Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and 78 of their colleagues in a letter to President Biden urging him to expedite the Executive Branch’s process to advance Sweden and Finland’s applications for NATO membership and pledging to work with the Administration to ensure swift ratification of the Washington Treaty.

In the letter, the Senators noted that NATO’s expansion will send a clear message to Putin and authoritarian leaders across the globe that the free world stands ready to bolster the alliance and defend our values and sovereignty, including through NATO’s open door policy.

“As Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has proven, NATO, along with our democratic partners around the world, is more united than ever in opposition to the illegal acts of war waged by President Putin. Expanding NATO to include Finland and Sweden will send a clear message to Vladimir Putin, and any leader that attempts to follow in his path, that the free world stands ready to defend its values and sovereignty. We will also continue to support NATO’s open-door policy, which affirms that new members are welcome to the alliance,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators also affirmed their support for Sweden and Finland’s applications as part of the Senate’s role to provide advice and consent for NATO enlargement. During this pivotal moment to our global security, they noted this expansion will further strengthen NATO’s military and diplomatic capabilities to address emerging threats, and that mutual security assurances should extend to these two countries under the alliance.

“Members of the U.S. Senate take seriously our role in advising and consenting to NATO enlargement, a process that must be approved by all NATO member states. We affirm our support for Sweden and Finland’s applications for membership. In addition, we pledge to work closely with you and with our Senate colleagues to ensure that their applications are swiftly considered and approved by the Senate,” the senators concluded. “The transatlantic alliance has never been more crucial to global security and stability. The addition of these two important allies to NATO will ensure the alliance’s resilience and readiness, and we look forward to welcoming Sweden and Finland to NATO.”

The full list of 82 Senators on the letter includes Senators Warner, Kaine, Shaheen, Tillis, Blumenthal (D-CT), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Coons (D-DE), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Hickenlooper (D-CO), King (I-ME), Rosen (D-NV), Wyden (D-OR), Tester (D-MT), Hassan (D-NH), Kelly (D-AZ), Manchin (D-WV), Portman (R-OH), Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), Cramer (R-ND), Graham (R-SC), Sasse (R-NE), McConnell (R-KY), Barrasso (R-WY), Ernst (R-IA), Romney (R-UT), Rounds (R-SD), Thune (R-SD), Grassley (R-IA), Hagerty (R-TN), Toomey (R-PA), Hoeven (R-ND), Cornyn (R-TX), Scott (R-SC), Gillibrand (D-NY), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sinema (D-AZ), Baldwin (D-WI), Feinstein (D-CA), Murphy (D-CT), Hirono (D-HI), Booker (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Bennet (D-CO), Warnock (D-GA), Murray (D-WA), Leahy (D-VT), Brown (D-OH), Klobuchar (D-MN), Markey (D-MA), Lujan (D-NM), Cotton (R-AR), Burr (R-NC), Inhofe (R-OK), Schatz (D-HI), Schumer (D-NY), Van Hollen (D-MD), Fischer (R-NE), Reed (D-RI), Heinrich (D-NM), Peters (D-MI), Whitehouse (D-RI), Padilla (D-CA), Menendez (D-NJ), Ossoff (D-GA), Capito (R-WV), Young (R-IN), Wicker (R-MS), Risch (R-ID), Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Stabenow (D-MI), Blackburn (R-TN), Sullivan (R-AK), Smith (D-MN), Casey (D-PA), Blunt (R-MO), Marshall (R-KS), Daines (R-MT), Crapo (R-ID) and Warren (D-MA).

Full text of the letter is available here.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was joined by U.S. Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) in urging Senate Committee on Appropriations leadership to include significant funding to modernize federal information technology (IT) systems for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023. This request includes at least $300 million in funding for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), created through a Warner-led bill in 2017.

“It is widely acknowledged that our federal government needs to make significant and urgent investments in replacing outdated and insecure legacy IT systems,” the senators wrote. “Each year, the federal government spends roughly $90 billion on IT systems. Significant portions of this funding go toward the maintenance of older, legacy systems, which over time grow increasingly costly, and often present concerning cybersecurity vulnerabilities.”

“In addition to the urgent security concerns, ignoring these needed modernization efforts hinders the public’s ability to interact with the government in an efficient and responsive way. We saw this issue magnified during the course of the pandemic, as added demands at times overwhelmed our government’s ability to continue providing effective customer service and critical benefits to Americans. We have heard repeatedly from constituents how these strains have slowed the processing of benefits and claims, in many cases hindering their ability to access critical resources and needed assistance that Congress has put in place,” they continued.

Sen. Warner has long pushed for the federal government to improve IT infrastructure. Last year, Sen. Warner applauded the Biden Administration for taking steps to more quickly and effectively help agencies address technology-related issues, after having previously called for them to do so. In 2020, Sen. Warner joined colleagues in calling on the Appropriations Committee to include funding for IT modernization in future COVID-19 relief packages.

A copy of this year’s bipartisan letter is available here and below.

Chairman Leahy, Vice Chairman Shelby, Chairman Van Hollen, and Ranking Member HydeSmith: 

As your committee begins consideration of appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, we write to urge you to include significant and critically needed funding to modernize federal information technology (IT) systems. In particular, we request that you provide funding of at least $300 million for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF).

Congress created the TMF as part of the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, in response to pressing needs for federal agencies to modernize outdated IT systems and address critical vulnerabilities. The TMF – a revolving fund governed by a board of experts with backgrounds in IT, cybersecurity, financial management, and federal acquisition – is unique in its ability to rapidly evaluate agencies’ technology modernization proposals, assign funding in an agile manner that prioritizes high-need and cost-saving projects, and do all of this in a transparent and accountable manner.

In the roughly four years since it was established, the TMF has delivered approximately $400 million in funding to 20 modernization projects across the government, funding projects that the TMF Board identified as having significant impact on agencies’ security, program operability, and ability to efficiently and effectively deliver results for taxpayers. As the TMF is a revolving fund, agencies that receive funding are given repayment terms that vary based on the project, which allows the TMF to recover a portion of the funds – often through direct cost savings.

