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U.S. Representative Donald M. Payne, Jr. is a Democratic congressman representing New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District, which covers portions of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties. A Newark, New Jersey native, he has served the people of the 10th Congressional District since 2012. Rep. Payne, Jr. is a tireless fighter for New Jersey families, working to create jobs and grow the economy, protect and invest in our children, and ensure the health and safety of our communities.
In 2021, Rep. Payne, Jr. was voted to be Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials in the powerful House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The Committee has jurisdiction over national infrastructure and all modes of transportation, including aviation and mass transit. In 2017, Rep. Payne, Jr. fought for a $900 million appropriation to fund the Gateway Project, a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar project to rebuild transportation infrastructure between New Jersey and New York. He has continued to fight for Gateway and transportation infrastructure projects that benefit the American People. He led the Build America series of convenings to bring together government, industry leaders, small businesses, and women- and minority-owned businesses to increase diversity in federal government contracting projects.
As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, Rep. Payne, Jr. has built a record of achievement in a divided Congress. He introduced two bills that were signed into Public Law by President Barack Obama, including the Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act of 2015, which ensures that DHS personnel can reliably communicate during emergencies. Rep. Payne, Jr. also introduced a bill to secure public areas of transportation facilities, such as airports. His bill was incorporated into the FAA Reauthorization Act and signed into law in October of 2018.
Rep. Payne, Jr. is a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, which provides thousands of New Jerseyans with access to high-quality, affordable health care. He has been a strong advocate for investing in and protecting the health of our children and introduced the TEST for Lead Act to protect children from lead-contaminated drinking water in schools. Rep. Payne, Jr. also is a vocal advocate for cancer prevention, introducing the National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Resolution to raise awareness about the need for regular cancer screenings. In the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Rep. Payne, Jr. repeatedly took to the House floor to advocate for better federal emergency response. He is a leader on gun violence prevention and introduced the Safer Neighborhoods Gun Buyback Act of 2019, which aims to incentivize people to trade in their firearms for prepaid cards.
Rep. Payne, Jr. began his long career in public service when he founded Newark South Ward Junior Democrats, becoming its first president. He also served as an adviser to the YMCA Youth in Government program. He attended Kean College (now Kean University), where he studied graphic arts. He lives in Newark with his wife Beatrice and their triplets, Donald III, Jack, and Yvonne.
America was founded on the belief that all men and women were created equal. Unfortunately, this right hasn’t applied to everyone. For generations, Blacks and other minorities have faced racism and discrimination in schools, offices, and our legal system. It is a systemic racism that I have experienced personally and witnessed in all aspects of society.
I have made it a priority in Congress to do everything I could to fix these long-standing problems. That is why I was proud to vote for the Parren Mitchell Minority Business Education and Empowerment Act (H.R. 2639). This bill would require the Small Business Administration to award grants to historically Black colleges and universities to establish entrepreneurship courses for undergraduate or graduate studies and create small business development centers on the campuses of each school. It will help create more Black entrepreneurs and more minority small business across the country.
There are other bills I support to deal with different aspects of racism in America. I voted for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 7120), which would bring much-needed reform to police departments across America. This bill would increase accountability of law enforcement misconduct and ban police department practices such as chokeholds and the use of “no-knock” warrants in drug cases.
Also, I cosponsored the End Racial Profiling Act (H.R. 4339), which would establish a framework to end racial profiling at all levels of law enforcement. Racial profiling can only be stopped through a coordinated effort at all levels of government.
Another aspect of equal justice is making sure all Americans have the same right to vote. I am proud to have voted for the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R. 4), named after the late Congressman Lewis. Congressman Lewis was not only a civil rights leader, he was one of my “fathers on the House floor,” who mentored me when I first became a Member of Congress. This bill would empower the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and remove the actions of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which weakened Voting Rights Act protections.
But my vote and support for Congressional bills is only one of my actions to empower our communities of color. I conduct forums and discussion to hear ideas on how to empower our minority businesses and neighborhoods throughout the year with members of these communities, such as small business owners, teachers, university administrators, and the clergy. Then I bring these ideas to Congress to write letters and create bills to address those issues. I know we need to work together to improve the health, security and prosperity of our communities of color and end the country’s systemic racism.
