Helping Everyone Get Ahead
As someone who was born and raised in California, I grew up believing that America is the land of opportunity. It is a place where you can reach your full potential if you work hard and do the right thing.
I was fortunate to get a great education by attending California’s public schools from kindergarten through medical school. By working part time and with the help of federal student loans, I graduated with less than $10,000 in debt. I became a doctor and, along with my wife Janine, was able to support my family and raise my daughter Sydra. This was all possible because my country made an investment in me.
But today, many families have to work harder and harder to realize their American dream. I know many are worried that their children may end up worse off than they are. We’re living in a different and changing economy.
As we continue to recover from a financial crisis that cost people their jobs, homes, and retirement savings, we’re also experiencing a shift in our economy. Many families are still under stress and aren't earning enough to make a decent living or save for their retirement. At the same time, we’re living in an increasingly interconnected world and the internet and technology are reshaping how our economy works.
We have to do a better job of keeping up with these changes so more families can be a part of the middle class dream and can get ahead in life. That means not only creating more jobs and opportunities, but ensuring more families have the tools they need to earn a decent living and a secure retirement. That has to include ensuring equal pay for equal work, lowering health costs, making college more affordable, and more.
Here’s how I’m working to help more Sacramento County families get ahead:
Supporting Sacramento County Workers:
Helping Families Balance Home and Work Life:
Strengthening Retirement Security:
Lowering Health Care Costs:
Making College More Affordable:
Helping More Families Buy and Own a Home:
As we work to create more jobs and opportunities in Sacramento County, making sure that folks who are looking for jobs can find work is critical to strengthening the middle class. After our economic and financial crisis – and with an increasingly changing economy—I know that there are many people who are unsure where to turn for help or support.
This is why I’ve directed my local office to do everything it can to help folks looking for work. This is a core part of my job of making government work for you. That means not only being your voice in our nation’s capital, but also helping you in any way that I can.
- Job fairs to help Sacramento County’s Unemployed: We’ve held job fairs in conjunction with Assemblymember Ken Cooley to connect hundreds of local jobless residents with employers who are hiring. We helped serve nearly 300 local residents alone at one of our job fairs in 2015!
During a job fair my office hosted in conjunction with Assemblymember Ken Cooley.
Comprehensive Job Seeker Guide: My office created a comprehensive guide for job seekers to help unemployed Sacramento County residents find work. It includes support for job seekers, job training resources, help for unemployed Veterans, and much more. It also includes details about emergency unemployment insurance and other resources to help people get by as they look for work.
Investing in Job Training: We also need to make sure that workers have the skills they need to compete for 21st century jobs. That’s why I voted for the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to improve our nation’s workforce development system, which the President signed into law. This law modernizes our workforce development programs and ensures state and local governments have support to tailor their job training services to their own unique needs. These and other reforms will help job seekers obtain useful and relevant work experience.
Touring the Crossroads Service Training Center, where local job seekers are connected with resources and assistance to find employment.
Training the Future: As more and more baby boomers begin to retire, we need to make sure that the next generation of workers has the skills and knowledge they need to pick up the baton. Unfortunately, some businesses are reporting an increasing “skills gap” that’s making it difficult to replace retiring employees who have strong institutional knowledge and talent. According to the National Manufacturing Institute, in manufacturing alone, this gap will leave 2 million unfilled jobs by 2025.
That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Train the Future Act. My bill would provide incentives to older employees who are near retirement to train and mentor new workers. This would help us bridge the skills gap and make sure our economy remains competitive.
Making Government Work for Sacramento County Families: Bureaucratic red tape, lost paper work, and other government log jams shouldn’t stand in the way of hardworking taxpayers accessing the services and benefits they’ve earned. Government should be a partner to help families get by and get ahead instead of being an obstacle.
That’s why one of my top priorities is to make government work for you. I’ve directed my office to help local residents cut through government red tape, hold events to help solve their problems, and to connect people with any resources they may need.
We've now helped more than 6,800 local residents and helped return more than $4.1 million in benefits owed to local taxpayers. This includes everything from student financial aid, tax refunds, and backlogged veterans' benefits. This is money going directly back into the pocketbooks of local residents – helping our economy.
Please always feel free to call my office at (916) 635-0505 to get help or visit bera.house.gov/gethelp to learn more. You may also learn more by playing the below video to see how we helped Corey, a 22 year Army veteran who nearly lost his home:
As a father, I know firsthand how important it is to have time to take care of a newborn baby or a sick child. My daughter, Sydra, was born prematurely and my wife and I had to take time off of work to care for her. But I was lucky: my employer gave me paid time off, and my wife could take time off of medical school. Today, many families just aren’t as fortunate.
