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Debbie's Blog

Dingell Update: 07.03.2023

Dear Friend,

Happy Independence Week! Congress is out for two weeks, but Washington, D.C. has been far from quiet with multiple Supreme Court decisions that are being reacted to in very complicated ways, strong feelings on all sides, deep reactions by many, and lots of concern. Honestly, I am still trying to absorb it. I am home and very much out and about, talking to many and getting to all parts of the district. However, air quality has been an issue, triggering health problems for many, and I am empathetic as seven hours outside Wednesday triggered my asthma. We cannot escape this, it's our environment. I still believe there is no better place than Michigan in the summer. Long summer days, freshwater lakes, rivers, fishing, boating, outdoor picnics, hiking, fireworks, and cherry festivals this week - so many outdoor and indoor adventures. As we say, "Pure Michigan," but unfortunately, the Canadian wildfires have seriously impacted the air in so many places. This kind of week finds diverse conversations, lots of issues, town halls, summer festivals, district tours, rain, and sunshine. Below are a few highlights.

Supreme Court Decisions 

The Supreme Court has addressed several significant cases related to student loans, LGBTQI+ rights, and affirmative action. The Court's decisions in these areas have evoked strong reactions and sparked important conversations from many. They are complex and are provoking, strong, and divergent opinions. What is clear to me is that the impact of these rulings extends far beyond legal considerations and will be part of our broader societal discussions on equality, fairness, and diversity – debates we need to protect within our communities.
Affirmative Action
The Affirmative Action decision was unfortunately not surprising, especially to those of us in Michigan who had this issue on the ballot more than a decade ago. But it raises serious issues about how we ensure equal opportunity to all in school admissions which is very complicated, but I fear it will reinforce barriers to education and opportunity for Black and Brown students and their families and set us back decades in work for a more just and equal nation. Let me be clear, all students deserve a fair shot at a quality education, regardless of their income, where they grew up, or their racial and ethnic background. Holistic admissions break down some barriers that prevent many talented and qualified Black and Brown students from gaining admission to the most selective schools. Every student deserves a chance to share their whole story.
This is a break with earlier Court precedent. The Supreme Court has ruled for five decades, including four times in the past 20 years, that colleges and universities can consider an applicant's race as one of many factors to achieve diversity in the context of a holistic admissions process. Diversity contributes to better education and better democracy. Diverse educational experiences allow all students to succeed in an increasingly diverse workplace and world. Holistic admissions policies benefit all students. Diverse learning environments enrich the college experience for everyone and better prepare students of all backgrounds for success in the multiracial workplace and society.
As we look forward, I believe that when colleges reflect the diversity of America, all our communities are strengthened. We must encourage students to continue to apply to colleges and universities of their choice, push for all-inclusive history throughout the education system, and call on colleges and universities to be innovative in ensuring a diverse student body on campus. To be clear, we must work hard for every student, regardless of race and ethnicity, to have an equal opportunity to participate and thrive.
Student Loans
For many Americans, crushing student loans are a constant source of stress. Before the pandemic, more than 25% of borrowers were behind on payments, and 9 million were in default. The Department of Education estimates those statistics will only worsen for millions without relief, and new research shows that 1 in 5 borrowers will struggle financially when payments resume. Targeted student loan cancellation would have relieved millions of borrowers and most significantly impacted those with the greatest need. 97% of student loan borrowers are low- and middle-income. 40% of borrowers never were able to finish their degree, often working multiple jobs simply to pay for that education, food, and rent. 
Student debt is also not just a young people's issue. Nearly 9 million people with student loan debt are older than 50, with nearly one million over 65. This isn't a simple issue, and we are trying to address a severe crisis impacting so many people in our communities. The Supreme Court did not rule against all student debt relief; it only took this particular statutory pathway off the table. The President can utilize other ways to provide student debt relief, and last week, he already supported borrowers as repayment resumes.
Higher education is an investment in the future of our country, and students shouldn't be denied access to this opportunity by the burden of cost or future debt. In the last twenty years, in-state tuition and fees at public colleges and universities have increased by 175 percent. We must continue to work to lower the cost of education by making community college accessible to all and expanding access to Pell Grants. We also need to do more to support apprenticeships and other career opportunities, which offer great opportunities and are also critical for America.
LGBTQI+ Protections
The decision by the Supreme Court on LBGTQI+ issues is very concerning, and the potential ramifications in so many other areas are troubling and hasn't stopped my thinking of so many things that could be impacted. This decision is a very clear step backward, giving some businesses the power to discriminate against people simply because of who they are. 
More than half a century ago, our nation made clear that businesses that are open to the public should not be able to discriminate. Since then, states have made significant strides to ensure our nondiscrimination laws protect all communities. This decision creates an unprecedented new license to discriminate in certain circumstances.
What does this mean? Although this ruling upholds nondiscrimination protections in most cases, it radically creates an unprecedented exemption to our public accommodation laws, allowing businesses that provide customized expressive services to discriminate against marginalized people. In practice, this ruling means that businesses that provide customized expressive services can refuse to serve customers—even if they're a protected class member. Although the ruling is limited in terms of the types of businesses that have a license to discriminate, no factor would limit the ruling's reasoning to only apply to same-sex couples.
The Court used the veil of free speech to undermine freedom itself and open the door to legalized discrimination against any group for any reason — from who they love to how they look to where they come from. Here is a fact, the majority of Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQI+ people. 
These decisions are a lot to think about this week.

