Press Releases

WASHINGTON — Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Vice-Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) filed legislation (S. 640) to extend Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act from its current expiration of March 31, 2021 to September 30, 2021. The provision allows a critical lifeline for federal agencies to maintain contractors, who would otherwise be at risk for layoff or furlough due to the pandemic. Warner and Rubio also sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) requesting that Section 3610 be extended “as freestanding legislation, as we have introduced, or as a provision on the next appropriate legislative vehicle.”

A coalition of organizations wrote in support of Warner and Rubio's efforts to extend Section 3610, highlighting that “numerous organizations representing the breadth of the government industrial base, including manufacturers and service providers, from large companies to small businesses, have emphasized the importance of the 3610 authority and the need for an extension.” 

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell,

We write to ask that Section 3610 Federal Contractor Authority of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act be extended to September 30, 2021, as freestanding legislation, as we have introduced, or as a provision on the next appropriate legislative vehicle.

This authority was last extended in the omnibus appropriations act for fiscal year 2021 and is due to expire on March 31, 2021. We believe extending this authority given the prolongation of the global pandemic is critically important to the resilience of our national security industrial base. Section 3610 has proven to be an important means of providing necessary relief during the pandemic to critical Intelligence Community industry partners—and particularly to small businesses that provide highly specialized capabilities—to retain key national security capabilities.

We look forward to working with you on this important matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today welcomed a move by the U.S. Department of Labor expanding the number of workers who are eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program that was created as part of the federal CARES Act. Last week, Sen. Warner and four of his colleagues raised concern with the Department that policy guidance issued to state unemployment offices on Jan. 8 was limiting the ability of workers whose hours have been reduced to access PUA benefits.

“There are workers all over the country who have had their hours reduced or been temporarily laid off due to COVID-19, and they should be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under the CARES Act,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m glad to see the Department of Labor listened to our concerns and is adjusting their guidance to states to make clear that these workers are eligible for PUA benefits.”

On Feb. 17, Sen. Warner joined Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in calling on the U.S. Department of Labor to issue revised guidance making clear that workers who have had their hours reduced, or who have been temporarily laid off even though their employer remains open, are eligible for PUA.

In the Feb. 17 letter to the Department of Labor, the Senators wrote, “Partial closures are very common for businesses like restaurants that are operating with limited indoor dining capacity, or only offering take-out services, and have resulted in many service workers working reduced hours or being temporarily laid off even though their employer remains open. The recent guidance directs states to deny PUA eligibility to workers who have been impacted by partial closures. This is of particular concern for workers who do not have sufficient qualifying earnings to be considered eligible for state unemployment, including workers who are newly hired. It is clear from the language of the CARES Act that PUA is intended to cover workers who are ‘unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work’, which would include workers affected by partial closures… We ask that the Department clarify that workers impacted by partial closures or their employer scaling back business operations are eligible for PUA, or use its authority under 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(kk) of the CARES Act to ensure these workers are eligible. This clarification is vital so that these workers can make ends meet during the pandemic.

When emergency pandemic unemployment programs were set to expire at the end of last year, Sen. Warner successfully led the fight to include an extension in the $900 billion emergency COVID-19 relief legislation that Congress approved in December. From the start of this crisis, Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur and longtime leader on labor issues affecting contractors and the contingent workforce, has pushed to expand benefits for Americans who have found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own during the pandemic. In March, Sen. Warner voted in favor of $2 trillion bipartisan legislation that, among other things, expanded access to unemployment benefits for gig workers, contractors and the self-employed. In the months following the signing of the legislation, Sen. Warner urged states to quickly implement federal provisions easing restrictions on emergency unemployment benefits, and called on the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue and clarify state guidance in order to ensure that workers were able to receive benefits. He also introduced legislation to help guarantee that Americans who earn a living through a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income (1099) were able to fully access the financial relief made available under the PUA program.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today announced that minority-owned and community-based lending institutions can now apply for grants through the U.S. Treasury Department to support, prepare for, and respond to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is available as part of a record $12 billion investment to open up new credit opportunities for Black, Latino and low-income communities that Sen. Warner successfully fought to include in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in December.  

Even before the pandemic, low-income communities and communities of color faced significant barriers in accessing credit and economic opportunity,” said Sen. Warner. “The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has only exacerbated those inequalities. Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department is one step in helping low-income and minority communities recover and emerge from this unprecedented economic downturn with more opportunities than before.”

Surveys show that Black- and Latino-owned small businesses have been particularly hard-hit during the pandemic. Thousands of minority-owned small businesses have closed for good, in part due to difficulty securing bank loans and accessing assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that while overall small business ownership in the U.S. dropped 22 percent between February and April 2020, Black and Latino ownership dropped by 41 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Another recent survey revealed that almost 1 in 5 Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs expect to permanently close their doors within three months, compared to 14 percent of white small business owners.

In order to combat the hemorrhaging of jobs and economic opportunities during the pandemic, Sen. Warner in July teamed up with then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act in order to strengthen the financial institutions that serve communities of color and increase lending to minority-owned businesses and lower-income borrowers. The effort secured endorsements from the Black Economic Alliance, the NAACP, the National Bankers Association, the National Urban League, the Center for Responsible Lending and a host of other advocacy organizations and civil rights groups. Sen. Warner was later able to secure provisions from the bill in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020, providing an unprecedented $12 billion in funding for lenders that predominantly operate in underserved communities.

Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department releases an initial tranche of $1.25 billion in grant funding for eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) in order to expand the flow of credit into underserved, minority, and historically disadvantaged communities, helping small businesses stay afloat and expand operations while providing affordable access to credit for lower income borrowers. Additional funding will be made available in the coming months, as part of the largest single investment into minority-owned and community-based lending institutions in the nation’s history.

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WASHINGTON, D.C – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $46,328,480 in federal funding to support affordable housing development across Virginia. The funding, which will go to 26 municipalities across the Commonwealth, has been awarded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Public Housing Capital Fund. 

“Access to safe and affordable housing is crucial to a family’s health and stability,” said the Senators. “We’re pleased that these federal dollars will help support housing authorities as they continue to provide necessary assistance to Virginians amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Capital Fund provides federal dollars to Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) for the development, financing, and modernization of public housing developments and management improvements.

The Virginia housing authorities that received funding are listed below:

Recipient

Amount

Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,729,133.00

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$912,801.00

Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$3,672,566.00

Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,938,851.00

Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$944,954.00

Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$8,426,268.00

Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$12,050,634.00

Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,265,928.00

Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$3,836,496.00

Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,327,337.00

Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$973,030.00

Norton Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$547,006.00

Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,025,764.00

Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,675,827.00

Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority

$179,216.00

Petersburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$989,647.00

Wytheville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$583,518.00

Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$483,003.00

Wise County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$486,727.00

Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority

$1,229,244.00

Williamsburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$299,180.00

Cumberland Plateau Regional Housing Authority

$651,261.00

Marion Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$637,685.00

Scott County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$232,420.00

Abingdon Redevelopment and Housing Authority

$75,075.00

Lee County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$154,909.00

Total:

$46,328,480.00

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $179,010,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Virginia.

“As our nation mourns 500,000 lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to distribute the vaccine is more urgent than ever,” said the Senators. “We are glad to announce that this funding will provide increased support to distribute vaccines equitably throughout the Commonwealth, and we remain committed to ensuring that every Virginian has access to the vaccine as quickly as possible.”

This funding, awarded through FEMA’s Public Assistance Program, will be overseen and distributed by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). It can be used to support efforts to store, transport, secure, handle, announce, and administer the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the Commonwealth.   

The most recent COVID-19 package negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by both senators included $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and $8.75 billion for states for vaccine distribution.   

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) announced a bill to renew the federal funding commitment to Metro for the next ten years – legislation that comes at a critical time for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which continues to provide critical service to essential frontline and federal workers despite the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Last year, I was proud to help negotiate the December COVID-19 relief bill that provided critical emergency relief funding to help WMATA stay afloat and avoid drastic service and staffing cuts,” said Sen. Warner, a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has oversight over our nation’s urban transit systems. “With this legislation, we have the opportunity to ensure that WMATA can continue to support our federal workforce in the long term, as well as provide reliable and timely service for individuals – including many essential workers – commuting in and out of Virginia, DC, and Maryland.” 

“It’s critical Congress provide this necessary funding to help people, especially frontline workers, get around the DMV amid the pandemic,” Sen. Kaine said. “I urge our colleagues to support this vital legislation that will help prevent significant cuts, and allow individuals to rely on safe and efficient travel.”

“Maintaining a safe and reliable public transit system for the seat of the federal government is a clear national priority. We recognized 10 years ago - as we do now - that providing dedicated funding for WMATA will help keep Metro on track for everyday use and during national and regional emergencies. Metro and its workers have been on the front lines as essential workers providing vital service to others who also are keeping our communities, our health system and our economy running during this challenging time,” said Sen. Cardin, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. “Our bill helps put Metro on solid footing into the future as our region emerges from the COVID-10 pandemic.”

“WMATA provides a vital network that keeps our region connected and moving — getting federal employees to their jobs, essential workers to the front lines of the fight against the pandemic, and getting area residents and visitors where they need to go,” said Sen. Van Hollen. “As we continue to weather the COVID-19 storm, this bill helps WMATA not only meet the current needs in this crisis, but also makes the long-term improvements necessary to enhance safety, efficiency, and reliability for riders for years to come.” 

Recognizing that the Metro system is integral to the functioning of the federal government, for the past decade, Congress has provided Metro with $150 million annually for capital expenses, with Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia each providing $50 million in matching funds. The Metro Safety, Accountability and Investment Act of 2021 will ensure that WMATA can continue to count on this full federal funding for an additional ten years by reauthorizing funding levels from the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 through fiscal year 2030, at an annual level of $150 million, matched by funding from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Additionally, this legislation would help bring about a series of key safety, oversight, and governance reforms at WMATA by including an additional $50 million per year in federal funding that is not subject to local match, bringing the annual federal commitment to Metro to $200 million. In order to access the additional $50 million, WMATA will be required to: further empower Metro’s Inspector General; establish task forces on track safety and bus safety; implement policy and procedures to improve WMATA’s capital planning process; improve the transit asset management planning process; continue to reinforce restrictions on the activities of alternate WMATA Board members to provide more effective Board management and oversight; and prioritize the implementation of new cyber security protections and the integration of wireless services and emergency communications networks.

