Amy On The Issues

Amy Kennedy is a former public school teacher, mental health advocate and mother of five. She knows the issues South Jersey faces because she’s lived them. Amy was born in Atlantic County, lived here her entire life and is raising her family here. Now Amy wants to represent South Jersey in Congress to fight for those same issues.

Education

Both of my parents were public school teachers, and I taught public middle school for more than a decade in South Jersey. I am proud that New Jersey has the best public schools in the nation, and I will be a champion for our students, educators, and support professionals in Congress. That means working to increase teacher pay, reduce class sizes, improve school infrastructure, and make free preschool available to every child in America. Both of my parents were public school teachers, and I taught public middle school for more than a decade in South Jersey. I am proud that New Jersey has the best public schools in the nation, and I will be a champion for our students, educators, and support professionals in Congress. That means working to increase teacher pay, reduce class sizes, improve school infrastructure, and make free preschool available to every child in America.

I also believe that every student should be able to afford a college education or industry-credentialed training program that leads to a high-paying job. We already have great higher education models in South Jersey, from the Cumberland County Technical Education Center to Rowan University. But we need to do more to ensure that college and training programs remain a pathway to future success—not a pathway to crushing debt.

Finally, I believe that every student should be able to afford a college education or industry-credentialed training program that leads to a high-paying job. We already have great higher education models in South Jersey, from the Cumberland County Technical Education Center to Rowan University. But we need to do more to ensure that college and training programs remain a pathway to future success—not a pathway to crushing debt.

Healthcare

I believe that everyone should have access to high-quality, affordable health care. No one should get sick because they can’t afford to go to the doctor or go into debt to pay their hospital bills. And no one should have to make the choice between essentials like groceries and rent, and paying for life-saving medication.

That’s why I will fight to stop President Trump and Republicans in Congress from repealing the Affordable Care Act. Their efforts to gut the ACA threatens to take healthcare away from millions of New Jerseyans—including young children—and are already causing premiums to rise. We should be building on the ACA instead of undermining it. By allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, for example, we can lower families’ out-of-pocket costs while expanding access to life-saving care. I also believe that we should have a public option, so that anyone who doesn’t have health insurance can buy into Medicare if they want to. And I will protect people with preexisting conditions, like diabetes, mental health and substance use disorders, so that no one is denied necessary treatment.

Veterans

The men and women who put their lives on the line to serve our country deserve world-class care when they come home. Yet every year we lose thousands of our veterans to the invisible wounds of war.

My goal is to ensure that every veteran and active member of the military has access to the treatment and support they need, including screenings for post-traumatic stress disorder. To meet this goal, we need to support and expand veterans’ health clinics, hire more mental health professionals, and increase outreach. In Congress, I’ll be an advocate for veterans, holding private insurers accountable when they wrongfully deny services to veterans and making sure that every veteran has access to safe, supportive housing—so that no veteran experiences homelessness.

Jobs & the Economy

Our towns and neighborhoods were built up by middle class families. Now, thanks to the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans, the biggest corporations are paying almost nothing in taxes while those families are forced to move away to find good-paying work.

We need a smarter tax system that is fair to businesses and working people. As a first step, we should restore taxpayers’ ability to deduct their state and local taxes from their federal tax bill. When Republicans capped this deduction, they raised taxes on thousands of families in this district—and penalized New Jerseyans for investing in our roads and schools. We also need to make sure that our tax code rewards businesses that make investments and create good-paying jobs. And we should reform our tax code so that, instead of providing giveaways to wealthy corporations, it puts working families first.

Congress also needs to do more to support middle-class job creation and keep living costs down. By investing in infrastructure, we can attract more businesses while supporting good-paying construction jobs. By investing in public education and job training, we strengthen our communities while educating our future workforce. And by reversing President Trump’s erratic trade policies, we can open and expand markets for manufacturers, farmers, and producers across our state.

Children & Families

No child in America should live in poverty. That’s why I am proud to endorse the American Family Act, a bold but commonsense plan to increase family incomes by expanding the child tax credit. This important legislation would put more money back in the pockets of middle class families, making sure that parents can keep up with the rising cost of basic necessities like housing, healthcare, and childcare. It would help more than one million children in New Jersey and cut child poverty in half nationwide.

