Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma urging them to ensure that families aren’t denied critical financial assistance needed in order to purchase quality health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The letter comes after Sen. Warner’s office heard from Virginia families, including the Burger family, who discovered that they were wrongfully denied tax credits due to delays in processing 2019 tax filings that are required to purchase affordable health insurance through the ACA marketplace exchanges. The deadline to enroll for the ACA is December 15. 

“I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that could cause a significant number of individuals to be denied affordable health insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. It is my understanding that due to delayed processing of 2019 tax returns, numerous Americans have been deemed in violation of the Marketplace’s ‘failure to file and reconcile’ requirement (FTR), and will be ineligible for advanced premium tax credits (APTCs) to ensure affordable health coverage starting January 1, 2021,” wrote Sen. Warner to IRSCommissioner Rettig and Administrator Verma.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) established advanced premium tax credits (APTC) to help working families purchase affordable health insurance through the exchanges. In order to receive the tax credit during this year’s enrollment period, individuals have to complete their 2019 tax return. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has not been able to process these returns in a timely manner due to reduced staff hours at the agency. As a result, individuals who would normally be eligible for the credit cannot receive it because the IRS has not yet processed their returns. 

“Put simply, a number of Americans will be denied an APTC in the Marketplace through no fault of their own, because their tax returns were delayed. I have already heard from several Virginians who – as a direct result of delayed tax returns – have been unable to or confused about their ability to enroll in health care coverage during this years’ open enrollment period,” continued Sen. Warner. “Financial assistance is essential to millions of working class Americans and their families to ensure affordable health coverage on the Marketplace. I am concerned that individuals will be wrongfully denied coverage and that a failure to address this issue could result in these families going without health care coverage during the peak of an unprecedented global pandemic.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner also pressed the Administration to suspend termination of the 2021 APTC, inform affected enrollees of this change, and extend the deadline to apply for 2021 ACA coverage through a special open enrollment period for individuals and families wrongfully denied financial assistance.  

Text of the letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Commissioner Rettig and Administrator Verma:

I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that could cause a significant number of individuals to be denied affordable health insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. It is my understanding that due to delayed processing of 2019 tax returns, numerous Americans have been deemed in violation of the Marketplace’s “failure to file and reconcile” requirement (FTR), and will be ineligible for advanced premium tax credits (APTCs) to ensure affordable health coverage starting January 1, 2021. 

Under existing Marketplace regulations, an enrollee becomes ineligible for an APTC if they did not file an income tax return for a prior year during which an APTC was received. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Treasury delayed the tax filing deadline for all Americans from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has cut staff hours as result of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to experience significant tax return processing delays. 

Put simply, a number of Americans will be denied an APTC in the Marketplace through no fault of their own, because their tax returns were delayed. I have already heard from several Virginians who – as a direct result of delayed tax returns – have been unable to or confused about their ability to enroll in health care coverage during this years’ open enrollment period. 

Financial assistance is essential to millions of working class Americans and their families to ensure affordable health coverage on the Marketplace. I am concerned that individuals will be wrongfully denied coverage and that a failure to address this issue could result in these families going without health care coverage during the peak of an unprecedented global pandemic.

I urge you to address this problem by suspending the termination of 2021 APTC. In addition, I ask that you inform affected enrollees of this change and extend the deadline to apply for 2021 coverage through a special open enrollment period for individuals who were deterred from enrolling due to the previous notices they received threatening to end their financial assistance.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) pushed the Treasury Department to extend a critical deadline in order to ensure that localities across Virginia don’t lose out on essential funds needed to provide critical services to Americans, including making broadband more accessible during this public health crisis. The funding, which is set to expire on December 30, 2020, was authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Sen. Warner.

“Households across the country continue to struggle to make it through this public health emergency without access to broadband. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband in accessing essential services, with an unprecedented number of Americans now reliant on internet connectivity to access public benefits, search for employment, learn and work from home, and access telehealth services,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Lack of broadband access has prevented Americans in underserved communities from meaningfully participating in the digital economy even before the pandemic, and under current circumstances, this lack of access threatens to have a significant and potentially long-lasting impact on existing economic, health, and educational disparities.”

Through the CARES Act, Congress appropriated $150 billion in funding for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which awarded federal dollars to states and localities to help to cover pandemic-related expenses for which local governments did not originally budget. However, unclear guidance by the Treasury Department has stalled localities in their efforts to distribute some of these funds by the allocation deadline, which requires localities to obligate all their funds by December 30th. 

“While localities are working hard to obligate their CRF allocations before the December 30, 2020 deadline, I  have heard directly from local leaders across Virginia that unclear guidance on the allowed uses of the funding has delayed the obligation of funds to broadband projects. As a result, localities need more time to obligate this vital funding to communities that still lack reliable access to broadband,” Sen. Warner continued. “To expand the reach of CARES funding and enable more households to get connected through these projects, I respectfully request the Department of the Treasury to extend the December 30, 2020 deadline by which states and localities must obligate CARES funding.” 

In the letter, Sen. Warner also requested that the Treasury Department publish updated guidance making clear that states and localities can use this funding for broadband projects as long as project plans are finalized by the CARES Act deadline, making clear that states and localities can commence and continue projects if their plans have been finalized prior to the deadline.

Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth during his tenure as Governor and now in the Senate. In March, Sen. Warner led 17 of his colleagues in urging major internet service providers to take steps to accommodate the incoming unprecedented reliance on telepresence services. After this effort, a number of major internet service providers announced the adoption of practices to better accommodate the use of remote technologies. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner also introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during COVID-19. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services.

Text of the letter can be found below and a copy is available here.

 

The Honorable Steven T. Mnuchin

Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, D.C. 20220 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin,  

Households across the country continue to struggle to make it through this public health emergency without access to broadband. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband in accessing essential services, with an unprecedented number of Americans now reliant on internet connectivity to access public benefits, search for employment, learn and work from home, and access telehealth services. Lack of broadband access has prevented Americans in underserved communities from meaningfully participating in the digital economy even before the pandemic, and under current circumstances, this lack of access threatens to have a significant and potentially long-lasting impact on existing economic, health, and educational disparities. 

The CARES Act provided $150 billion in funding for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which serves as a critical lifeline for states and localities that are navigating the challenges of COVID-19. Many CRF recipients are using this funding to expand access to telehealth services, distance learning, and telework by deploying broadband in underserved areas. While localities are working hard to obligate their CRF allocations before the December 30, 2020 deadline, I have heard directly from local leaders across Virginia that unclear guidance on the allowed uses of the funding has delayed the obligation of funds to broadband projects. As a result, localities need more time to obligate this vital funding to communities that still lack reliable access to broadband.

To expand the reach of CARES funding and enable more households to get connected through these projects, I respectfully request the Department of the Treasury to extend the December 30, 2020 deadline by which states and localities must obligate CARES funding. I also request that you publish updated guidance that clarifies that states and localities are able to use CARES funding for broadband projects, even where the projects won’t be completed by, or even begun building by, the CARES Act deadline so long as they’ve finalized a project plan by that time.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, released a statement regarding Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s request to not extend municipal and Main Street lending programs established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Without an extension, the federal lending programs will expire at the end of the year:

“I’m deeply disappointed in the request from the Treasury Department to prematurely defund these important CARES Act 13(3) programs.  As I pointed out in my letter to the Secretary and Fed Chair last week, with cases rising throughout the country, we need every tool at our disposal to support the economic recovery in the months ahead. Now is precisely the wrong time to reverse course and limit our capacity to provide liquidity to a struggling economy.”

Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, has long worked to provide financial relief to the American economy amid the COVID-19 crisis. During a September Banking Hearing with Secretary Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Sen. Warner stressed the need for another COVID-19 relief package that properly supports Main Street and stimulates local economies by making significant investments targeted towards affected communities. To help with economic recovery efforts, Sen. Warner introduced the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, legislation that would provide eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) with capital, liquidity, and operational capacity to serve minority and historically disadvantaged communities. A comprehensive list of his COVID-19-related work is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized its Stark and anti-kickback rules. The updated rules allow more health organizations to enter into value-based arrangements that will lead to better patient health outcomes and help reduce health care costs. Specifically, the change will create new exceptions and safe harbors in existing physician self-referral law to allow for the increased coordination between physicians and other health care entities while still ensuring safeguards are in place to protect against fraud and inappropriate use.

“Reducing long-term health care costs requires a health care system that encourages coordinated care, value-based healthcare, and outcomes-based payment. That is why I have worked with Sen. Cassidy in calling for commonsense changes to our federal health programs that enable more health care organizations to innovate and work together.

“Today’s reforms by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to the Anti-Kickback Statute and Physician Self-Referral (Stark) Law are a significant step in the right direction for improving patient care. Our nation’s physicians, health systems and other stakeholders have long called for this modernization and that is why I have previously pressed CMS to make these important changes. I applaud CMS for their responsiveness and I look forward to working with them and Virginia providers to properly implement these changes.”

In Congress, Sen. Warner has long pushed for policy changes to help lower health care costs for Virginia seniors and families. In October, Sen. Warner led a letter with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) asking HHS to finalize its proposed rule updating existing Stark and anti-kickback Laws to allow for the increased use of value based arrangements. Last year, Sen. Warner teamed up with Sen. Cassidy to unveil a discussion draft of the Patient Affordability, Value and Efficiency Act, bipartisan legislation to facilitate new and innovative payment models for pharmaceuticals and other medical services so that patients have better access to treatment and ensure that the health care market is more efficient.  

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner, Tim Kaine, and Gary Peters, introduced legislation that would block the implementation of an October 21 Executive Order by President Trump that would make it easier for the Administration to fire non-partisan civil servants with policy expertise.