It is widely acknowledged that our federal government needs to make significant and urgent investments in replacing outdated and insecure legacy IT systems. Each year, the federal government spends roughly $90 billion on IT systems. Significant portions of this funding go toward the maintenance of older, legacy systems, which over time grow increasingly costly, and often present concerning cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In addition to the urgent security concerns, ignoring these needed modernization efforts hinders the public’s ability to interact with the government in an efficient and responsive way. We saw this issue magnified during the course of the pandemic, as added demands at times overwhelmed our government’s ability to continue providing effective customer service and critical benefits to Americans. We have heard repeatedly from constituents how these strains have slowed the processing of benefits and claims, in many cases hindering their ability to access critical resources and needed assistance that Congress has put in place.

In 2021 Congress appropriated $1 billion to the TMF to address government IT challenges. While this served as a sizable investment towards these efforts, the demand for these funds was more than double their availability, and the Administration confirms that the TMF will allocate the majority of these funds by the end of this current fiscal year.

By necessity, efforts to modernize and improve the security of IT systems require ongoing and sustained effort by agencies. Congress has a similar responsibility to continue to fund modernization efforts, so that legacy systems aren’t left to grow increasingly costly and insecure over time. The TMF presents agencies with a funding vehicle that is agile and allows them to amortize modernization costs, and that makes technical experts available to agencies throughout the proposal and implementation phases. It also provides Congress a tool with additional accountability and oversight, in the form of board-review of proposals, incremental funding based on outcome-based milestones, and regular follow-up with funding recipients during funding implementation.

We appreciate your consideration of our request for at least $300 million for the Technology Modernization Fund – the level requested by the Administration – and we look forward to continuing to work with you, and with our other colleagues here in the Senate, to ensure that we are providing necessary investment in our federal government’s IT systems.

Sincerely,

###

 WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined HELP Chair Patty Murray and Senator Bob Casey, as well as 28 of their Democratic colleagues, in sending a letter to Mardi Mountford, President of the Infant Nutrition Council of America, calling on infant formula manufacturers to make every effort possible to get parents and families the formula they need to feed their kids. Over the past several months, and particularly in light of the massive recall following contaminated formula from Abbott Nutrition, a major supplier, it has become increasingly difficult for families to access infant formula.

“We write to express our concern about the infant formula supply shortage which is making it harder for parents and caregivers nationwide to get their children the nourishment they need. Formula is a critical source of nutrition for newborns and infants, and this supply shortage has put their health and development at risk. We are calling on you and your member companies to take immediate action and ensure that infant formula manufacturers are making every effort to mitigate this dangerous shortage and get children the nourishment they need,” wrote the senators.

In the letter to the Infant Nutrition Council of America today, the senators stressed how dire the situation is for families, and urged formula manufacturers to take action to increase infant formula production and distribution, and prevent future supply chain disruptions.

“This shortage has placed an unacceptable burden on parents and caregivers and has put the health of babies and infants at risk. For many families, infant formula is critical for ensuring their children receive the nutrition they need to grow healthy and well-nourished,” the letter continued. “This shortage has been especially challenging for some of the most vulnerable infants, with particularly acute shortages of specialty formulas to address health needs such as allergies, gastrointestinal issues, or metabolic disorders.  There is no easy substitute for infant formula, and this shortage has left families across the nation scrambling to figure out how they will safely care for their children.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear President Mountford:

We write to express our concern about the infant formula supply shortage which is making it harder for parents and caregivers nationwide to get their children the nourishment they need. Formula is a critical source of nutrition for newborns and infants, and this supply shortage has put their health and development at risk. We are calling on you and your member companies to take immediate action and ensure that infant formula manufacturers are making every effort to mitigate this dangerous shortage and get children the nourishment they need.

Over the past several months—and particularly in light of the massive recall following contaminated formula from Abbott Nutrition, a major supplier—it has become increasingly difficult for families to access infant formula. According to a recent report, between November 2021 and early April 2022, the national out-of-stock rate for infant formula rose to 31 percent—an 11 percent increase. These numbers varied significantly across the country, with some metropolitan areas seeing out-of-stock rates of over 50 percent. In several states, more than half of their infant formula supply was sold out by the last week of April] Major retailers are implementing nationwide restrictions on infant formula purchases.

This shortage has placed an unacceptable burden on parents and caregivers and has put the health of babies and infants at risk. For many families, infant formula is critical for ensuring their children receive the nutrition they need to grow healthy and well-nourished. This shortage has been especially challenging for some of the most vulnerable infants, with particularly acute shortages of specialty formulas to address health needs such as allergies, gastrointestinal issues, or metabolic disorders. There is no easy substitute for infant formula, and this shortage has left families across the nation scrambling to figure out how they will safely care for their children.

We urge the Infant Nutrition Council of America and your member companies to do all you can to increase infant formula production and distribution, and prevent future supply chain disruptions.

Sincerely,

 

###

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in sending a letter urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power to press international donors at the United Nations pledging conference to fulfill the current $3.8 billion funding gap for humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and to ensure that aid can reach the Afghan people in need.

“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is deepening, with more than half the population - 23 million people - in need of assistance. In response, the UN has released an appeal to international donors for $4.4 billion to meet the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan - the largest single country appeal in history. In advance of the high-level pledging event for the country scheduled for March 31, we urge the administration to work closely with our international partners to generously commit and rapidly deliver funds that will help save lives in Afghanistan,” the senators wrote.

The senators continued: “As the economy craters, the suffering of the Afghan people deepens. Today, 95% of households in Afghanistan don’t have enough food to eat. By this summer, 97% of Afghans will be living below the poverty line—trying to survive on less than two dollars a day. With nine million people just one step away from famine, this humanitarian crisis could kill more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.”

“We understand that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is driving unprecedented levels of suffering of the Afghan people, and urge robust oversight to ensure that all assistance gets to the people of Afghanistan. Without the full participation of female humanitarian staff in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all humanitarian services, aid will not be delivered in a manner that upholds humanitarian principles, and will be unable to reach the most vulnerable Afghan women and girls in the hardest to reach areas. The Taliban must allow unhindered humanitarian access, safe conditions for humanitarians, independent provision of assistance to all vulnerable people, and freedom of movement for aid workers of all genders,” the senators wrote.

