Sewell delivers State of the District address
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) delivered her 2019 State of the District address, highlighting the work she has done to bring opportunity to Alabama’s 7th District and goals for the year ahead.
“In Congress, my focus has always been on bringing better opportunities and more resources to Alabama’s 7th District,” Sewell said. “And for those opportunities to exist here in Alabama and throughout the 7th District, we need to ensure our state’s engines of job growth maintain their global competitiveness and continue to create jobs. We like to say our number one focus is jobs, jobs, jobs!”
Sewell outlined the many legislative wins she helped secure on behalf of the 7th District, including the $1.1 billion in federal grants to fund critically important projects throughout the district and a 14 percent increase in federal funding for all HBCUs – including the seven that call the 7th District home.
In the year ahead, Sewell said one of her top priorities is the passage of her Voting Rights Advancement Act, which will restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“As a native of Selma and Representative for the Voting Rights and Civil Rights District of America, I believe with every fiber of my being that we have a duty to ensure that every American – regardless of race, creed or color – has the opportunity to make their vote count at the ballot box,” Sewell said. “To be clear: voting rights are under attack. Old battles have become new again!”
A full transcript of Sewell’s address is below and a link to download the video is here.
To my constituents, to Alabama’s state and local elected officials, and to my district’s many community leaders, I am honored to come before you today to report on the state of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.
Last November 2018, Americans made their voices heard! They turned out and elected the most diverse Congress in our nation’s history and Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, picking up the most seats in a generation.
The House Democratic majority has a bold agenda to increase access to affordable healthcare, strengthen wages, and repair our infrastructure.
In Congress, my focus has always been on bringing better opportunities and more resources to Alabama’s 7th District. I am happy to report that our office worked to return over $2.6 million in retroactive benefits to our constituents in 2018. Our district also received $1.1 billion in federal grants to fund critically important projects throughout the district.
Our office motto, “Constituents First,” represents our commitment to ensuring that we are always ready to assist constituents and your families throughout the year.
I know that for Alabama to succeed, everyone in our state needs better opportunities to climb the economic ladder and strengthen their competitiveness in today’s job market.
And for those opportunities to exist here in Alabama and throughout the 7th District, we need to ensure our state’s engines of job growth maintain their global competitiveness and continue to create jobs. We like to say our number one focus is jobs, jobs, jobs!
That means we must work hard to provide the educational tools to help open doors of opportunity for all.
Alabama’s 7th District is home to the University of Alabama, UAB, outstanding community colleges and seven historically black colleges and universities that help prepare our students for success.
This year, I am proud that we helped secure a 14 percent increase in federal funding for our HBCUs and passed loan relief for HBCUs struggling with debt, like Stillman College. We must recommit ourselves to helping ensure that all of our schools of higher education are strengthened for future generations to come.
In today’s economy, it’s imperative that Alabama continues to develop a competitive workforce through career and technical education.
Too often, manufacturers and business owners tell me that many positions remain unfilled because they cannot find employees with the skills needed to help their businesses grow and remain competitive.
We need to work together to provide all Alabamians with the necessary skills to be competitive in a 21st Century workforce.
That is why I have been working across the aisle with my colleagues in Congress to encourage businesses to work with community colleges and universities to develop apprenticeship programs that will lead to more skilled workers and good, high paying jobs for constituents in the 7th District.
Our office has introduced the Workforce Development Tax Credit Act, a bipartisan bill that would reward companies for having training programs and hiring those workers for skilled manufacturing jobs. It would help do that by assisting companies in creating recruitment pipelines which would costly turnover and provide tax incentives for businesses to provide apprenticeship programs in manufacturing.
One of the many ways we’ve been working over the past eight years to help support our constituents is by helping them find good, high-paying jobs. I am a firm believer that the key to success begins with the dignity of a job.
This past year I was proud to host our 7th Annual Congressional Job fair in Montgomery. At this event on the campus of ASU, we had over 1,100 job seekers and 104 major employers in industries ranging from the automotive industry to the military to health services. In 2019, we will bring our annual job fair back to Selma to offer our constituents an opportunity to talk with some of our state’s biggest employers about quality job opportunities in the Black Belt.
This year we also continued our career readiness workshops through Project R.E.A.D.Y., a workforce development initiative that offers training by career professionals in partnership with educational institutions throughout the district.
I know that creating opportunity means standing up for policies that strengthen Alabama’s economy. As the only representative from Alabama on the House Ways and Means Committee, I have and will continue to stand up for free and fair-trade policies that expand markets for our farmers and manufacturers.
And as always, I’m working across the aisle to make health care more affordable. Last year, we were successful in thwarting Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But that’s not enough -- rising health costs still squeeze paychecks and millions still lack coverage, especially in states like Alabama that didn’t expand Medicaid.
