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Debbie's Blog

Dingell Update: 08.21.2023

Dear Friend,

It’s hard to believe there’s only two weeks left before Labor Day, and that the summer is almost over. The temperature was 48 degrees when I got up over the weekend and some leaves are staring to change their colors. Honestly, I feel like I barely saw summer and we are getting ready to say goodbye to it. I am saying goodbye as well at far too many funerals, and it is difficult.  Friends, family, and colleagues from young to seasoned and it forces you to ponder many things. Unfortunately, two of them have been lost to suicide just in the last two weeks, others have been very sudden, and some have been coming for a long time. None of them are easy to accept and each leaves huge holes in many heart. Comfort and support come as we gather, tell stories, and remember. There are some laughs but too many tears.

Time just keeps flying by. I flew back to DC for the day midweek to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act with President Biden, but spent most of the week touring plants and projects, holding town hall meetings, visiting with seniors, union members, veterans, young people, and small business owners among others. I was outraged after being contacted by a University of Michigan doctor about the senseless death of woman who received a bone graft earlier this year and died last week from contracting TB because of it. Every meeting I have makes me want to do five more to understand everything going on, become more educated and aware to ensuring I’m doing what I need to do.

Here are some of the issues I am tackling and learned about last week.

Addressing the Caregiving Crisis

Last week I met with representatives of the Working While Caring Initiative which is a part of the Rosalynn Carter Institute’s innovation lab on caregiving that aims to help employers identify ways to support their employees who are simultaneously balancing caregiving responsibilities to improve retention and alleviate stress. The intent is to prevent employees from leaving the workforce due to their caregiving obligations, while providing them important support during difficult times. Currently, five businesses in Michigan – including Zingerman’s – have chosen to participate in the initiative. Ari joined us to talk about the program, especially about why he decided to have Zingerman’s participate, and we spoke with an employee about how caregiving impacts her life. It was a good discussion. 

The pandemic has accelerated a caregiving crisis in this country for too many Americans. They are struggling with the high costs of raising children, caring for a sick family member, helping to provide long-term care for people with disabilities or older adults, and addressing a myriad of  other caregiving challenges. Care is costly for families, caregivers themselves are some of the most underpaid workers in the country, and often have to rely on public income support to get by. Many are working two jobs and are still living below the poverty line. And there is a very real shortage of caregivers for children and seniors, which has caused many to have to leave the workforce. It’s also exhausting family members who are providing unpaid care to their loved ones. 

Too often, the role of unpaid caregiver falls to women who must reduce their working hours, choose lower-paying jobs, or leave the labor force entirely, resulting in lower lifetime earnings and reducing their retirement security. And the lack of investment in early care and learning for children, and especially children from economically disadvantaged families, can have lasting impacts on their success later in life. This issue is one of my top priorities in Congress and I have introduced many pieces of legislation addressing the issue as well as chairing the Caregiving Caucus. Caregiving is a real crisis for all generations and as the baby boomers age, it becomes a bigger crisis every day. This is an area we must all work together.

Spending Time with Seniors

It was a big week with seniors as the Downriver Olympics returned after a three-year hiatus from the pandemic. Social security celebrated its 88th birthday on Monday, and the Mayor of Saline held his annual Senior Conference, and many local senior centers had gatherings and community discussions. Looking out for our seniors and making sure they have the support they deserve is always top of mind for me, and motivates a lot of my work in Congress. 

Social Security is a part of the fabric of who America is and how we care for our seniors. Two out of every three retirees rely on Social Security for the majority of their income, and millions of families depend on the program for disability or benefits after the loss of a loved one. Social Security was created on the promise that no American will grow poor into retirement - a promise of economic security and dignity after a lifetime of hard work, and a promise to make sure no one is left behind as they age. Strengthening Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have been priorities for me since the first day I walked into my office, and I will continue to fight not only to protect these programs, but also to expand them. My father-in-law was one of the original authors of social security and protecting it is one of the most important responsibilities I have.

Another issue I’m especially focused on is expanding access to home- and community- based services. Older Americans deserve to receive the care they need in the setting of their choice – and we know a majority would prefer to receive care at home, where they can maintain their independence and remain involved in their communities. I was lucky to have my husband John receive care at home at the end of his life, which showed me the significant fractures in the system. I’m luckier than 99.9% of people, and we have good insurance, and there would still be days where I would hit my head against the wall because I couldn’t navigate a broken and fractured system. 