“We cannot allow the President to deny federal employees crucial workplace protections,” said Senators Warner and Kaine. “Our federal workforce has been under unprecedented attacks by this administration, and this harmful decision only benefits the President’s loyalists instead of serving the interests of the American people.”

On October 21, President Trump signed an executive order that would allow agency heads to convert certain policy-centric positions to a new classification, Schedule F, where there is greater flexibility to fire those employees. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director Michael Rigas issued preliminary guidance on October 23 that suggests a broad interpretation of the types of positions that would be eligible for conversion. This has created concern that the Administration could fire civil servants and create uncertainty in federal agencies that are critical to protecting the nation’s national security and addressing the ongoing pandemic. OPM has still not answered basic questions regarding the development, implementation, and potential consequences of this hastily issued executive order.

The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Doug Jones (D-AL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kyrsten Simena (D-AZ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Chris Murphy (D-CT).

Senators Warner and Kaine have been fierce advocates for Virginia’s federal employees. In February, the Senators sent a letter to President Trump urging him to reverse his decision that would negatively impact the collective bargaining rights of Department of Defense (DOD) employees. In March, the Senators also became cosponsors of the Protecting Collective Bargaining and Official Time for Federal Workers Act, a bill that would rescind four executive actions that restrict the effectiveness of unions for federal workers. During the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back pay for contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) announced the formation of a working group to develop legislative proposals and conduct oversight focused on fundamentally reforming corporate governance. This comes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to underscore the urgency of reforming corporate practices that leave corporations with little to no savings, workers living paycheck-to-paycheck, and supply chains outsourced to the lowest bidder. 

"For far too long, many companies have disregarded broad-based growth and put short-term profits ahead of workers, fueling inequality and restricting opportunities for the poor, for young people, and for people of color. Short-term financial pressure often pushes corporations to forgo necessary long-term investments, ignore the threat of climate change, and concentrate opportunity in ways that exclude too many of our communities," said the senators. "We will work together on ways we can fundamentally reform corporate governance in America."  

The senators have each worked on proposals to hold American corporations accountable and create an economy that provides prosperity for all Americans.

  • Sen. Warner has introduced the Workforce Investment Disclosure Act to require companies to disclose investments in workers, urged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require disclosure of companies' human capital management policies, and has pushed for better reporting of non-financial indicators covering a company's environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices.
  • Sen. Warren has introduced legislation to transform corporate America, hold corporate executives personally accountable when their companies commit crimes, and empower workers and other stakeholders, not just shareholders. Her Stop Wall Street Looting Act would reform the private equity industry and she has been a leading voice in pressing corporations to address their role in fueling the climate crisis.
  • Sen. Baldwin has introduced legislation to: give workers a seat on corporate boards and restrict buybacks through her Reward Work Act and address abuses by activist hedge funds in her Brokaw Act.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and 13 of their Senate colleagues in requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of the Treasury conduct an analysis of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s repeal in California v. Texas would affect health care coverage in the United States, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Passed in 2010, the ACA drastically expanded the number of Americans with health insurance. Before the ACA, over 45 million Americans were uninsured and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage,” the Senators wrote. “After the ACA’s passage, over 20 million people gained health care coverage—including roughly 12 million people who were newly enrolled due to the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program. People with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied coverage health insurers were required to expand coverage for mental health and substance use treatment; and young adults could stay on their parents’ health coverage until age 26—making it easier for millions of Americans to access care.”

“In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed roughly 220,000 people in the U.S. and infected over 8 million others, the President of the United States is actively asking the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA’s critical health protections,” they continued. “Republicans in the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to pass legislation barring the President from advocating against the ACA in court, but they refused—choosing instead to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination and place the health care law at even greater risk.”

Despite the ACA’s success in expanding access to health care and reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Republican lawmakers have spent years working to overturn and undermine our nation’s health care law. These efforts have culminated in California v. Texas, a case led by 18 attorneys general and President Trump’s Department of Justice that calls for the courts to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional. The President is also currently working to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat with his nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in time to hear arguments in the case on November 10, 2020. Barrett’s nomination is a key component of the President’s self-stated goal to “terminate health care under Obamacare [the ACA].” If the ACA is repealed, experts estimate that over 20 million Americans and 740,000 Virginians will lose health coverage – a number that is likely higher now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to better understand how a Supreme Court decision to overturn ACA would affect health care coverage in the U.S. the Senators requested answers to the following questions:

  1. How many individuals would lose health coverage? Of those individuals:
    1. How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA?
    2. How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in health insurance through the ACA marketplaces?
    3. How many adult children under the age of 26 who are currently covered through their parents’ plans would lose coverage?
    4. How many individuals would lose coverage that acquired coverage through the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
    5. How many individuals would lose coverage that have pre-existing conditions?
    6. To the extent practicable, please provide the number of individuals, by state, that would lose health coverage disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
    7. By how much would consumers’ health care costs, including out-of-pocket costs and premiums, increase? To the extent practicable, please provide this information disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
    8. How many individuals currently covered through marketplace plans would lose ACA subsidies for their plans, and what would be the average amount lost per person in subsidies?
    9. How many individuals currently enrolled in Medicare Part D would likely hit the program’s prescription drug coverage gap, or the “doughnut hole,” in the first year following the ACA’s repeal? Assuming a complete reopening of the coverage gap (i.e.,100% beneficiary coinsurance, with 0% plan contribution and no manufacturer coverage gap discount program), what would be the average increase in out-of-pocket drug costs for enrollees who reach the coverage gap phase? What would be the estimated 10-yearsavings that would accumulate to drug manufacturers under a scenario where there is no coverage gap discount program?
    10. How many Medicare beneficiaries would be affected if preventive services were no longer exempt from cost-sharing requirements, what would be the effect on out-of-pocket spending if preventive services were not “free”, and how would the drop in preventive service use affect Medicare spending?
    11. What impact would the repeal have on the solvency of the hospital insurance trust fund?
    12. What is the average tax cut that households earning over $200,000 a year, over $1 million a year, and over $3 million a year, respectively, would receive?
    13. Please provide copies of any internal analyses conducted at HHS or Treasury that assess the impact of a California v. Texas decision that overturns the ACA on health care coverage. What analysis, if any, have your agencies conducted? What plans, if any, have your agencies developed to address the predicted loss of health care coverage that would accompany such a decision?

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Dr. Secretary Azar and Secretary Mnuchin: 

We write to request that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) provide Congress with its analysis of the impact a Supreme Court decision striking down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California v. Texas would have on health insurance coverage in the United States. We ask that particular attention be paid to the impact such coverage losses would have on Americans in the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Passed in 2010, the ACA drastically expanded the number of Americans with health insurance. Before the ACA, over 45 million Americans were uninsured and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage. After the ACA’s passage, over 20 million people gained health care coverage—including roughly 12 million people who were newly enrolled due to the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program. People with pre-existing

conditions could no longer be denied coverage health insurers were required to expand coverage for mental health and substance use treatment; and young adults could stay on their  parents’ health coverage until age 26—making it easier for millions of Americans to access care.

Despite the ACA’s unequivocal success in reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Republican lawmakers have spent years working to overturn the law. These years of sabotage have culminated in California v. Texas, a case—led by 18 attorneys general and President Trump’s Department of Justice—that calls for the courts to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on November 10, 2020. The President is currently working to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader’s Supreme Court seat with his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, in time for the November 10th arguments. Barrett’s nomination is a key component of the President’s self-stated goal to “terminate health care under Obamacare [the ACA].”

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts predicted that over 20 million Americans would lose health coverage if the ACA was overturned. That number is now likely far higher. In the first three months of the pandemic, unemployment rates rapidly outstripped those of the Great Recession, leaving roughly 30 million people unemployed by July. Today, around 28 million workers are receiving or seeking unemployment benefits, and estimates suggest that 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as a result of the pandemic—swelling the ranks of Americans purchasing health insurance on the ACA marketplaces or getting coverage through Medicaid. Meanwhile, wealthy Americans would likely get a tax cut should the ACA be repealed: if the revenue measures included in the law, including taxes on the wealthiest households in the country, were to disappear, “the highest-income 0.1 percent…households would receive tax cuts averaging about $198,000 per year.”

In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed roughly 220,000 people in the U.S. and infected over 8 million others, the President of the United States is actively asking the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA’s critical health protections. Republicans in the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to pass legislation barring the President from advocating against the ACA in court, but they refused—choosing instead to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination and place the health care law at even greater risk.

