Schatz Discusses Climate Change, Appropriations at Maui Town Hall
By Wendy Osher
US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawai‘i held a town hall meeting on Maui on Tuesday afternoon at Kahului Elementary School. During the event, Senator Schatz provided updates on his work in Washington and took questions from constituents on their concerns.
Sen. Schatz provided a detailed update on climate change, as well as advances in telemedicine, the US Census, border concerns and highlights on appropriations.
Climate Change: “We are making good progress.”
Sen. Schatz serves as the chair of a Senate-only Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. He said the thing that’s different about the committee as it relates to climate action is that there was an effort to be “geographically, politically and demographically diverse.”
“As much as the people who live in coastal states who care about the environment are essential to the climate movement, if we’re actually going to get to the point where we’re in a position to take action federally, we need to make sure that everybody across the country understands the following–that the cost of inaction is higher than the cost of action,” said Sen. Schatz.
“It’s really essential that the committee on the climate crisis is comprised of members who are not just your stalwarts that have been working on climate for a long time like myself,” said Sen. Schatz. He continued saying “climate hawks” are fine and important, but others are important as well “because they represent the views of farmers and fishermen, and people who care about the Great Lakes and aviation, the wildfires in the West, and understanding that this is not your father’s or grandfather’s climate movement. This is about preserving the American way of life and moving forward in a way that benefits everybody.”
Sen. Schatz also spoke about agencies that oversee Wall Street and measure risk including the Securities Exchange Commission, Commodities Future Trading Commission, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of Currency.
“The rest of the world–all of the central banks, all of the regulators in Europe and in Asia and in South and Central America are measuring climate risk. Our agencies are not,” said Sen. Schatz. “The reason is, they’ve decided: (a) it’s too political and (b) the risk is too long-term. First of all, they don’t get to decide what’s too political and what’s not political. They just have to measure risk as it is. Which is why the defense department would love to not touch climate as a political matter, but they do address climate because they can’t afford to ignore reality. That’s why the national intelligence assessment has also determined that climate change is basically tied for first in terms of the biggest risk facing the United States,” said Sen. Schatz.
Sen. Schatz reports that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is going to accurately book climate risk and that the Securities Exchange Commission is making progress in this area as well. He said this is important because, “now, money is going to have to follow that risk. And to the extent that publicly traded companies are betting on a fossil fuel future, they are going to have to readjust their plans.”
Sen. Schatz said that “at the agency level and certainly at the local level, there’s actually tons of good news and lots of reasons for hope.”
Tele-health or Tele-medicine:
Sen. Schatz said that different versions of telemedicine legislation has passed, enabling the public to take advantage of the service. “It used to be that you could go into a facility and do telemedicine. Nowadays, you should be able to interact with your clinician or your hospital via your smart phone. Ten years ago, if you were told to interact with your doctor through your smartphone, you would have been insulted and irritated. Now if you can’t, you’re insulted and irritated,” said Sen. Schatz, noting that bipartisan legislation was formed through co-sponsorship from both democrats and republicans.
“Very simply put, medicare now reimburses for telehealth. That is going to be transformational in the health care system,” said Sen. Schatz calling it “very exciting” news for rural places like Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi and more isolated areas of Maui, which are already taking advantage of it.
“One of the things that I like best about this legislation is that it was not the subject of controversy,” said Sen. Schatz. “Nobody pays attention when we get along, but we really got along on a healthcare issue and it’s going to be able to advance the ball. The other cool thing about it is that the Genesis of this bill was the University of Hawaiʻi and the folks that do telehealth throughout the Asia-Pacific region. This is a point of pride, I think, for all of us,” he said.
Census: Citizenship Question Won’t Be Asked, “Enormous Victory”
Sen. Schatz also shared the news today that the Trump administration said the 2020 Census will be printed without a citizenship question.
In a statement prior to the Town Hall event, Sen. Schatz said, “This is an enormous victory for the rule of law and the Constitution. We still have work to do to ensure a complete count, but this helps us to make sure that the government conducts this count in good faith and in compliance with the law.”
