Attorney Ritchie Torres in "Face the Nation," April 4, 2021

According to US Census data, Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres represents the poorest region in the country.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's in the South Bronx, New York. Hello to you, Congressman.

REP. RITCHIE TORRES: It's an honor to be here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You have the lowest vaccination rates in New York, but that is the best site at Yankee Stadium since it opened in February. What is stopping vaccination?

REP. TORRES: Yes, racial differences in vaccine levels for me are the result of drug availability rather than vaccination skepticism, and one of the biggest barriers to drug access is digital diversity. Those in the Bronx who do not have access to the Internet, have very limited access to information about vaccinations and do not have the real ability to participate in online registration programs.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So how do you quickly fix that problem? Because it sounds like what you are saying that Yankee Stadium is open means nothing because your voters can't get in to make an appointment in the first place.

REP. TORRES: Yes, we are making progress, but we have to rely heavily on public health facilities, public facilities that can serve as trusted ambassadors to places like the South Bronx. And I hope we improve.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This highly contagious diversity of New York has reached your hometown. Do you have any clues as to how much it could spread?

REP. TORRES: Yes, so my understanding is that more than 70% of coronavirus cases in New York City contain a variety of content. New York City’s diversity is over 40%. The British diversity is over 25%. And then I'm worried, you know, we're starting to see an increase in the number of cases because of these varieties, which are very transferable. That is why we emphasize the importance of wearing a mask. And we have to keep exploring. We must continue to engage with the community. You know, there is an increase in COVID fatigue. And I'm worried that more people are dissatisfied as we get closer to normalcy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your region is predominantly Latin. This week, Finance Secretary Janet Yellen said, "If someone were to try to create an economic crisis that could hurt Spanish society unfairly, they might come up with something that looks like COVID-19." I mean, you just listed the economic sectors that Spanish work has worked hard on. Fifty percent of the revenue of Latino-owned businesses has been affected by the closure. One in five Latin families says they do not have enough food to eat. I mean, the list of challenges is huge here. Where do you start with your voters? What is one problem?

REP. TORRES: Well, you're right. COVID-19 has raised the bar on the deepest inequality in the country. The South Bronx is racist - it is not based on racism due to racial-based poverty, and the unemployment rate can be as high as 25%. For me, nothing is more destructive to civil society and our economy than long-term unemployment. And that is why the American Jobs Plan is so critical, because it will create 15 million jobs over a ten-year period and most of those jobs will be available for those without a college education. We are therefore identifying communities that have historically been left behind by economic downturns.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He talks about the plan that the Biden administration is currently putting in place, but also says it is not nearly enough. Are you saying that you support it, or are you criticizing it?

REP. TORRES: Well, it is a historic investment in our country. You know, we have suffered for years of investment that has made the United States less productive, less competitive, more resilient and less resilient in the face of catastrophic climate change. The President's plan represents the largest investment of all our staff and infrastructure in more than half a century. There is no perfect plan. I have constructive criticism, but there is no question that it can fundamentally change the course of our country, not only here at home, but also in other countries.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is your criticism?

REP. TORRES: Especially for an affordable piece of housing. Therefore, I am a public housing product, so I am on a mission to ensure that public housing gets its fair share of American jobs. You know, in New York City, public housing is so hungry for government subsidies that it needs $ 40 million in funding. So you have children who have been poisoned with lead in their homes because of government investment. He has old citizens who were cold in their homes with bills that collapsed as a result of government investment. The plan proposes only $ 40 billion. Public housing in New York City alone, is worth $ 40 billion. So we need at least $ 70 billion to fully address the problem of social housing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, New York Democrats and Speaker Pelosi have said they want to see some changes to this bill, including the introduction of national and local taxes, a tax called SALT. I mean, Chuck Schumer called this a sword in central New York. Are they not out of your reach even if the White House is not working with your voters? Where do you fall for this?

REP. TORRES: Yes, I support the refund of the SALT deduction, but I prioritize the children's tax bill permanently. You know, as you said, I represent the so-called poorest congressional district in America. And no policy can do more to lift the South Bronx out of poverty than child tax credit. Prior to the American Rescue Plan, the formation of the children's tax credit was so depressing that it left behind a third of American children, 27 million children in the United States. And so my priority is to see a permanent increase in child tax debt, because for me--

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, that's not in the bill.

REP. TORRES: - a permanent child tax debt that would have been for children what was once Social Security belonged to the elderly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What should be clear, what you are asking for is not in this bill. And not even mentioning the SALT tax I asked you about. Thank you, Congressman, for your opinion today in your constituency. We'll be right back.