It is essential that policymakers understand the implications of a California v. Texas decision overturning the ACA. We therefore ask that HHS and Treasury provide us with information on how such a decision would impact health care coverage in the U.S. including any pre-existing internal analyses of such a decision. Specifically, should the Supreme Court overturn the ACA in its entirety:

1.      How many individuals would lose health coverage? Of those individuals:a.      How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA?
b.      How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in health insurance through the ACA marketplaces?
c.       How many adult children under the age of 26 who are currently covered through their parents’ plans would lose coverage?
d.      How many individuals would lose coverage that acquired coverage through the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
e.      How many individuals would lose coverage that have pre-existing conditions?
2.      To the extent practicable, please provide the number of individuals, by state, that would lose health coverage disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
3.      By how much would consumers’ health care costs, including out-of-pocket costs and premiums, increase? To the extent practicable, please provide this information disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
4.      How many individuals currently covered through marketplace plans would lose ACA subsidies for their plans, and what would be the average amount lost per person in subsidies?
5.      How many individuals currently enrolled in Medicare Part D would likely hit the program’s prescription drug coverage gap, or the “doughnut hole,” in the first year following the ACA’s repeal? Assuming a complete reopening of the coverage gap (i.e.,100% beneficiary coinsurance, with 0% plan contribution and no manufacturer coverage gap discount program), what would be the average increase in out-of-pocket drug costs for enrollees who reach the coverage gap phase? What would be the estimated 10-yearsavings that would accumulate to drug manufacturers under a scenario where there is no coverage gap discount program?
6.      How many Medicare beneficiaries would be affected if preventive services were no longer exempt from cost-sharing requirements, what would be the effect on out-of-pocket pending if preventive services were not “free”, and how would the drop in preventive service use affect Medicare spending?
7.      What impact would the repeal have on the solvency of the hospital insurance trust fund?
8.      What is the average tax cut that households earning over $200,000 a year, over $1 million a year, and over $3 million a year, respectively, would receive?
9.      Please provide copies of any internal analyses conducted at HHS or Treasury that assess the impact of a California v. Texas decision that overturns the ACA on health care coverage. What analysis, if any, have your agencies conducted? What plans, if any, have your agencies developed to address the predicted loss of health care coverage that would accompany such a decision?

Given the grave implications of this lawsuit and the pending nature of a Supreme Court decision, we ask for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) in introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation to make the payroll tax deferral outlined by President Trump optional for any worker whose employer chooses to participate, including federal employees and service members. The text of the Preventing Employees from Surprise Taxes Act can be found here.  

“Day in and day out our military members and federal employees work to help the American people, but instead of supporting these public servants, President Trump is using them as pawns in his political payroll tax scheme. This cannot stand. Our men and women in uniform and federal employees should be able to make the financial decisions that work best for them rather than be forced to participate in Trump’s PR stunt against their will. That’s why I’m glad to lead this bipartisan push and will continue fighting to get this done,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“I have heard from countless federal employees and service members concerned that they are going to be hit with a massive tax bill due to the Trump administration’s election year gimmick,” said Chairman Connolly.  “Our legislation will protect these public servants and give them a choice in participating in this program.”

In addition to Sens. Warner and Van Hollen, this legislation was cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

In the House the legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Don Beyer(D-Va.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), and Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

The legislation is supported by a number of organizations, including: the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the National Federation of Federal Employees, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, the Senior Executives Association, the Federal Managers Association, the Professional Managers Association, National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, United Power Trades Organization, Antilles Consolidated Education Association, National Weather Service Employees Organization, Patent Office Professional Association, National Association of Government Employees, National Education Association, Social Security Works, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Americans for Tax Fairness, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Statements of support from many of these organizations can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today expressed grave concerns regarding the cybersecurity measures in place at one of the nation’s largest medical facility operators, which recently fell victim to an apparent ransomware attack. In a letter to United Health Services (UHS), Sen. Warner posed a series of questions for Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan B. Miller regarding the ransomware attack and stressed the need for UHS and other clinical providers to ensure that all information, medical, and critical systems are sufficiently protected.

“As UHS has expanded over four decades to encompass 250 medical facilities across the U.S., including twelve facilities in Virginia, effective clinical environment cybersecurity cannot be a casualty to value-based care cost savings and economies of scale. Indeed, hospital systems have frequently suggested to competition authorities that greater consolidation will allow for greater operational efficiencies; yet this does not appear to be the case when it pertains to something as vital as information security,” wrote Sen. Warner. “An increasing number of medical facilities sharing connected information systems and computer networks requires adequate protection for a significantly larger attack surface. Any failure to protect this considerable attack surface with appropriately segmented networks and data provides opportunities for lateral movement across disparate systems. An unmitigated breach in one facility can cripple systems at hundreds of medical facilities, risking patient care throughout a large provider network while healthcare delivery remains strained by a pandemic.”

“With the full resources of a Fortune 500 company receiving over $11 billion in annual revenue, UHS’s patients expect and deserve that their provider’s cybersecurity posture to be sufficiently mature and robust to prevent major interruptions to health care operations,” he continued. “While UHS’s latest annual report acknowledges that a cyber-attack that causes a security breach or loss of HIPAA protected health information could have a material impact on business, there is more than just business at stake when clinical operations are disrupted.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner noted that authorities in both countries where UHS operates – including the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – have continued to raise alarm regarding the danger posed by advanced persistent threat groups who exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, waging attacks against healthcare providers that include password “spraying” campaigns, scanning for vulnerabilities in unpatched software, and targeting supply chains. 

Sen. Warner also posed the following series of questions in order to gain a better understanding of the situation facing UHS:

  1. Please describe the UHS vulnerability management process, including your current practices relating to patch management across your health infrastructure.
  2. How are various UHS facilities’ networks and IT systems isolated from each other to prevent a cybersecurity breach at one facility from affecting multiple facilities?
  3. Does UHS have effective segmentation measures in place within its healthcare facilities to prevent any type of malware from spreading?
  4. What policies does UHS maintain relating to third-party risk management?
  5. What are your cybersecurity and risk assessment requirements?
  6. How are clinical medical devices isolated from administrative systems and networks to ensure a breach of the administrative network does not interrupt medical devices?
  7. Who is the senior-most executive responsible for day-to-day oversight of information security and who does that executive report to?
  8. Has UHS paid any ransom or does UHS plan to any ransom?
  9. Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been affected or suffered a denial of access?
  10. Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been exfiltrated from UHS owned or operated systems without authorization? 

Sen. Warner, a former technology executive, is the co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, he has fought for increased cybersecurity measures as Americans have increasingly relied on internet connectivity for remote work, health, and education purposes. Among other measures, Sen. Warner has recently advocated for increased funding to modernize federal information technology, urged internet networking device vendors to ensure the security of their products, and pressed cybersecurity officials to bolster defenses against cybersecurity attacks.  He has also introduced legislation to set strong and enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information as tech companies and public health agencies deploy contact tracing apps and digital monitoring tools to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

The letter is available here and text can be found below.

 

Mr. Alan B. Miller

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Universal Health Services, Inc.

367 S. Gulph Road

King of Prussia, PA  19406

Dear Mr. Miller: 

I write you with grave concerns about United Health Services’ digital medical records and clinical healthcare operations succumbing to an apparent ransomware attack. As one of the nation’s largest medical facility operators with 3.5 million patient visits a year, it is imperative that medical care is provided to all patients without any interruption or disturbance created by inadequate cybersecurity. While initial reports suggest that the attackers did not access patient or employee data, an incident such as this sharply highlights the need to ensure adequate cybersecurity hygiene in a healthcare setting. The national health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates the consequences of insufficient cybersecurity. 

The need for health care providers to address cybersecurity threats has been obvious for several years now. Clinical providers including UHS must ensure all information, medical, and critical systems are sufficiently protected. Ransomware continues to impact organizations that have not demonstrated sufficient risk management maturity. The threat of ransomware to hospital systems – and the impact it has on clinical healthcare operations, patient care, and life safety – has been clear since 2016, when a series of major incidents occurred.[1] 

Although the threats are not new, authorities have continued to sound the alarm about the cyber threats to healthcare – including the heightened impact during our current public health emergency. For example, in both countries where UHS operates, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a joint alert on May 5, 2020[2]. This alert announced that advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic as part of cyber operations against healthcare and essential services. Attacks observed against healthcare providers include password “spraying” attacks that automate attempts to use commonly used passwords, scanning for vulnerabilities in unpatched software, such as virtual private networks, and targeting supply chains. 

As UHS has expanded over four decades to encompass 250 medical facilities across the U.S., including twelve facilities in Virginia, effective clinical environment cybersecurity cannot be a casualty to value-based care cost savings and economies of scale. Indeed, hospital systems have frequently suggested to competition authorities that greater consolidation will allow for greater operational efficiencies; yet this does not appear to be the case when it pertains to something as vital as information security. An increasing number of medical facilities sharing connected information systems and computer networks requires adequate protection for a significantly larger attack surface. Any failure to protect this considerable attack surface with appropriately segmented networks and data provides opportunities for lateral movement across disparate systems. An unmitigated breach in one facility can cripple systems at hundreds of medical facilities, risking patient care throughout a large provider network while healthcare delivery remains strained by a pandemic.

With the full resources of a Fortune 500 company receiving over $11 billion in annual revenue, UHS’s patients expect and deserve that their provider’s cybersecurity posture to be sufficiently mature and robust to prevent major interruptions to health care operations. While UHS’s latest annual report acknowledges that a cyber-attack that causes a security breach or loss of HIPAA protected health information could have a material impact on business, there is more than just business at stake when clinical operations are disrupted. 

To gain a better understanding of this situation, I would appreciate answers to the following questions:

1.         Please describe the UHS vulnerability management process, including your current practices relating to patch management across your health infrastructure.

2.         How are various UHS facilities’ networks and IT systems isolated from each other to prevent a cybersecurity breach at one facility from affecting multiple facilities?

3.         Does UHS have effective segmentation measures in place within its healthcare facilities to prevent any type of malware from spreading?

4.         What policies does UHS maintain relating to third-party risk management?

5.         What are your cybersecurity and risk assessment requirements?

6.         How are clinical medical devices isolated from administrative systems and networks to ensure a breach of the administrative network does not interrupt medical devices?

7.         Who is the senior-most executive responsible for day-to-day oversight of information security and who does that executive report to?

8.         Has UHS paid any ransom or does UHS plan to any ransom?

9.         Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been affected or suffered a denial of access?

10.       Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been exfiltrated from UHS owned or operated systems without authorization?