So, I am working closely with my colleagues in Congress to stabilize and strengthen the ACA, expand coverage, simplify the health insurance process and reduce costs.
And the facts are clear: premiums and health care costs are higher in states that have not expanded Medicaid.
Over 90% of rural hospital closures have been in states that did not expand Medicaid before the closure.
In Alabama, approximately 314,000 more people would be covered under Medicaid expansion.
Not doing so is a poor decision; and while I can’t force Alabama’s governor to expand Medicaid, I can continue to promote legislation that provides more incentives for her to do so.
So, one of the first bills I introduced this Congress would extend the federal match to allow states that expand Medicaid in the future to still receive a 100 percent federal match for the first three years. The legislation will help cover the cost of expanding Medicaid to thousands of low-income families and non-elderly adults without children, giving them access to affordable health insurance.
Last year, I also made it a top priority to help improve health services in rural areas of our district.
I am proud to have worked with my colleagues across the aisle to secure funding for struggling, rural hospitals. To improve health services in rural communities, we introduced the Rural Emergency Medical Center Act and fought for funding for community health centers that provide necessary primary care services.
We also hosted a Health Fair in Lowdnes County with Senator Doug Jones to encourage residents to get screened for health conditions resulting from exposure to raw sewage and promote our legislation to provide grants for low income residents to install septic tanks.
Sen. Jones and I were successful in getting the Rural Septic Tank Access Act included in the Farm Bill.
Since I came to Congress in 2011, I have worked to bring resources and solutions to the families living in Alabama’s Black Belt with inadequate wastewater and sewer systems. I am proud to report that this past year we were able to also secure an additional $1.8 billion in funding for water and wastewater infrastructure.
I have toured homes with no wastewater systems at all, and communities that rely on unsafe spray fields for their wastewater treatment. I have met with families in rural Alabama who struggle with the health and economic challenges created by failing wastewater systems. Every day, their stories inspire my fight in Congress for stronger investments in our wastewater infrastructure.
The funding we secured will help give our rural communities access to resources to bring their wastewater infrastructure into the 21st century.
I am excited to report that this investment is already at work in the City of Uniontown. In November 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $23.4 million in funding to repair the community’s existing wastewater treatment plant and install new infrastructure.
USDA’s assistance in Uniontown is an important step forward, but the wastewater crisis facing Alabama’s rural Black Belt is not over. I will continue fighting for Uniontown, Lowndes County, and all of our state’s residents who have to live with inadequate basic infrastructure.
While I am happy to report many successes over the past year, there is always more work left to be done to improve the lives and opportunities for those living in Alabama’s 7th District.
One of my top priorities this year is the passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which will restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As a native of Selma and Representative for the Voting Rights and Civil Rights District of America, I believe with every fiber of my being that we have a duty to ensure that every American – regardless of race, creed or color – has the opportunity to make their vote count at the ballot box.
To be clear: voting rights are under attack. Old battles have become new again!
We saw evidence of that in the 2018 midterm elections in November when, in Georgia, the Republican candidate for governor put 53,000 voter registrations on hold, nearly 70 percent of which were for black voters.
We saw it in North Dakota, where Republicans established a new requirement that voters show ID with a residential street address. That state law was a barrier to voting for thousands of Native Americans who live on reservations and use PO boxes, rather than residential street addresses.
We saw it in North Carolina, where state legislators closed 20 percent of early voting locations, making it harder to vote.
And we saw it in New Hampshire, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, where students faced higher hurdles to casting their ballots.
The foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement shed blood, marched and died for the right to vote in Selma and throughout the 7th District. I firmly believe that we must not only protect that legacy, but we should advance it.
So, I’m leading the charge to help rectify the ongoing injustices that many voters, especially minority voters, face when they go to the ballot box.
We plan to participate in field hearings around the country to prove that voter suppression is still alive and well.
We must create a steady drum beat to restore the Voting Rights Act because voting rights has become a partisan issue. So, while the VRAA will pass the House of Representatives since Democrats will support it, we must convince Republicans in the Senate to join us in order for our bill to become law. We all have a role to pay in raising public awareness about the need to restore the Voting Rights Act.
Indeed, we have a lot of work to do this year in Congress.
We must work to create jobs and raise wages in communities that have been left behind for far too long. We must ensure that all Alabamians, from families in Birmingham to those in our rural Black Belt, have adequate access to health care. We will fight to make sure that every Alabamian has the tools they need to thrive in today’s economy. And we will work to make sure every American who casts a ballot has their vote counted.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you in Congress.
May God bless you, and may God bless the great state of Alabama.