For many people, traveling to a doctor’s office can be a prohibitive barrier to receiving the care they need, and we cannot allow people who have come to rely on telehealth throughout the pandemic to have that resource taken from them. We saw telehealth services widely and successfully adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, now we must ensure those services are here to stay. We passed my Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act which I lead with Rep. Cheney last Congress as a part of the last government funding bill to extend critical telehealth coverage through December 31, 2024, and I will continue working to make this coverage permanent.
I have also reintroduced my bipartisan bill to expand Medicare to cover hearing aids. Hearing aids aren’t a luxury, they are critical for millions of people to maintain a healthy, independent lifestyle. It’s simple: No one should feel confused or shutout from the world because they can’t afford hearing aids.
Lastly, let me talk about the play at Eastern Michigan University called Solo Act, which highlighted issues that so many seniors face as they age alone without a support system. It is reflective of some movements across the U.S. on how best to support those aging alone, and thus this theatre piece was designed to encourage honest discussion about these issues. It brings to life many issues of aging including background, barriers, family issues, loneliness, and health, so that communities, neighborhoods, and decision makers are encouraged to incorporate the contributions of individuals as they age. It also pushes the community to activate solutions to support and improve senior’s quality of life. It really highlighted so many issues and I am committed to, highlighting, addressing, and fighting to solve.

Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) Anniversary

We celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, the single largest investment in clean energy, environmental justice, and climate actions in American history. The IRA has already created more than 170,000 good-paying clean energy jobs and is ensuring our communities are stronger and more resilient to the effects of the climate crisis. We are seeing increasingly catastrophic floods, fires, and other weather events such as the horrific fires in Hawaii, the hurricane on the west coast, and the ongoing Canadian fires impacting us in Michigan and across the country.

One of the pieces of the Inflation Reduction Act I’m most proud of is and that is currently being implemented is the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which is based on legislation I authored with Senators Markey and Van Hollen, based on the successful Green Bank model here in Michigan. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund is a historic program that will help us attack the climate crisis head on by mobilizing public and private investment for projects that slash climate pollution in communities across the country, especially underserved communities, all while lowering energy costs for families and creating good paying jobs.

And we can’t talk about the IRA in Michigan without talking about the auto industry. Michigan put the world on wheels, now we’re driving the future of mobility, and the future of mobility is electric among other forms of potential energy sources like hydrogen. The auto industry in our state strengthens domestic manufacturing, advances research, and creates jobs across America. The advanced manufacturing production credit and consumer tax credits in the IRA will help strengthen our domestic supply chains for electric vehicles and help bring down the costs to purchase a clean vehicle. 

It is critical that our nation remains a leader in auto innovation and technology, and that is why we’re making the investments to build this technology and create these jobs here in America and reducing our dependence on China. 

We also need to talk about how Americans are already saving hundreds of dollars a year in health care and prescription drug costs. Thanks to the $35/month cap on insulin prices in the IRA, about 5,700 Medicare beneficiaries in Michigan’s 6th district alone are saving an average of $390 each year on their insulin. The 24,000 people who signed up for an Affordable Care Act marketplace plan in our district are saving an average of $690 on their health insurance. And an estimated 673,000 Michiganders will save an average of $360 on prescription drugs every year when cost-reducing policies in the Inflation Reduction Act – like a $2,000 cap on annual out-of-pocket pharmacy costs for Americans with Medicare – go into effect in 2025.

The bottom line is this: Democrats’ successful enactment of landmark legislation including the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Bill, and the Inflation Reduction Act has saved lives and livelihoods, helped foster a world-leading and record-breaking economic recovery, and positioned America for long-term growth, creating an economy that works for everyone.

Preventing TB Infections in Bone Grafts

This week I received a call from a doctor at the University of Michigan who brought the tragic and frightening death of a patient to my attention. She contracted TB through the implantation of contaminated bone graft material. I sent a letter to the CDC and FDA to get answers and request strengthened safety standards and prevent any more unnecessary deaths like this one to happen to any other patients.
The CDC has reported it is working to respond to tuberculosis cases appearing to be linked to bone graft material supplied by a company called Aziyo Biologics. Aziyo Biologics has issued a voluntary recall of its bone matrix products, but I am seriously concerned about the company’s troubling history. This new outbreak follows a similar outbreak in 2021 that is also linked to contaminated products from Aziyo Biologics. According to a review published in the National Library of Medicine, bone tissue was procured from a tissue donor who had unrecognized signs consistent with tuberculosis. Units of the bone graft product were implanted into 113 recipients in 18 states between March 1 and April 2, 2021. Of those 113 patients, at least 87 patients developed TB, and eight died after receiving the contaminated bone matrix material. 
It is unacceptable another outbreak of this kind to occur at all—let alone another outbreak from the same company—due to TB-contaminated materials. According to the FDA, “new requirements to determine donor eligibility, which also went into effect on May 25, 2005, include important steps to ensure that donors do not harbor infections that could be transmitted to recipients. Unfortunately, despite these requirements, it is clear not enough is being done to regulate bone tissue implantation and I am going to do everything I can to ensure this doesn’t happen again. My Republican colleague John Moolenaar is joining me in this.
I have learned since diving into this that bone tissue donors are not required to be tested for TB or TB risk factors. Some allege that testing for TB is not currently conducted because infection is rare in bone grafts. Given there have been two outbreaks of TB-infected bone grafts since 2021 that have resulted in unnecessary human deaths, no one cannot say that it is critical for changes to be made to ensure safeguards are in place to mitigate dangerous and preventable outbreaks.
My final observation on this as someone who has received several bone grafts in the last couple of years and signed consent forms on automatic pilot, I admit I didn’t take the time to even understand the potential risks. This outbreak does two things. First, it demonstrates the urgent need for stronger safety standards to prevent incidences like this from happening again, and second, it serves as a frightening wake-up call for all of us about what more needs to be done to educate patients about potential risks and the need to pay attention. The doctor from Michigan said to me “when you have these grafts, do they tell you it is like having an organ transplant?” No, they didn’t and too often we make the assumption things are safe, and don’t ask questions, I will keep asking many questions until we have the right answers as I do with many other things