Patients deserve to know that healthcare systems are secure, particularly as the nation faces a pandemic straining resources nationwide. When a cybersecurity failure occurs, patients need reassurance that their healthcare provider is committed to learning from and responding to this truly concerning incident, and that it is taking all appropriate steps to help ensure it cannot happen again.

Your response will be critical to this process, and I look forward to receiving that within the next two weeks. If you should have any questions or concerns, please contact my office.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue. I look forward to your response in the next two weeks.

Sincerely,

 ###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $2,901,726 in rural development funding to further distance learning and telemedicine at Ballad Health, Carilion Medical Center, Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C., and the Lee County School District in Jonesville, VA. This funding was awarded through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development.

“Staying connected has never been as important as it is during the COVID-19 pandemic when Virginians are increasingly reliant on broadband internet to safely access medical care and keep up with their education,” said the Senators. “That is why we are thrilled to see these grants go to boosting distance learning and telehealth services at the Mountain States Health Alliance, Carilion Medical Center, Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C. in Norfolk, and the Lee County School District.” 

The funding will be awarded as below:

  • $313,361 for Ballad Health to support a "School-Based Telemedicine Virtual Health Clinic" program to improve healthcare availability to underserved children in Lee and Smyth counties. The program improves access to acute sick care for school children and faculty and removes transportation as an obstacle to care. This rural investment will benefit approximately 46,765 residents across both Virginia and Tennessee.  
  • $752,857 for Lee County School District to implement Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) courses and facilitate meetups with in-the-field STEM professionals. This will also give students in alternative education programs the opportunity to attend their classes in real-time, enable teachers to access quality professional development synchronously without incurring travel and time costs, and provide students and the community access to telecounseling services such as preventative substance-abuse education. This rural investment will benefit approximately 4,590 residents.
  • $947,983 for Carilion Medical Center located in Roanoke, VA, to enable patient access to high-quality primary and specialty care services in 14 counties and six independent cities located in Southwest Virginia, Southside, Roanoke, and the Shenandoah Valley, by expanding and optimizing an existing telemedicine network. Project equipment will include telemedicine carts (for the provision of teleneurology), peripherals to facilitate patients’ physical examinations by transmitting audiovisual information to remote physicians (for use in the proposed virtual care centers), and portable examination and vital sign devices. This rural investment will benefit approximately 200,000 residents.
  • $887,525 for Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C. in Norfolk, VA, to purchase telehealth equipment required to provide diagnostic and treatment services to patients with diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, eye tumors, and ocular oncology, among other specialties. The system in each clinic will include live interactive videoconferencing hardware and software, a digital stethoscope, a specialized hand-held exam and diagnostics camera, and a variety of lens options. This rural investment will benefit approximately 3,762 residents. 

The USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for rural communities and health care access in the Commonwealth. In 2018, the Senators saw through the passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which included a provision by Sen. Warner to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment. Earlier this year, the Senators introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students. In response to the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Warner has also introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans, as well as legislation to promote broadband in underserved areas. Last year, Sen. Warner  introduced legislation – cosponsored by Sen. Kaine – to expand telehealth services through Medicare, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers. Sen. Kaine also introduced legislation in 2019 to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after President Trump announced he is calling off negotiations for COVID-19 relief until after the November general election and insisted the Senate focus its efforts on rushing through a Supreme Court nominee:

“The American public is telling us they need COVID relief now and we should wait until after the election to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. Instead, the President and Senate GOP are rushing their court nominee and ignoring Americans who are suffering in this health and economic crisis. We should be prioritizing COVID relief and we are discouraged that the President has decided to end the negotiations to do that.”

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act, legislation requiring federal agencies to establish and publish COVID-19 workplace protections. The bill, named after a Virginia federal worker who passed away from COVID-19 complications, would compel each federal agency to create and post concrete reopening plans online, at least 30 days prior to the return of federal employees. This legislation, which passed through the House of Representatives today, was introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA).

Joining Sen. Warner in introducing this legislation are Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, federal employees have been hard at work to preserve essential government functions and ensure that the American people can continue to count on their government for vital guidance and assistance when they need it the most. However, this work should never come at the expense of workers’ lives, as was the case for Chai Suthammanont, a public servant from Virginia who passed from COVID-19 complications,” said Sen. Warner. “As public servants transition from remote to in-person work, the least we can do is avoid another tragedy and make sure that folks can return to a safe work environment. That’s why I introduced this legislation requiring federal agencies to publish their policies and procedures online, where federal workers and their families can access them before returning to work.”

“I want to thank Senator Warner for his work to protect the health and safety of our federal workforce. Chai was committed to his community, and for that, he gave up his life. Our bill will ensure federal employees have the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding their agencies’ reopening plans. We owe that to Chai and his family,” Rep. Connolly said.

According to this legislation, any federal agency reopening plan must include information on:

  • The personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to employees 
  • Additional cleaning protocols to be implemented by the agency
  • Efforts to ensure social distancing at worksites
  • Agency measures or efforts to protect employees who work outside of federal office buildings, such as auditors or inspectors
  • Safety and health requirements for members of the public visiting federal facilities
  • Contingency options for workers at high risk of contracting COVID-19
  • Efforts to ensure continuity of agency operations, including contingency plans should there be a surge in COVID-19 cases

In addition to requiring federal agencies to publish their reopening plans online, this legislation would require each agency’s Inspector General to submit a timely review on whether that agency has provided adequate PPE for employees and whether it has complied with this legislation by publishing COVID-19 safety policies and procedures.

This bill has been endorsed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), and the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).

Bill text is available here.

Sen. Warner has continued to be a longtime champion for federal workers during the COVID-19 crisis. In July, he joined a group of colleagues in urging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to include requirements to ensure maximum telework for federal employees and contractors in the next COVID-19 relief package. He also previously urged OMB and OPM to reverse course on plans to bring federal employees back to their worksites prematurely, and joined a number of his colleagues in requesting information regarding the safety of federal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, in March, he called on OMB and OPM to post department and agency contingency plans and urged the President to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to utilize telework capabilities to the maximum possible extent.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate approved a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running through December 11, sending it to the president’s desk for signature:

“We’re relieved that we’re going to avoid another pointless, painful government shutdown in the middle of a pandemic. But funding the government is Congress’ most basic responsibility, and we don’t think anybody should be patting themselves on the back for acting at the 11th hour to keep the government up and running – especially since the Senate still has not acted to provide meaningful and much-needed COVID-19 relief to workers, small businesses, local governments, schools, hospitals and health care workers. Instead of breaking precedent and moving hastily to rush a Supreme Court nomination through while the election is already underway, the Senate ought to be focused on the most pressing needs of the American people in the midst of a health and economic crisis.”

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) urging the agency to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee on their list of ongoing remote inspections during the COVID-19 health crisis. Following troubling reports of conditions at Virginia facilities and a four-month-long delayed response by BOP, these remote inspections would help assess whether the Virginia BOP-managed correctional institutions are complying with protocols and best practices to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities.  

“We write today to urge you to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, both in Virginia, in the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) remote inspection of facilities housing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices have received numerous reports from employees and families of incarcerated individuals regarding the spread of COVID-19 and allegations of deteriorating health and safety conditions within both facilities. These concerns have been raised multiple times by several of our offices with BOP, and we remain deeply troubled by conditions at the two Virginia correctional facilities,” wrote the lawmakers. 

In Virginia, there are two federal correctional institutions in operation, including the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex. Correctional officers at Virginia’s facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 incarcerated individuals. Currently, no Virginia facility is included in the OIG remote inspections list even as the number of COVID-19 cases have increased.

“On September 24, 2020, the BOP website reported 200 incarcerated individuals and 13 staff members with active or recovered positive COVID-19 cases at FCC Petersburg. Many of our offices have received reports that – despite denials from BOP – cases are increasing and inadequate steps have been taken to limit transmission at this facility. USP Lee weathered much of the pandemic without a COVID-19 outbreak. However, on September 9, 2020, BOP transferred at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 to the facility. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia. Transfers such as this could result in preventable outbreaks, both inside the prison and in the local community,” the lawmakers continued.

Additionally, the lawmakers raised alarm over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)provided to staff and incarcerated individuals despite the contradictory claim by BOP that they have enough PPE at their facilities. In their letter, the lawmakers also note that they have receiveddisturbing reports of diminished quality of life for incarcerated individuals, which include reports of spoiled food and reduced access to essential facilities.

The members of Congress have advocated for vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis. In March, Sen. Warner joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to BOP and the three largest private prison operators inquiring about any policies and procedures in place to manage a potential spread of COVID-19. In May, Sens. Warner and Kaine and Reps. McEachin and Griffith requested answers from BOP Director Carvajal regarding issues at the Virginia facilities. Earlier this week, following a failure to respond to the May letter, the lawmakers once again pressed Director Michael Carvajal for answers concerning an ongoing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Following a delayed responsefrom BOP that contradicted information the lawmakers have consistently heard about the lack of PPE, the spread of COVID, and deteriorating conditions, the members of Congress are pressing OIG to include these facilities in their remote inspection list. 

Additionally, Sens. Warner and Kaine have also urged the Trump Administration time and time and time again to cease the inter-state transfer of people held at immigration detention facilities during the public health crisis.

 

Full text of the letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Inspector General Horowitz: 

We write today to urge you to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, both in Virginia, in the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) remote inspection of facilities housing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices have received numerous reports from employees and families of incarcerated individuals regarding the spread of COVID-19 and allegations of deteriorating health and safety conditions within both facilities. These concerns have been raised multiple times by several of our offices with BOP, and we remain deeply troubled by conditions at the two Virginia correctional facilities.