The bill also restricts WMATA from using federal funds on a contract for rolling stock from any country that meets certain criteria related to illegal subsidies for state-owned enterprises. Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin and Van Hollen have previously raised concerns regarding the possibility of Metro awarding a contract to build its newest 8000-series rail cars to a Chinese manufacturing company.  

This legislation has the support of a number of groups and organizations, including 2030 Group, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Connected DMV, DC Sustainable Transportation, Federal City Council, Georgetown Business Improvement District, Greater Washington Board of Trade, Greater Washington Partnership, Loudoun Chamber, MetroNow Coalition, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, Prince George's Chamber of Commerce, Tysons Partnership, and Virginia Transit Association. 

“This bill once again demonstrates our Congressional delegation’s leadership supporting critically needed funding to maintain a safe and reliable transportation system, and it will be critical to the region’s recovery for years to come,” said Paul J. Wiedefeld, Metro General Manager and CEO. “We welcome provisions that will increase transparency and ensure taxpayer funds are well-spent to continue to earn the public’s confidence.  We thank the authors of this bill for understanding the importance of Metro to the entire region.”

“The Metro system is one of the nation’s great public assets that millions of people rely on every year – from federal workers to visitors from around the world,” said Paul C. Smedberg, WMATA Board of Directors Chair. “We’re deeply thankful for the work of our region’s Congressional delegation to establish a long-term source of funding so we can continue to serve the public and bolster the independent oversight that is critical to maintaining trust with our customers.” 

“Sustainable, federal PRIIA funding for WMATA is an investment in one of our country's most important mass transit systems -- connecting Virginia, Maryland and DC and serving our nation's capital,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.  “With the safety and accountability this legislation requires, our federal delegation is providing a lifeline for essential workers and a commitment to the region's economic future.”

“As we recover from the pandemic and move our economy forward, it is crucial that Metro delivers safe, reliable, efficient and equitable services to millions of riders including federal employees,” said Jack McDougle, President & CEO of the Board of Trade and a founding member of the MetroNow Coalition. “The reauthorization is needed to ensure access to opportunities for all our residents and keep the region competitive. The second largest public transit system in the country, Metro requires sufficient resources to make the right investments as well as keep up with the latest technology.”

“A safe, reliable and affordable Metrorail and Metrobus is critical to our region’s economic recovery,” said Julie Coons, President and CEO of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of the MetroNow Coalition. “The WMATA Authorization’s Federal investment now will keep Congress’ commitment to our transit system – the same system the Federal government and its employees rely upon – and help get the region fully running again.” 

“Metro is the backbone of our region, critical for our government, private-sector, and essential workforce, and a lynchpin in our efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change," said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a founding member of the MetroNow Coalition.

Bill text is available here. A one page summary is available here. The legislation is expected to be formally introduced when the Senate returns to session next week following the President’s Day work period. 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and 32 of their colleagues in pressing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on persistent mail delays and what action he is taking to restore on-time mail delivery. Peters previously released a report that confirmed operational changes at the Postal Service ordered by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy last summer resulted in compromised service for communities in Michigan and across the country. While Congressional oversight efforts and public pressure helped address these damaging delays and improve on-time mail delivery, many Americans continue to face unacceptable problems in postal delivery performance.

“Our constituents have experienced missed paychecks and court notices, delayed critical prescriptions, an inability to reach small business customers and suppliers, lost rent payments and delayed credit card payments resulting in late fees, breakdowns in service to their communities, late personal mail such as holiday packages, and more. Reportedly, mail delivery has not yet recovered after the peak season, with constituents continuing to experience delays despite the tireless efforts of postal workers,” wrote the Senators.

The Senators continued: “It is your duty, first and foremost, to protect service and ensure timely mail delivery for every person in this nation. We demand that you not make additional changes that will harm service for the American people. In addition, we urge you to be fully transparent with the public about Postal Service operations and the reasons they are still facing delays.”

Recent reports have also suggested DeJoy intends to implement a strategic plan that would further slow down the mail and unacceptably decrease service for millions of Americans who rely on the Postal Service. As Chairman, Peters will continue to demand transparency from Postal Service leadership, and work to protect high delivery standards.

In addition to Warner and Peters, the letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Angus King (I-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). 

The text of the letter is copied below and available here

February 17, 2021 

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

We write to seek answers about continued mail delays under your leadership that are adversely affecting our constituents across the country. 

In 2020, you made changes to operations at the U.S. Postal Service that slowed down mail and compromised service for veterans, seniors, and others who depend on the mail for prescription medications, package deliveries for small businesses, and other critical needs. An October 2020 report from the nonpartisan USPS Office of Inspector General confirmed that the July 2020 changes you initiated, along with cost reduction strategies by operations executives, resulted in widespread delays. The Postal Service did not analyze the service impacts of these changes prior to making them. We appreciate that the Postal Service fulfilled its duties during the 2020 general election and executed extraordinary measures to prioritize timely delivery of election mail. However, we remain concerned about timely delivery of all mail, from packages to newspapers to letter mail and more. 

In recent weeks our constituents have again faced unacceptable delays. On-time delivery plummeted during the holiday “peak season.” For example, the week of December 26, 2020, nationwide on-time delivery was 64% for First-Class Mail and 45% for periodicals. Delays were even worse in many areas of the country. Our constituents have experienced missed paychecks and court notices, delayed critical prescriptions, an inability to reach small business customers and suppliers, lost rent payments and delayed credit card payments resulting in late fees, breakdowns in service to their communities, late personal mail such as holiday packages, and more. Reportedly, mail delivery has not yet recovered after the peak season, with constituents continuing to experience delays despite the tireless efforts of postal workers.

USPS has attributed recent delays to the historically high volume of packages during peak season, a shortage of airlift and trucking capacity, and employee shortages with postal workers on necessary leave due to COVID-19. While these are credible explanations, the fact remains that USPS leadership had a responsibility to prepare for these expected challenges. We question whether management made adequate preparations including sufficient temporary hiring and logistical planning.

We also question whether your decisions and directives continue to hinder mail delivery. Our constituents, including postal workers and Postal Service business partners, have reported concerning practices in at least some areas of the country, including management rejecting most overtime requests, limiting transportation, and renewing orders to reduce office time and leave mail behind. In addition, your hiring freeze on managers, implemented as part of a reorganization plan, has reportedly left many local postal manager positions vacant. Finally, you have announced that additional changes to the Postal Service will be forthcoming under a strategic plan that you and the Board of Governors will release in the coming weeks. This plan will reportedly include changes to service standards, slowing down the mail even further.

It is your duty, first and foremost, to protect service and ensure timely mail delivery for every person in this nation. We demand that you not make additional changes that will harm service for the American people. In addition, we urge you to be fully transparent with the public about Postal Service operations and the reasons they are still facing delays. To that end, we ask that you answer the following by February 26, 2021: 

  1. Please describe the specific steps you have taken to identify each cause of mail delays, including measuring the impacts of management actions.
  2. Please describe in detail the steps you took to prepare for expected high package volumes and employee shortages during the peak season. Please explain why you were unable to complete necessary steps to prevent delays, such as hiring sufficient temporary workers.
  3. Please list steps you have taken to respond to customers who have been harmed by these mail delays.
  4. Have any nationwide or regional operational changes, other than those listed in previous USPS statements, exacerbated mail delays during and since the peak season? Please describe. 
  5. Please explain any nationwide and regional operational directives you or other Postal Service executives have made since November 2020.
  6. Will you commit to not reducing service standards, and to not enacting other changes that will reduce the level of service to our constituents, as part of your strategic plan? 

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to working with the Postal Service during the 117th Congress to ensure it remains a vibrant, sustainable institution for generations to come.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, today released a statement after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an extension of foreclosure and forbearance relief programs to help people stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“More than 10 million homeowners are currently behind on their mortgage payments, and one in five renters is behind on their rent. Communities of color in particular are being disproportionately hurt by the ongoing health, economic and housing crises. I’ve been fighting in Congress to help Americans in danger of losing their homes, and I applaud the Biden administration for taking this step to help those who are struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Sen. Warner has fought to protect homeowners and renters facing eviction as a result of the economic crisis. In May, Sen. Warner introduced legislation to create a $75 billion Housing Assistance Fund to help protect renters, homeowners, and communities by preventing avoidable foreclosures, evictions, and utility shut offs.

During bipartisan negotiations over the COVID-19 relief legislation that Congress passed in December, Sen. Warner secured an extension of a federal eviction moratorium until January 30, 2021 – giving the new Biden administration time to put in additional policies, such as those announced today, to help keep Americans in their homes during the pandemic. Sen. Warner also successfully fought to ensure that the relief bill, which was signed into law by President Trump on December 27, 2020, included $25 billion in federal assistance for renters facing financial insecurity as a result of COVID-19. 

The actions announced today by the Biden administration will help homeowners with HUD, VA and USDA loans by:

  • Extending the foreclosure moratorium for homeowners through June 30, 2021;
  • Extending the mortgage payment forbearance enrollment window until June 30, 2021 for borrowers who wish to request forbearance;
  • Providing up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance, in three-month increments, for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30, 2020.

Last week, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would extend their foreclosure moratorium through March 31, 2021. Together, the actions taken by the Biden administration will cover 70 percent of existing single-family home mortgages.

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WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., in introducing legislation that would establish one set of technology and security capabilities for state unemployment offices.

“At a moment like this, the financial wellbeing of so many families across Virginia and throughout the nation hinges on the ability of state unemployment agencies to process benefits with efficiency and precision,” Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, said. “This legislation will harness the power of technology to bring unemployment agencies into the 21st century, improving user experience and establishing strong cybersecurity measures.” 

“While enhanced jobless benefits have enabled millions and millions of families to pay the rent and buy groceries, many states have been unable to get benefits out the door in a timely manner. I have heard story after story from Oregonians who have spent months trying to get their jobless benefits. That’s completely unacceptable when families are depending on these benefits to keep a roof over their heads,” Wyden said. “My bill requires a complete overhaul of unemployment insurance technology, and paves the way for one website to apply for jobless benefits, not 53. The bill also requires minimum standards for accessibility and equity. Black and Hispanic workers have been far less likely to access benefits, even though they have been far more likely to lose their jobs during this crisis because they work in the hardest-hit industries. Congress must not allow another recession to come and go without reforming our unemployment insurance system, and that starts with an overhaul of technology.”

“This bill would provide the tools and support Ohio needs to update its program and make it easier for Ohioans to access the unemployment benefits they are entitled to,” Brown said. “It’s been far too long since the program got the updates it needs.”