During the Town Hall event, Sen. Schatz explained further saying: “The constitution requires that every human being in America is counted every 10 years. We know that. Let’s clarify–It’s not every voter in America. It’s not every citizen in America. It’s not every adult in America. It is every person in America. The Constitutional framers did have an argument about this. They didn’t leave this open-ended. They said: No. We want to count every human.”
The Trump administration wanted the inclusion of a citizenship question, but a recent ruling by the Supreme Court sided in favor of opponents who argued that a question over citizenship status would “disenfranchise minority groups.”
Sen. Schatz called the ruling a win. “We as a community have to now engage in making sure that everybody in Maui Nui and across the state of Hawaiʻi is counted. The Governor has assembled a Complete Count Committee; but really the way to make sure that everybody gets counted is community organizations, churches, people who are trusted by their neighbors,” said Sen. Schatz.
“The count still has to be conducted and the consequences are really important. When we get formula funding, which is more than half of the federal funding that comes to the state of Hawaiʻi, the way the formula is calculated, is based on the census. So anybody uncounted is a federal dollar that we don’t get. that’s the consequences of not enabling everybody to be counted,” said Sen. Schatz.
Sen. Schatz said the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill “did not solve all the problems, but did a few good things.” It provided $2.88 billion to the Office of Refugee Resettlement with most of the money going to non-profits who do case management. Sen. Schatz also identified other positives of the legislation, saying “we need more judges to process the asylum claims.”
He said it also restricts transfer authority, which according to Sen. Schatz, would prevent the administration from “taking money from one pot and using it for either interior enforcement or for a physical barrier. That is prohibited in this law.”
According to Sen. Schatz, the legislation “doesn’t solve a lot of the problems on the border, but it prevents it from getting worse.”
“I believe these private contractors who are for-profit will get about $750 per person per day to house these kids and adults are in violation of the terms of their contract. The reason that that matters is if we find them to be in violation of the terms of their contract, we get to not pay them and maybe, more importantly, we get to disbar them,” said Sen. Schatz, noting that such action would prohibit them from receiving future public contracts.
According to Sen. Schatz, the leverage has been used in the past when a contractor is not delivering or is engaging in malfeasance.
Of the various committees that Sen. Schatz serves on, he identified the Appropriations Committee his favorite because. He said the committee enables him to help on a day to day basis and gives him the ability to find a “sweet spot” where there’s opportunity for collaboration.
Sen. Schatz outlined the various appropriations that have been made for projects on Maui:
- $14 million in the last appropriations bill (additionally) for public education on Maui;
- $9 million for public health;
- $30.5 for housing. “This one I hasten to add,” said Sen. Schatz who said the amount, “is absolutely not enough.” He said, “There is no dollar amount that I can come home and deliver that can solve the housing problem. There are some things that I can do to be helpful, but this is a community problem that we have on this island and on every other island… and I think we have to have a gut check moment about what it means to be progressive.” Sen. Schatz continued saying, “I believe that it’s hard to be in this–what they call intersectional progressive movement–and still oppose the housing of nurses and firefighters and the elderly and our young people, when and if they are able to go to college and come back. We have got to figure out a way to house the people that we live next to, that we would like to live next to, that are our literal offspring. We’ve got to figure out a way to do that and maintain the environmental integrity of our islands.”
- $14 million more for the Maui supercomputer.
- $9.5 million for a one-stop-shop for veterans adjacent to Maui High School. “It has been a tremendous honor to learn these issues a little better and understand what our veterans are going through and what they need in terms of physical infrastructure and care,” said Sen. Schatz who’s on the Subcommittee on Appropriations for the Veterans Administration, where he is the top democrat on the committee.
Question & Answer:
During the question and answer portion of the Town Hall, Sen. Schatz fielded questions on affordable housing, detention centers at the border, opioids, the Clean Water Act, Social Security, climate change, democracy, student loan debt and community television funding and medicaid.