The senators concluded: “Amid crises in Yemen, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Syria, and elsewhere, the international community must not lose focus on Afghanistan. We encourage you to press key international donors to make up the current $3.8 billion funding deficit for humanitarian programs and to expediently deliver such funds. These include countries in the region and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as likeminded partners who have generously supported Afghanistan in years past. Finally, we encourage you to work closely with our allies in the region to ease any restrictions on humanitarian access in Afghanistan to enable humanitarian partners to reach people in need.”

The letter led by Senator Murphy was signed in addition to Senator Warner by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-VA) Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR.), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Full text of the letter is available below.

Dear Secretary Blinken and Administrator Power,

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is deepening, with more than half the population - 23 million people - in need of assistance. In response, the UN has released an appeal to international donors for $4.4 billion to meet the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan - the largest single country appeal in history. In advance of the high-level pledging event for the country scheduled for March 31, we urge the administration to work closely with our international partners to generously commit and rapidly deliver funds that will help save lives in Afghanistan. 

Even prior to the Taliban’s takeover, Afghanistan’s economy suffered from longstanding structural problems. The country was highly dependent on external aid, which financed 75% of public expenditures and were equal to about 40% of the country’s GDP. The Taliban’s takeover caused a pullback in foreign aid and strained the liquidity and solvency of Afghanistan’s financial sector. The IMF estimates that the country’s economy will contract up to 30% this year, and many of the senior officials and technical experts needed to provide sound economic management have fled the country. While humanitarian aid is critical to saving lives in the short-term, it cannot replace a functioning economy in Afghanistan. These underlying structural economic problems will take years to solve. 

As the economy craters, the suffering of the Afghan people deepens. Today, 95% of households in Afghanistan don’t have enough food to eat. By this summer, 97% of Afghans will be living below the poverty line—trying to survive on less than two dollars a day. With nine million people just one step away from famine, this humanitarian crisis could kill more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.

Robust international commitments to support humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan are more critical now than ever. Last year, Afghanistan faced a 40% loss of wheat production due to drought and economic deterioration related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past month, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further raised the price of wheat in the global food market. The World Food Programme had previously depended on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of the wheat it provides to countries such as Afghanistan.  

We understand that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is driving unprecedented levels of suffering of the Afghan people, and urge robust oversight to ensure that all assistance gets to the people of Afghanistan. Without the full participation of female humanitarian staff in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all humanitarian services, aid will not be delivered in a manner that upholds humanitarian principles, and will be unable to reach the most vulnerable Afghan women and girls in the hardest to reach areas. The Taliban must allow unhindered humanitarian access, safe conditions for humanitarians, independent provision of assistance to all vulnerable people, and freedom of movement for aid workers of all genders.

In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Congress passed a supplemental appropriations bill that included $915 million in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. With that funding, Congress sent a strong signal that the United States must lead a robust response by the international community to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. We support the administration’s initial 2022 contribution of more than $308 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan on January 11th. At the upcoming pledging event on March 31st, we urge the administration to commit additional, substantial funding to the Afghanistan response as soon as possible to ensure vital assistance programs are not reduced or cancelled. A significant U.S. pledge is vital to encourage other countries to follow suit. Generous and timely investments, delivered to the right agencies on the front lines, are instrumental to saving lives and staving off famine in Afghanistan.

Amid crises in Yemen, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Syria, and elsewhere, the international community must not lose focus on Afghanistan. We encourage you to press key international donors to make up the current $3.8 billion funding deficit for humanitarian programs and to expediently deliver such funds. These include countries in the region and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as likeminded partners who have generously supported Afghanistan in years past. Finally, we encourage you to work closely with our allies in the region to ease any restrictions on humanitarian access in Afghanistan to enable humanitarian partners to reach people in need.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this crisis, as the people of Afghanistan deserve our unwavering support.

Sincerely,

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) expressed horror and demanded immediate and aggressive action by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) following more than 70 animal welfare violations at an Envigo breeding and research facility based in Cumberland, Virginia. In a letter to APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea, the Senators urged APHIS to immediately suspend Envigo’s Cumberland facility license, condemning “persistent and egregious” abuses that led to distress, injury, and death in dogs and puppies.

Today’s letter comes just days after the release of two new inspections from November 2021 and March 2022 that detailed how the facility performed unnecessarily painful medical procedures on dogs and puppies – including euthanasia without a sedative – in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Medical records indicate that 196 dogs were euthanized and many were not provided any anesthetic.

“It is clear to us that Envigo has been derelict in its duty to provide for the humane care of its dogs, and is unable to abide by the basic standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act,” wrote Sens. Warner and Kaine. “The role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in ensuring humane treatment of animals extends beyond routine and focused inspections. Congress has provided USDA with broad authority to apply penalties to violators of the Animal Welfare Act. To our knowledge, APHIS has not yet exercised such authority despite Envigo’s repeated failures in providing adequate care to the 5,000 dogs entrusted to its care.”

They continued, “APHIS could suspend Envigo’s license for 21 days, and upon notice and opportunity for hearing, move to revoke the facility’s license outright. Additionally, APHIS could initiate formal administrative action by the USDA Office of General Counsel to seek civil penalties. APHIS is authorized in statute to seek civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation of the AWA, meaning that it could seek up to $730,000 in penalties from Envigo for its repeated noncompliance.  In the face of repeated, serious violations by the facility, it is our strongly-held belief that USDA must pursue aggressive enforcement actions.”

Over the course of nine months, four inspections – including a July inspection, and subsequent October, November, and March inspections – revealed 73 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the Envigo Cumberland facilities. Specifically, these inspections found that puppies and dogs were held in shelters with temperatures exceeding 85 degrees Fahrenheit for more than five hours, and that research conducted at the facility caused distress to nursing mothers and their puppies after food was intentionally withheld for 48 hours. The inspections also found that housing violations led to the injury of dozens of dogs, including 71 who were injured when a body part was pulled through the wall of the kennel by a dog in an adjacent kennel, and 50 who were injured or killed due to incompatible groupings.

In their letter, the Senators also raised concern with USDA delays in publishing the horrific findings of these inspections.

They wrote, “While APHIS inspection reports have proven an invaluable resource in uncovering the breadth and depth of mistreatment occurring at the Envigo facilities, we are concerned with delays in publishing such reports. Advocates, legislators, and the public have waited months after inspections to review inspection report findings. The July report was not publicly released until 118 days after the inspection, while the October and November inspection reports took 94 and 128 days, respectively, to be published. We appreciate the complexity of these reports and the immense care that animal care specialists take in preparing them. We also understand that Envigo made it consistent practice to appeal each report in its 21-day window from initial receipt. Even still, it strikes us as unacceptable that the public and elected officials were not privy to the horrific violations of the AWA until months after the inspections while animals suffered in the interim.”