Air Quality

No matter which city I have been to this past month, I haven't been able to escape the Canadian wildfire-impacted air. This past week Detroit and Washington, D.C. traded places hourly as to which city was the most polluted in the world. Lets's be clear, this isn't an honor we are seeking; it is one we need to be seriously concerned about.
For the first time in Michigan's history, Michigan regulators issued double-pollutant air quality alerts for ozone and smoke for Thursday and Friday, June 29 and 30, in southeastern Michigan and along the lakeshore in West Michigan. Medical professionals warned against lengthy exposure to the unhealthy air conditions, and most meteorologists are forecasting that Michigan could be in for a smoky Summer. We all know that exposure to this air can have short-term health consequences causing asthma, shortness of breath, chest tightness, cough, sore throat, and irritated eyes. And for those with underlying conditions, it can be downright dangerous, and people are ending up in emergency rooms and being admitted to hospitals. Environmental regulators and medical experts are warning people to stay inside, use your air conditioning or air filtration, reduce strenuous exercise, and if outdoors, wear those masks you still have. Many outdoor activities were cancelled. 
I want people safe. I want the air monitored. And I want this not to be a problem. This is the latest example that climate change is real, and we have to work together to understand it, protect people, and address it. I don't want to live this way or accept it as a new norm.

Downriver Regional Veterans Court Graduation

Veterans are the heroes in our communities. I support them in as many ways as I can. One of the things I supported before coming to the Congress was Veteran Court Downriver. The program helps veterans who have been charged with minor crimes get connected to the proper resources to prevent recidivism. Veterans treatment court uses a hybrid integration of drug court and mental health court principles to serve military veterans and sometimes active-duty personnel. They promote sobriety, recovery, and stability through a coordinated response that involves cooperation and collaboration with community and state-wide partners. Veteran Court mentors work with the challenges that those in the program face after getting out of the service and the issues they face as a result of their service. The Twenty-eighth District Court is home to Downriver's first Veterans Court, a program to help members from any military branch who have committed misdemeanors get their lives back on track. These men and women have fought for our country, and when they come home, they come back with trauma, memories, and challenges. They need support as they return to their communities. Helping them is the least we can do. We don't talk about mental health enough, especially not in relation to our veterans. So whenever I can, I stop by and support all those involved in this effort. As always, attending the Downriver Regional Veterans Court Graduation last week was an honor. We must celebrate these milestones as millions of veterans share these experiences and deserve our support.

