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Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Jeffries talks health care, immigration, Sandy at reporters’ roundtable

Central Brooklyn is facing a health care crisis with hospitals hemorrhaging money and “an infusion of resources” is needed to solve the problem, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries told reporters during a roundtable discussion in his downtown Brooklyn office Thursday morning.

Jeffries (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant-Canarsie- Brighton Beach) pointed to the troubled financial situations at Long Island College Hospital (LICH), Brookdale Hospital and Interfaith Medical Center as examples of the health care dilemma hitting Brooklyn residents hard.

LICH is in the process of closing, although new owners will be taking over. Brookdale, which Jeffries described as being in “financial trauma” due to “mismanagement,” has a decent slot at survival because it is now under new management, the congressman said. “Interfaith is still in bankruptcy, but hopefully they will emerge soon,” he said.

If these hospitals disappeared, hundreds of thousands of Brooklyn residents would be left stranded with no emergency medical care in their communities.

There is some good news, according to Jeffries, who said the recent decision by the federal government to grant New York State an $8 billion Medicaid waiver will pump some much needed resources into financially troubled medical institutions. Jeffries, who worked with fellow members of Brooklyn’s congressional delegation as well as U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to push for the waiver, said “I was proud to be a part of that fight.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised lawmakers that at least $1 billion of the $8 billion “will be used to shore up struggling safety net hospitals,” Jeffries said.

Jeffries, a freshman congressman who is running for re-election in November, touched on a variety of issues during the round table, which took place in a conference room in his district office at 55 Hanson Place. The Brooklyn Eagle was one of several media outlets invited to take part in the give-and-take with the congressman.

Jeffries discussed immigration reform, the slow pace of Superstorm Sandy relief, and the stalled attempt by Democrats to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, among other issues.

Jeffries is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, under whose jurisdiction immigration reform legislation would be drafted. “It’s an important issue for the country and for the community I represent,” Jeffries said, speaking out in favor of immigration reform.

His district, which cuts through a wide swath of Brooklyn and takes in several neighborhoods in Queens, is “an incredibly diverse district” that is home to African-Americans, Caribbean-Americans, Latinos, Chinese, Arabs and Russians. “I have more Russian speaking Jewish immigrants in my district than any other member of congress,” he said proudly.

Because of the diversity of New York, the city’s congressional representatives “are particularly poised to lead” the fight for changes in the immigration laws, according to Jeffries. “We have a great history of immigration in this city,” he told reporters.

The congressman, whose district includes Brighton Beach, Sea Gate, Coney Island and Canarsie, all of which suffered devastating damage from Sandy in 2012, said he has been disappointed with the snail’s pace with which the recovery and rebuilding effort has been going – nearly 18 months after the hurricane blew into town.

“The ‘Build it Back’ program has been a disaster,” he said, referring to a program that is supposed to reimburse residents for the costs of rebuilding their homes but which has been plagued with red tape and confusion. Jeffries added that he is confident Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced revamping of the program put it on the right path. “The city must now do its job,” he said

He praised a new law that reforms the National Flood Insurance program so that homeowners aren’t hit with “double digit” increases in their insurance rates. The legislation, which came about through a bipartisan effort led by Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (Bay Ridge-Staten Island), requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct a feasibility study before any rate increases take place.

On unemployment, Jeffries noted that the Democratic-led US senate approved an extension in unemployment but that a similar bill has been stalled in the House, which has a Republican majority.

There are approximately 100,000 unemployed residents in his congressional district.

Part of the reason for the reluctance of the GOP to extend the benefits is the belief on the part of some Republicans that unemployed people are too lazy to go out and look for jobs and that giving them a check will remove the incentive to work, Jeffries said. “A false narrative is being presented,” he said. “There is no significant evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse,” in the system, he added.

There are also Republicans who believe that the recession is over and that the federal government should only extend benefits during times when the nation is faced with a financial emergency, Jeffries said. “My colleagues on the other side believe the financial emergency has passed,” he said.

Still other Republicans are willing to vote to extend unemployment benefits – but for a price. Some members of the GOP want repeal of the Affordable Care Act or approval of the controversial Keystone pipeline put on the table as bargaining chips, according to Jeffries.