Additionally, the Senators posed a series of questions for APHIS, requesting an answer by April 20. Among other questions, they inquired whether APHIS plans to take any enforcement actions against Envigo, and whether inspectors will return to the facility for a fifth time to monitor progress on corrective actions.  

Sen. Warner, a dog owner, has been an advocate for dogs in Virginia and throughout the country, earning a 100% on the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane Scorecard for 2021. Most recently, Sen. Warner secured the passage of new language requiring the Department of State to report on the status of dogs in the Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP). This program came under scrutiny in 2019 after an Inspector General (IG) report found that the Department failed to conduct proper follow-up after sending highly-trained dogs to foreign partner nations, resulting in the death of at least ten dogs from largely preventable illnesses.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been  consistent cosponsors of the Puppy Protection Act, which would amend the Animal Welfare Act to include additional care and safety standards for dog breeders like Envigo. Under the bill, breeders would be required to house dogs in appropriately sized enclosures with solid ground and keep them on a regular diet and exercise routine. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine signed a law that imposed stricter legal penalties for dogfighting offenses.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Administrator Shea:

We write to urge the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to pursue aggressive enforcement actions against Envigo RMS LLC and Envigo Global Services Inc.’s (hereafter, Envigo) operations in Cumberland, Virginia. Over the course of the last nine months, APHIS inspectors visited Envigo’s Cumberland facilities four times and cited the company’s licensed breeding and research facilities for 73 violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), 35 of which were classified as ‘Direct’ or ‘Critical.’ APHIS has an obligation under the AWA to ensure the “humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals” within its purview.  In light of persistent and egregious violations of the AWA, we believe that APHIS should immediately suspend the license of the Envigo breeding facility in Cumberland and initiate formal administrative proceedings through the USDA Office of General Counsel.

In recent months, we have been horrified to learn of the abuses at Envigo’s facilities in Virginia. Namely, the abuses have occurred at the dog breeding facility in Cumberland, though APHIS also documented violations of the AWA at the adjacent research facility operated by Envigo. Research conducted at the facility caused distress to nursing mothers and their puppies after food was intentionally withheld for 48 hours within the course of a study, which itself was the subject of several AWA violations. AWA violations at the breeding facility have been even worse. Perhaps most galling is the fact that from January – July 2021, over 300 puppy deaths were attributed to unknown causes, and the facility was found to have “not taken additional steps to determine the causes of death in order to prevent similar deaths” in the future. The July 2021 inspection report also detailed widespread issues with the maintenance of Envigo’s housing facilities that recurred in each of the subsequent three inspections. Housing violations included enclosures lacking solid walls which led to at least 71 dogs being injured when a body part was pulled through the wall of the kennel by a dog in an adjacent kennel, incompatible groupings that led to the death of at least two dogs and injured 48 others, holding puppies and adult dogs in shelters with temperatures exceeding 85 degrees Fahrenheit for more than five hours, and insufficient cleaning and sanitation procedures which led to “a large accumulation of feces, urine, standing water, insects (both dead and alive) and uneaten food” under kennel floors. The July 2021 inspection report also highlighted that current staffing levels were insufficient to provide appropriate care, a violation that recurred in subsequent inspections.

The October 25, 2021 inspection report of Envigo’s Cumberland breeding facility found 13 more violations, seven of which were categorized as ‘Direct’ or ‘Critical,’ and eleven of which were repeat violations. It was clear then that the facility was not making progress in caring for the puppies and dogs. Violations cited in this October report included failure to identify medical conditions requiring treatment and failure to handle animals carefully which led to the death of a newborn puppy in a drain after he fell through a gap in the flooring.

APHIS’ inspection reports from its November 16, 2021 inspections led to 29 more violations of the AWA, 14 of which were classified as ‘Direct’ and 17 were repeat violations. Despite the facility being more than four months past its initial inspection which documented vast noncompliance, inspectors found continued, horrific mistreatment of animals. For example, the facility was found to have ignored the appropriate authority of the attending veterinarian and performed unnecessarily painful medical procedures, including euthanasia without a sedative, in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Inspectors reviewed medical records that showed 196 dogs were euthanized and many were not provided any anesthetic. And just three days ago, APHIS released a fourth inspection report detailing five more repeat AWA violations of the Envigo breeding facility found on March 8, 2022. It is clear to us that Envigo has been derelict in its duty to provide for the humane care of its dogs, and is unable to abide by the basic standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act.

While APHIS inspection reports have proven an invaluable resource in uncovering the breadth and depth of mistreatment occurring at the Envigo facilities, we are concerned with delays in publishing such reports. Advocates, legislators, and the public have waited months after inspections to review inspection report findings. The July report was not publicly released until 118 days after the inspection, while the October and November inspection reports took 94 and 128 days, respectively, to be published. We appreciate the complexity of these reports and the immense care that animal care specialists take in preparing them. We also understand that Envigo made it consistent practice to appeal each report in its 21-day window from initial receipt. Even still, it strikes us as unacceptable that the public and elected officials were not privy to the horrific violations of the AWA until months after the inspections while animals suffered in the interim. In particular, it is unclear to us why APHIS’ undertakes a second 21-day hold period after a licensee’s appeal is reviewed and the report is duly modified. In an ‘Explanatory Statement’ of the recently-passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, Congress instructed APHIS to address “long and inexplicable delays in acting against blatant violations of the Animal Welfare Act.”  We share this concern and hope you will take all prudent steps to expedite the public release of AWA inspection reports moving forward.

The role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in ensuring humane treatment of animals extends beyond routine and focused inspections. Congress has provided USDA with broad authority to apply penalties to violators of the Animal Welfare Act. To our knowledge, APHIS has not yet exercised such authority despite Envigo’s repeated failures in providing adequate care to the 5,000 dogs entrusted to its care. APHIS could suspend Envigo’s license for 21 days, and upon notice and opportunity for hearing, move to revoke the facility’s license outright. Additionally, APHIS could initiate formal administrative action by the USDA Office of General Counsel to seek civil penalties. APHIS is authorized in statute to seek civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation of the AWA, meaning that it could seek up to $730,000 in penalties from Envigo for its repeated noncompliance.  In the face of repeated, serious violations by the facility, it is our strongly-held belief that USDA must pursue aggressive enforcement actions.