On September 24, 2020, the BOP website reported 200 incarcerated individuals and 13 staff members with active or recovered positive COVID-19 cases at FCC Petersburg. Many of our offices have received reports that – despite denials from BOP – cases are increasing and inadequate steps have been taken to limit transmission at this facility.

USP Lee weathered much of the pandemic without a COVID-19 outbreak. However, on September 9, 2020, BOP transferred at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 to the facility. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia. Transfers such as this could result in preventable outbreaks, both inside the prison and in the local community.

We also continue to receive reports that BOP has not provided proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and incarcerated individuals at both facilities. As a result, PPE is frequently reused beyond its intended service life. Further, we are concerned that neither facility has taken adequate steps to distance those who have tested positive for COVID-19 from the general population.

Finally, several of our offices have been informed that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis. We have also received disturbing reports that both food quality and quantity have significantly declined, including accounts of spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.  

We seek to maintain the highest levels of safety for incarcerated individuals, correctional facility staff, and local communities in the Commonwealth, and urge you to include USP Lee and FCC Petersburg in your remote inspections. Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) participated in a virtual Senate Banking Committee hearing on the COVID-19 economic response with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. During the hearing, Sen. Warner stressed the need for another COVID-19 relief package that properly supports Main Street and stimulates local economies by making significant investments targeted towards affected communities.

Sen. Warner specifically highlighted his Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, legislation he authored to provide eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) with capital, liquidity, and operational capacity to serve minority and historically disadvantaged communities.

In his remarks at the beginning of the questioning period, Sen. Warner addressed his Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act saying, “This would take billions of unallocated funds from the CARES Act and directly invest them into MDIs and CDFIs, which, as the secretary explained, would dramatically leverage those dollars and help minority businesses that – as Sen. Scott so accurately pointed out – really have been disproportionately hurt. 420,000 black-owned businesses have shut down and we can and must do better. Chairman Powell, I know we’ve gone back and forth on this but I would argue – I know you said earlier in the week in your testimony that you were concerned with Main Street going smaller, below 250, and the Fed’s capacity to deal with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of loans. I would argue the way to deal with that, or at least one tool to deal with that, would be the direct equity infusion into those MDIs and CDFIs whose goal and purpose is to lend to these smaller institutions. You wouldn’t have to necessarily grapple with all the individual loans but you could make these kind of investments and Fed support programs for these institutions that service that community.”

Stressing the need for robust and targeted Main Street relief, Sen. Warner criticized Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s effort to put forward a plan that fell dramatically short of matching the scale of the COVID-19 economic crisis. In his line of questioning, Sen. Warner asked Chairman Powell to address the desperate need for targeted but robust relief for those most affected.

In response to Sen. Warner’s question, Chairman Powell said, “I would say that the recovery we’ve had so far owes in significant degree to the CARES Act and the support that Congress provided in conjunction with the Administration. I think that while the economy has been doing better than expected, there’s downside risk to that if there is no further fiscal support. There are still something like 11 million people who have not gotten their jobs back. Those people are able to spend now because of the checks that they got and the enhanced unemployment insurance that they got. There’s downside risk to the economy probably coming if some form of that support doesn’t continue.”

Sen. Warner also asked the witnesses about the long-term risk to the economy, asking whether the economic risk would be greater in over-stimulating or under-stimulating the economy.

In response, Chairman Powell said, “We’re going have to – we will come back to a place where we need to get the U.S. Federal government on a sustainable fiscal path but I wouldn’t prioritize that now when we’re in the middle of the pandemic.”

Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, has long worked to provide financial relief to the American economy amid the COVID-19 crisis. A comprehensive list of his COVID-19-related work is available here. 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner, Tim Kaine, and Patty Murray wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) requesting an investigation into the June 2020 transfer of immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention to Farmville, Virginia. The transfer, which was reportedly part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to send more federal agents to Washington, D.C., to end racial justice protests, led to a dramatic spike in COVID-19 infections at the Farmville facility, managed by the private contractor Immigration Centers of America (ICA). The Senators write that ICE, ICA, and DHS’s mishandling of the situation fits the pattern of abuse behind ICE detention.

“While ICE said they transferred ‘larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees’ to ‘promote social distancing,’ according to recently released information, ICE’s own statistics showed the facilities from where the detainees came on June 1 were not near capacity when the transfers were arranged,” the Senators wrote. “ICE and ICA’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville raises the alarm about people’s safety and the nature of ICE detention. And ICE and DHS’s disregard of Senate inquiry in the face of clear mishandling of the situation and people’s lives is unacceptable. It is critical for the OIG to investigate the transfer of individuals in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the pattern and practice of abuse and the lack of accountability within ICE facilities.”

The Senators noted that, while the Farmville facility was 57 percent full the day of the transfer, the Arizona facility from which the migrants were transferred was only 35 percent full. “The statistics indicate that ICE has misled Congress about the reasons for transferring individuals during the pandemic,” wrote the Senators.

Senators Warner and Kaine have repeatedly pushed the Administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia detention facilities. After the June transfer resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at Farmville, the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the health of detainees and workers by stopping the transfer of people in ICE custody and increasing COVID-19 testing at the facilities. Nearly a month later, with approximately 80 percent of the Farmville population testing positive for COVID-19, the Senators once again pressed ICE and DHS to stop transfers between facilities. They also posed a series of questions regarding the measures in place to safeguard the health of people in custody, staff members, and the community. In July, the Senators also insisted that the Trump Administration work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the facility after nearly every detained person in the Farmville facility contracted COVID-19. At the Senators’ urging, the CDC deployed its teams to the Farmville facility in August to conduct an assessment of the rate of infection among workers and detainees, risk factors for infection among workers and detainees, infection control and prevention practices in the facility, and transmission dynamics among workers, detainees, and the surrounding community. Additionally, following reports that two detained individuals tested positive for COVID-19 at the Caroline County Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility, the Senators sent a letter today pressing for answers on what ICE is doing to protect the health of individuals in custody, staff members, and the Bowling Green community.

You can read the full letter here and below:

Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari
Office of Inspector General
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, DC 20528-0305

Dear Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari,

We write to request that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigate the transfer of individuals in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Virginia via ICE Air in June 2020 as part of the administration’s efforts to send more federal agents to end racial justice protests in Washington, D.C.[1] The transfer led to the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the ICE detention center in Farmville, Virginia, run by the private contractor Immigration Centers of America (ICA) and fits into the pattern of abuse behind ICE detention during the pandemic. We ask that your office incorporate an investigation into the June 2020 transfer to Virginia into the ongoing investigation into “ICE’s Efforts to Prevent and Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in its Facilities.”[2]

On June 2, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to ICA-Farmville from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. According to testimony at a Farmville town council meeting in August, ICE officials in the Washington field office objected to the transfer of detainees. The transfer, compounded by the inability to appropriately socially distance within the facility, led to a dramatic spike in infections. Within two weeks of the June 2020 transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. At least six people inside have been hospitalized with severe symptoms. In August, the Farmville facility had at times a nearly 90% infection rate among detainees, including James Thomas Hill, a Canadian national who tragically died on August 5.

While ICE said they transferred “larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees” to “promote social distancing,” according to recently released information, ICE’s own statistics showed the facilities from where the detainees came on June 1 were not near capacity when the transfers were arranged. The detention facility in Arizona from where detainees were transferred, CCA Florence, has space for approximately 550 detainees but was only about 35 percent full that day, while Farmville was 57 percent full. The statistics indicate that ICE has misled Congress about the reasons for transferring individuals during the pandemic, in violation of the CDC guidelines indicating that people should not be transferred between facilities “unless necessary for medical evaluation, medical isolation/quarantine, clinical care, extenuating security concerns, release, or to prevent overcrowding.”[3]

We have consistently raised alarm with DHS about the surging number of COVID-19 cases at the Farmville detention facility as a result of ICE’s decision to continue transferring detainees.[4] Yet both DHS and ICE have refused to respond to our questions concerning how ICE is protecting the health of individuals in their custody, staff members, and the Farmville community. We request that you investigate the following:

?      Whether ICE and DHS shared information with Farmville officials (including local elected officials like the mayor and members of the town council) about the June transfer and the subsequent outbreaks at Farmville-ICA in an effort to protect against community spread;

?      The objection to the transfer by the Washington field office and any other objections made prior to the transfer of detainees to Farmville;

?      The role of the company in charge of the facility, ICA, in the June 2020 transfer;

?      Whether the ICE agents aboard the ICE Air flight in question were tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding and ICE’s general policies around testing prior to boarding flights with detainees;

?      All information pertaining to the planned flight, including whether the flight was postponed or altered to accommodate agents;

?      The capacity at each ICE facility on June 2, 2020;

?      Whether any detainees transferred to Farmville on June 2, 2020, were subject to the Title 42 expulsions conducted by the Administration;

?      The I-216 of each detainee transferred to Farmville on June 2, 2020;

?      The number of ICE transfers during the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic, the justifications behind the transfers, the capacity at the facilities individuals were transferred from and to, and the result of any COVID-19 spread at the facilities to which detainees were transferred;

?      The decision-making process that went into making the June 2 transfer and all other transfers during the pandemic, including communication between ICE headquarters, field offices, private contractors, and local officials involved in the management of the facilities where transfers have taken place as well as agency and administration guidance, memos, and any other information guiding ICE’s decision process to embark on transfers during the pandemic;

?      Whether any assessments or inquiries were made of the local hospital and medical capacity to handle possibly infected detainees prior to transfer;

?      ICE’s use of “ICE Air” charter flights to transfer detainees during the pandemic.