Economy and Jobs
For America to succeed, the economy needs to grow. One of my top priorities in Congress has been to support bills and initiatives that create and sustain good-paying jobs and industries for American workers today and tomorrow. We create these jobs when we support incentives for high-tech and green-tech businesses, rebuild America’s roads and bridges, and encourage high school and college graduates to pursue careers in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) as well as the critical public sector, such as teachers and our first responders. We can help secure this growth through dedicated support for our small businesses. Right now, two out of every three new jobs in America come from small businesses. We increase jobs and opportunities for Americans when we give these small businesses access to capital, encourage investment in these businesses, and help them provide health care to their workers in a sustainable manner. I am fighting every day for bills and policies that allow our small businesses to survive and thrive across the country.
It is something I have tremendous experience with already. In Newark, I helped bring Panasonic’s North American Headquarters to the city, where it has created a $200 million office tower and created nearly 1,000 jobs. Also, I have created public-private partnerships throughout the district to grow the local economy and create good high-tech jobs. One example happened when I partnered with Essex County College and area hotels to create a ground-breaking jobs training program for students to give them the skills to work in the growing hospitality industry throughout the district. When we work together, American businesses and workers succeed.
As the father of triplets and a former school transportation supervisor, I understand the need to invest in early childhood education, like Head Start, so that every child has the foundation for success from cradle to career. My Promise Neighborhoods Act will support community-based efforts to level the playing field for low-income children and narrow educational disparities that exist in many of our communities. Furthermore, I strongly believe in reforming No Child Left Behind so that schools and teachers are rewarded based on their successes rather than punished for their failures, teachers are compensated fairly, and students have modern schools and technology to compete globally. Moreover, higher education is not only a pathway to success, but making college affordable is essential to growing our economy. As such, we must continue to invest in Pell Grants and reduce the soaring costs of higher education because no child should be denied an opportunity to get a college degree simply because they cannot afford it.
Energy and the Environment
The state of New Jersey has one of the highest numbers of homes and businesses in the nation that incorporate solar panels, and the acceleration of wind turbine projects can be seen along the Jersey coastline. As the world takes an increased interest in environmental monitoring, management, and regulatory compliance, green jobs and training must be a priority for the future of New Jersey. My GREEN Jobs Act will increase access to loans for green small businesses that create jobs to retrofit buildings, install and replace solar panels, regulate waste, clean up contamination, and collect samples to help monitor pollution levels are expanding exponentially. The GREEN Jobs Act will accelerate that growth, so that New Jersey and America leads the way in innovation and creating jobs in emerging green energy fields.
Hurricanes and foreign computer hackers have shown the vulnerabilities that exist in the nation’s power grid. My SMART Grid Study Act will provide a comprehensive assessment of steps needed to upgrade our electric grid to make it stronger and smarter in the face of natural disasters and cyber attacks. When we expand and strengthen the capabilities of our electrical power system, we are able to improve the way we handle such disasters before, during and after they happen. Our ability to decrease the impact of disasters is essential to protecting our national security, creating jobs, and building a more energy-efficient and green future.
We must reduce our long-term debt, but not at the expense of our national needs. Investments in education and jobs training, transportation and infrastructure, and research and development create jobs, grow the economy, and help rebuild a strong middle class. Also, they create ladders of opportunity for those working to get into the middle class. I believe in a balanced approach to reducing our deficit – one that cuts spending responsibly, closes corporate tax loopholes, protects the most vulnerable citizens, and ensures millionaires pay their fair share. We cannot simply cut taxes as a way to prosperity because irresponsible tax cuts create inequality and not prosperity. Instead, we must continue to examine a long-term deficit reduction plan that preserves investments that will ensure we remain the competitive leader in an advancing, global economy.
Recent events such as the coronavirus have proven that every American should have access to quality, affordable health care. That is why I strongly support the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and bills that improve the Act’s ability to cover more Americans. New Jersey residents have benefitted tremendousbly from the ACA. Since it was enacted, nearly 3.1 million New Jerseyans have received a free preventative service, like cancer screenings; 73,000 young people in New Jersey have gained access to care under their parents’ health plan until the age of 26; and the average New Jerseyan on Medicare will save up to $16,000 on prescription drug costs.