In light of ongoing violations of the AWA at Envigo facilities in Virginia, we respectfully request that by April 20, 2022, you provide detailed responses to the following questions:

 

1.                  Has APHIS taken any enforcement actions against the Cumberland, Virginia Envigo facilities (breeding facility: Certificate 32-A-0774, site 005 and research facility: Certificate 23-R-0187, site 002), or does it plan to do so?
2.                  What number and type of AWA violations would typically be sufficient to warrant various types of enforcement actions, including regulatory correspondence, stipulated penalties, license suspension or revocation, confiscation of animals, and formal administrative proceedings?
3.                  Over the last three years, has APHIS cited any single facility for more than violations of the AWA in a nine-month span than Envigo has received (73 violations)?
4.                  APHIS outlines in its Animal Care Inspection Guide that “inspection reports are to be finalized… within 5 business days of the date of the inspection.” Was that the case in the inspections at Envigo’s Cumberland facilities in July, October, and November 2021? 
a.                  If so, did the appeals process account for the remainder of the delay before reports were posted or were there other causes for delay?
5.                  What is the median time between the date of an APHIS inspection and the publication of the inspection report in instances where licensed facilities appeal the inspection report?
6.                  Given that APHIS’ most recent inspection of the Envigo facility on March 8, 2022 uncovered five repeat AWA violations, will APHIS inspectors return to the facility for a fifth time to monitor progress on corrective actions?

We appreciate APHIS’ continued attention to this important issue, and look forward to a prompt response. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our staff.

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in a letter to the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, National Credit Union Administration, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, urging them to work with banks and credit unions to ensure small businesses have access to safe and sound credit as Main Street recovers from COVID-19.

“Recent research by the Federal Reserve System found that less than one-third of small businesses that applied for traditional financing in 2021 received all the funding they sought compared to recent years,” the lawmakers wrote. “…Banks are choosing to lend to bigger firms, and smaller businesses are suffering the consequences in an already restrictive environment.”

The lawmakers also highlighted racial and gender disparities in small business lending. “About 14% of Black and Asian business owners, and 19% of Hispanic business owners, received all the financing they sought in 2021, compared to 34% of white small business owners. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened pre-existing inequalities in our economy for businesses owned by entrepreneurs from historically underserved communities,” they wrote. “A driving force behind the nation’s economy, businesses owned by people of color, women, and veterans need access to financing opportunities by banks and credit unions.”

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) also signed the letter.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Chair Pro Tempore Powell, Acting Chair Gruenberg, Chair Harper, and Acting Comptroller Hsu:

As small businesses across the U.S. work toward economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, access to financing is vital to continuing the current rate of small business growth. As new business formation continues, we must ensure small businesses are receiving the credit they need.  As such, we write to encourage your agencies to work with banks and credit unions in their communities to offer safe and sound financing access to small businesses.

Recent research by the Federal Reserve System found that less than one-third of small businesses that applied for traditional financing in 2021 received all the funding they sought compared to recent years. Additionally, the research also found that more than half of firms were in fair or poor financial condition at the time of the survey, and nearly all firms faced at least one operational or financial challenge in the prior 12 months. The difficulty small businesses are experiencing in getting access to financing is a significant concern for the economy as small businesses comprise 99.9% of U.S. businesses and employ 46.8% of U.S. employees.

Many small businesses have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels in terms of revenue and employment, and this is especially true for small businesses owned by people of color. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank found racial differences in financing sought among small business owners. About 14% of Black and Asian business owners, and 19% of Hispanic business owners, received all the financing they sought in 2021, compared to 34% of white small business owners. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened pre-existing inequalities in our economy for businesses owned by entrepreneurs from historically underserved communities. A driving force behind the nation’s economy, businesses owned by people of color, women, and veterans need access to financing opportunities by banks and credit unions.

Banks are choosing to lend to bigger firms, and smaller businesses are suffering the consequences in an already restrictive environment. The data reported by the Federal Reserve Banks show that underwriting standards for commercial clients are diverging primarily based on business size. In a separate survey conducted by the Fed earlier this year, senior loan officers reported easing standards for large and medium-sized businesses than for smaller ones.

The strong deposit growth at banks and credit unions should be used to support increased lending opportunities to small businesses by banks and credit unions in their communities. The latest financial performance data released by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) shows total assets in federally insured credit unions rose by $215.8 billion, or 11.7 percent, to $2.06 trillion over the year ending in the fourth quarter of 2021, and insured shares and deposits grew $166.8 billion, or 11.4 percent, to $1.63 trillion. Likewise, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) total assets on insured commercial banks and savings institutions rose by $1.9 trillion, or 8.5 percent, to $23.7 trillion over the year ending in the fourth quarter of 2021, and insured deposits grew $1.9 trillion, or 10.5 percent, to 19.7 trillion.

As new business formation rose to record highs in 2021, there is a clear and important economic need for small business to have access to financing. Numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021, exceeding the record set in 2020 of 4.4 million.

We urge the banking agencies to work with banks and credit unions to encourage more lending to small businesses in a safe and sound way. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure small businesses across the U.S. are receiving access to financing to continue to rebuild their Main Street communities.

###

 

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, were joined by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) today in raising concerns with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regarding its draft National Coverage Determination (NCD) decision memo for the drug Aduhelm and other similar Alzheimer’s treatments.

In the January 11, 2022 proposed decision memo, CMS groups together an entire class of Alzheimer’s drugs, despite the fact that many are in different stages of the testing and approval pipeline. It also proposes to cover them only if beneficiaries are enrolled in a randomized control trial conducted in an outpatient hospital setting.

“Monoclonal antibody treatments that target amyloid plaques in the brain are the therapies farthest along in their potential for treating certain individuals with Alzheimer’s disease,” the senators wrote. “We are concerned that by including the entire class of drugs in this coverage decision—before final data on safety and efficacy are even released on other therapies in the pipeline—CMS may limit future access to treatments.”