ICE and ICA’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville raises the alarm about people’s safety and the nature of ICE detention. And ICE and DHS’s disregard of Senate inquiry in the face of clear mishandling of the situation and people’s lives is unacceptable. It is critical for the OIG to investigate the transfer of individuals in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the pattern and practice of abuse and the lack of accountability within ICE facilities.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and a bipartisan group of  colleagues in calling for enforcement action to address practices of pharmaceutical companies that threaten to undermine the 340B Drug Pricing Program during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

The 340B program requires drug companies to sell discounted prescription drugs to safety net hospitals, rural health facilities, and other entities that provide care in underserved communities. Savings from the 340B program ensure that these “covered entities” are able to continue to serve their patients. However, drug manufacturers have recently announced new burdensome requirements on covered entities beyond the scope of the 340B program, or they have announced that they will no longer provide discounts for medications shipped to pharmacies that dispense drugs to patients on behalf of covered entities.

In their letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the bipartisan group of Senators urge the administration to take immediate enforcement action to halt these tactics and ensure safety-net providers are able to continue providing life-saving medications to patients across the country.

The Senators write, “In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where providers have seen drops in revenue and available resources, it is critically important that 340B covered entities, including federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), FQHC Look-Alikes, children’s hospitals, Ryan White HIV/AIDS clinics, and other safety-net hospitals and providers are able to continue to serve the individuals who seek out their care. As these threats to the Program progress, we fear the potential exacerbation of these shortfalls in resources for providers at a time when they are needed most.”

The bipartisan letter was also signed by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), John Thune (R-SD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Doug Jones (D-AL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Gary Peters (D-MI), John Boozman (R-AR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Angus King (I-ME), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). 

This bipartisan effort is supported by the American Hospital Association (AHA), America’s Essential Hospitals, American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), 340B Health, Ascension Wisconsin, Children’s Wisconsin, Marshfield Health System, Gunderson Health System, Advocate Aurora, Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, and Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers in Milwaukee.

“The AHA thanks this bipartisan group of senators for their important effort to protect the 340B program, and the vulnerable communities it benefits, from big drug companies’ efforts to harm the program,” said Tom Nickels, AHA Executive Vice President. “The AHA continues to call on the Department of Health and Human Services to take action against drug companies and to protect the patients and communities the 340B program helps serve.”

“Drug manufacturers are flouting their statutory obligations by restricting access to safe, affordable medications for low-income Americans who also are among those most affected by COVID-19,” said Bruce Siegel MD, MPH, President and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals. “We applaud the bipartisan Senate signatories, led by Sens. Baldwin, Thune, Stabenow, Portman, Cardin, and Capito, for their swift action to urge the administration to stop big pharma’s ill-timed and illegal efforts to narrow the 340B program.”

“The AAMC appreciates Senators from both sides of the aisle working together to protect the 340B program and patients,” said Karen Fisher, JD, Chief Public Policy Officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “Particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unwarranted that several major drug companies are attempting to undermine this important program that allows safety net hospitals, including many teaching hospitals, to provide critical health care services to vulnerable patients in communities across the country.”

“340B has a long history of bipartisan support in Congress. Drug companies must stop denying discounts on expensive outpatient drugs in violation of the 340B statute. We appreciate the efforts of these Senate leaders in making that message crystal clear,” said Maureen Testoni, President and CEO of 340B Health. 

“Wisconsin rural hospitals and communities need a strong 340B Program, now more than ever. The current program saves Medicare money and achieves the Congressional purpose to reach more eligible patients and providing more comprehensive services,” Tim Size, Executive Director of Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative. 

“Coordinated efforts by drug manufacturers to place arbitrary limits on the number of contract pharmacies they will serve or to eliminate discounted 340B pricing will significantly impact the health of our most vulnerable patients. Some medications will not be available for uninsured patients through the sliding fee scale. And without the savings accrued from 340B pricing, health centers will no longer be able to offer affordable pharmaceuticals to low-income patients --- thereby directly jeopardizing the health of the uninsured or underinsured. We need immediate support from Congress and HRSA to stop recent actions from drug manufacturers and prevent others from following suit,” said Dr. Julie Schuller, President and CEO of Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers.

“We appreciate the Senator's continued support of safety net providers. From our Medical Mission events, providing free care in our communities, to supporting new moms through Blanket of Love in Milwaukee - the 340B Program helps us care for our communities. Ascension continues to experience substantial increases in the costs to acquire needed medication, and we applaud the bipartisan effort to urge HRSA to take enforcement action to protect the 340B Program,” said Bernie Sherry, Ministry Market Executive at Ascension Wisconsin.

 The full letter is available here and below.

 

 

Dear Secretary Azar:

We write to express our concerns regarding recent actions from pharmaceutical manufacturers that threaten to undermine the role of contract pharmacies in the 340B Drug Pricing Program. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where providers have seen drops in revenue and available resources, it is critically important that 340B covered entities, including federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), FQHC Look-Alikes, children’s hospitals, Ryan White HIV/AIDS clinics, and other safety-net hospitals and providers are able to continue to serve the individuals who seek out their care. As these threats to the Program progress, we fear the potential exacerbation of these shortfalls in resources for providers at a time when they are needed most. While we understand that the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is further investigating these actions, we urge HRSA to take immediate and appropriate enforcement action to halt these tactics and ensure safety-net providers are able to continue providing life-saving medications to patients across the country.

As you are aware, on September 1, 2020, Eli Lilly announced that the company would no longer allow 340B covered entities to receive discounts for products that are shipped to a contract pharmacy, with an exception for insulin. This follows similar actions from AstraZeneca, which announced in August that it would refuse 340B pricing to hospitals with on-site pharmacies for any drugs dispensed through contract pharmacies. Similarly, other companies have imposed additional and burdensome reporting requirements on all contract pharmacy claims.  For covered entities, and in particular rural hospitals and other rural covered entities that rely disproportionately on contract pharmacies, these changes could have long-lasting repercussions that will challenge a covered entity’s ability to support its community now during this pandemic and in the future. 

The Public Health Service Act requires that manufacturers wishing to participate in Medicaid and Medicare Part B enter into agreements with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that “require that the manufacturer offer each covered entity covered outpatient drugs for purchase at or below the applicable ceiling price if such drug is made available to any other purchaser at any price.” Further, HRSA has recognized the importance of contract pharmacies by acknowledging such arrangements in current guidance. We believe these recent actions by pharmaceutical manufacturers run counter to the statute and create a dangerous and negative precedent for the 340B Program and the providers and patients it serves. 

To ensure pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to comply with the 340B statute and provide discounts to safety-net providers, we call on HRSA to take appropriate, prompt enforcement action to address violations of the Public Health Service Act. We appreciate your attention to this important issue and look forward to partnering with you and stakeholders to ensure the 340B program continues to support access to quality health services with proper oversight and transparency.  

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy calling on him to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in delays of critical medications to Americans.  

“The Postal Service is an essential public institution that must uphold its duty to serve every community. Your recently implemented changes pose an unacceptable threat and continue to have a devastating effect on communities that rely on consistent access to medication through the mail. We have received numerous reports from seniors about delays in receiving their prescriptions through the mail, leaving some without life-sustaining medication for days. Others have been forced to obtain emergency prescriptions from their doctors and pay out-of-pocket for medication because their original prescriptions covered by insurance never arrived,” wrote the Senators to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

“We call on you to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in life-threatening delays of critical medications to Americans. As you noted, ‘it is imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively, while continuing to provide service that meets the needs of [its] customers.’ Right now, the Postal Service is failing to meet the needs of many Americans and adhere to its mission of ‘prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas.’ As we continue to fight this pandemic, the Postal Service is integral to keeping millions of Americans safe, especially seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities,” continued the Senators.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH),  Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Last month, Sen. Warner fired off a letter to Postmaster General sharing concerns he’s heard directly from Virginians regarding delayed mail service following those structural and operational changes at the Postal Service. Sen. Warner also recently called on DeJoy to testify before Congress regarding service delays in Virginia. Additionally, he joined a number of Senate Democrats in raising concerns over the heightened impact of these changes to servicemembers and their families, and in pushing DeJoy and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to correct the changes that are needlessly delaying veterans’ access to life-saving prescriptions.

In June, Sen. Warner sounded the alarm about the Administration’s efforts to undermine state work to expand mail-in voting. Following the USPS policy changes, Sen. Warner joined other Senate Democrats in an effort to urge the Postmaster General to provide answers regarding reports of recent changes to long-standing practices at USPS that would result in increased delivery times and costs for election mail, and urged him not take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots. He has since called on DeJoy to answer for service delays and urged him not to take any further action that makes it harder for states to mail ballots. In addition, Sen. Warner asked Virginia’s election registrars to ensure that all Virginians can access their right to vote.

 

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

In your three months as U.S. Postmaster General, you have made detrimental operational and structural changes to the U.S. Postal Service. After facing criticism from members of Congress, states, and the public as well as lawsuits from multiple state attorneys general you announced the reversal of some—but not all—of these policies.  Damage from your decisions has already been done as Americans continue to experience potentially life-threatening delays in the delivery of prescription medications. These delays will continue to disproportionately harm the same individuals who are most at risk during the COVID-19 crisis, including seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities. 

While we hope that your recent policy reversals will curtail some of the harmful effects and delays we have seen, we continue to have grave concerns regarding widespread delays in the delivery of critical medications that millions of Americans rely upon every day. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now more important than ever for Americans to have safe and timely access to their medications from their homes. For years, Americans have entrusted the Postal Service to deliver essential goods—yet during this public health crisis, a number of Americans continue to await needed medications that are lost or delayed in the mail. 

