During the President’s week break, some students may have trained for a sport. Others may have been busy doing homework or working on extra internal assessments now that IB Exams are cancelled. Some even took some much needed time off. But, a small group of students from Mira Loma’s FBLA team met with Congressman Ami Bera: The US representative for California’s 7th Congressional District since 2013.
Sofia Feliciano ‘22, who organized the call said, “We really appreciate the time that Congressman Bera took to be with us that day. He shared very valuable information with our members and thoroughly explained his work in legislation.”
The Zoom meeting lasted for about 30 minutes, and in it, students asked the Congressman a number of important political questions.
Neha Suri ‘23 started the meeting by asking why Doctor Bera did not co-sponsor Representative Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare-For-All bill, though his primary focus as an elected official is to help establish a more equitable healthcare system. Doctor Bera responded by emphasizing that while he advocates for improved healthcare, he does not think a universal healthcare system is the best way to achieve it. He stated that instead, he supports an extension of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which would be more feasible. He believes that the US should reach a point where everyone is auto enrolled in healthcare and in order to get out of the system, one must choose to unenroll from the system.
Dr. Bera also spoke on racial equity in healthcare, specific to COVID 19 vaccines, “We have to look at the communities that have been hit the hardest. Black and brown communities are under resourced right now. We’ve asked for a billion dollars to go directly to these communities. There’s a lot more vaccine hesitancy in these communities. We’ve got to partner with doctors in those communities, health centers, churches, nonprofits in those communities because those are the trusted entities. We really ought to send vaccines directly to community health centers. Pop up clinics and the like [should be implemented] so people don’t have to travel 30 miles to get their vaccinations.”
Several students asked Doctor Bera additional questions regarding COVID 19.
Evan Yuan ‘23 asked, “What legislation has been passed or is being passed right now to help small businesses that are suffering in COVID 19?”
Congressman Bera responded, “The PPP Loans. [They] incentivised small businesses to keep their employees on payroll. Obviously with a big piece of legislation like that there are things we got wrong. Subsequently we’ve fixed things and continued to provide funding to small businesses to try to keep them open and afloat. In packages we will continue to provide aid directly to small businesses through programs like that through the small business administration. Especially now that we have two vaccines, potentially more than that. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel to end this pandemic.”
Shifting away from questions on healthcare and the pandemic, Derek Yuan ‘21 and president of FBLA asked, “How did you get into public office in the first place? How did you go from being a doctor to getting into politics?”
In response, Congressman Bera addressed his early involvement in student government and various other organizations throughout his middle school, high school, and college years. He said, “I’ve always been pretty engaged in the community. That’s the first step. Being actively engaged.” Congressman Bera also stated that though he never originally intended to run for public office, when he got involved in President Obama’s first campaign he could feel the enthusiasm and realized that he had a lot to offer in his experiences with a background in healthcare.
Doctor Bera also emphasized that when he first ran for office no one thought he had a chance. “When I first started running it was pretty unlikely that I was going to get elected. I had never put a campaign together. Most voters didn’t know who I was. But in 2010 we came pretty close. I thought it was pretty amazing what we had put together starting from nothing. Then we really built on that success and it’s been the biggest honor of my life and certainly a great way to serve my country. I’m grateful for everything I’ve been able to do in my life [and] it’s a chance to give back to your generation.”
Towards the end of the meeting, the Congressman was asked multiple questions in which he spoke on various issues that need to be addressed.
He stated, “Politics get in the way of solving problems. I think Democrats and Republicans can agree on the challenges we see. But instead of actually sitting down and picking the best ideas and the things that we agree on and moving forward, too often there’s an all or none approach. And I think we’ve lost that dialogue, compromise, negotiation, and then getting something done and moving the ball forward.”
The Congressman spoke on several other relevant issues as well. “The racial inequities. Issues of income inequality, social justice issues, white supremacy. All those issues are issues we can’t just avoid and shame on us if we can’t have honest conversations.”
However, despite these issues, Congressman Bera communicated that he is optimistic about what the political landscape will look like in the next couple of years. He said, “I think young people are getting engaged. They’re in activist mode. They’re going to push my generation. And I do think that we’re going to see a change as we start to pass the baton onto the next generation. I think we will go through a turbulent 3 or 4 years but I think we’re headed to a better place right now.”
Overall, this meeting with Congressman Ami Bera was a great opportunity for Mira Loma’s students to speak directly with a representative, and demonstrated the importance of high school students staying informed and remaining politically engaged.