Heartland Summit
I spoke at the USGLC's Heartland Summit on Thursday. The Heartland gets things done. We make things, grow things, support our small businesses, and put the world on wheels. When the Heartland is strong, our nation is strong. We discussed everything from the world's food supply which we grow and are critical providers of, to the technology we are advancing daily. Last year, we passed the CHIPS and Science Act which is helping us bring back supply chains that have been shipped overseas, but we still have a long way to go. It's critical that we are united and work together to make our voices heard and get the resources we need.
The Heartland is the backbone of America and the issues that matter to the Heartland matter to our entire country. We must remind people that the Heartland built this country into what it is today. Our states are rich in resources, the most important of which are the hard-working men and women who live, work, and raise their families here and keep our nation running. Our work seeks to elevate and engage on the most critical issues facing our communities, from manufacturing, labor, and agriculture to racial equity and rural health care, to broadband, infrastructure, and environment. I am always thankful for the opportunity to elevate the Heartland perspective to make sure our voices are heard and taken into account in all policy making.

WDET on Guns

On Thursday morning, I joined Steve Henderson on Detroit today to talk about the legislation I introduced that would ensure firearms are protected under the law for consumer safety defects. The gun industry is the only domestic consumer product manufacturer exempt from federal health and safety regulations. As a result, faulty guns that can be fired with the safety still engaged and without anyone pulling the trigger remain on the market. This is dangerous and poses a real risk to public and household safety. One simple thing we can do is make sure people can't be injured or killed due to a defective firearm. 

Eid al-Adha Celebrations

Last Wednesday, I  saw many communities in the 6th participating in Eid al-Adha celebrations. This holiday is about community, giving back, being charitable, forgiving, and seeking forgiveness, and it honors the values of sacrifice and devotion. The celebrations are both religious and community celebrations with the sharing of food, children and adult activities. Participating in these community gatherings with others lets us celebrate with our neighbors and thank them for the many contributions American Muslims make daily to our communities and our country. Participation was outstanding, more than 5,000 in Ann Arbor and 7 to 8,000 in Canton, and I also visited Dearborn because of my many friends. Too much time outdoors, and my asthma did flare. But so worth visiting with so many good friends.

Gelman Plume Update
On Wednesday, we held a forum to provide updates on the Gelman Dioxane Plume. Attorney General Dana Nessel joined us for this important conversation. Representatives from the EPA and EGLE, and many of our community officials from the areas most impacted by the plume were available to answer questions. I reiterated that the best way for us to make progress is by being united and working together at the community level with federal, state, and local government officials. We have a shared responsibility at all levels of government to finally get this decades-old contamination plume cleaned up for the health and safety of future community generations. For way too long, the plume has been spreading through groundwater in Ann Arbor and Scio township and surrounding communities, posing a concerning threat to our families and the surrounding environment. People involved in this have been living with the plume for 40 years.
The EPA was very clear that they are moving through the process of evaluating and sampling the site to be listed on the Superfund National Priorities List, a list of the most severe sites identified for long-term cleanup. They indicated that they are aiming for the fall of 2024. One more round of testing is underway but had the original testing not indicated it would likely qualify, this round would not be underway. All parties also assured that water is being tested regularly by many entities and that results are being coordinated. If any danger appears, EPA has an Emergency Response Team in Ann Arbor as well as EGLE and local resources. The Attorney General filed a new Consent decree to put a stronger standard in place that Gelman must also be cleaning up to protect the community. None of this is where we want to be. For too long, there were many opinions, reluctance to take certain steps, much disagreement, and corporate avoidance of being held accountable. We are all working closely on every step of this process. Real progress is happening with all working together to clean up this site. None of it is ideal- it's taking way too long, people worry, and everyone wants facts and action. A Superfund designation would allow federal cleanup to begin on the plume, hopefully delivering more certainty for families in these areas. And the federal government has more power to make polluters pay. While the Superfund listing process is comprehensive and will continue to take time to complete, every government agency involved in this process is committed to seeing it through efficiently.