The Postal Service is an essential public institution that must uphold its duty to serve every community. Your recently implemented changes pose an unacceptable threat and continue to have a devastating effect on communities that rely on consistent access to medication through the mail. We have received numerous reports from seniors about delays in receiving their prescriptions through the mail, leaving some without life-sustaining medication for days. Others have been forced to obtain emergency prescriptions from their doctors and pay out-of-pocket for medication because their original prescriptions covered by insurance never arrived. 

The National Association of Letter Carriers reported that the Postal Service delivers 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments each year – amounting to four million shipments every day, six days a week.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Mail Order Pharmacy provides prescriptions to approximately 80 percent of all veterans via mail, processing 470,000 prescriptions daily.  Despite these figures, “prescription medication can only be as effective as a patient’s ability to access it.” 

The Postal Service’s role in delivering medications to Americans has only grown during the COVID-19 crisis. When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders began in March, mail-order prescriptions reportedly increased by 21 percent from the year prior.  What was previously a routine visit to the pharmacy now places millions of Americans at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to “limit in-person visits to the pharmacy” and, if possible, to use drive-thru windows, mail-order, or other delivery services to pick up medications.   As Postal Service delays cause Americans to worry when, if at all, they will receive their next supply of medication in the mail, patients across the country may be forced to seek their prescriptions in person at a pharmacy—increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 at a time when staying home is vital to their health and well-being.

We call on you to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in life-threatening delays of critical medications to Americans. As you noted, “it is imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively, while continuing to provide service that meets the needs of [its] customers.”  Right now, the Postal Service is failing to meet the needs of many Americans and adhere to its mission of “prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas.”  As we continue to fight this pandemic, the Postal Service is integral to keeping millions of Americans safe, especially seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities.

To that end, please provide the following information by September 21, 2020:

  1. What considerations did you give to mail-order medications before implementing the recent operational and structural changes throughout the Postal Service?
  1. What, if any, actions did you take to prevent potential delays in the delivery of mail-order medications? If you made no specific adjustments or considerations, please explain why.
  1. What steps, if any, does the Postal Service intend to take to address existing delays in the delivery of mail-ordered prescriptions that have occurred as a result of the operational and structural changes you implemented? 
  1. Please identify the operational and structural changes implemented during your tenure that you plan to reverse.
    1. Please explain how you decided which changes to reverse, as well as your rationale for each reversal.
    2. Do you plan to re-implement any of these changes after the November 2020 election? If so, what safeguards will you put in place to avoid significant mail delays and keep Americans safe?
  1. Please identify the operational and structural changes implemented during your tenure that you chose not to reverse.
    1. Please explain your justification for each decision.
    2. Please explain the consequences these changes could have for the ability of Americans to receive their medications in a timely and consistent manner through the mail, and whether the Postal Service has adopted safeguards to address these issues.  

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement following a report that the Trump Administration transferred detainees from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona in order to access additional federal agents to end peaceful protests in Washington, D.C.:

“We are outraged by the recent news report. The transfers callously put federal employees, the Farmville community, and detainees at risk, in what appears to be an effort to add more federal agents to forcibly disperse peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C. this summer. For months, we have sounded the alarm about the dangers of transferring detained people between facilities during the pandemic, and we’re horrified by the administration’s actions. We will be demanding more answers from DHS and ICE today and will also request an investigation from the Office of the Inspector General in light of this incident.” 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have repeatedly pushed this Administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia detention facilities. In June, after a transfer that resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at Farmville, the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the health of detainees and workers by stopping the transfer of individuals in ICE custody and increasing COVID-19 testing at the facilities. Nearly a month later, with approximately 80 percent of the Farmville population testing positive for COVID-19, the Senators once again pressed ICE and DHS to stop transfers between facilities. They also posed a series of questions regarding the measures in place to safeguard the health of people in custody, staff members, and the community. In July, the Senators also insisted that the Trump Administration work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the facility after nearly every detained person in the Farmville facility contracted COVID-19. At the Senators urging, the CDC deployed their teams to the Farmville facility in August to conduct an assessment of the rate of infection among workers and detainees, risk factors for infection among workers and detainees, infection control and prevention practices in the facility, and transmission dynamics among workers, detainees, and the surrounding community.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in calling on the seven largest internet service providers (ISPs) to do their part to limit the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and help ensure that children are able to meaningfully participate in their education. These letters come as unprecedented numbers of students rely on remote learning to kick off the fall semester due to the ongoing public health crisis. 

In a letter sent to the CEOs of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, T-Mobile, and Verizon, the Senators called on companies to take concrete measures to suspend limits and fees associated with increased broadband use, which is needed to participate in online courses or remote work. They also called for the companies to expand coverage areas, as the public health emergency has highlighted the devastating impact of the nation’s lingering broadband gaps.

“As a new school year commences, the need to accommodate an unprecedented reliance on data services to provide education continues. We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households,” the Senators wrote. “In many situations, online learning activities require additional data allowances beyond plans readily available for students. We kindly request that you again take immediate action to help students connect to the online resources they need to learn, including expanding coverage areas and rolling out new service plans that better meet the needs of these families.” 

“With many schools closed and students now relying on the internet to connect with their teachers, instruction materials, and assignments, sufficient data allowances are even more essential for students’ success now and throughout their future. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, increasing their monthly broadband usage,” they continued. “For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home. These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories. Working with school administrations to facilitate qualification for discounts based on the schools’ personal knowledge may be especially helpful. For example, students qualifying for free/discounted lunches may also prequalify for free/discounted broadband services as well.”

According to findings from a Pew Research study, the “homework gap” of students lacking reliable access to internet connectivity or a computer at home is more pronounced among Black, Hispanic and lower-income households. In addition to the toll it takes on individual students and their families, the economic cost of this gap has been identified by McKinsey and Company as having deprived the economy of at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019.

In their letter, the Senators noted numerous complaints that have come in to their offices from parents and educators who are grappling with usage caps and limited bandwidth, which prevent daily video calls needed to learn and work from home. The Senators also stated they’ve heard of families being deemed ineligible for the new services offered for low-income families due to previous missed payments. 

Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth during his tenure as Governor and during his time in the Senate. In March, Sen. Warner led 17 of his colleagues in urging major internet service providers to take steps to accommodate the incoming unprecedented reliance on telepresence services. After this effort, a number of major internet service providers announced the adoption of practices to better accommodate the use of remote technologies. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner also introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during COVID-19. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services. 

A copy of the letter is available here and text can be found below.

 

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic requires returning students across the United States to rely on remote learning and online courses, we write to ask for your assistance to help ensure students can take full advantage of essential education opportunities this fall. In March, we were thankful that your company answered our request to make a range of accommodations and service changes to help Americans shifting to unprecedented levels of online education and telework, including suspending some broadband data limits on a temporary basis. Your decisive and timely actions helped cushion the impacts to families across the nation during the spring months. 

As a new school year commences, the need to accommodate an unprecedented reliance on data services to provide education continues. We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households. In many situations, online learning activities require additional data allowances beyond plans readily available for students. We kindly request that you again take immediate action to help students connect to the online resources they need to learn, including expanding coverage areas and rolling out new service plans that better meet the needs of these families. Unprecedented numbers of students now rely on remote access for education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remote education is only as effective as available internet service. 

Effective remote learning requires capable devices and adequate broadband internet access. The Pew Research Center found in March the “homework gap” of students lacking reliable access to a computer at home is a significant challenge for many students, and even more pronounced for Black, Hispanic and lower income households. With many schools closed and students now relying on the internet to connect with their teachers, instruction materials, and assignments, sufficient data allowances are even more essential for students’ success now and throughout their future. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, increasing their monthly broadband usage.

Our offices have fielded numerous complaints from parents and educators frustrated by usage caps and limited bandwidth, which prevent daily video calls needed to learn and work from home. And those who have no other option find themselves buried in overage fees. In some cases, we’ve learned that eligibility for new services announced for low-income households is barred if that household has missed monthly payments in the past. These predicaments shine a light on our growing digital divide and threaten the education and subsequent futures of our students. In June, McKinsey and Co. reported that this education achievement gap limited the growth of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019. The necessary closing of schools during the public health crisis and transition to remote education has exacerbated these gaps.

For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home. These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories. Working with school administrations to facilitate qualification for discounts based on the schools’ personal knowledge may be especially helpful. For example, students qualifying for free/discounted lunches may also prequalify for free/discounted broadband services as well. 

We look forward to promptly hearing from you about what steps you will take to help limit the economic and social disruption that COVID-19 is posing at this challenging time. We recognize that many broadband providers have experienced significant business growth since the onset of this crisis. We ask that you identify ways to give back to the communities you serve through deployment of expanded service and additional service plans and policies that respond to the concerns we’ve heard from constituents about access, affordability, and data rates.

Containing the health impact of COVID-19 will depend on observance of social distancing measures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health authorities. But containing the economic and social impact of COVID-19 requires a whole-of-society effort. At this time of great strain on our economic and education systems, we encourage you to do everything you can to cushion the impacts on American families and students. Our offices would be happy to connect you with local education officials and administrators to facilitate this effort.

We appreciate your time and consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement today before voting against moving forward on Senator McConnell’s latest attempt to pass a “skinny” COVID-19 relief bill:

“We’re not going to vote for a half-baked relief bill, pat ourselves on the back, and call it a day while families are left out in the lurch. The two of us are ready to vote for meaningful relief for small businesses and struggling families but not for something that deprives Americans of much-needed relief while nullifying Virginia protections to keep workers safe from COVID-19. It’s time for the Senate to take up a bill that offers what this one does not: paid sick leave, emergency rental assistance, adequate public school and child care support, funding for states and localities to continue critical services while so many are out of work, and other measures to help our troubled nation.”