I will continue to work hard to reduce health disparities in New Jersey and around the world. I have led efforts to increase education and public awareness about the importance that HIV testing and preventative cancer screenings play in saving lives. Furthermore, I strongly support community health centers and school-based health centers because they provide quality healthcare to underserved populations in communities across New Jersey’s Tenth Congressional District.
Infrastructure and Transportation
Investment in our nation’s aging transportation and infrastructure is not only important for public safety, but it is vital to creating jobs, strengthening our economy, and making America competitive in the 21st Century. Studies have shown that our economy grows by $5 for every $1 invested in infrastructure.
As a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I am responsible for overseeing all modes of transportation in the country, such as air, roads and rail. It is my duty to ensure that transportation across the nation is safe and efficient, such as air traffic at my district’s Newark Liberty International Airport. I was proud to vote for the Moving Forward Act, which invests $1.5 trillion in the nation’s aging infrastructure. This investment includes billions for Gateway Program projects, which are projects along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and are the most critical infrastructure projects in the country.
As a member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, I have the duty of overseeing the nation’s public and private railroads to ensure they are safe and operate properly. During my time as a member of the Subcommittee, I have fought successfully for several local projects and initialtives. During the coronavirus public health crisis, I voted to provide $1.4 billion in emergency funding for New Jersey TRANSIT to help offset the significant decline in passengers. I supported $700 million for Northeast Corridor rail projects, which include Gateway projects such as replacing the aging Hudson River tunnel. Also, I helped secure federal approval to replace the Portal North Bridge, a separate Gateway project that will replace the 110-year old railroad bridge that carries passengers from New Jersey into New York and connects the entire East Coast. We need this new tunnel and bridge to keep rail transportation moving along the busiest rail corridor in the country.
Safe and reliable transportation is critical to northern New Jersey. The Tenth Congressional District contains Newark Liberty International Airport, Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, portions of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, and sections of I-95. These modes of transportation are critical to moving passengers, cargo coming from across the world, and traffic to and from New York City. That is why I will continue to fight to get them the support and resources they need to operate effectively and efficiently for all Americans.
As Member of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications on the House Committee on Homeland Security, I work to ensure our first responders have the necessary resources and training they need to keep American families and communities safe. I want them to have everything they need to handle natural disasters, global pandemics, and terrorist threats before, during and after they occur. Part of that role includes oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I want the agency to be ready to distribute food and water as well as house families during a crisis. Then I want it to have the funding necessary to support businesses who have been harmed in an emergency. In this capacity, I am committed to increased safety at Newark Liberty Airport and our entire transportation system, stronger protections at Port Newark and Port Elizabeth while maintaining the flow of commerce, and prevention of cyber threats to our critical infrastructure and private industry.
It is critical that we protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare for our seniors and people with disabilities. These are programs that seniors have paid into their entire lives and deserve to enjoy in their retirement. It has been a crucial social safety net for millions of Americans for more than 80 years. I am opposed to any plan that cuts these critical programs that ensure our seniors and people with disabilities do not have to live in poverty. If anything, we must put more funding into these vital programs, so these benefits will be there for generations of Americans.
Social Security is among the most important programs ever created by our government. Older Americans have worked hard and made sacrifices to ensure a better, stronger country for future generations. They need to be rewarded for their work. I want to increase and strengthen Social Security to improve the short-term and long-term health in three ways. We need to increase monthly benefits for all Social Security beneficiaries. We need to change the way the Social Security Administration calculates the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA), so benefits better reflect the increasing costs facing seniors today. Finally, we need to eliminate the current taxable cap and make sure the wealthiest Americans contribute the same percentage of their wage earnings to Social Security as everyone else.
We must protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare because our seniors deserve to retire with dignity.
I am extremely proud to support the more than 21,000 veterans who live in New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District. Veteran care and assistance needs to be one of the most important priorities of our federal government. These are the men and women who have bravely served and sacrificed on behalf of our country. We need to show them we respect their service and provide them the resources they need to thrive when they return home, such as proper healthcare, educational assistance, and employment opportunities.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have proudly partnered with Soldier On and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to secure more than $2 million to Essex and Hudson Counties in helping to end veterans’ homelessness. I have also been a vocal advocate in working to address the backlog of VA claims, so that our service members and veterans receive the benefits they deserve in a timely manner.