DENVER -- A new bill that would fund the government through September 2021 and provide accompanying COVID-19 relief is awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature. While direct disbursements to Americans, many of whom are struggling with medical, utility and rent or mortgage payments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have taken center stage, numerous other components of the budget bill will play a starring role for a long time to come.
Many of the bill’s provisions will fund -- at varying levels -- key public health, environmental and consumer protection initiatives. The nonprofits U.S. PIRG and Environment America and their state affiliates have been leading voices on -- and drivers of -- policy in these areas for decades. As you continue your coverage of the varied aspects of the 5,600-page legislation, please consider contacting our experts for interviews or background information.
The following experts are available to interview on the following topics, either over the phone or via Zoom/Skype:
While a nebulous amount of funding for testing is included in the coronavirus relief bill, only $22.4 billion is explicitly allocated (see page 1 of the link) for testing, contact tracing and other activities necessary to effectively monitor and suppress COVID-19.
U.S. PIRG’s Public Health Campaigns Director Matthew Wellington, email@example.com, has led a wide variety of campaigns since the onset of the pandemic late last winter, including ongoing calls for more government funding for testing, contract tracing and personal protective equipment. Most notably, during the void of federal leadership on the pandemic, he’s helmed our campaign to get governors to enforce stricter shutdown restrictions to squelch the virus. To aid in this campaign, Wellington organized about 1,400 leading medical professionals from across the country, an effort he furthered with TV appearances on NBC Nightly News and MSNBC, as well as print/web coverage from CNN, Forbes, The Washington Post and numerous other publications. Wellington loves the holiday season as much as anyone, but lately he and the doctors he’s working with have been calling on Americans to stay home for the holidays.
Stimulus packages and government transparency:
After the passage of the first coronavirus stimulus package in April, a striking amount of relief money that the Small Business Administration was supposed to give to small businesses ended up in the hands of large ones -- and the federal government was not very transparent about who got what. This lack of transparency has not improved.
U.S. PIRG’s Tax and Budget Advocate R.J. Cross, firstname.lastname@example.org, co-authored our Toward Common Ground report earlier this year with the conservative National Taxpayers Union Foundation. It offers bipartisan suggestions to Congress on how it could save taxpayers $790 billion over the next decade. The previous year, Cross wrote our Following the Money report investigating government transparency about economic development subsidies. Throughout 2020, Cross has called for transparency when it comes to the trillions of dollars the government has injected into the economy -- and spoken out when our money has gone to inappropriate recipients or it's been unclear where the money has gone. Cross has testified before Congress on auto loans and conducted many TV interviews.
Consumer financial protections:
One of the primary reasons it took so long to come to an agreement on the second COVID stimulus bill was business interests insisted on the inclusion of corporate liability protections. After PIRG and others spoke out against this provision, Congress removed it from the “final” bill.
U.S. PIRG’s Senior Director of Federal Consumer Program Ed Mierzwinski, email@example.com, has been a leading voice for consumer finance protections for four decades. His 2020 focus has been advocating for Americans reeling from the coronavirus pandemic so that they don’t end up with permanent damage to their finances, including their credit reports, as he co-wrote in a USA Today op-ed earlier this year. He can discuss additional necessary protections, including the need for restrictions on garnishment of stimulus checks, interest rate increases, debt collection, utility shutoffs, auto repossessions, evictions and foreclosures. He is an expert about the failures of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to protect consumers as it reduces rules banks and financial firms must follow, even as consumer complaints to the CFPB spike to record levels during the pandemic.
Surprise medical billing:
At times, millions of Americans have received surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers. Part of the omnibus bill would protect consumers from these outrageous charges.
Patricia Kelmar, firstname.lastname@example.org, directs the health care campaign work for U.S. PIRG and provides support to our state offices for state-based health initiatives. Her prior roles include senior director of health policy with the National Consumers League, senior policy advisor at NJ Health Care Quality Institute, and consumer advocate at NJPIRG. She serves on the board of the Patient and Caregiver Engagement Advisory Group for the National Quality Forum.
Renewable energy, climate change and global warming:
As part of the omnibus bill, Congress passed a suite of energy legislation that will fund renewable energy and climate change improvements, from phasing out potent greenhouse gases to reducing dirty diesel vehicles on the road.
Johanna Neumann, email@example.com, heads Environment America’s clean energy team, which has been a driving force behind the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources at both the federal level and in numerous states, cities and college campuses in recent years. Neumann used to run our Maryland PIRG state affiliate, where she helped stop the construction of a new nuclear reactor on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and helped build the support necessary to pass the EmPOWER Maryland Act, which set a goal of reducing the state’s per capita electricity use by 15 percent.
Matt Casale, firstname.lastname@example.org, heads up U.S. PIRG’s environmental programs including climate, energy and transportation. He’s co-authored numerous reports, including how to use VW settlement money to electrify bus fleets and the annual highway boondoggles report (the latest version of which just came out). He has been interviewed widely both at the state and national level, including by Wired, Miami Herald, Grist and Streetsblog.
The “final” bill omitted $11 billion in funding approved by the House earlier this year that would have paid to prevent sewage overflows and contamination of drinking water from lead and other sources via the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.
John Rumpler, email@example.com, runs Environment America’s clean water program. He has co-authored several research reports, including Safe for Swimming? and Get the Lead Out. John has also testified before Congress, most recently on appropriations for water infrastructure. In addition to securing federal funding for clean water, his team’s current efforts include restoring Clean Water Act protections, curbing pollution from factory farms, and working to “Get the Lead Out” of drinking water. John has appeared on camera for CBS This Morning, among other outlets. He’s also been interviewed by such outlets as U.S. News and World Report, Bloomberg and WebMD.
The Budgetary Process:
As we can tell from President Donald Trump’s last-minute veto threat, pulling together a comprehensive, wide-ranging budget everyone can accept is complicated. With many stakeholders involved who can buoy or sink the process, only long-time Capitol Hill insiders really understand how it gets done.
Katie Murtha, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the vice president of federal government affairs for both U.S. PIRG and Environment America. Murtha, who was recently named one of The Hill's "Top Lobbyists" for the third year in a row, directs our lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. Prior to her current role with The Public Interest Network, Katie served as chief of staff for Rep. John Dingell, advising on issues related to natural resources, energy, environment, Social Security and women’s issues.