessary to continue to advance life saving research and technologies. Additionally, here in Suffolk County, our communities and families have been severely impacted by the rise of prescription drug abuse and the growing heroin crisis. Last year, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, which was signed into law, to help combat the heroin and opioid epidemic through community-based education, prevention, treatment and recovery programs. I will continue working with local elected officials, law enforcement, health professionals, community groups, parents, concerned residents and those in recovery, to discuss and develop a more localized solution to address this crisis by increasing treatment and recovery services, education, and stopping the influx of illegal substances.
Our environment and natural resources are so important to our life, culture, and economy here on Long Island. All Americans should have access to clean air and water, which is why I have been working tirelessly over the past two years to protect our natural treasures. I am a member of several environmental congressional caucuses, including the Climate Solutions Caucus that explores policy options to address our changing climate. It is critical that we continue to protect Long Island’s waterways through efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution, improve local wastewater treatment infrastructure, and utilize new septic technology, with the goal of clean water for all. One of my highest priorities in Congress is to pursue a better direction for Plum Island. This island is cherished by the local community for its abundance in cultural, historical, ecological, and natural resources. I will continue working to advance my bill, that passed the House last Congress, to ensure continued research, public access and permanent preservation for Plum Island. Working with the Army Corps of Engineers, we will also advance essential dredging and shoreline projects, including the Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) Project.
We have made some great progress in the past few years advancing local priorities, but there remains important work still ahead. I look forward to taking on these challenges in the coming months and years.
Congressman Lee Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York. In Congress, Rep. Zeldin serves on two House Committees: Financial Services and Foreign Affairs.