Environment

Climate change poses an existential threat to our district—from the Jersey Shore to the South Jersey farms that make up the majority of agricultural land in our state. At the same time, the Trump Administration has rolled back critical protections for our air and water, putting the health and safety of our families at risk.

Protecting South Jersey’s environment is critical to both our economy and our identity. We need to invest to make our coastal communities more resilient from rising sea levels and coastal storms. We need a stronger, affordable flood insurance program that protects family homes and businesses in case disaster strikes. We need to protect our air, water, and land from pollution, including by investing in cleaner energy sources and innovation. And we need to block oil drilling off of New Jersey’s shoreline, because fossil fuel companies should never be allowed to profit at our communities’ expense.

Criminal Justice Reform

Our criminal justice system should treat everyone fairly—no matter their net worth or the color of their skin. It should keep us safe, without wasting billions of taxpayer dollars incarcerating people for low-level offenses. And it should help people exiting the system rejoin their communities, by providing job-training and mental health treatment and by restoring their right to vote.

As a former public school teacher who saw many of my students’ lives destroyed by our criminal justice system, I will fight to break the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools should not need to rely on police officers to discipline students. They should have the resources they need to provide counseling, medical, and mental health services to every child.

I am also wholeheartedly in favor of decriminalizing of marijuana. I am outraged by how the overzealous prosecution of those possessing even small amounts has disproportionately impacted people of color. We should expunge criminal records of nonviolent possession charges and invest in the communities most hurt by unjust, unequal, and unnecessary enforcement.

Our jails and prisons are ill-equipped to provide people with treatments and support they need, leaving too many incarcerated people in crisis or unable to reenter their communities. We should also expand mental health and drug courts, which allow people to enroll in long-term treatment and recovery programs instead of receiving jail sentences. And we should provide mental health and addiction screenings for everyone who comes in contact with the justice system so that we can identify treatment needs and opportunities for rehabilitation.

My Plan to Revolutionize Mental Health and Addiction Care

The United States and New Jersey are in the middle of a mental health and addiction crisis. Drug-related deaths in our state have increased by 150 percent since 2012—and the highest fatal overdose rates are in South Jersey. The crisis among our youth is especially alarming. And fewer than half of returning veterans in need of mental health services receive any treatment. 

This crisis is heartbreaking—but it is not inevitable. 

I believe that our country must respond to the mental health and addiction crisis with the same urgency that we finally used to respond to other crises like HIV/AIDs. To do so, Congress needs to make mental health and addiction a national priority. We must partner with state and local governments, providing the resources they need to protect and heal our communities. We must respond with conviction, determination, and hope.

Sadly, our political leadership in Washington is failing us. While President Trump talked a big game, his actions belie his words. He largely ignored the recommendations of his Opioid Commission. He has callously called for throwing people with mental health conditions into institutions. And he has joined with House Republicans to try to take life-saving treatment options away from our neighbors.

I have dedicated my career to advocating for people with mental health and substance use disorders—and I will continue to fight for them in Congress. 

My Ten Goals for Mental Health and Addiction Care

GOAL 1.  Hold opioid manufacturers and insurers accountable

Pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma lied about the addictive nature of opioids. And too many insurers continue to illegally discriminate against people with mental health and substance use disorders.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Hold opioid manufacturers accountable—and make them pay for the harm they’ve cause to our families.
  • Remove barriers to medication-assisted treatment, which combines medication and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. Though medication-assisted treatment is one of the most effective addiction therapies, few patients have access to it.
  • End the huge disparities in reimbursement for mental health and addiction care. 
  • Fully implement the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires insurance companies cover mental health and addiction treatment to the same extent that they cover other medical care. 

GOAL 2.  Expand treatment options

There are many effective treatment options for mental health and addiction. But too few patients have access to some of the most effective, evidence-based therapies.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Eliminate barriers to medication-assisted treatment and require community health centers that receive federal funding to provide this care.
  • Expand prescription drug monitoring programs, which states use to track opioid prescriptions and respond to the opioid epidemic in real time.
  • Expand access to telehealth services, which are especially critical for people in rural areas. Insurers should be required to cover these services equally with services delivered in person.
  • Invest in the federal mental health and addiction so that we continue to improve mental health and addiction treatments.

GOAL 3.  Promote universal screenings

Our health care system should prioritize prevention and early intervention so that we can prevent, identify, diagnose, and treat mental health and substance use disorders as early as possible.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Require that all health care facilities receiving federal funding conduct evidence-based mental health and substance use disorder screenings.
  • Expand mental health screenings and care in schools, colleges and universities, at veterans health clinics, and throughout our justice system.
  • Expand mental health and addiction education for physicians and other clinicians so that they can identify common mental health and substance use problems.

GOAL 4.  Protect and improve American’s health care.

The Affordable Care Act dramatically expanded access to mental health and addiction treatment. But President Trump and Republicans in Congress are trying to take health insurance coverage away from millions of people.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Protect people with preexisting conditions like mental health and substance use disorders.
  • Reverse Republicans’ efforts to weaken the ACA, which have caused healthcare premiums and out-of-pocket costs to rise. 
  • Provide greater financial assistance to middle-class families purchasing insurance.
  • Allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

GOAL 5.  Equip our first responders

Our first responders are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. They must have the tools and resources they need to provide life-saving care.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Ensure that all first responders carry the life-saving overdose antidote naloxone, which should be as available as defibrillators are for heart attacks.
  • Fund mobile outreach teams to help connect people with treatment.
  • Provide crisis intervention training to law enforcement to give them the tools to help people having a mental health crisis access treatment and avoid entering the justice system.

GOAL 6.  Reform our criminal justice system

Our criminal justice system is broken. We spend billions of taxpayer dollars incarcerating people who actually just need in mental health or addiction treatment. And our jails and prisons are ill-equipped to provide such care, leaving too many incarcerated people in crisis or unable to reenter their communities.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Divert people charged with nonviolent offenses into treatment.
  • Expand mental health and drug courts, which allow people to enroll in long-term treatment and recovery programs instead of receiving jail sentences.
  • Ensure that incarcerated people have access to mental health and addiction care.
  • Provide mental health and addiction screenings to people who come in contact with the justice system to identify treatment needs and opportunities for diversion.
  • Expunge nonviolent drug convictions from criminal records.

GOAL 7.  Invest in our schools

It is critical that we provide mental health and wellness services both in schools and in early childhood learning centers. By prioritizing social and emotional learning from the earliest grades, we can help give our children the tools they need to succeed in school and throughout their lives.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Increase funding for school counselors, nurses, and psychologists, so that every child access to a range of community services to help them thrive.
  • Make free preschool available to every child. 
  • Provide mental health literacy trainings for teachers and school personnel.
  • Require Medicaid to reimburse school-based mental health services.
  • Increase funding for mental health and addiction services at colleges and universities—and require colleges that receive federal financial assistance to invest in these critical programs.

GOAL 8.  Honor our veterans

The men and women who put their lives on the line to serve our country deserve world-class care when they come home. Yet every year we lose thousands of our veterans to the invisible wounds of war.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Make sure that all returning veterans and active-duty military are screened for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health and addiction challenges.
  • Increase outreach to veterans to connect them with services, including by using other veterans in outreach and support.
  • Hire more mental health professionals within the VA.
  • End veterans’ homelessness by making sure that every veteran has access to safe, supportive housing.

GOAL 9.  Meet our communities’ needs

The mental health and addiction crisis affects virtually every family in our district, including my own.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Connect pregnant women with opioid use disorder treatment and expand neonatal units for infants exposed to opioids.
  • Provide greater support for state foster care programs, which are increasingly overburdened by the opioid epidemic.
  • Ban harmful “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ youth.
  • End youth homelessness by providing safe and supportive housing, funding crisis response services, and providing education and employment opportunities.
  • Ensure mental health and addiction providers reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

GOAL 10.  Improve suicide prevention

Suicide rates are increasing dramatically across the United States. Suicide is sadly now the second-leading cause of death among young people. This has had a tragic impact on New Jersey. More than 100 preteen girls tried to overdose in New Jersey between January 2018 and May 2019; and at least three students died by suicide at Rowan University last semester alone.

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Fully fund and implement the new 988 suicide prevention hotline.
  • Help schools develop and implement suicide prevention policies.
  • Require hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid to implement Zero Suicide, a framework that helps health care systems identify individuals with suicide risk, treat suicidal thoughts and behaviors, train providers, and relentlessly improve care for those who seek help.
  • Enact commonsense gun safety policies, like distributing low-cost gun locks and partnering with gun retailers around suicide prevention efforts.