“Nevada still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, with many of its workers still out of work in hard-hit industries like hospitality, and thousands of Nevadans continue to rely on jobless benefits to help support their families,” Cortez Masto said. “I am proud to support a policy that provides resources essential to delivering a more efficient and accessible unemployment system that will ensure Nevadans, and Americans across the country, can access the help they need when they need it.” 

The Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act

  • Requires the Department of Labor to work with the technology experts to develop, operate and maintain a modular set of technology capabilities to modernize unemployment compensation technology. 
    • States will be able to use all of the capabilities or choose to use only those capabilities that meet their needs.
    • The updated technology will help states ensure timely and accurate delivery of payments and better identify fraudulent claims.
  • Prioritizes user experience, including by requiring consultation and testing with claimants, employers, State workforce agency staff and other users.
  • Requires a study to evaluate unemployment insurance technology needs, with an emphasis on program accessibility and equity.
  • Establishes a new Department of Labor Digital Services Team to expand the Department’s ability to assist states with technological issues.
  • Ensures the use of best practices in cybersecurity, procurement and transparency during and after the development of the technology capabilities.
  • Includes the accessibility requirements for online claim-filing systems from Senator Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Technology and Accessibility Act.
  • Includes provisions from Senator Wyden’s Algorithmic Accountability Act to ensure that the new technology capabilities do not rely on automated decision systems that may produce biased results without impact assessments and public input.

Bill text is available here

Statements of Support

Andrew Stettner, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation: “The COVID19 pandemic has exposed serious deficiencies in the technology used to process unemployment insurance (UI) claims, deficiencies that are causing unacceptable delays in payments. The good news is, we can fix these UI tech challenges. I commend Senator Wyden for developing a truly national solution that can be utilized by multiple states, embedded with sound principles of user-centered design, civil rights, and protections against algorithmic bias.”

Arnab Datta, Employ America, Senior Legislative Counsel: “The COVID crisis has underscored the fact that our macroeconomic policy response can only be as effective as the infrastructure administering it. The Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act will importantly invest in federal technology systems and staff, ensuring equity across state lines. Investing in a federal, modern UI system will ensure timely benefit payments and application processing will provide large and tangible benefits for workers, employers, and the macroeconomy. Senator Wyden’s emphasis on accessibility and equity and commitment to centering jobless workers’ experiences and needs is commendable, and we’re proud he’s tackling these issues head-on. This proposal is a positive step forward towards long-overdue infrastructure developments for unemployment insurance. We hope Congress will strongly consider this bill.”

Judy Conti, Government Affairs Director, the National Employment Law Project: “NELP commends the senators for introducing this bill that is well designed to help make crucial improvements to unemployment insurance programs across the country. Unemployed workers across the country have paid a terrible price during this pandemic and recession for the shameful neglect of UI infrastructure over the past few decades. It would be nothing short of immoral for us to fail to learn our lesson and make necessary corrections before the next crisis hits. We thank Senator Wyden for his foresight and leadership and look forward to working with him to make sure this bill is signed into law.”

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) raised concern with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after hearing from an alarming number of Virginians who have yet to receive their second economic impact payment (EIP) or long-awaited tax return. These troubling delays come as millions of Americans find themselves in desperate need of a financial lifeline after continuing to face economic hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“I am deeply appreciative of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) work during the pandemic. The agency has delivered hundreds of millions of EIPs to Americans, all while managing the risks associated with COVID-19 and the need to protect our public servants at the IRS,” wrote Sen. Warner in his letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Charles Commissioner Rettig.“However, while the IRS has made an effort to provide timely and updated information on their website, my constituents continue to be frustrated with their inability to navigate some of the issues that are delaying their tax refunds and their second round of EIPs.”

As of November 19, 2020, there were an estimated 3.3 million pieces of unopened mail – including 1.6 million tax returns – at the IRS’ four Submission Processing Centers.

Currently, taxpayers who do not receive their economic impact payment must claim these funds by filing a tax return. This threatens to further delay needed payments, and poses a particularly burdensome problem for Social Security recipients and other vulnerable populations, who may be forced to file a tax return despite not normally having a tax filing obligation. 

In his letter, Sen. Warner also stressed the IRS’ responsibility to process individual tax returns and issue refunds as quickly as possible. In order to further understand the ongoing situation, Sen. Warner asked for answers to the following series of questions: 

  1. What is the current IRS backlog of paper tax returns and correspondence specifically at the Kansas City, MO location where Virginians’ tax returns are processed? When does the IRS project it will be finished processing the backlog? Can the IRS commit to providing more frequent updates on the backlog?
  2. As the nation continues to work through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, what steps is the agency taking to prepare for the upcoming tax filing season and to process all returns, whether filed electronically or by U.S. Mail, as quickly as possible?
  3. For taxpayers who have filed their Forms 1095-A and 8962, when can they expect to have that form processed by the IRS?
  4. For the second EIP, how many payments have been successfully delivered?  How many payments have been returned to the IRS? Why are some constituents who received the first EIP now having issues accessing the second? 

During the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for Virginians, working to ensure that they get the funds to which they are entitled. Last April, he pressed the Treasury Department to ensure that families who are not normally required to file taxes do not need to wait until the following year to receive the additional $500 payment per dependent child that they were promised. He also successfully pushed the Treasury Department to allow Social Security recipients to automatically receive CARES Act direct cash assistance without needing to file a tax return.

Text of the letter is available here and below. 

 

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

I write today to express my concern with the alarming number of my constituents who have not received their long-awaited tax refund or the second economic impact payment (EIP). As you are well aware, millions of Americans are facing economic hardships and are desperately in need of these funds to help make ends meet. 

I am deeply appreciative of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) work during the pandemic. The agency has delivered hundreds of millions of EIPs to Americans, all while managing the risks associated with COVID-19 and the need to protect our public servants at the IRS. I applaud your responsiveness to Congress and the agency’s focus on delivering vital assistance to Americans in dire need of support. However, while the IRS has made an effort to provide timely and updated information on their website, my constituents continue to be frustrated with their inability to navigate some of the issues that are delaying their tax refunds and their second round of EIPs.

I understand that as of November 7, 2020, there were approximately 6.8 million individual paper return in various processing stages at the four Submission Processing Centers.  Commissioner Rettig stated in his November 19, 2020, letter to my office that there were “an estimated 3.3 million pieces of unopened mail at these four locations, including 1.6 million tax returns.”

Since the November 19, 2020 letter from Commissioner Rettig, I have continued to hear from constituents that still have not had their 2019 tax returns processed or received their refunds. In addition, my constituents report that they have not received their second EIP despite many of these constituents reporting that they received their previous payment via direct deposit, and the agency’s Get My Payment Tool indicates their payment was authorized and mailed on January 6, 2021. Because taxpayers who do not receive their EIP must claim their payment by filing a tax return and claiming the Recovery Rebate Credit, many taxpayers face the possibility of even lengthier waits to receive their payment, including many who do not normally have a tax filing obligation. As you know, this population includes Social Security recipients and the most vulnerable in our county. 

In addition, constituents continue to indicate that they are not receiving refunds due to lags in processing Health Insurance Marketplace Statements (Form 1095-A) and Premium Tax Credits (Form 8962), which are required if they receive their healthcare from the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

I appreciate the enormity of the challenges that the agency faces in trying to conduct its work while keeping its workers safe from COVID-19. However, the agency has a responsibility to process individual tax returns and issue all refunds that taxpayers are entitled to as quickly as possible and to be as communicative as possible.

To help me respond adequately to my constituents, please answer the following questions:

  1. What is the current IRS backlog of paper tax returns and correspondence specifically at the Kansas City, MO location where Virginians’ tax returns are processed? When does the IRS project it will be finished processing the backlog? Can the IRS commit to providing more frequent updates on the backlog?
  2. As the nation continues to work through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, what steps is the agency taking to prepare for the upcoming tax filing season and to process all returns, whether filed electronically or by U.S. Mail, as quickly as possible?
  3. For taxpayers who have filed their Forms 1095-A and 8962, when can they expect to have that form processed by the IRS?
  4. For the second EIP, how many payments have been successfully delivered?  How many payments have been returned to the IRS? Why are some constituents who received the first EIP now having issues accessing the second?

I know the IRS is working diligently to serve the American people, and I welcome our continued collaboration to help Americans across the country. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter urging the Biden administration to take the necessary steps to ensure that residents in rural communities have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The letter follows reporting that there are no pharmacies in Southwest Virginia participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, a program that aims to expedite COVID-19 vaccine distribution by shipping vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacy locations.

“We have heard from a number of providers, community leaders, and other stakeholders expressing their concerns about a lack of adequate vaccine access in rural areas of Virginia. We understand that current vaccine doses are limited in every community and do believe that you are working in good faith to best distribute and administer a limited number of vaccine supplies. However, we are particularly concerned with recent reports that there are zero Southwest Virginia pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program,” wrote the Senators to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Norris Cochran and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky.

While the CDC lists CVS Pharmacy as the only retail partner in the program for Virginia, there are no CVS pharmacies in Southwest Virginia that are currently participating in the program. In their letter, the Senators applauded the program to help get more Americans vaccinated to better combat the COVID-19 health crisis, while underscoring the need for the program to include providers in Southwest Virginia.

“As you know, Americans in rural and underserved communities are more likely to be older or otherwise at-risk for developing severe infection from COVID-19. This reality makes it all the more important to appropriately expedite available vaccine doses to these communities. We appreciate that by launching the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, HHS and CDC have taken deliberate steps to implement a national vaccination strategy, but we must make sure this national strategy appropriately includes rural communities,” they continued. “We urge you to work with stakeholders in Virginia to expand the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to include providers in Southwest Virginia. Additionally, we ask that you further examine the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and your national vaccination strategy to ensure that it includes a plan for equitable vaccine distribution and administration in rural communities.”

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Dear Acting Secretary Cochran and Director Walensky:

Thank you for your work thus far to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia and nationally. As the Biden administration continues to ramp up efforts to get more Americans vaccinated, we are writing to request that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work closely with states and local governments to ensure the equitable distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccine doses in rural and medically underserved communities. Specifically, we ask that you take the necessary steps of ensuring the newly launched Federal Retail Pharmacy Program has a sufficient number of participating pharmacy partners in rural Southwest Virginia communities.