The senators continued, “Although all in the same class, no two drugs work exactly the same for all individuals. Further, the evidence gathered from Aduhelm’s FDA confirmatory trial as well as additional evidence gathered by CMS may inform coverage decisions of potential future drugs. Each new medicine, in our view, should be reviewed on its own merits and not as a class.”

Noting that Black and Latino populations have higher incidences of Alzheimer’s, the Senators also called on CMS to ensure that any clinical trial requirements do not inadvertently limit access to treatments for people of color.

“On behalf of people living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, thank you Senators Warner, Markey and other Senate leaders for sharing your concerns with CMS about the national coverage determination proposed decision and encouraging them to expand coverage of FDA-approved treatments for people living with Alzheimer’s. As it stands, the current draft would sharply limit access to an entire class of drugs. For the individuals living with this fatal disease, delaying and limiting access to treatment could mean further progression of their cognitive decline. We appreciate your continued leadership on issues important to the Alzheimer’s community,” said Robert Egge, Alzheimer’s Association chief public policy officer and Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) executive director.

“It is critically important to the Alzheimer’s community that CMS understand what many members of Congress already do: it’s wrong for Medicare to deny access to FDA-approved Alzheimer’s treatments. This would not happen with cancer, and it must not happen with Alzheimer’s,” said George Vradenburg, chair and co-founder of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. “I applaud the senators for working on behalf of patients to increase access to this class of drugs, particularly among people of color. Every day 1,000 Americans slip from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s and out of the disease stage targeted by this class of drugs. We do not have time to wait. And we will not stop our campaign until this injustice is corrected.”

As Co-Chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease Sen. Warner has been a longstanding advocate in Congress for improving access and quality of medical care for some of our country’s most vulnerable patients. Last week, Sens. Warner and Markey celebrated the addition of $3.5 billion for Alzheimer’s and related dementia research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus spending bill. In 2018, Sen. Warner led colleagues in calling on the Trump administration to continue investing in Alzheimer’s research.  Previously, he introduced bipartisan legislation designed to give people with advanced illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease, new tools to plan for their care and empower them to have those choices honored.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Administrator Brooks-LaSure:

We’re writing to share concerns about the recently proposed National Coverage Determination (NCD) decision memo for Aduhelm and similar drugs, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on January 11, 2022. Although more data is needed on Aduhelm’s impact on Alzheimer’s disease, we urge you not to include in the NCD the whole class of similar drugs that have not yet been considered by the Food and Drug Administration. Further, we ask that CMS work to ensure that in any studies required by CMS, robust and representative participation by communities of color are prioritized.

As CMS notes in its decision memo, more than 6 million people in America have Alzheimer’s disease and this is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060. Monoclonal antibody treatments that target amyloid plaques in the brain are the therapies farthest along in their potential for treating certain individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. We are concerned that by including the entire class of drugs in this coverage decision—before final data on safety and efficacy are even released on other therapies in the pipeline— CMS may limit future access to treatments.

As you know, there is a large unmet need for treatments for those with Alzheimer’s, a devastating and fatal disease. In Aduhelm’s class of drugs, three drugs are working their way through the FDA approval process. Although all in the same class, no two drugs work exactly the same for all individuals. Further, the evidence gathered from Aduhelm’s FDA confirmatory trial as well as additional evidence gathered by CMS may inform coverage decisions of potential future drugs. Each new medicine, in our view, should be reviewed on its own merits and not as a class.

Additionally, CMS should ensure that its final NCD does not make it more difficult for Medicare beneficiaries of color to both obtain these treatments if trials are required by CMS and also for us to obtain needed data on Alzheimer’s treatments in such trials, as Black and Latino populations have higher incidences of Alzheimer’s than non-Hispanic whites. The draft NCD proposes to limit coverage only to drugs administered in hospital outpatient settings. This will make it significantly more difficult, if trials are required, to enroll beneficiaries of color, as aggressive outreach and the use of disparate sites is often needed to meet diversity targets. The draft NCD’s requirement for randomized controlled trials could also limit inclusion of people of color, as these populations are often underrepresented in such trials.

Alzheimer’s patients and their families have been waiting 20 years since the last therapy was approved, and this class of therapies holds the promise that those living with the disease may soon have multiple disease-modifying therapies from which to choose. Time is not on the side of those with Alzheimer’s, and we urge you to issue a final NCD that puts patients and their loved ones first by examining each potential new treatment on its own.

Thank you for your commitment to ending Alzheimer’s disease, and we look forward to continuing our work with you in this crucial area.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) pressed Wells Fargo for answers after a Bloomberg News investigation revealed that the financial services company approved only 47 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications in 2020 – an approval rate significantly below other lenders, who approved about 70 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications.

“I am writing regarding a recent Bloomberg News investigation, which reported that Wells Fargo approved only 47 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications in 2020, an approval rate significantly below other lenders, who approved about 70 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to Wells Fargo CEO and President, Charles Scharf. “I am concerned with the significant differences between Wells Fargo and other lenders and that Wells Fargo was reportedly the only major lender to approve a smaller share of Black homeowners’ refinance applications in 2020 than it did in 2010.”

He continued, “It is clear that disparities in refinance approvals are system-wide and likely reflect a historic and systematic imbalance that has driven the racial homeownership and wealth gaps, where the average Black and Hispanic or Latino household owns just 15 to 20% as much net wealth as the average white household. Wells Fargo is quoted in the article as saying that its lending decisions were ‘consistent across racial and ethnic groups’ and I understand that the imbalance may in part be an outgrowth of historic and longstanding barriers – including greater shares of applicants with lower credit scores and higher loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, which result from longstanding legal, social, and economic inequalities. However, the key question for Wells Fargo, and other lenders, is how lenders can find ways to support communities that have historically been held back from fully participating in the mainstream economy rather than continuing to perpetuate existing disparities, particularly during times of economic crisis.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner highlighted a Federal Reserve analysis that showed borrowers saved significant amounts of money by refinancing their mortgages during the pandemic by taking advantage of record low interest rates. According to this analysis, the typical refinance reduced a borrower’s monthly payments by over $250. The total amount of borrowers who refinanced are expected to see $5 billion in savings per year. However, less than 4 percent ($198 million) of those savings went to Black households, which make up over 9 percent of all homeowners.