A parent shouldn’t be placed in the impossible position of choosing to either care for their sick child or keeping their job. But today, there are far too many obstacles that get in the way of families successfully balancing their work and family lives. Many can’t afford to take time off to care for their children, let alone themselves, or aren’t allowed to. Others can’t access affordable child care options while they need to earn a paycheck to put food on the table. This harms entire families and undermines the security of a strong and thriving middle class.
Here’s how I’m working to help Sacramento County families balance home and work life:
- Strengthening Paid Family and Leave: According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, less than half of all American workers qualify for unpaid leave to care for a sick child or other family member. Just 13 percent of the workforce has access to paid family leave through their employers.
That’s why I’m strongly supporting the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or the FAMILY Act. This bill would expand paid leave to millions of American families so they can have the security they need. I’m also supporting the Healthy Families Act to give workers a chance to earn paid sick leave so they can have it when they need it.
- Expanding Affordable Child Care: In today’s economy, it often takes two working parents in order to make enough to pay the bills and save for retirement. But child care options are often expensive and are increasingly out of reach for far too many families. According to Kidsdata.org, a program of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, families had to pay more than $12,000 to pay for infant child care in Sacramento County in 2014!
This is why I’m supporting the Child Care Access and Refundability Expansion Act to modernize the federal child care tax credit. Under this bill, qualifying families could get help with paying up to 50% of their child care expenses. More families would be eligible to receive the credit and key pieces of the tax credit would also be tied to inflation so it keeps up with rising costs. I’m also supporting the Child Tax Credit Permanency Act to make the current child tax care credit permanent and to index it to inflation as well.
To help more families get by and get ahead with a strong and vibrant middle class, it isn’t enough for families to just earn enough to pay their bills each month. Families also need to be able to save enough for their retirement to have savings and investments to depend on during their golden years.
- Helping Every Family Save for Retirement: We should be expanding retirement saving options so more families – regardless of their job or earnings – can prepare for retirement. That’s why I’m supporting the Making Your Retirement Accessible Act. This bill would make a new, creative Treasury Department program permanent to help more people save for retirement or to prepare for a financial emergency.
Under this new initiative, people can open a “myRA” account for just $25. This money is invested in U.S. savings bonds, secure investments that earn interest and are guaranteed by the credit of the United States government. There are no maintenance charges and you may withdraw funds at any time without a penalty.
I’m also urging the President to ensure that all federal contract workers are automatically enrolled into a retirement savings plan. This would give these workers the individual choice to contribute to the plan to help build their retirement savings. Currently, too many workers don’t have access to retirement plans through their job or know enough about the retirement options that are available to them. Automatically enrolling federal contract workers would ensure more workers get off to a strong start with preparing for their golden years and help set an example for other businesses nationwide.
- Ensuring Impartial Retirement Savings Advice: I’ve voted to protect the retirement security of families and seniors by ensuring that financial advisors avoid conflicts of interest when advising individuals on how to best prepare for retirement.
In our economy it’s always important to save for your golden years. But oftentimes we face complicated choices on how to best prepare for our retirement – whether to invest in bonds, IRAs, stocks, or a range of other financial products. As families and seniors work to navigate these difficult financial decisions, they should feel secure in knowing that any advice they receive is unbiased and in their best interest.
- Protecting Social Security: Social Security is one of America’s greatest achievements. It has lifted millions of seniors out of poverty and has provided a secure source of income for seniors who need it. We need to make sure that Social Security continues to be available for not only today’s seniors but for future generations of middle class families who need a secure retirement.
That’s why in one of my first acts as your Congressman, I joined with dozens of my congressional colleagues to urge the President and congressional leaders in both parties to protect Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, from devastating budget cuts. Though we must make sure that we budget responsibly, we can’t balance our budget on the backs of seniors who have paid into these programs and earned their retirement.
I’ve also opposed risky schemes to privatize Social Security, which would place your retirement at the mercy of the next stock market crash. And as a co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, I’m working with both Republicans and Democrats to secure Social Security for the next 75 years as part of a national strategic agenda with policies and goals both parties can agree to.