We have heard from a number of providers, community leaders, and other stakeholders expressing their concerns about a lack of adequate vaccine access in rural areas of Virginia. We understand that current vaccine doses are limited in every community and do believe that you are working in good faith to best distribute and administer a limited number of vaccine supplies. However, we are particularly concerned with recent reports that there are zero Southwest Virginia pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

As you know, Americans in rural and underserved communities are more likely to be older or otherwise at-risk for developing severe infection from COVID-19. This reality makes it all the more important to appropriately expedite available vaccine doses to these communities. We appreciate that by launching the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, HHS and CDC have taken deliberate steps to implement a national vaccination strategy, but we must make sure this national strategy appropriately includes rural communities.

We urge you to work with stakeholders in Virginia to expand the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to include providers in Southwest Virginia. Additionally, we ask that you further examine the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and your national vaccination strategy to ensure that it includes a plan for equitable vaccine distribution and administration in rural communities.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to hearing back from you. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions or need additional information from us or our staff.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $4,000,000 in federal funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority to help expand access to and improve the quality of mental health and substance abuse programs.

“Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen an increased demand for mental health and substance abuse services,” said the Senators. “We are glad to announce that this funding will provide increased support to expand access to mental health and substance abuse services and treatment in Richmond.” 

During the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that more than a third of Americans were suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The most recent COVID-19 package negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by both senators included $4.5 billion in mental health and substance abuse services. It also included additional funding for suicide and childhood trauma programs. 

The funding was awarded through the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) Expansion grant program, which seeks to increase access to and improve the quality of community mental and substance use disorder treatment services through the expansion of CCBHCs.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) were joined by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Angus King (D-ME), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), and Chris Coons (D-DE) in introducing legislation to incentivize Medicaid expansion nationwide, bring needed federal dollars to states, and promote health care access for low-income Americans amid the current health and economic crisis.

The States Achieve Medicaid Expansion (SAME) Act of 2021 would allow states that expanded Medicaid after 2014, or who expand Medicaid in the years ahead, to receive the same full federal matching funds as states that expanded Medicaid earlier under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has destroyed jobs all across America, costing millions of people their employer-provided health benefits at a time when health insurance could make or break a family financially,” said Sen. Warner, a former Virginia governor. “Not only will this legislation encourage Medicaid expansion, which has been shown to improve health outcomes, it will also bring crucial federal dollars back to Virginia. With state and local governments drowning in red ink as they work to combat this virus, I can’t think of a better time to ensure that states like Virginia, which expanded Medicaid after 2014, get their fair share of federal funding.”

“Health care is a human right, and for too long, too many Georgians have been denied access to affordable health care through Medicaid,” Sen. Reverend Warnock said. “I’ve long believed that expanding Medicaid in Georgia is an important step toward making affordable health care for all a reality; in 2017 I was even arrested at the U.S. Capitol for advocating for Medicaid expansion. Now, as a voice for Georgia in the U.S. Senate, I’m proud to join Sen. Warner in introducing the SAME Act to encourage states like Georgia to expand critical Medicaid coverage to those who need it most, and help ensure during this pandemic and beyond that families are able to get the health care they need to not just survive, but thrive.”

The SAME Act would ensure that the fourteen states that chose to expand Medicaid after January 1, 2014 are eligible for the same level of federal matching funds as those that expanded earlier under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. These states include Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Virginia, where Medicaid expansion went into effect on January 1, 2019, allowing more than 400,000 Virginians to access low-cost or no-cost healthcare coverage under Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act provides financial support from the federal government to states that have expanded their existing Medicaid programs to provide health care coverage to all individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government covers the full cost of expansion for three years, phasing down to a 90 percent match rate for the sixth year of the expansion and in subsequent years. In passing the Affordable Care Act, Congress intended for all states to expand Medicaid in 2014. However, the Supreme Court’s holding in National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) v. Sebelius made expansion optional for states. As a result, states choosing to expand coverage after 2014 do not receive the same federal matching rates as those that expanded immediately.

The SAME Act would address this discrepancy by ensuring that any states that expand Medicaid receive an equal level of federal funding for the expansion, regardless of when they chose to expand. Under the bill, a state would receive three years of full federal funding, phasing down to a 95 percent Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) in Year 4; a 94 percent federal contribution in Year 5; 93 percent in Year 6; and, 90 percent for each year thereafter.  

The SAME Act would save Virginia’s hospitals an estimated $300 million per year in the first three years of implementation, according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. That increased federal funding under the SAME Act will be especially meaningful in medically underserved areas, where patients are more likely to be uninsured and hospitals have struggled to stay afloat financially and keep their doors open, a problem that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. In Virginia, three rural hospitals – in Norton, Patrick County and Lee County – have closed since 2013. 

Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Medicaid expansion, including Oklahoma and Missouri which passed ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid in 2021. In the twelve states that have not yet expanded their programs as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, more than 2 million low-income adults fall into a “coverage gap,” due to incomes that are too high to be eligible for Medicaid, but are too low to meet the limit that would allow them to receive tax credits to purchase affordable coverage in the health care marketplace. Without Medicaid expansion, most of these individuals are likely to remain uninsured, as they have limited access to employer coverage and frequently find the cost of unsubsidized marketplace coverage to be prohibitively expensive. 

Numerous studies have shown that expanding Medicaid benefits states directly and indirectly, in the form of jobs and earnings growth, additional federal revenue, increased Gross State Product, increased state and local revenues and reduced uncompensated care and hospital costs. 

“The SAME Act would give states a powerful incentive to broaden access to their Medicaid programs by providing full federal support for the first three years. This incentive was previously available when states could begin their expansion efforts in 2014, resulting in millions of people with cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions gaining access to quality health coverage. We urge lawmakers to support this important legislation to help ensure their constituents can get the care they need,” said Emily Holubowich, Vice President of Federal Advocacy for the American Heart Association. 

“During this continued COVID-19 pandemic ensuring Virginian’s health needs are covered is more important than ever. Senator Warner’s legislation strengthens Virginia’s expanded Medicaid program, which has extended quality health care coverage to over 500,000 individuals. We strongly support this legislation and the Senator’s efforts to expand quality health care coverage to more Virginians,” said Jill Hanken, Health Attorney for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

“Good health is essential to thriving communities, and the expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program in 2018 has led to over 500,000 people gaining access to quality health coverage — many for the first time. Senator Warner’s legislation will strengthen the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program by ensuring Virginia receives its fair share of federal matching payments. It will also improve access to health coverage nationally by encouraging additional states to expand their Medicaid programs. We thank Senator Warner for introducing this important legislation,” said Freddy Mejia, Health Policy Analyst for the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

This legislation has the support of numerous health organizations, including the Alliance for Retired Americans, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, America’s Essential Hospitals, American Association of Medical Colleges, Center for Medicare Advocacy Inc., Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children's Defense Fund, The Commonwealth Institute, Families USA, Justice in Aging, Mental Health America, March of Dimes, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), National Association of Community Health Centers, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, National Health Law Program, Protect Our Care, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Virginia Poverty Law Center, and Young Invincibles. 

Text of this legislation is available here. A summary is available here.  

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), joined by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), introduced the Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act. The legislation aims to expand access to affordable and nutritious food in areas designated as “food deserts” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).                                                                                       

“Today, too many Americans lack access to fresh nutritious and healthy foods. Unfortunately, that reality has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, which has made it even more difficult for working families to seek out and afford healthy foods,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that will serve as an important tool to combat food insecurity in our communities.”

“Over the past year, we have seen unprecedented need at food banks as Kansans line-up seeking access to nutritional food,” said Sen. Moran. “Even while living in the breadbasket of our nation, food insecurity affects far too many Kansans, a need that has only increased during COVID-19. This bipartisan legislation, which would incentivize food providers to establish and renovate grocery stores, food banks and farmers markets in communities that traditionally lack affordable, healthy and convenient food options, is now more important than ever during this pandemic.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made routine tasks like going to the grocery store difficult for millions of Americans—especially for families who live in a food dessert and have to travel an extended distance to access healthy foods.” said Senator Casey. “No one in America should be burdened by a simple trip to the grocery store. The bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would provide critical support to expand access to healthy food in underserved communities,” said Sen. Casey.

“Many Americans living in rural communities—including those in West Virginia—have difficulty accessing fresh and nutritious foods. I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation, which will go a long way in helping to improve access to groceries and healthy foods across West Virginia and make it easier for businesses and non-profit organizations to serve our rural communities,” said Sen. Capito.

According to recent data from USDA, nearly 40 million Americans live in food deserts, areas defined to be without grocery stores within one or more miles in urban regions, and ten or more miles in rural regions. In Virginia alone, there are more than one million individuals living in food deserts. Studies have shown that Americans who live in communities with low-access to healthy food options are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Additionally, according to USDA’s own study, people of color are more likely to reside in a food desert.

In an effort to eliminate food deserts in the U.S., the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would provide incentives to food providers to expand access to healthy foods in these underserved communities and reduce the number of food deserts nationwide.

Specifically, the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act, which defines a grocery market as a retail sales store with at least 35 percent of its selection (or forecasted selection) dedicated to selling fresh produce, poultry, dairy, and deli items – would spark investment in food deserts across the country that have a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, or a median family income of less than 80 percent of the median for the state or metro area. It would grant tax credits or grants to food providers who service low-access communities and attain a “Special Access Food Provider” (SAFP) certification through the Treasury Department. Incentives would be awarded based on the following structure:

  • New Store Construction – Companies that construct new grocery stores in a food desert will receive a onetime 15 percent tax credit after receiving certification.
  • Retrofitting Existing Structures – Companies that make retrofits to an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a onetime 10 percent tax credit after the repairs certify the store as an SAFP.
  • Food Banks – Certified food banks that build new (permanent) structures in food deserts will be eligible to receive a onetime grant for 15 percent of their construction costs.
  • Temporary Access Merchants – Certified temporary access merchants (i.e. mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks) that are 501(c)(3)s will receive grants for 10 percent of their annual operating costs.

The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act boasts the support of numerous organizations, including Feeding America, the National Grocers Association, Share Our Strength, and Bread for the World.

“Feeding America commends Senator Warner for confronting the unfortunate fact that the burdens faced by the 40 million Americans living with hunger are even worse for those who live in food deserts. Our network of 200 member food banks understands that areas without affordable, healthy food options have higher rates of food insecurity exacerbated by the lack access to adequate transportation to the nearest food pantry or grocery market. Feeding America supports the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and believes it is a critical step to give nonprofits and retailers support to increase food access in underserved areas,” said Kate Leone, Chief Government Relations Officer at Feeding America. 