Affordable Housing

Rep. Jimmie Wilson, Rep. Jason Morgan, and I held a Townhall on Affordable Housing moderated by Ypsilanti Mayor Nicole Brown. Housing costs – rents and mortgages – are rising and becoming increasingly unaffordable for many people, forcing families into evictions and foreclosures. And the costs associated with maintaining a home – from water, to energy – can also drive families into financial hardship and cause them to fall behind on payments. It is a real issue we must work together on at the federal, state, and local level.

One thing we’re doing at the federal level is working to bring down everyday costs for working families so that people don’t have to decide between keeping the lights on or keeping a roof over their head. Our office can help people who are experiencing these challenges find out what resources are available to them when they’re going through hard times, or help people work with a federal agency such as Housing and Urban Development. We must work hard to fight against proposed budget cuts to key HUD programs that have proven successful in keeping vulnerable people housed. Maintaining and strengthening funding for these programs will remain a top priority.

I am a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act to strengthen and expand the Housing Credit, which supports veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, and others who often struggle to find affordable housing. The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit is our nation’s most successful tool for encouraging private investment in the development and preservation of affordable housing. Passing this legislation is the single most important step Congress can take to address our nation’s affordable housing supply crisis. The AHCIA has been introduced in the past four congresses, and each time has earned broad bipartisan support. In the 117th Congress, nearly half of all members of Congress — including members from both parties in both chambers — cosponsored the legislation, so we should be able to pass this.

There is so much other work we are doing trying to find housing for veterans, those struggling with mental health issues, and other vulnerable populations … I think this is one of the most challenging issues we face in this country right now.

Ypsilanti’s 200th Birthday

My district has many cities and townships celebrating historical birthdays in the next couple of years. Saturday was the big celebration of Ypsilanti’s 200th Birthday. It is a city rich on history and traditions and has made many contributions throughout its history, both to Michigan and to this country.

It has deep connections to the civil rights movement. Brown Chapel in Ypsilanti is the second oldest A.M.E church in the state of Michigan and was one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad. Ypsi is probably best known for being the “Arsenal of Democracy” during the Second World War, when Willow Run was remodeled to build B-24 Liberator Bombers for the war effort and many of the original “Rosie the Riveters” contributed significantly to the effort on production lines. I celebrate the Rosies often and we must always remember all they did in service to our country – and many remain in Ypsi. Since the end of the WWII, the city of Ypsilanti has continued to contribute to the fabric of this nation. Eastern Michigan University has been sending off terrific graduates in the fields of education, nursing, and many others. Domino’s Pizza, now one of the largest and most recognizable pizza brands in the nation, opened their first store in Ypsilanti in 1960. Ever heard the phrase the “the Real McCoy”? It’s roots are in Ypsi too, after Elijah McCoy would go on to receive as many as 57 patents for his home-based inventions. Ypsi is a city that understands the value of community, the importance of coming together and getting to know one another and being there for each other. This city knows that it’s best when united and that diversity is our strength.

Photos of the Week

This is long enough, and there are so many more things to talk about. Attended a training session with local emergency responders in case of a train derailment, which was very important. They said we had the largest participation they had seen throughout the country and it shows the dedication of our fire, police, and other local EMS workers. The Downriver Battle of the Badges to raise money for Motts Children’s Hospital always makes me smile. These incredible men and women never stop giving, so I wore a dress with both colors because I never take sides. Toured Jiffy Mix in Chelsea with Howdy Holmes, current CEO, who’s family founded the business. I have used Jiffy Mix since I was a kid, so it was great to learn a lot and meet many happy, dedicated employees. Another week I will share the recipe that makes everyone think I had it catered. Spoiler alert: Jiffy Mix is the secret. 

As usual, farmers markets and scheduled Congress In your Community events, summer festivals (attended the Salem Corn Roast for the first time and Paint Dexter, where we are seeing back to school events and the giving away of backpacks, picnics, swim meets, union meetings, car shows, visiting small businesses and hospitals (St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital this week), more townhalls and public meetings (one with EPA on the Great Lakes and Rep. Rheingan’s on healthcare), EV events and sustainability fairs, jazz concerts and ribbon cuttings, economic development and veterans events, just as examples. I now have 48 cities, townships, and villages and I am determined to spend time in every one of them this month. I start early and end late. I like working hard, listening, solving problems, and this August is delivering on that. Have a good week.

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