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WASHINGTON, DC – As communities across the country grapple with how to reopen as safely as possible, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) and a bipartisan group of senators in calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to improve, automate and modernize COVID-19 data collection and management. In a letter sent to Secretary Azar and Dr. Redfield, the lawmakers specifically called on the agencies to harness technologically advanced systems and build on existing data sources in order to provide public health officials and community leaders with more accurate, real-time information as they make critical decisions about reopening.

Unfortunately, recent reports have shown that case reporting and contact tracing across the country are being hampered by a fragmented health system and antiquated technology, including manual entry of patients’ data and results and sharing of such results through paper and pencil or fax. In Texas, some patients were having to wait l0 days to find out if they had been infected with coronavirus because their results were being faxed to public health officials and then entered into a database by hand. 

In their letter, the lawmakers wrote, “During an emergency such as the current pandemic, scaling up and using existing systems to the greatest extent possible can improve data collection and contact tracing efforts. We therefore ask that you and your colleagues utilize and build on existing data sources, such as electronic health record (EHR) and laboratory information management systems (LIMS), claims databases, and other automated systems to provide government leaders, public health officials, community leaders, and others with actionable, easy-to-interpret data from a wide-ranging set of sources. Data generated by contact tracing, syndromic surveillance, and large-scale testing can help inform decisions on how to safely reopen communities and bring economies back online. Modernizing and automating data collection should augment detection, testing, and contact tracing plans, while also helping to prevent and improve the management of new outbreaks.”

The bipartisan group highlighted the fact that some of these tools are already being successfully utilized in communities across the country. They noted, “Fortunately, software-based systems providing data management for state public health entities and major testing laboratories already exist, and they are more efficient and accurate while reducing the burden of excess paperwork. For example, North Carolina and Florida have taken steps to modernize and improve patients’ Covid-19 test results and other infectious disease symptoms. In Florida, nurses can register patients for Covid testing in the field using tablet computers that are connected to a HIPAA compliant cloud. By managing the patient and order requisition information electronically, lab processing time is reduced and transcription errors are eliminated.”

Joining Sens. Warner, Carper and Cassidy in sending this letter are Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

The letter is available here

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and more than 20 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought urging them to make the payroll tax deferral outlined by President Trump last month optional for federal employees and service members. In their letter the Senators also push for answers on how the Administration plans to implement this deferral.

 “We urge you to let federal workers and uniformed service members choose whether to defer their payroll tax obligations under IRS Notice 2020-65, rather than forcing them to participate. Federal workers and service members should not be used as pawns for a payroll tax scheme that many private sector employers are unlikely to join and where key questions remain unanswered,” the Senators begin.

 “While some federal employees may want to defer their payroll tax payments, unions representing federal workers have made clear that many others do not,” they continue. “IRS Notice 2020-65 does not answer many key questions, but KPMG concludes that it ‘appears’ to give employers the option to, ‘Permit deferrals only at the employee’s election.’”

 They go on to highlight several unanswered questions on the tax deferral, writing, “Federal employees and service members lack basic information about how agencies will implement the payroll tax deferral.” The Senators urge Secretary Mnuchin and Director Vought to clarify these key details before the deferral begins on or around September 18.

 In addition to Sens. Warner and Van Hollen, signers include Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin and Director Vought,

We urge you to let federal workers and uniformed service members choose whether to defer their payroll tax obligations under IRS Notice 2020-65, rather than forcing them to participate. Federal workers and service members should not be used as pawns for a payroll tax scheme that many private sector employers are unlikely to join and where key questions remain unanswered.

While some federal employees may want to defer their payroll tax payments, unions representing federal workers have made clear that many others do not. IRS Notice 2020-65 does not answer many key questions, but KPMG concludes that it “appears” to give employers the option to, “Permit deferrals only at the employee’s election.” PwC states that employers may want to provide this option to their workers, noting that, “The reduced take-home pay in early 2021 as a result of the additional withholding for the deferred Social Security tax may make some employees not want to participate in the deferral, even if their employer opts in.”

Federal employees and service members lack basic information about how agencies will implement the payroll tax deferral. In addition to clarifying whether federal employees will be forced to participate, please answer the following questions:

  1. If an employee or service member separates from their job prior to repaying deferred payroll taxes in their 2021 withholdings, will their employing agency or the IRS seek to collect unpaid payroll taxes from that employee? If so, how will they do so?
  1. Please provide us with a cost estimate for federal agencies to pay the employee payroll taxes that they are unable to withhold or otherwise recoup as a result of the deferral.
  1. How will federal agencies communicate key information about the payroll tax deferral to their workers, particularly regarding the reduction in take-home pay in 2021? As KPMG stresses, “It is important to manage employee expectations and keep employees informed of their obligations prior to making the election to defer.”

Reports indicate that federal employee paychecks may be affected by the payroll tax deferral on or around September 18. Please respond to these questions as soon as possible so that federal workers and service members have some clarity on these issues before their paychecks are changed.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $5,354,487 in federal funding to provide economic relief to the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport and the Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport. The funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A portion of this funding comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine.

“We are glad to announce that these federal funds will go towards helping ensure that both the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport and the Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport are able to continue to serve Virginians and other folks traveling into the region,” said the Senators.  

The funding will be distributed as follows:

  • Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport will receive $4,065,070 to reconstruct the existing Runway 6/24 lighting system, the Runway 16/34 lighting system, and the entire existing taxiway lighting system, all of which require reconstruction to meet FAA standards. This funding will also go towards reconstructing all the existing airfield guidance signs. 
  • Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport will receive $1,289,417 to extend Runway 12/30 to 5,500 feet to meet the operational needs of the airport.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long fought for increased investments to infrastructure, including for Virginia’s airports, and have pushed back against the Trump Administration’s suggested budget cuts to DOT to ensure that critical upgrades like these can happen. Additionally, last year, Sen. Warner introduced a bill to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus.

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WASHINGTON – Today, on National Poll Worker Recruitment Day, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) emphasized the threat posed by the shortage of poll workers ahead of the November elections, and urged the administrative bodies of each state’s Continuing Legal Education (CLE) system to allow lawyers to volunteer as poll workers on November 3rd in exchange for CLE credits – a measure already undertaken by the Ohio State Bar Association. CLE credits are required professional education for attorneys, who must earn these credits after their initial admission to the bar.

“Across the country, election officials have raised the possibility that many experienced poll workers – who are primarily older than age 60 and at a higher risk from coronavirus – will opt to remain at home this year. We saw early signs of this during primary elections held nationwide earlier this spring and summer, with reduced polling locations in many states as a result of the public health emergency,” wrote Sen. Warner. “A reduction of polling places undermines not only our democracy, but also our public health response, as larger numbers of Americans are forced to rely on a limited number of open polling locations.”

He continued, “Well-trained poll workers are critical to ensuring the secure and effective completion of this year’s elections. Without an adequate number of poll workers during the primaries earlier this year, many states were forced to close polling locations leading to long lines and undoubtedly disenfranchising voters. With much higher turnout expected for this year’s general election, these challenges will be magnified. This impending shortage demands innovative solutions and should serve as a call to service.”

According to the CDC, one of the best ways to mitigate COVID-19-related health risks during the election will be to support a wide variety of alternative voting methods and options – such as expanded early voting and longer voting hours – that reduce the number of voters at a single polling location. However, many of these options require the presence of poll workers, who are traditionally older and therefore more likely to stay home given the risks associated with COVID-19.

In his letters, Sen. Warner also noted that placing lawyers in precincts across the state will also serve to curb voter suppression and other legal violations at a time of increased levels of voter suppression.

Letters were sent to the Alabama State Bar, Alaska Bar Association, State Bar of Arizona, Arkansas Continuing Legal Education Board, State Bar of California, Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center, State Bar of Connecticut, Commission on Continuing Legal Education of the Supreme Court of Delaware, Florida Bar, Georgia Commission on Continuing Lawyer Competency, Hawaii State Bar Association, Idaho State Bar, MCLE Board of the Supreme Court of Illinois, Indiana Commission for CLE, Commission on Continuing Legal Education of the Supreme Court of Iowa,  Kansas CLE Commission, Kentucky Bar Association, Louisiana Supreme Court Committee on MCLE, Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, Minnesota State Board of CLE, Mississippi Commission on CLE, MCLE Department    Montana Board of CLE, Nebraska MCLE Commission, Nevada Board of Continuing Legal Education, New Hampshire Minimum CLE Board, Supreme Court of New Jersey, New Mexico MCLE, New York State Continuing Legal Education Board, North Carolina State Bar, North Dakota CLE Commission, MCLE Commission, Oregon State Bar, Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board (PACLE) , Rhode Island MCLE Commission, Commission on CLE and Specialization, Tennessee Commission on CLE and Specialization, State Bar of Texas, Utah State Board of Continuing Legal Education, Vermont Board of Continuing Legal Education, Virginia State Bar, Washington State Board of CLE, West Virginia State Bar, Supreme Court of Wisconsin, and Wyoming State Board of CLE.

A sample letter is available here.

 

Earlier today, Sen. Warner also cosponsored legislation to address the urgent shortage of poll workers and make it easier for election boards across the country to send recruits to where they are most needed by removing requirements that poll workers be registered to vote in the same county where they are volunteering. Given Leader McConnell’s consistent refusal to advance election assistance legislation, Sen. Warner is encouraging states to explore alternative solutions. 

As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner has long advocated for the integrity of our elections. In June, he led all Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as the National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis. 

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