Pascrell, Menendez Issue Call for Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Plan
Lawmakers joined by leading state health care and public safety officials in push for immediate Congressional action
BELLEVILLE - Flanked by leaders from the health care industry and the New Jersey State Police Office of Emergency Management, U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8th) and Robert Menendez, (D-NJ-13) today called upon their Congressional colleagues to pass sweeping bioterrorism preparedness and response legislation before adjourning for the holidays. At a news conference held at Clara Maass Medical Center, the lawmakers stressed the critical needs of hospitals and state and local law enforcement officials who have responded to the events of September 11th and are currently preparing for the possibility of future attacks.
Menendez is Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus' Task Force on Homeland Security and Pascrell heads up the Task Force's Working Group on Emergency Preparedness and Response.
"When it comes to the ongoing threat of bioterrorism, the Congress must not fail our health care workers, our emergency responders, and our law enforcement officials," said Pascrell. "Those who are the front lines of our homeland defense need support from Washington, not just lip-service. Its time for Congress to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who have responded so expertly, and those who are preparing for possible danger ahead. Its time for Congress to meet the needs of the nation."
"Today -- a full 3 months after the World Trade Center attacks -- the Bush Administration still has not provided adequate resources for our hospitals or our communities to recover from the September 11th attacks, much less the resources needed to prepare our communities to prevent or respond to attacks in the future," stated Menendez. "We've already seen how far-reaching the response to bioterrorism has to be in order to ensure the safety of all Americans. Here in New Jersey, we've been unfortunate to have seen first-hand the impact of direct terrorist attacks, as well as bioterrorist attacks," continued Menendez. "Our first responders have been stretched to their limits in helping New York City respond to the World Trade Center attacks and protecting our own residents from anthrax."
Menendez and Pascrell called for swift action on comprehensive legislation known as "BioPAct," or H.R. 3255, the Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2001. The measure was introduced over one month ago by the House Democratic Caucus' Task Force on Homeland Security, and already has 136 cosponsors.
The bill would provide $7.5 billion in federal resources to address preparedness and response. This includes $3.5 billion for public health infrastructure enhancements such as improving hospital capacity, educating medical personnel, and increasing nursing and clinical lab staffing levels. It provides $1.4 billion for increasing the supply of vaccines and treatments for all Americans, and $500 million for direct aid to local communities and health care providers to help develop emergency response plans. Also included is assistance to protect our food and water supplies, enhance law enforcement, strengthen our intelligence capabilities, and upgrade military preparedness.
Joining Pascrell and Menendez were Ronald Del Mauro, President and Chief Executive Officer of the St. Barnabas Health Care System, Captain Kevin Hayden, Commanding Officer of the Office of Emergency Management for the New Jersey State Police, and Dr. John Brennan, Vice President of Emergency Services for St. Barnabas Health Care System.
"Americans are looking to us to make them feel secure in their homes, in their neighborhoods, and in their communities. A full three months after the most devastating attacks on our nation and our community, we still have not seen any action from the President. Real action is long overdue. Terrorists don't recess for the holidays, and neither should we. American families deserve the peace of mind of knowing that the federal government is doing all we can to make them safe from cowardly terrorists. Just as we took the lead on this issue in the beginning, we will continue to fight for the safety and security of our communities," concluded Menendez.
"While we continue to wage the war on terror in Afghanistan, we must not neglect this part of our homeland security," Pascrell added. "These federal dollars are the right kind of investment at this critical time in our history, and our communities are counting on us."