The following is a transcript of an interview with New York Congressman Ritchie Torres that aired Sunday, April 4, 2021, on “Face the Nation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: According to US Census data, Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres represents the poorest district in this country. That’s in South Bronx, New York. Good morning to you, Congressman.
REP. RITCHIE TORRES: It’s an honor to be here.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You have some of the lowest vaccination rates in New York, and yet that super site at Yankee Stadium has been open since February. What is stalling vaccination?
REP. TORRES: Well, the racial disparities in vaccination rates for me is more a consequence of vaccine access than vaccine hesitancy, and one of the greatest barriers to vaccine access is the digital divide. Those in the Bronx who have no access to the Internet, have much less access to information about vaccination sites and have no real ability to participate in online registration systems.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So how do you quickly fix that problem? Because it sounds like what you’re saying is the fact that Yankee Stadium is open doesn’t mean anything because your constituents can’t log on to make an appointment in the first place.
REP. TORRES: Well, we’re making progress, but we have to rely heavily on community health centers, community-based institutions that can serve as credible messengers in places like the South Bronx. And I’m optimistic that we are making progress.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This highly contagious New York variant has hit your area of- of the city. Do you have any indications about how widespread it might be?
REP. TORRES: Yeah, so my understanding is more than 70% of the coronavirus cases in New York City consist of variants. The New York City variant is more than 40%. The British variant is more than 25%. And so I’m concerned, you know, we’re beginning to see an increase in the number of cases because of these variants, which are much more transmissible. So that’s why we impress upon the importance of wearing a mask. And we have to continue testing. We have to continue practicing social distancing. You know, there is widespread COVID fatigue. And I worry that too many people have become complacent as we’ve come closer to normalcy.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Your district is majority Latino. This week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, “If someone tried to design an economic crisis that would unduly target the Hispanic community, they’d probably come up with something that looks like COVID-19.” I mean, she just listed the sectors of the economy Hispanics work in have been hardest hit. Fifty percent of revenues for Latino-owned businesses were impacted by the shutdown. One in five Latino households say they don’t have enough food to eat. I mean, the list of challenges is huge here. Where do you begin with your constituents? What’s issue number one?
REP. TORRES: Well, you’re exactly right. COVID-19 has held up a mirror to the deepest inequalities in the country. The South Bronx is racial- is ground zero for racially concentrated poverty, and the unemployment rate could be as high as 25%. For me, nothing is more corrosive to civil society and to our economy than long-term unemployment. And that’s why the American Jobs Plan is so critical, because it would create 15 million jobs over a 10-year period and the vast majority of those jobs would be available to those without a college education. So we’re targeting the communities that historically have been left behind by economic dislocation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re talking about the plan that the Biden administration is now putting forward, but you’ve also said it’s not nearly big enough. So are you saying that you do support it, even though you’ve also criticized it?
REP. TORRES: Well, it’s- it’s a historic investment in our country. You know, we’ve been plagued by decades of disinvestment that have made the United States less productive, less competitive, less innovative and less resilient in the face of catastrophic climate change. The president’s plan represents the largest investment in our workforce and infrastructure in more than a half a century. No plan is perfect. I have constructive criticisms, but there’s no question that it would fundamentally change the trajectory of our country, not only here at home, but abroad.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What’s your criticism?
REP. TORRES: Specifically on the affordable housing piece. So, I’m- I’m a product of public housing, and so I’m on a mission to ensure that public housing gets its fair share of the American Jobs Plan. You know, in New York City, public housing has been so savagely starved of federal funding that it has $40 billion worth of capital needs. So you have children who have been poisoned by lead in their homes because of federal disinvestment. You have senior citizens who were freezing in their homes with boilers breaking down because of federal disinvestment. The plan only proposes $40 billion. Public housing in New York City alone, has a $40 billion- billion capital needs. So we need at least $70 billion to fully address the humanitarian crisis in public housing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, New York Democrats and Speaker Pelosi herself have said that they want to see some changes to this bill, including tax relief for state and local governments, the so-called SALT tax. I mean, Chuck Schumer has called this a dagger at the heart of New York. Are they out of step with your constituents or is the White House out of step with your constituents? Where do you fall on this?
REP. TORRES: Well, I certainly support the restoration of SALT deductibility, but my highest priority is a permanent child tax credit. You know, as you said, I represent what is said to be the poorest congressional district in America. And there’s no policy that would do more to lift the South Bronx out of poverty than the child tax credit. Before the American Rescue Plan the structure of the child tax credit was so regressive that it left behind a third of American children, 27 million children in America. And so my highest priority is to see a permanent expansion of the child tax credit, because for me–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, which is not in this bill.
REP. TORRES: –a permanent child tax credit would be for would be for children what Social Security has been for senior citizens.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which- to be clear, what you’re asking for is not in this bill. And neither is addressing the SALT tax that I asked you about. Thank you, Congressman, for your view today into your district. We will be right back.