As a doctor, I’ve cared for many patients who struggle to pay high medical bills. Health care simply costs too much - we keep paying more and more for health care while we keep getting less and less. And in today’s economy when families are having a hard enough time saving for retirement and paying a mortgage, it can be difficult to set aside the money you need to prepare for unexpected medical emergencies. For some families, medical bills from a broken ankle or from an illness can force them to choose between making a car payment, not saving for their children’s college education, or even worse. We need to address rising health care costs that threaten the financial security of too many families.
As a former Chief Medical Officer of Sacramento County, I’ve dealt with these issues firsthand and fought to deliver quality health care to thousands of patients. We have to focus on lowering health costs by targeting waste and fraud, and by encouraging medical best practices such as preventive care so we can find and treat health care problems early.
- Small Business and Family Relief Act: I introduced this bipartisan bill to roll back a flawed health insurance tax that’s part of the Affordable Care Act. Because of how this tax is designed, independent experts have determined that it would increase health care costs for middle class families, seniors, and small businesses.
I’m pleased to say that a version of my proposal has now become law. By delaying the health insurance tax for 2017, the average individual will save more than $200 on health insurance costs and seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans will save $350.
Listened to the folks at Brothers Boats in Folsom. I discussed how my bill, the Small Business and Family Relief Act, can help local small businesses like theirs.
- Health Savings Protection Act: We shouldn’t punish families who are doing the right thing and saving for unforeseen health costs. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Health Savings Protection Act.
This bill would help address the so-called “Cadillac” tax, which is intended to reign in excessive health spending, but in reality would shift more costs to patients and has led many employers to threaten to stop providing health savings accounts. My bill exempts health savings plan contributions from this tax so middle class families can continue to rely on their health savings accounts. I’m also supporting bipartisan legislation to repeal this harmful tax in its entirety.
- Fighting for Affordable Prescription Drugs: We’ve unfortunately seen irresponsible price gouging when it comes to prescription drugs that places some vital medicines out of reach for too many families. In one dramatic instance, after Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli bought a lifesaving drug, he raised the price from $13.50 to $750 a pill – a more than 5,000 percent increase!
As a doctor, I find this especially troubling. That’s why I successfully urged the Food and Drug Administration to take action. In response to an effort I led, the Food and Drug Administration agreed to begin speeding up generic drugs applications, which will increase the number of drugs on the market and help lower prices. We need to make sure families and seniors have more choices and access to generic drugs to lower costs.
- Bipartisan Fixes to the Affordable Care Act: As a doctor, the Affordable Care Act is not how I would have gone about addressing health care. While it does allow more people to access health care, I’ve always said it doesn’t do enough to address health care costs. And unfortunately, we have seen there are issues with aspects of the law as it has been rolled out and implemented. Now that the Affordable Care Act is law, both parties have an obligation to put aside politics and focus on solutions to fix what isn’t working.
That’s why I've voted for legislation to delay the harsh financial penalties after the rocky roll-out of the health care law. I voted to provide health care, and voted for the Keep Your Plan Act so Sacramento County families could have the individual choice to keep insurance plans that work for them. I’m also supporting bipartisan legislation to repeal a tax on medical devices that would make them more expensive.
- Women’s Preventive Health Awareness Campaign Act: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and catching illnesses early is the best way to stay well and lower health care costs. That’s why I introduced the Women’s Preventive Health Awareness Act. This bill would help women navigate the health care system and ensure that care they may need, like yearly doctor’s visits, birth control, or breastfeeding support, is covered without additional costs.
Meeting with U.C. Davis graduate students in my Washington, D.C. office.
Hard working young people should have a fair shot at the American dream. But today, the rising cost of college is making that dream harder and harder to achieve. It’s common for students to graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt - at more than a trillion dollars. This makes it harder for young people to join the ranks of the middle class, even if they find a good paying job.
It doesn’t have to be this way. With the help of federal student loans and working part time, I graduated from U.C. Irvine with my undergraduate and medical degree with less than $10,000 in debt. It was possible because my country made an investment in me. We have to get back to investing in the next generation and bring down the cost of college.
- How I Can Help: My office is here to help students who are interested in their financial aid options. We can provide information on student financial aid offered by the federal government and may be able to help you break through any bureaucratic red tape that could be holding up your aid. Please feel free to call us at (916) 635-0505 or visit bera.house.gov/gethelp to learn more.
- Keeping California’s Colleges Affordable: At a time when many families and students are struggling to get by, the last thing we should do is raise tuition at California’s public universities. That’s why I led the California congressional delegation in opposing a proposed tuition hike for the U.C. system. The proposal would have increased tuition five percent a year over the next five years - threatening the promise of affordable higher education for many students.
