Voting to Advance Voting Rights and Urging Senate to take Action
This week, I voted to send the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act to the Senate for debate and ultimate passage. I also reviewed the proposed map by a partisan Tennessee House committee that would add Tipton County to the 9th Congressional District; applauded the leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for asking the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) serious questions about the energy burden it imposes on ratepayers and its commitment to renewable energy; announced historic levels of funding for the rehabilitation of Tennessee’s bridges; called attention to the availability of homeowner assistance; encouraged tax filers to file online because of pandemic-related delays and staffing shortages; questioned expert witnesses about Memphis’ waterfront priorities and criteria for evaluating national pipeline permits; announced a cancer research grant for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC); commended local arts organizations for receiving prestigious National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants; reminded constituents of tomorrow's open enrollment deadline for Healthcare.gov; and offered a health tip. Keep reading and follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see what I’m doing as it happens.
Congressman Cohen during August 24 House debate on voting rights legislation
On Thursday, I voted for, and the House of Representatives passed, a measure sending the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act to the Senate. These voting rights measures were attached to a NASA bill already passed in the Senate and were crafted to permit the Senate to debate them without taking a vote on a procedural motion that could be filibustered. Unfortunately, getting around the antiquated filibuster on final passage would require rules reform to be supported by a majority of Senators, which President Biden and I have been urging the Senate to do. As the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, I have presided at 13 hearings on voting rights legislation over the past two years, eliciting testimony describing deliberate and ongoing efforts to disenfranchise minority voters. As Republican state legislatures and governors around the country work to erode voting rights, I urge my Senate colleagues to take up and pass these bills to protect our democracy.
On Wednesday, the Republican-dominated Tennessee House Select Committee on Redistricting released its proposed congressional map, which fails to consider the importance of minority influence districts, especially in Davidson County/Nashville. I have long opposed this sort of partisan gerrymandering and have advocated both as a State Senator and in the House of Representatives for restoring public confidence in government through redistricting by removing self-interested partisans from decisions on how Americans elect their representatives. The Freedom to Vote Act, the comprehensive voting and democracy reform bill that we passed this week in the House, would also place restrictions on partisan gerrymandering, but it is being filibustered by Senate Republicans. In Western Tennessee, the Committee’s proposed plan would add Tipton County to the 9th Congressional District, which I have represented since 2007. I have been in contact with my friend Jeff Huffman, the Tipton County Executive, about the county’s priorities and needs. For the past 100 years, the member representing Shelby County in Congress has solely represented Shelby County. I am the principal sponsor of the John Tanner Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act, which would create non-partisan redistricting commissions that would draw lines based on community interests, compactness and geographical contiguity, assuring public confidence in the results. Named for the former Congressman from West Tennessee who championed independent redistricting, the proposed law would remove self-interested partisans from the Census-based decisions on how Americans choose their representatives.
On Thursday, the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) CEO Jeffrey Lyash out of concern for the company’s high electricity rates, the energy burden experience by ratepayers -- specifically singling out those in Memphis-- and the inadequate commitment to transition to renewable energy and addressing climate change. See my release in which I applaud the Committee’s attention to this issue here.
This morning, I announced that Tennessee will receive historically high levels of funding for the repair, rehabilitation and replacement of its bridges this year and for the next five years because of President Biden’s Infrastructure Law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which only Congressman Jim Cooper and I voted for last year of all the Tennessee Congressional delegation. Tennessee will receive $60.4 million in the current fiscal year and $302.1 million over the next five years to address 881 bridges identified as in poor condition. See my release on the funding here.
On January 10, 2021, the State of Tennessee received $168 million in funding for the Tennessee Homeowner Assistance Fund (TNHAF). This fund was created as part of the American Rescue Plan and is currently being administered by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA). Its purpose is to assist homeowners who have been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with unmanageable housing expenses. This includes mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, past due homeowners association fees, and other housing-related costs.
Homeowners with a household income of $119,850 or less may apply and receive assistance of up to $40,000 per household. Residents who wish to apply for the TNHAF program can visit thda.org/help-for-homeowners/haf to access the online portal and begin the application process.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that the nation’s tax season will begin on Monday, January 24, 2022, when the IRS will begin accepting and processing 2021 tax year returns. People can begin filing their tax returns immediately with tax software companies, including IRS Free File partners.