Seeking answers on the reported disparities, Sen. Warner asked Wells Fargo to explain in detail why the racial gaps in its refinance approval rates were significantly larger than other lenders, and why its approval rate for refinances for Black homeowners fell in 2020 compared to 2010. He also pressed for answers as to whether the financial services company is considering changes to its evaluations process to ensure equitable outcomes for all homeowners.

Sen. Warner also joined a number of his colleagues in a separate letter today, urging the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to request a review of Wells Fargo’s mortgage loan refinance processes, following the Bloomberg News Investigation.

In Congress, Sen. Warner has been a champion for addressing the racial wealth gap by way of homeownership and entrepreneurship. He is the author of the Low-Income First Time Homebuyers (LIFT) Act – legislation to help first-time, first-generation homebuyers – predominately Americans of color – build wealth much more rapidly. In December of 2020, Sen. Warner successfully negotiated a record $12 billion investment to open the flow of emergency capital to community-based lenders in minority and low- and moderate-income communities.

A copy of Sen. Warner’s letter to Wells Fargo is available here. A copy of the joint letter to HUD and CFPB is available here.

 ###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is renewing his push to safeguard the health and welfare of American-trained bomb-sniffing dogs tasked with fighting terrorism abroad.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Sen. Warner today highlighted new language that requires the Department of State to report on the status of dogs in the Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP), which came under scrutiny in 2019 after an Inspector General (IG) report found that the Department failed to conduct proper follow-up after sending highly-trained dogs to foreign partner nations, resulting in the death of at least ten dogs from largely preventable illnesses.

“I was glad to see that the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on March 15, included language requiring the State Department to report to Congress on the status of dogs currently in, and retired from the program, as well as an update on the policies and procedures that the Department has implemented in response to the Inspector General’s recommendations,” wrote Sen. Warner.

“As you know, the Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to initially train these canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other efforts and expenses meant to ensure the success of the program. Once abroad, these loyal canines play an invaluable role, often risking their lives in support of their security mission, working to keep important assets, their teams, and broader populations safe,” he continued. “For these reasons and more, it is morally wrong and unacceptable for any deployed dog to be subjected to mistreatment, malnutrition, improper care, or unsafe shelter. Congress and the American people deserve to know the steps that the Department has taken and is planning, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not placing dogs in these conditions.”

The Warner-led language – signed into law as part of the government spending bill – requires the State Department to produce a report for Congress that accounts for each of the dogs in the program, including those who are now retired. The report, due to Congress within 90 days, must also provide an update on the policies and procedures that the Department has implemented in response to the Inspector General’s 2019 recommendations.

Sen. Warner, a dog owner, has been an advocate for dogs in Virginia and throughout the country. He previously raised alarm about the 2019 Inspector General (IG) report, which found that the trained dogs who died in the Kingdom of Jordan suffered from various medical problems, including largely preventable illnesses like parvovirus and heat exhaustion. Many of the dogs were trained at a State Department-contracted facility located in Winchester, Va.

The State Department’s antiterrorism assistance program provides Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) to foreign countries to support local law enforcement in deterring and countering terrorism. The program is primarily implemented by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, in partnership with the Bureau of Counterterrorism. Although the State Department previously relied on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to provide and train the bomb-sniffing dogs, in 2016, the State Department established its own canine training center, the Canine Validation Center (CVC) in Winchester, Va., which is responsible for procuring dogs, training foreign students as handlers, and conducting assessments to determine a country’s ability to care for the dogs and operate a canine program. In addition, the CVC is responsible for conducting health and welfare assessments in foreign countries.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Blinken,

I write today regarding efforts by the Department of State to address serious concerns that Congress and the Department’s Inspector General, among others, have raised about the Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP).

In September 2019, the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State (OIG) released a report, Evaluation of the Antiterrorism Assistance Explosive Detection Canine Program – Health and Welfare . As you know, the evaluation of this program resulted from allegations that the U.S. was providing insufficient oversight, resulting in the inadequate health care, mistreatment, and premature deaths of a number of dogs. Months later, in December 2019, OIG issued a subsequent report, in response to another complaint alleging that “additional canines beyond those described in the [September] evaluation had died” from preventable causes.

As part of its evaluations, OIG made a series of recommendations to the Department to address the serious concerns over the health and welfare of the dogs trained and deployed as a part of this program.

I was glad to see that the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on March 15, included language requiring the State Department to report to Congress on the status of dogs currently in, and retired from the program, as well as an update on the policies and procedures that the Department has implemented in response to the Inspector General’s recommendations.

As you know, the Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to initially train these canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other efforts and expenses meant to ensure the success of the program. Once abroad, these loyal canines play an invaluable role, often risking their lives in support of their security mission, working to keep important assets, their teams, and broader populations safe.

For these reasons and more, it is morally wrong and unacceptable for any deployed dog to be subjected to mistreatment, malnutrition, improper care, or unsafe shelter. Congress and the American people deserve to know the steps that the Department has taken and is planning, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not placing dogs in these conditions.

I’m glad that the Department under your leadership will be examining this issue, and I look forward to seeing the results from the report within the required 90-day period. To coincide with that report, I would ask that the Department also brief my staff on the current status of the program.

This issue remains very important to me, and I look forward to working with you as needed to continue addressing reforms to this program.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Bob Menedez (D-NJ), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and a bipartisan, bicameral group of colleagues in a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig urging the IRS to provide much needed relief as the agency struggles to address customer service and processing issues. The IRS’s lack of action is causing unnecessary confusion, as the current tax filing season is underway.

“We remain concerned that the IRS does not have a comprehensive plan to remedy the numerous problems affecting taxpayers, despite the fact that this filing season is already well underway,” the lawmakers wrote. “For example, there is continued confusion about which notices may be unilaterally suspended by the IRS, beyond the notices the IRS has already suspended, among other issues.”

In the letter, the lawmakers requested the IRS specifically address which notices are statutorily required to be issued within a specific time, and explain why there are still certain notices that have not yet been suspended.

This letter is supported by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), Padgett Business Services, National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), National Society of Accountants (NSA), National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP), National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA), Latino Tax Pro, Diverse Organization of Firms Advocacy Committee , National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA), Prosperity Now, and National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP).