I’m also proud to co-chair the bipartisan California Public Higher Education Caucus in Congress. Together, we advocate for the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) schools and their students.
At the launch of the bipartisan California Public Higher Education Caucus, along with my Republican colleague Congressman Jeff Dunham.
- Letting Students Refinance Their Loans: Families can refinance their mortgages and car loans. It's only fair to give people with high levels of student loan debt that same choice. That’s why I’m supporting the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act. This bill would automatically lower interest rates on student loans to four percent, down from the current average of seven percent. It would provide relief to nearly 90 percent of borrowers, and allow students with lower interest rates to keep those lower rates.
- Student Loan Certainty Act: Students should have security and peace of mind as they budget for college. That’s why I voted to pass the Student Loan Certainty Act, which is now law. This law caps interest rates on federal loans for college students and fixes these rates for the life of the loan.
- Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act: We need to find creative ways to partner with businesses to help make college more affordable and our economy more competitive. That’s why I’m supporting the Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act. This bill would provide tax relief to businesses that help pay their workers’ student loans as an employment benefit.
- Modernizing College Aid Programs: I’ve supported bipartisan legislation to cut government red tape and other barriers that can keep students from accessing the aid they need. For instance, I supported the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act so a college aid applicant can use information from the previous year’s tax return to more quickly complete the often complicated Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). I also supported the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act to create a new online “college dashboard” so students can easily see how much a given college may cost, enrollment and graduation rates, and available financial aid options.
- Supporting Working Students: I know many students have to work to help pay for college, just like I did. But some students are now penalized for doing the right thing – their higher income can make them ineligible for financial aid. That’s why I’m supporting the Working Student Act to help protect students from this unfair penalty.
- Helping All Students Afford College: Anyone who’s willing to work hard and dedicate themselves to a better future shouldn’t be denied a college degree just because they can’t afford one. That’s why I’m a strong supporter of Pell Grants, which help students with modest incomes and don’t have to be repaid.
- Flexible Pell Grant for 21st Century Students Act: I’m supporting this bipartisan legislation to ensure that students who qualify for Pell Grants can access funding throughout the year, instead of being available only during the Fall and Spring semesters as they are now. This will give students the freedom to complete their coursework more quickly and on a timeframe that works best for them.
Our region was hit hard by the economic and financial crisis that wiped out retirement savings and home values for millions of Americans. While we have come a long way since that time, many responsible homeowners are still having a tough time in our changing economy. It’s already hard enough to pay the bills and save for retirement - let alone make a mortgage payment. Many other families are trying to earn enough to buy and own a home for the first time. We should do more to help responsible, hardworking residents who are doing everything right to buy and own a home if they choose to.
- Helping Local Homeowners: My office stands ready to do everything it can to assist area homeowners who need help. For instance, if you’re having trouble getting a home loan modification, please feel free to contact us. We can contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help you get an update on your application.
We may also be able to refer you to other helpful community resources. For instance, Keep Your Home California offers several initiatives to help qualifying homeowners who may need assistance (www.keepyourhomecalifornia.org). The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) may also be able to help qualifying homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages refinance their loans (www.harp.gov).
- First Time Homeowner Savings Plan Act: For many families, keeping up with everyday expenses while also saving enough for a down payment for a new home is one of the hardest things to do in today’s economy. That’s why I’m supporting the First Time Homeowner Savings Plan Act. This bill would let first time home buyers withdraw up to $25,000 from qualifying retirement savings plans. This is an important choice that we should make available so more people can buy and own a home.
- Affordable Housing for Every Family: We also need to make sure that more high quality and affordable housing options are available for every American family, regardless of their zip code or income. This is why I support strong funding for the HOME Investment Partnership initiative. This program allows local communities to invest in quality affordable housing opportunities and address their own unique housing challenges.
Meeting with the Sacramento Association of Realtors at my local office in Sacramento County.
More on Helping Everyone Get Ahead
Washington, DC -- Today, Rep. Ami Bera, (D-CA) cosponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act on Equal Pay Day, a day to bring awareness to the gender income gap that exists in America and around the world.
The bill takes a number of crucial steps to close the pay gap by strengthening the Equal Pay Act of 1963, guaranteeing that women can challenge pay discrimination to hold their employers accountable, and protecting women from retaliation if they ask about their company’s pay policies.
Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) released the following statement after the White House released its proposed budget: