Democratic Reps. Steven Horsford (NV) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY) meeting with young people in Las Vegas this week. (Photo: Michael Lyle)
When U.S. Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford was 19, his father was shot and killed. He almost lost his mother as well, who struggled with drug addiction before she became sober 26 years ago.
Nearly three decades later, Horsford sat at the West Las Vegas Library on Monday listening to a group of predominantly Black youth who shared similar experiences of gun violence and addiction.
Among the group was Sean’Jerrion Coleman, a youth leader with Nevada Partners who spoke about how to break the cycle of violence by investing in youth and offering them a different path.
“Hope translates to money and economics,” he said. “A lot of kids who stayed off the streets or had hope, it was because they were in programs. But you saw kids that transitioned into the streets did so because their parents couldn’t afford sports or other after-school programs. We need to allocate funds so we can bring kids into these programs or sports teams.”
Horsford along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus including Democratic Reps. James Clyburn (South Carolina), Lucy McBath (Georgia), and Hakeem Jeffries (New York), are pushing for investments in youth of color and communities through the Break the Cycle of Violence Act.
The bill comes with $6.5 billion total to finance community programming, violence prevention efforts and workforce development.
“Violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens when people don’t have faith there are better paths forward,” Horsford said. “When we talk about public safety in D.C., there are a lot of my colleagues who want to talk about what we should do after violence has already happened. They want to talk about policing. They want to talk about incarceration. But I think we need to change that conversation and talk about what we can do to prevent violence and what we can do to intervene when violence occurs and make it less difficult to come out of that trauma.”
Jeffries, who spoke about growing up in New York City during the height of the crack epidemic and war on drugs, joined Horsford Monday to speak with youth and promote the legislation.
Bill sponsors have conducted similar youth-centered roundtables to hear their concerns about gun violence as well as to gather insight on solutions.
“Where there is a lack of hope, there is an abundance of violence,” Jeffries said. “It’s important to hear what would give you hope. What gives young people you’re interacting with hope?”
Some spoke of a variety of youth programs that provide them with mentorship and leadership opportunities. However, funding limits how many students can access those programs, and not everyone is familiar with what opportunities exist.
The bill would require Health and Human Services to award $5 billion in grants to community based nonprofits or local governments to support or create outreach programs and violence intervention strategies that provide targeted social services to high-risk individuals.
Horsford added there would be hospital-based violence intervention programs “that provide intensive counsel, peer support, case management, mediation and social services to patients recovering from gunshot wounds.”
The legislation would also create an Office of Community Violence Intervention within HHS.
If passed, it would direct the Department of Labor to direct another $1.5 billion for job training, apprenticeship and education programs for youth in communities disprortionately impacted by violence.
Horsford held a roundtable with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in August that also talked with youth about employment and workforce development.
While the bill was originally introduced in June as stand-alone legislation, Horsford said the House Judiciary Committee is currently marking up the provisions “as part of the Build Back Better packages that we are debating in Congress.”
“This is a stand-alone bill and it was included in the President’s budget before the Build Back Better package, so it was a priority at the beginning of this Congress,” Horsford said in an interview. “We’ve been meeting with the White House and our leadership, who know it’s important. We marked up a portion of the bill in two or three committees, so it’s already moving.”
Horsford said the legislation is one of his top priorities, and as a member of the Ways and Means committee, where the bill has to go through, he is working to get the bill passed.
“I wanted a stand-alone bill that could ride on its own or that could be attached,” he said. “The fact it is included in the larger Build Back Better Act is great because we can pass that with or without Republican votes because of the reconciliation package. There is nothing that prevents Republicans from voting on the bill. Regardless, I have to get this done for my constituents and for the young people who are counting on us to deliver real investment, real opportunity and for a lot of my other constituents who are concerned about violence, especially gun violence.”
While the bill is specifically geared toward violence prevention in at-risk communities, Horsford acknowledged the proposed $3.5 trillion budget resolution package would also have significant impact on communities impacted by violence.
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