“The National Grocers Association embraces Senator Warner’s efforts to remove the obstacles faced by grocers looking to expand access to nutritious food for rural and urban communities without a supermarket,” said Molly Pfaffenroth, Senior Director of Government Relations at National Grocers Association. “Independent community grocers are the heartbeat of the areas they serve and historically are leaders in reaching out to those most in need of better food options. Communities are stronger both physically and economically when they have better access to healthy food, so we look forward to working with Congress on this important bipartisan legislation.”

“To end childhood hunger in America, we must ensure that low-income families, have equitable access to healthy, affordable food options no matter their zip code or circumstances. Ending food deserts will help more families put food on the table and help children get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong. Share Our Strength supports The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and thanks Sens. Warner, Moran, Casey, and Capito for their leadership on this issue,” said Billy Shore, Founder and Executive Chair of Share Our Strength. 

“Bread for the World is once again excited to see a bipartisan effort to address food deserts and improve access to nutritious food in low-income areas across America.  With 1 in 6 Americans and 1 in 4 children experiencing food insecurity during this pandemic, this legislation is desperately needed. Bread for the World thanks Senators Warner, Moran, Casey and Capito for introducing this bill to reduce hunger in communities and improve health across the country,” said Heather Valentine, Director of Government Relations of Bread for the World. 

Companion legislation will soon be introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and A. Donald McEachin (D-VA).

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 crisis. He has put pressure on the USDA to formally authorize Virginia’s request to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot Program, successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that made it more difficult for families to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, and secured a USDA designation that allows food banks to distribute food directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. In August, Sen. Warner also successfully pushed for USDA to extend critical food waivers to help make sure students have access to nutritious meals while school districts participate in distance learning. The COVID-19 relief package signed into law in December provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits. Last month, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that allows federal government to pay all costs to states to partner with restaurants and provide food to vulnerable populations.

Bill text for the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act can be found here. A summary of the bill can be found here.

 

Population of Virginians by city or county living in food deserts as defined in this bill*

Accomack: 4401

Albemarle: 3765

Amherst: 10217

Augusta: 11919

Bath: 4731

Bland: 3901

Botetourt: 7792

Brunswick: 8041

Buckingham: 8400

Campbell: 8756

Caroline: 3278

Carroll: 4767

Charlotte: 12586

Chesterfield: 38638

Culpeper: 18511

Cumberland: 10052

Dinwiddie: 12196

Essex: 8026

Fairfax: 11213

Floyd: 9102

Franklin: 25439

Grayson: 5277

Halifax: 27851

Hanover: 4243

Henrico: 39618

Henry: 22130

Highland: 2321

James City: 4014

King and Queen: 3881

Loudoun: 3869

Mecklenburg: 17632

Montgomery: 32249

Nelson: 5696

Nottoway: 9783

Orange: 4934

Patrick: 11262

Pittsylvania: 23119

Prince Edward: 10624

Prince George: 8543

Prince William: 55128

Rappahannock: 7373

Rockbridge: 15873

Rockingham: 11530

Scott: 7959

Shenandoah: 9068

Smyth: 3913

Southampton: 7958

Spotsylvania: 21803

Stafford: 12818

Sussex: 6377

Tazewell: 12740

Warren: 14335

Wise: 9566

Wythe: 6773

Bristol: 13982

Buena Vista: 6650

Charlottesville: 6616

Chesapeake: 33605

Covington: 3098

Danville: 15545

Franklin City: 8582

Fredericksburg: 8988

Hampton: 38928

Harrisonburg: 9016

Hopewell: 12120

Lexington: 7042

Lynchburg: 29886

Manassas: 7678

Manassas Park: 6248

Martinsville: 6166

Newport News: 38292

Norfolk: 62583

Petersburg: 22639

Portsmouth: 11862

Radford: 12260

Richmond City: 62381

Roanoke City: 39950

Salem: 10424

Suffolk: 9752

Virginia Beach: 27205

Waynesboro: 5240

Williamsburg: 4138

Total: 1,186,877

*The most recent year for which data is available is 2017.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $1,022,77 in federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Loudoun County. Specifically, the funding will be used to support efforts to store, handle, transport, distribute and administer the vaccine against COVID-19.

“We are glad to announce that these federal dollars will go towards getting vaccines out to more folks in Loudoun County,” said the Senators. “We remain committed to tackling this crisis and doing everything in our power to help boost vaccination rates across the Commonwealth.”

The most recent COVID-19 relief package negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by both senators included more than $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution at the local and state level.

Under Governor Northam’s Major Disaster Declaration to help Virginia respond to COVID-19, localities can apply for funding to support vaccine distribution from FEMA. Loudoun County is the second of the Commonwealth’s localities to apply for – and receive – the funding, following a funding announcement for Arlington County last week. 

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Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), as well as Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA), in introducing the bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act which would require the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to issue an emergency temporary standard requiring mine operators to establish a plan to tackle occupational COVID-19 exposure and provide miners with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). Additional information on the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act can be found here.

“COVID-19 is a very real threat for Virginia’s coal miners, who are often unable to practice social distancing as they work in confined spaces for extended periods of time,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to ensure that miners in Southwest Virginia and throughout the country have the resources they need to properly protect themselves and limit their exposure to this dangerous and increasingly contagious virus.”

“Our miners risk their lives every day to power our nation and during the COVID-19 pandemic, that risk is even greater for our brave miners,” said Senator Manchin. “The bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act will instruct DOL to create safeguards and provide PPE to ensure our miners are protected from exposure to COVID-19 in the mines. I will continue to work with my bipartisan colleagues, DOL and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to pass this commonsense legislation to help our miners stay safe during the pandemic as they continue to provide Americans with the power we need every day.”

“For centuries, our miners have worked tirelessly to power America and keep the lights on. It is vital that we take the necessary steps to provide them safety and job security as we continue to battle COVID-19,” said Senator Capito.


“Our nation’s miners have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to supply our energy needs at greater risk to themselves,” Senator Durbin said. “I am proud to help introduce the bipartisan COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act with my colleagues. This bill will ensure that our hard working miners are provided with proper PPE and that safeguards are put into place to decrease the risk of workplace exposure to this deadly virus.”

“Coal miners have worked tirelessly in dangerous conditions to power our communities, and now we must help ensure they can stay safe amidst the risks of COVID-19,” said Senator Kaine. “We must pass this bipartisan legislation to provide our nation’s miners with the necessary tools to limit their exposure to COVID-19.”

“Throughout a pandemic that has cost more than 440,000 Americans their lives, our Nation’s miners have continued to bravely go to work every day,” said Senator Casey. “We need to put in place enforceable workplace safety standards to protect miners from COVID-19 exposure on the job and to keep them, their families and their communities safe.”

“Ohio miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country,” said Senator Brown. “And now they’re facing more danger, as working conditions put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. MSHA needs to issue an enforceable safety standard to protect these miners from infectious disease, and we need to ensure these workers have the personal protective equipment they need to prevent exposure.”

“In Northeastern Pennsylvania, where mine workers’ organizing is a time-honored tradition, we know how important it is to ensure they are protected. As they continue to work in close quarters and tough conditions, miners remain at high risk for COVID-19 infection. This is a bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans that would implement responsible safety guidance and deliver personal protective equipment so that miners can continue to work, stay healthy and provide for their families during this health crisis,” said Representative Cartwright.  

 

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act would direct the Secretary of Labor to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires mine operators to:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect miners from COVID-19 exposure at the mines;
  • Provide personal protective equipment to miners;
  • Incorporate guidelines from the CDC, NIOSH, and relevant scientific research;
  • In coordination with CDC and NIOSH, track, analyze, and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infections data in order make recommendations and guidance to protect miners from the virus.

Bill text can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released a statement after the Senate conducted a cloture vote to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security:

“Though I was unable to vote on the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas today, I would have voted to confirm Mr. Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting virtually with Mr. Mayorkas regarding his nomination, and we had a good discussion touching on many issues critical to Virginia – including the TPS and DACA programs that allow nearly 40,000 Virginians to live and work legally in the Commonwealth, and the H2B visa program that is essential to our seafood industry. 

“Given that our government is dealing with the largest cybersecurity breach in our nation’s history and a rise in domestic terrorism, it is critically important that the Department of Homeland Security have in place an experienced, capable and Senate-confirmed leader as soon as possible.”

Sen. Warner was unable to vote in the Senate today, as he is following recommended public health guidance regarding possible exposure to COVID-19 and quarantining at home.

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WASHINGTON - As tech companies and public health agencies deploy new tools to fight the spread of COVID-19 – including contact tracing apps, digital monitoring, home tests, and vaccine appointment booking – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act to set strong and enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information.

After decades of data misuse, breaches, and privacy intrusions, Americans are reluctant to trust tech firms to protect their sensitive health information – according to a recent poll, more than half of Americans would not use a contact tracing app and similar tools from Google and Apple over privacy concerns. The bicameral Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would protect Americans who use this kind of technology during the pandemic and safeguard civil liberties. Strengthened public trust will empower health authorities and medical experts to leverage new health data and apps to fight COVID-19. 

“Technologies like contact tracing, home testing, and online appointment booking are absolutely essential to stop the spread of this disease, but Americans are rightly skeptical that their sensitive health data will be kept safe and secure,” Blumenthal said. “Legal safeguards protecting consumer privacy failed to keep pace with technology, and that lapse is costing us in the fight against COVID-19. This measure sets strict and straightforward privacy protections and promises: Your information will be used to stop the spread of this disease, and no more. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act’s commitment to civil liberties is an investment in our public health.”

“Our health privacy laws have not kept pace with what Americans have come to expect for their sensitive health data,” Warner said. “Strong privacy protections for COVID health data will only be more vital as we move forward with vaccination efforts and companies begin experimenting with things like ‘immunity passports’ to gate access to facilities and services. Absent a clear commitment from policymakers to improving our health privacy laws, as this important legislation seeks to accomplish, I fear that creeping privacy violations and discriminatory uses of health data could become the new status quo in health care and public health.” 