Plymouth Canton Northville Town Hall
On Thursday night, we came together with the Attorney General and the local state legislators for a Plymouth Canton Northville Town Hall to talk about some of the most critical issues to this area, including investing in our small businesses, supporting local innovation, and bringing our supply chains home. Great turnout, real discussion, honest and candid dialogue. We are all trying to be available to talk about what is happening and understand your concerns. We are trying to do townhalls in every geographical area in the district with local officials once a quarter.

Visiting Businesses Throughout the 6th District

I stopped by a few businesses throughout the district this week. It’s one of my favorite things to do, as I have always been an ally to these people. There is always important work going on in the heart of the 6th district. I toured Sensors Inc this week and heard about the sensors they are building to monitor vehicle emissions and the piloting sensors they are developing for methane. I also toured the MIAT College of Technology, where they are doing great work, keeping Michigan on top of emerging technology and research, providing lots of opportunities like apprenticeships. I got to talk with both of these organizations about how we can ensure they receive the support they need to continue their great work.

UM Water Roundtable

Last week, I participated in the University of Michigan’s Water Roundtable. We know that clean water is a basic human right, especially in Michigan we know all too well the importance of access to clean water and sanitation. Across this country, there has been a growing strain on working families to cover the costs of water bills for far too long. This is an issue I’ve worked on as long as I’ve been in Congress, and like with so many other problems, these shortcomings and their consequences became clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This isn’t just a problem for local governments and water utilities – the federal government has a role and a responsibility in ensuring no one, regardless of race, zip code, or income, is left without access to safe and affordable drinking water. That’s why we’re coming together on this issue. We need to take additional steps to permanently help families – from paying off debt to supporting with reconnection fees. We must take this opportunity to address the root causes of water insecurity and direct federal dollars to long-term solutions.

Visits to Michigan Correctional Facilities

Friday, I toured the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility and Woodland Center Correctional Facility to learn more about the facilities’ rehabilitation, career, educational resources, and medical care and hear from inmates about their experiences.
The Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, the only facility in our state that houses women prisoners, serves a diverse and complicated population of many different women whose sentences range from less than a year to life. The facility offers opportunities for many inmates to advance their education and career, preparing them for successful and productive re-entry upon their release. We talked about health care, mental health, and the vocational program. I met with women working in cosmetology, braille translation, food technology, and many other programs. We had honest and candid conversations about the importance and availability of health care and mental health services.
Woodland is a specialized prison that provides a wide variety of therapies for prisoners experiencing serious mental health challenges, creating an environment where inmates can get the treatment they need in a supportive setting. I was struck by the wide range of important services provided at Woodland. I was impressed with their facility’s ability to treat patients who require weekly dialysis and their other healthcare facilities. 
I’m committed to continuing my work to ensure these facilities receive the support they need.

Other Events

And as always, we come together in Michigan for the rituals and traditions of our communities. Visiting as many farmer markets as possible, talking to vendors and buyers, and picking up a lot of what is on people's minds. I even stunned one of my favorite vendors when I bought a lot of vegetables for dinner with my college roommates ( I am known for taking pictures, not eating them ). This is the season of fireworks, and the rain is not deterring. The Ford Fireworks downtown went on through it all, and I was very wet and my hair frizzy, but I didn't miss them. They go on as they are: a ritual and tradition that matters (and I have been on the Parade Board for over 20 years). Some community fireworks have been postponed because of weather and but trust me, there is no shortage. Summer festivals are the background of our communities, so carnivals, junk food (yes,  I am a junk food queen), pony rides, laughing kids, and happy adults. I get in the car and go to each and every one in the district. Nothing better. Parades this week as well….Ann Arbor had a hybrid on Sunday at Briarwood Mall and many more this week. Meetings, regular gatherings like the biweekly Dexter forum where you have honest discussions with respect and differing opinions. The best homemade meal I have had this year in Manchester with Paul Whelan's parents, where we all assured them that they are not alone. How do you summarize a perfect summer weekend, rain or shine? We are present, we love where we live, and this year after three years of a pandemic, somehow it all feels just a little more special.
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