The Holidays have given me a chance to pause, reflect and take stock of the past year. Naturally, my thoughts and prayers go out first and foremost to the families of COVID-19 victims – Italy lost over 73,000 human lives this year due to COVID-19, the U.S. 335,000. That’s the population of entire metropolitan areas, as though they had been razed to the ground. Enough can’t be said about our Health Care workers, either, still on the front lines, despite the enormous toll on their physical and psychological wellbeing. If you lost a loved one or friend this year, are a health care worker and/or are suffering from some form of physical or emotional trauma, I would like to offer you a virtual hug.
While I can’t claim that 2021 will be an easy ride, I can tell you, with a healthy dose of both realism and optimism, that it will be a better year. The COVID-19 vaccine is now a reality. I truly believe that in 2021 millions of Italian expats and immigrants will return to the most beautiful Country in the world (at least as far as I’m concerned). I believe in this so much that I spent a good portion of this “annus horribilis” coming up with measures to stimulate tourism in Italy while involving our expat and immigrant communities.
Under normal circumstances, tourism represents roughly 13% of the Country’s GDP. In the first nine months of this year, tourism in Italy decreased by 59%. Last summer, I had a meeting with the President of ENIT (Italy’s National Tourism Board) and spoke to him about the package of amendments I was planning to present in the December Budget to help stimulate tourism. Included in the package were benefits for Tour Operators as well as discounts on flights for families travelling to Italy.
But the amendment most near and dear to my heart (and which I lobbied for incessantly, by the way) is one that establishes a 4.5 million Euro fund for the next three years allowing all Italian citizens registered with AIRE to access State museums and archeological parks free of charge. This amendment was recently approved in the Budget. Why is this amendment important, you ask? Not because Italian expats and immigrants can’t afford the 15 Euro/person museum entrance fee but because I believe it to be a gesture of respect toward Italians abroad and the contributions they have made to the Country over the decades. It’s a win-win situation for all – Italians abroad will be more inclined to visit the “Motherland” and spend their tourism dollars there. Once in Italy, my hope is that they will take advantage of this opportunity to learn about the incredible history and art of the
Country which boasts the greatest number of World Heritage Sites in the World, for themselves and for their children.
Another one of my amendments which was approved in the Budget is one that increases personnel in our consular offices around the world by 80 units. Ensuring adequate consular services to our enormous diaspora has always been of paramount importance to me and we can’t provide this with limited personnel. We are still trying to play catch-up as a result of budget cuts made by previous governments and the years-long freeze on hiring within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but I believe that this increase will help alleviate some of the pressures our consulates are facing. Rest assured that in the coming months, I will lobby first and foremost on behalf of our consulates in North America, where the need is greatest. Your job – if I may, dear reader – is to inform me of the situation in your consular district and if there is a gap to fill.
Several other important amendments benefitting Italians abroad were approved in this Budget and if you’d like more information on them, please feel free to contact me through my website at www.francescalamarca.com.
I am excited and hopeful about the year to come and am currently working on several projects which I will announce in due time. In the meantime, I humbly ask for your feedback in order to better represent the needs of my constituents. What political initiatives would you like your Congresswoman to undertake? What issues are important to you and how can we strengthen ties between Italy and the U.S.?
Hope is on the horizon. May the New Year be a year of rebirth for all. I will continue to represent you in 2021 to the best of my ability and look forward to seeing you in Rome. Perhaps in one of its many museums.