“I’m exceedingly proud of the American innovators, many of whom are in my congressional district, who have built technologies to combat the coronavirus. As these technologies are used, they must be coupled with policies to protect the civil liberties that define who we are as a nation,” said Eshoo. “The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act is a critical bill that will prohibit privacy invasions by preventing misuse of pandemic-related data for unrelated purposes like marketing, prohibiting the data from being used in discriminatory ways, and requiring data security and integrity measures. The legislation will give the American people confidence to use technologies and systems that can aid our efforts to combat the pandemic.”

“As we continue to respond to the devastating suffering caused by COVID-19, our country’s first and foremost public health response must be testing, testing, testing, AND manual contact tracing. Digital contact tracing can and should complement these efforts, but it is just that – complimentary. However, if we do pursue digital contact tracing, consumers need clearly-defined privacy rights and strong enforcement to safeguard these rights. I am proud to re-introduce this bill with my friend and fellow Energy & Commerce Subcommittee Chairwoman Eshoo and Congresswoman DelBene, along with Senators Blumenthal and Warner,” said Schakowsky. “It’s our shared belief that the Trump Administration missed an opportunity when it failed to advocate for swift passage of this legislation. Based on how poorly the Trump Administration’s contact tracing scheme went, we all know this legislation would go a long way towards establishing the trust American consumers need – and which Big Tech has squandered, time and again – for digital contact tracing to be a worthwhile auxiliary to the Biden Administration’s plan for widespread testing and manual contact tracing.” 

“Technology has become one of our greatest tools in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic but we need to build trust with the broader public if we are going to reach its full potential. Americans need to be certain their sensitive personal information will be protected when using tracing apps and other COVID-19 response technology and this pandemic-specific privacy legislation will help build that trust,” said DelBene. “Data privacy should not end with the pandemic. We need comprehensive privacy reform to protect Americans at all times, including state preemption to create a strong, uniform national standard. I hope that this crisis has shed light on the lack of adequate digital privacy policies in our country and look forward to working with these lawmakers and others to create the necessary standards moving forward.”

The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Angus King (I-ME), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

The bill is co-sponsored in the House of Representatives by Don Beyer (D-VA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Peter Welch (D-VT), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Jesús ''Chuy'' García (D-IL), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Peter DeFazio (D-OR). 

The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would:

·       Ensure that data collected for public health is strictly limited for use in public health;

·       Explicitly prohibit the use of health data for discriminatory, unrelated, or intrusive purposes, including commercial advertising, e-commerce, or efforts to gate access to employment, finance, insurance, housing, or education opportunities;

·       Prevent the potential misuse of health data by government agencies with no role in public health;

·       Require meaningful data security and data integrity protections – including data minimization and accuracy – and mandate deletion by tech firms after the public health emergency;

·       Protect voting rights by prohibiting conditioning the right to vote based on a medical condition or use of contact tracing apps;

·       Require regular reports on the impact of digital collection tools on civil rights;

·       Give the public control over their participation in these efforts by mandating meaningful transparency and requiring opt-in consent; and

·       Provide for robust private and public enforcement, with rulemaking from an expert agency while recognizing the continuing role of states in legislation and enforcement.

The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act is endorsed by Access Now, Electronic Privacy and Information Center (EPIC), the Center for Digital Democracy, Color of Change, Common Sense Media, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge.

“A public health crisis is not the time to give up on our privacy rights, and this bill would go a long way toward protecting those rights. COVID-19 response apps are already out there, and this bill will help ensure that the apps are distributed and used in a responsible manner that will limit the new and expansive surveillance systems companies are building. Allowing these apps to proceed unchecked would create serious privacy violations that will never be undone,”said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now.

“The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act shows that privacy and public health are complementary goals. The bill requires companies to limit the collection of health data to only what is necessary for public health purposes, and crucially, holds companies accountable if they fail to do so,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, Interim Associate Director and Policy Director with Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“Public health measures to contain the deadly spread of COVID-19 must be effective and protect those most at risk. Where data are collected or used, they should not be misused to undermine privacy, fairness and equity, or place our civil rights in peril. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act ensures that efforts to limit the spread of the virus truly protect all our interests,” said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy for the Center for Digital Democracy.

“Color Of Change strongly supports the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act, as it would prevent corporate profiteering and government misuse of health data to help ensure Black people — who are disproportionately exposed to the dangers of surveillance — can operate online without fear. Profit-incentivized corporations should not be allowed to exploit loopholes to gather and sell sensitive health and location data without any regard to the safety of our communities. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we need stringent and enforceable safeguards in place to protect private health information of Black people and other marginalized communities, who are most at risk of both COVID-19 and surveillance. We thank Senators Blumenthal and Warner for their leadership on this legislation, and we will continue to advocate for the highest standard of protection against the abuse of personal data,” said Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson.

“Common Sense calls on Congress to pass meaningful privacy safeguards for families. More than ever, the pandemic has highlighted how important it is that families can trust how their information is being collected, used, and shared. PHEPA is an important proposal to ensure technologies and data being used to combat COVID are used in privacy-protective ways, and it also can serve as a model for how Congress can comprehensively protect privacy in the near future,” said Ariel Fox Johnson, Senior Counsel for Global Policy with Common Sense Media. 

“OTI welcomes the re-introduction of this legislation that would establish strong safeguards to prevent personal data from being used for non-public health purposes and prevent the data from being used in a discriminatory manner. The ongoing privacy threats and urgency of the pandemic make these protections more important than ever,” said Christine Bannan, Policy Counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute.

“As contact tracing apps and other types of COVID-19 surveillance become commonplace in the United States, this legislation will protect the privacy of Americans regardless of the type of technology used or who created it. It is critical that Congress continue to work to prevent this type of corporate or government surveillance from becoming ubiquitous and compulsory,” said Sara Collins, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge.

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WASHINGTON – With the Biden administration set to unveil details on a series of executive ordersto reverse his predecessor’s relentless efforts to sabotage the success of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) will introduce the Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 to help counter the devastating effects the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has had on the record high number of people lacking insurance across the country. Specifically, the Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 aims to protect health care coverage for Americans living with preexisting conditions while also expanding access to quality and affordable health care coverage for working families.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their employer-provided insurance. Amid one of the most unprecedented health and economic health crises our country has faced where an alarming number of Americans already lack health insurance, now is the time to deploy tools to meet the demands on our health care system. As the Biden administration readies its executive orders to expand health care coverage – including reopening the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act  – I’m also introducing legislation that would support the administration’s effort to get more families affordable health care coverage,” said Sen. Warner. 

The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 would lower costs for working families by:

·       Capping health care costs on the ACA exchanges: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will ensure no individual or family pays more than 8.5 percent of their total household income for their health insurance. Currently, no family making more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($51,040 for an individual in 2020) is eligible for premium assistance on the ACA exchanges. This provision – which is supported in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan – expands premium assistance to individuals making more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line and places a cap on insurance costs for all individuals and families on the ACA exchanges. 

·       Establishing a low-cost public health care option: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a low-cost, public health care option for individuals who are eligible to enroll for health care coverage via the ACA exchanges. Establishing a public health care option will increase competition and ensure an added lower cost health care option for more American families.

·       Authorizing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices: Under existing federal law, the government is explicitly banned from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices. The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will allow the federal government to leverage its purchasing power to negotiate prices and reduce drug costs for more than 37 million seniors on Medicare.

·       Allowing insurers to offer health care coverage across state boundaries:The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will allow insurers to offer health care coverage across state boundaries, increasing choice and competition among plans and driving down costs while maintaining quality, value and strong consumer protections.

·       Supporting state-run reinsurance programs: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will create a new “State Health Insurance Affordability and Innovation Fund” to support state run reinsurance programs and additional state efforts to reduce premium costs and expand health care coverage. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has previously estimated such programs could reduce health care premiums by 8 percent within one year.

The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will increase access to affordable health care coverage by:

·       Incentivizing states to expand Medicaid: If all states were to expand their Medicaid programs, the number of uninsured Americans would decrease by more than 2 million. The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will provide additional incentive to states to expand their Medicaid program by temporarily increasing federal matching funds to states that expand their programs and reducing existing administrative payments to states that do not expand their programs. It would also provide retroactive payments to states like Virginia that were late to expand Medicaid and have not received their fair share of federal matching payments. 

·       Expanding Medicaid eligibility for new moms: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will allow states to provide new mothers up to 12 months of postpartum Medicaid eligibility. This provision would significantly improve maternal health outcomes by ensuring mothers have access to vital health care services during the immediate months after giving birth.

·       Simplifying enrollment: There are over 7 million Americans currently eligible for cost-free Medicaid coverage, but who are not enrolled due a variety of factors including unnecessary paperwork and a confusing enrollment process. The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will simplify Medicaid and CHIP enrollment by permanently authorizing the successful Medicaid Express Lane Eligibility program and expanding it to include adults. The Department of Health and Human Services will also be required to conduct a study and develop recommendations to allow states to further implement Medicaid and CHIP auto-enrollment for individuals eligible for cost-free coverage. 

·       Increasing Medicaid funding for states with high levels of unemployment: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will implement a counter-cyclical Medicaid matching payment from the federal government to ensure that states with high levels of unemployment receive a higher federal matching payment to appropriately account for an increase in Medicaid enrollment. This will ensure states can maintain affordable health care coverage during economic downturns and temporary periods of high unemployment.

·       Funding rural health care providers: Under current law, rural providers are unfairly compensated at a much lower rate than urban providers, making it more difficult for Virginia providers to keep their doors open in underserved communities. The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will create a rural floor for the Area Wage Index formula the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid use to reimburse rural providers. Fixing the Area Wage Index will boost access to affordable health care coverage in Virginia’s rural and medically underserved communities.

·       Reducing burdens on small businesses: The Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 will modernize ACA employer reporting requirements to ensure that businesses can provide comprehensive health care benefits to their employees without additional administrative costs or unnecessary paperwork.

“As Americans continue to face a once in a century public health crisis, Senator Warner is working to make health care more accessible and affordable for the American people. Senator Warner’s bill would take bold steps to reduce costs, expand coverage, and strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions at a time when access to affordable health care has never been more critical. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans should work with Senate leadership to prioritize the health and well-being of Americans by building on the success of the Affordable Care and abandoning their health care sabotage agenda,” said Brad Woodhouse, Executive Director of Protect Our Care.