The IRS is strongly encouraging that you file your taxes online this year. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, IRS service offices are currently experiencing delays processing tax returns filed on paper. However, the IRS has adapted all its documentation for online filing that will be processed much quicker than returns filed by physical mail. This is important to note, as the IRS uses information from tax returns to send out refunds and COVID-relief stimulus payments, including refunds for missed stimulus payments that can be claimed under the Recovery Rebate Credit. If you do not have access to a personal computer, please consider asking a family member or friend for help to file your taxes electronically. When you are filing your taxes, be sure to also double check that all the information you provide is correct and you have included the proper documents. Errors in tax filings can cause significant delays in receiving tax refunds. Please review this checklist when filing your taxes to avoid common mistakes:
Please note that the deadline for filing your tax returns is Monday, April 18, 2022. If you are granted an extension, the IRS will let you know when your filing deadline is. October 17, 2022 is the latest the IRS will extend the deadline for filing your tax returns. You can find more information about requesting an extension here.
On Wednesday, as a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, I questioned expert witnesses about the City of Memphis’ waterfront initiatives and urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take more deliberate efforts to incorporate community input, climate change and environmental justice issues in considering approval of nationwide pipeline permits like the one that authorized the Byhalia Connection pipeline, which was successfully stopped last year. See my release on the hearing here.
On Monday, I announced a significant grant to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center from the National Cancer Institute for a cancer research study on reducing cancer risk by managing obesity. See my release on the grant here.
I announced on Thursday that the National Endowment for the Arts has identified three Memphis-area arts organizations as recipients of its prestigious grant awards. Creative Aging Memphis will receive $10,000 for art projects and multidisciplinary works; Indie Memphis will receive $20,000 for media arts projects; and the University of Memphis will receive $15,000 to research the availability of grants in the arts. See my release on the grants here.
According to the US Census, 12.1 percent of Tennesseans under 65 do not have health insurance—which is more than 703,000 citizens. If you need health insurance, you can apply for coverage for 2022 through Saturday, January 15, 2022 (tomorrow). Affordable, quality health care is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Financial help is available. Coverage could be more affordable than you think. You can visit www.Healthcare.gov/lower-costs to see if you qualify for tax credits that will be applied as discounts on your monthly insurance premium.
If you are on Medicare, Medicaid, or if your employer offers qualified health insurance in which you are enrolled, you’re already covered and won’t need to enter the Marketplace for your health coverage.
Free assistance is available at 1-800-318-2596. You can also call this number to find out if TennCare (Tennessee’s Medicaid program) is a coverage option for you.
During the Memphis and Shelby County Joint Task Force on Covid update on Wednesday, Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowan provided what he called “sobering” news about the ongoing pandemic, and urged everyone to exercise personal responsibility to avoid contracting or spreading the disease. He said the number of cases has doubled in the past week and that this weekend will see the highest rate of hospitalizations so far during the two-year crisis. He also noted that there is a MATA bus driver shortage because of quarantining, affecting routes. He said police and firefighter absenteeism is also having an impact, with firefighters resorting to 48-hour shift duty. “We have a difficult row to hoe,” he concluded.
The Shelby County Health Department continues to offer vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11 accompanied by a parent or legal guardian on a walk-in basis at its immunization clinic at 814 Jefferson Avenue between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The accompanying parent or legal guardian must provide documentation of the child’s birth date with either a birth certificate or shot record.
In addition, many adults already fully vaccinated are eligible for coronavirus booster shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends booster shots for adults who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago or people aged 12 or older who received their second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech at least five months ago or people 18 or older who received their second dose of the Moderna vaccine at least six months ago. More information about the booster shots is available here.
Vaccines are currently available for everyone 5 and older. If you need a ride to a vaccination site, you can call 901-RIDE901 (901-743-3901) to coordinate the best transportation option for you. The City of Memphis is also now coordinating with organizations, congregations, community groups, and businesses to host coronavirus vaccinations. The Shelby County Health Department at 814 Jefferson is also dispensing vaccines from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. No appointments are needed. To find the latest information about vaccination sites visit https://covid19.memphistn.gov/
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s on-campus testing operation is now open at 3 North Dunlap Street. A listing of all local testing sites can be found here.
If you have any concerns about getting vaccinated or boosted, please talk with your health care provider.
“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by human beings for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison people because they are different from others.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I wish everyone a productive and inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday.
As always, I remain.