“The pandemic has exacerbated the deep, structural problems in our health care system: namely, cost is far too big of a burden and not enough people have adequate protection. We must make real reforms to health care, and Third Way applauds Senator Mark Warner for the leadership he has shown in the Health Care Improvement Act of 2020,” said Gabe Horwitz, Senior Vice President for the Economic Program at Third Way. “Among its very important provisions, this legislation would expand coverage by making enrollment in Medicaid automatic whenever a low-income uninsured patient accesses health care. As Third Way has long called for, automatic enrollment makes health care easier for people to navigate and is an important step to achieve universal coverage. The Warner legislation also builds on the Affordable Care Act and makes coverage affordable for millions of middle-class families who currently fall through gaps in the program. And it provides financial relief to states during economic downturns like the one we’re experiencing now by increasing the federal share of Medicaid payments to the states. Americans need far more security and stability in their health care, and we are excited about the vision shown in Senator Warner’s bill.”

“The Virginia Community Healthcare Association represents more than 150 health center sites, serving over 350,000 individuals across the Commonwealth with the goal of ensuring access to primary care for all Virginians. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for quality health care coverage more critical than ever. Senator Warner’s Health Care Improvement Act will advance our shared goal of reducing health care costs and expanding quality health care coverage to more Virginians. We thank him for introducing this legislation and look forward to working with him on this important effort,” said Rick Shinn, Director of Government Affairs for the Virginia Community Healthcare Association.

“Rising health care costs have increasingly become a burden for too many Virginians – making it more difficult to access quality and affordable health care coverage. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of ensuring every American has access to quality health care coverage, and also highlighted significant gaps in access to health care coverage for communities of color and people with low-incomes. Senator Warner’s legislation will improve access to quality health care by closing existing coverage gaps and reducing premiums costs for people who already have health care coverage. We look forward to working with Senator Warner to advance these important priorities,” said Freddy Mejia, Health Policy Analyst, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

“The Virginia Poverty Law Center applauds Senator Warner’s introduction of comprehensive legislation on health care. The improvements in this bill address a wide range of critical issues that will reduce costs and expand access to care for consumers in Virginia and across the country. Specifically, we strongly support the Senator’s proposals that improve ACA health plan affordability, enhance premium assistance, provide additional incentives for states to expand their Medicaid programs, ensure continuity of health care for new mothers and reduce Medicare drug prices. We encourage Congress to move quickly on this vital legislation that will help so many consumers during and after the COVID pandemic,” said Jill Hanken, Health Attorney, the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

“We at the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) believe that access to quality health care is a right, not a privilege, and that access to comprehensive health services must be recognized and protected as a basic human right. Especially in light of this ongoing pandemic, we continue our commitment to ensuring health care for all. To that end, we support this effort to expand health care coverage in the U.S. AMSA especially supports Medicaid eligibility expansion, the simplification of enrollment procedures for Medicaid and SCHIP programs, and the expansion of federal financing. Moreover, we are excited to see efforts that work to reduce prescription drug prices and fight against surprise medical billing. AMSA applauds Senator Warner and the Health Care Improvement Act,” said Dr. Ali Bokhari, President of American Medical Student Association 

“The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) is aware of how access challenges and high costs in our health care system disproportionally affect people with disabilities. We appreciate Senator Warner’s commitment to work closely with the disability community as he leads efforts to ensure Americans have access to the care and coverage they need.  AUCD supports the Health Care Improvement Act and its commitment to address the pressing needs of reducing health care costs and protecting the rights of people with disabilities,” said Rylin Rodgers, Policy Director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. 

This legislation also boasts the support of The Arc of Northern Virginia, The Autism Society of Northern Virginia, Healthcare for All Virginians Coalition, First Focus Campaign for Children, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Bill text is available here. A bill summary is available here. A section-by-section explainer on the bill is available here.

With President Biden’s expected executive order announcement later today and the introduction of his American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration is set to act on additional priorities Sen. Warner has long called for to improve our nation’s health care system such as re-opening theAffordable Care Act exchanges so that more uninsured individuals can enroll in health care coverage. During the COVID-19 health crisis, Sen. Warner called on the Trump Administration and Congress to make this important change to address the health care coverage crisis we now face. 

In line with the forthcoming announcement by the Biden administration, Sen. Warner’s Health Care Improvement Act provides $100,000,000 in funding to support the administration’s effort to fully fund programs to help more Americans enroll in affordable health care coverage. Additionally, President Biden plans to roll back the Trump administration’s actions to sabotage the Affordable Care Act which has undermined our preparedness for and ability to respond to COVID-19 and protect health care coverage for millions of Americans. In 2019, Sen. Warner led the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in a legislative maneuver to protect health coverage  for Americans with preexisting conditions from the Trump Administration’s attempts to undermine those safeguards.

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WASHINGTON – The following statement was issued today by Rachel Cohen, a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA):

“Senator Warner learned today that a close contact has tested positive for COVID-19. While Senator Warner has tested negative, out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with guidance provided by the Office of the Attending Physician, he will be working remotely during his quarantine period.” 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA) in introducing the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

A study conducted by the Commonwealth Institute found that approximately 1,018,000 Virginians would have their wages raised under the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, while another 254,000 Virginians who make just above the new minimum would see increases as well as employers seek to maintain wage scales and reward seniority. Combined, one in every three working people in Virginia will benefit from raising the wage. The vast majority of Virginians who would benefit are working adults helping to support themselves and their families – 92 percent are age 20 or older and 89 percent are working at least 20 hours a week. In Virginia, the General Assembly approved a gradual increase to the hourly minimum wage beginning May 1, 2021. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered the economic disparities that already exist in this country. In the midst of an unprecedented economic and health crisis that has pushed millions of workers to the brink of poverty, the least we can do is ensure that our minimum wage is a living wage that allows folks who work a full-time job to make ends meet,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing a bill that will help expand economic opportunity for more families.”

“Every day, millions of hardworking Americans struggle to put food on the table or pay the rent. These hardships have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Kaine. “Raising the minimum wage will stimulate our economy and give people a fair shot at economic mobility.”

Specifically, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would increase the federal minimum wage over a four-year period from $7.25 to $15. It would also index future increases in the federal minimum wage to median wage growth in addition to phasing out the subminimum wage for tipped workers, youth workers, and workers with disabilities. According to an independent analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would increase wages for nearly 32 million Americans, including roughly a third of all Black workers and a quarter of all Latino workers. 

The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker, (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy, (D-CT), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jackie Rosen (D-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL).

A copy of the bill text can be found here, a section-by-section can be found here, and a fact sheet can be found here. 

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WASHINGTON, D.C – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $2,283,147.93 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide support for the distribution COVID-19 vaccines in Arlington County. These funds will go toward supplies to ensure proper storage of the vaccine, transportation support, staffing needs, PPE for staff, and the necessary equipment to ensure facilities are in line with CDC guidance.

“We’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward helping Arlington County effectively administer the COVID-19 vaccine,” said the Senators. “We will keep working to ensure the Commonwealth has the resources it needs to best respond to this pandemic.” 

Under Governor Northam’s Major Disaster Declaration to help Virginia respond to COVID-19, localities can apply for funding to support vaccine distribution from FEMA. Arlington County is the first of the Commonwealth’s localities to apply for – and receive – the funding.

The latest COVID relief package, supported by Senators Warner and Kaine, included over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic. 

In March 2020, Kaine joined his colleagues in a letter urging President Trump to immediately consider any disaster declaration requests so states can utilize FEMA’s Public Assistance program in their efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health. Public Assistance is funded through the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), to which Congress provided an additional $45 billion in the CARES Act.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tim Scott (R-SC), with the support of Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen, in announcing their intent to re-introduce the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act in the 117th Congress.  

The FEED Act allows the Federal government to pay 100 percent of the cost to states and localities so that they can partner with restaurants and nonprofits to prepare nutritious meals for vulnerable populations, such as seniors and underprivileged children. These partnerships will support businesses and small farmers as the coronavirus pandemic continues. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hunger crisis in America, resulting in millions more Americans becoming food insecure. To address the skyrocketing food insecurity in our communities, we must look for innovative ways to ensure families in Virginia have dependable access to nutritious meals,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why we introduced this bipartisan legislation that would provide maximum flexibility to states and localities to help address this crisis while also supporting producers, restaurants, and local food systems in the process.” 

“COVID-19 has made millions of Americans food insecure and pushed restaurants to the brink of bankruptcy through no fault of their own,” said Sen. Murphy. “It’s up to Congress and President Biden to get them the assistance they need to get out of this hell. That’s why I’m teaming up with my colleague Senator Scott to introduce the FEED Act, which provides funding for restaurants and nonprofits to feed Americans struggling as a result of the pandemic. No one should be food insecure in this country and helping families get back on their feet should be a top priority in the coming months.”

“The FEED Act is an all-encompassing win for our most vulnerable populations, workers, restaurants, and small farms doing their best to stay afloat during the pandemic,” said Sen. Scott.“ By opening up a pathway for food producers, restaurants, and non-profits to easily partner with their state and local governments, the FEED Act is proof that good work happens when the private and public sector work together. Many thanks to Chef José Andrés and our bipartisan coalition for coming together to work on commonsense life-changing legislation.”

“Today, we have in front of us a major opportunity to meet head-on two crises that have been going on throughout the pandemic, mostly out of sight: a serious increase in the number of hungry Americans, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of restaurants and millions of restaurant jobs,” said Chef José Andrés with the World Central Kitchen. “With the FEED Act we have a win-win solution: the federal government will start working hand-in-hand with cities and states to keep restaurants working and communities fed. We know that this model works – we’ve seen it work in Charleston, in New Haven, and hundreds of other cities around the country – and can take it nationwide with the support of Senators Scott, Murphy, and their colleagues in the Senate.”

Specifically, the bill waives section 403(b) and 503(a) of the Stafford Act, which allows for FEMA to cover the cost of emergency and disaster related expenses. Under this legislation, the federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of disaster-related expenses, instead of the typical 75 percent. This would eliminate any state costs during the COVID-19 crisis and allow more states to take a proactive approach to distributing meals and providing more financial relief to restaurants. A copy of the bill text can be found here

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. He has put pressure on the USDA to formally authorize Virginia’s request to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot Program, successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that made it more difficult for families to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, and secured a USDA designation that allows food banks to distribute food directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. In August, Sen. Warner also successfully pushed for USDA to extend critical food waivers to help make sure students have access to nutritious meals while school districts participate in distance learning. The COVID-19 relief package signed into law last month provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits.

The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Boozman (R-AR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Earlier this month, companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) , Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Rodney Davis (R-IL).

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) and 23 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to President-Elect Joe Biden, supporting his incoming administration’s plan to quickly utilize all available authorities under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to rapidly increase the production and stockpiling of medical, testing and protective equipment supplies.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Senate Democrats have been calling on the Trump Administration to fully utilize the DPA to ramp up nationwide production of testing supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), and medical equipment. The Trump Administration failed to do this, which has created continued supply chain issues that are having dangerous impacts on the nation’s response to COVID-19, as well as the nation’s ability to scale up vaccine production and distribution. 

In their letter to the President-Elect, the Senators support the Biden Administration’s intended use of executive action to utilize all authorities under the DPA and deploy a more functional response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senators write, “Given the continued supply chain issues that we have seen over the past year, we believe it is in the best interest of the American public to shore up our access to critical supplies immediately and in the long term through all available DPA authorities.”

They continue, “The DPA can help us reach our goal of vaccinating enough of the American public to achieve herd immunity by ramping up production of sterile needles, rubber stoppers, syringes and other vaccine supplies now … we need to use every tool available to make up the ground we have lost. The DPA could also be used to regulate vaccine distribution, ensure that companies do not charge for the vaccine in the future and enhance production of materials needed for vaccines to address future pandemics.”

The Senators note how American manufacturers and workers have stepped up to increase domestic manufacturing of PPE throughout the pandemic, but that the DPA must also be used to ensure these manufacturers, many of whom have acted in the interest of public health, have greater access to affordable, domestically-sourced raw materials.

The Senators conclude, “Make no mistake, a dependable and resilient domestic manufacturing capacity to respond to a global pandemic is a national security imperative. Given the opaque nature of the transition and the lack of transparency from the current administration, we understand that your team may not yet have full insight into the state of the medical supply pipeline and Strategic National Stockpile. We stand ready to partner with you to help overcome these substantial obstacles. Your use of executive action to utilize the extraordinary authorities under DPA will support a more functional response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that America is stronger now and more resilient when the next pandemic occurs.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Angus King (I-ME), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Gary Peters (D-MI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The full letter is available here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined their Senate colleagues in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding the Trump Administration take immediate action to fix the significant failures of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution as coronavirus cases continue to climb. In the letter, the senators call out the Administration’s failure to develop and implement a comprehensive national vaccine plan despite having months to do so. 

“Despite months to plan, the Trump Administration has failed to meet these needs or deliver promised doses to jurisdictions, and as a result of this lack of planning, only 36 percent of distributed vaccines have been administered,” wrote the Senators. “Federal responsibility does not end with delivery of vaccines to states, as you have suggested. Vaccine administration must be a close partnership between the federal government and state, Tribal, and local governments, with the federal government stepping up to ensure that all needs are met. A vaccine allocated on a spreadsheet, or even a vaccine distributed and sitting on a shelf, is not enough to protect anyone.”

For months, Senate Democrats have been imploring the Trump Administration to work and communicate with state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, vaccine and PPE manufacturers, public health experts, and health care providers to develop a plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration. These groups have been pleading for clear guidance and financial resources.

In the letter, the Senators call for a plan that includes guidance and best practices on taking the vaccine from distribution to administration, provide all necessary resources to state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and other jurisdictions, account for the significant challenges jurisdictions face in scaling up their workforces, and act to ensure vaccine distribution efforts also combat health inequities. The Administration must also launch a massive public facing campaign to promote vaccine confidence and help people understand where, when and how to get vaccinated. In the coming weeks, the senators emphasize that the Trump Administration must engage with states to proactively identify and address challenges to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are quickly and equitably distributed and administered across the country. 

In December, Warner & Kaine successfully pushed to pass COVID relief legislation, which allocated over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics, and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic and take a step towards successful COVID-19 management. 

The letter was led by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Patty Murray (D-WA), and was also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Full text of the letter here and below. 

  

Dear Secretary Azar:

We write to you with concerns about significant challenges in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration across the country and to outline key actions the Trump Administration should have taken—and must now take—to address these challenges. With our health system and economy in crisis, and millions of lives at stake, we cannot afford for this vaccination campaign to continue to be hindered by the lack of planning, communication, and leadership we have seen so far. 

President Trump tweeted on January 3rd that “the vaccines are being delivered to the states by the Federal Government far faster than they can be administered!”  That should have been an indicator of a failed vaccine roll out, not a point of pride.  It is the federal government’s role to ensure states, Tribes, localities, and the public are receiving the resources and support they need, rather than requiring every jurisdiction to manage on their own without the benefit of the national resources and perspective that only the federal government can provide.

Since July, we have been calling on the Trump Administration to work with states, Tribes, and localities, vaccine and PPE manufacturers, public health experts, congregate care settings, and other health care providers to develop a comprehensive, national plan for vaccines. Since September, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Operation Warp Speed (OWS) first published their playbook and strategy for vaccine distribution, state, Tribal, and local health departments have said that they need clear communication, transparent decision-making, evidence-based guidance, and financial resources to effectively implement vaccine administration plans. Despite months to plan, the Trump Administration has failed to meet these needs or deliver promised doses to jurisdictions, and as a result of this lack of planning, only 36 percent of distributed vaccines have been administered. We hope the recently announced efforts to scale up vaccinations in pharmacies will help to turn this tide but it is clear much more is needed. States, Tribes, and localities, providers, and the public are being left without federal support or clear, complete information about what to expect in the future as nearly 300,000 Americans fall ill daily from this virus. 

In order to avoid these failures, the Trump Administration should have issued and implemented a comprehensive national vaccines plan, including detailed guidance and an infusion of resources to support states. Federal responsibility does not end with delivery of vaccines to states, as you have suggested. Vaccine administration must be a close partnership between the federal government and state, Tribal, and local governments, with the federal government stepping up to ensure that all needs are met. A vaccine allocated on a spreadsheet, or even a vaccine distributed and sitting on a shelf, is not enough to protect anyone. The metric that matters, and where we are clearly moving too slowly, is vaccines in arms. A comprehensive national plan should:

  • include robust guidance for states, Tribes, localities and health care providers including on personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, vaccine administration prioritization, and best practices for taking the vaccine from distribution to administration;
  • specify how the Federal government will support these entities with funding, supplies, information, and personnel—which thus far the Trump Administration has failed to do; and
  • account for the significant challenges jurisdictions face in scaling up their workforces while continuing other lifesaving public health work, which may include providing increased support for mass vaccination clinics and mobile testing units, as well as supplementing the vaccination workforce including vaccinators, logistical support, and more.  

In the absence of this long-overdue national plan, it is all the more important that the Trump Administration actively engage with state planning efforts in the coming days, identify challenges across distribution and administration, and proactively address problems that arise in partnership with jurisdictions. 

In order to support the efforts outlined in a comprehensive, national plan, the Trump Administration must also quickly provide robust vaccine distribution funding to States, Tribes, and localities. In advance of vaccine distribution efforts commencing, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had provided just $617 million in funding to states for vaccine efforts—this amount was woefully inadequate. In fact, the Trump Administration falsely stated as recently as November that States did not need funding for vaccine distribution.  Ultimately, Congress provided $8.75 billion for vaccine distribution efforts in the recently enacted COVID relief bill which will meaningfully help states execute their vaccine administration plans. The bill requires a portion of this funding to be sent to states within 21 days, and President Trump’s delay in signing this legislation should not further delay the distribution of these funds. We recognize that the CDC announced the availability of $3 billion for states for vaccination activities, but we cannot afford a repeat performance of this Administration’s decision to sit on billions of dollars in testing funds when states urgently needed them. The Trump Administration must ensure strong support reaches jurisdictions as soon as possible to support their critical work. The challenges we are seeing in vaccine distribution also underscore the need for robust and permanent investments in public health infrastructure to get us out of this cycle of crisis and response.

The Trump Administration must act to correct the lack of transparency and communication from the federal government around COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration. Over the first two weeks of vaccine distribution, more than a dozen states found their actual vaccine allocations fell significantly below initial OWS allocation forecasts.[1] For several days, OWS denied these discrepancies, before ultimately admitting officials had provided states with flawed numbers.[2] Even now, states are given just one week of advanced notice about the number of doses they will receive and have been given no information about distribution projections after February.[3] Local health departments are largely excluded from planning calls with OWS and CDC, even though they often ultimately receive and administer vaccines. There is no federal plan to publicly release sufficient data on vaccinations in long-term care settings, where more than 133,350 residents have died, accounting for 37 percent of all deaths from COVID-19.[4] The federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, which states expected to rely on to support vaccination of these particularly vulnerable populations, has administered only 17 percent of the vaccines distributed to these facilities to date.[5] 

Jurisdictions and health care providers are not the only ones in the dark; members of the public do not know when, where, or how they will be able to be vaccinated.[6] CDC already supports a national portal to provide information to the public on where they can receive flu vaccines and other vaccines; the public needs this and more information when it comes COVID-19 vaccines, which should be broadly publicized.[7]  Furthermore, while some states are taking steps to educate providers and the public to improve communication and build trust, the Trump Administration has failed to meaningfully address vaccine confidence, after spending months directly undermining such confidence by casting doubt on our nation’s world-class scientists and scientific agencies. The Trump Administration should launch a long-overdue, large-scale public awareness campaign and work with leaders in communities across the country to provide science-based information to promote high vaccination rates. The federal government must play a proactive role in improving transparency and communication with public health departments and the American people.

Finally, the Trump Administration must also act to ensure vaccine distribution efforts combat rather than exacerbate the health inequities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. A failure to plan strategically and proactively for vaccine distribution means communities of color, residents of congregate care facilities, rural communities, and other populations disproportionately at-risk will remain neglected in our pandemic response. This is especially true for the millions of health care workers of color who provide the daily care and support for residents of congregate care settings and who provide home health care. We have seen the toll this pandemic has taken on vulnerable communities, and the egregious health disparities that have resulted from this pandemic, and we must act to combat these inequities.  

Since FDA granted the first emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine, only 2 percent of Americans have been vaccinated. In that same time, the United States passed 20 million cumulative cases of COVID-19 and saw a new record in daily deaths from COVID-19 when over 4,085 Americans died on January 7. Of the 20 million doses promised by the end of 2020, only 4 million doses were administered before the end of the year. In light of this failed vaccine rollout amidst a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, we urge you to finally take the steps necessary to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are quickly and equitably distributed and administered across the country. 

Sincerely,

 

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