Sen. Warner first raised concerns over the IRS backlog in January, calling on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commissioner Rettig to quickly address reports of unprocessed tax returns for the 2020 filing season. Later that month, Sens. Warner and Kaine called on the IRS to provide relief for taxpayers amidst the backlog. Last month, Sen. Warner continued his push to reduce delays, joining colleagues in another letter to Commissioner Rettig urging for immediate action to be taken to reduce backlogs and improve customer service during the 2022 filing season. Additionally, in a February Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Warner questioned IRS National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins about the IRS backlogs and about the measures being taken to address the situation.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Menendez and Cassidy, the Senate letter was signed by Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), Richard Burr (R-NC), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), James Lankford (R-OK), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tim Scott (R-SC), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Thune (R-SD), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Todd Young (R-IN).

A copy of the Senate version of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Commissioner Rettig,

We appreciate the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)’s ongoing efforts to eliminate the unprecedented backlog at the IRS. We remain concerned that the IRS does not have a comprehensive plan to remedy the numerous problems affecting taxpayers, despite the fact that this filing season is already well underway. For example, there is continued confusion about which notices may be unilaterally suspended by the IRS, beyond the notices the IRS h as already suspended, among other issues.

Given that the IRS has not provided us with any additional information since your last correspondence dated February 8, 2022, we ask for responses to the following questions, no later than the close of business on Monday, March 14, 2022:

1. Which remaining unsuspended notices does the IRS have the authority to suspend? Please explain why the IRS has left these remaining notices unsuspended.
 
2. Is the IRS in the process of working to suspend additional notices? If so, when will that work be completed?
 

3. Which notices are statutorily required to be issued within a specific time? Would the IRS suspend these statutory notices if the IRS had the legal authority to do so?
 
4. Explain why the IRS has not suspended notice CP2000, Notice of Underreported Income? 
 
5. Notwithstanding the publication of Notice 2021-39, widespread controversy surrounding Schedules K-2 and K-3 remains, including recent additional instructions, the inability to electronically file, and lingering uncertainty surrounding many requirements. As such, is the IRS contemplating relief, such as delaying implementation to 2023?
 
6. In early February, the IRS advised Congress that it was considering a systemic process to identify pending penalty abatement requests, and likewise evaluating penalty relief options. Has the IRS determined if it can provide penalty relief for taxpayers as previously offered by the IRS for the 2020 and 2021 tax year? If not, why not?

Thank you for your continued attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

###

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter today urging the Ukrainian government to ensure that Africans in Ukraine are not blocked from evacuating the country or seeking safety amid Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

 This letter comes on the heels of reports that individuals from Africa and Asia have been discriminated against while attempting to flee Ukraine. According to online videos and first-hand reporting, individuals from Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt and India, as well as other nations seeking to escape the war in Ukraine, have been physically abused, barred from boarding trains and buses, and denied entry into border nations, among other things.

 “Regarding the refugee crisis that President Putin has created through his violent invasion – which so far, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, has seen more than one million men, women, and children flee their homes to safety in neighboring countries – I will continue supporting efforts to ensure that Ukraine and its neighboring countries are resourced appropriately to address this challenge,” wrote Sen Warner in a letter to Oksana Markarova, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States.

 “In the meantime, I want to call attention to a growing body of disturbing reports along Ukraine’s western borders, which allege discriminatory treatment and processing of certain non-Ukrainian individuals – in particular, individuals from African nations,” he continued. “Many of these individuals are students studying in Ukraine. As you well know, at least 20 percent of the more than 80,000 international students studying in Ukraine come from an African nation, with sizable populations of Moroccan, Nigerian, and Egyptian students. These students and other individuals must be able to seek safety, and any discriminatory treatment or actions that deny them that ability are unacceptable. I echo the sentiments of the African Union, the US Department of State, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and highlight this right of all people who are fleeing conflict.”

Acknowledging the challenging circumstances being navigated by Ukrainian security personnel who are rapidly working to facilitate historic refugee flows, Sen. Warner stressed the importance of affording all individuals the ability to seek safety, regardless of race, religion, or nationality.

He further stated this point in letters to the ambassadors of neighboring nations – Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova – who are working with Ukraine to process and provide refuge in response to the mass migration spurred by Russia’s aggression. He also stated he will continue to monitor the conditions relating to the African diaspora and other forcibly displaced persons at the Ukrainian borders.

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Warner has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine and has repeatedly condemned Russia’s aggression and invasion of the sovereign nation. Last week, he urged major social media companies to prevent misuse of their platforms by Russia and Russia-linked entities.

A copy of the letter to Ambassador Markarova is available here and below.

Dear Ambassador Markarova:

I write to you today at a moment of great tragedy for your nation, as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his violent, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, in violation of your country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The United States stands firmly with the people of Ukraine, and you have my commitment that, as the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I will continue pressing the United States Government to share as much intelligence support as possible with Ukraine. I will also continue advocating for punishing sanctions and economic costs against President Putin and Russia, security assistance for the Ukrainian military, and robust economic and humanitarian assistance for the Ukrainian people.

Regarding the refugee crisis that President Putin has created through his violent invasion – which so far, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, has seen more than one million men, women, and children flee their homes to safety in neighboring countries – I will continue supporting efforts to ensure that Ukraine and its neighboring countries are resourced appropriately to address this challenge.

In the meantime, I want to call attention to a growing body of disturbing reports along Ukraine’s western borders, which allege discriminatory treatment and processing of certain non-Ukrainian individuals – in particular, individuals from African nations. Many of these individuals are students studying in Ukraine. As you well know, at least 20 percent of the more than 80,000 international students studying in Ukraine come from an African nation, with sizable populations of Moroccan, Nigerian, and Egyptian students. These students and other individuals must be able to seek safety, and any discriminatory treatment or actions that deny them that ability are unacceptable. I echo the sentiments of the African Union, the US Department of State, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and highlight this right of all people who are fleeing conflict.

I certainly acknowledge the incredibly challenging circumstances that Ukrainian security personnel are under as they work to quickly and effectively facilitate historic refugee flows in response to dire and urgent circumstances. I also recognize the stated commitments that Ukraine’s neighbors have made to take in people fleeing to safety. I urge all governments and authorities to ensure that all individuals – regardless of race, religion, or nationality – are afforded equal access to their right to seek safety. Please know that I am also writing to officials of neighboring countries to ensure that their authorities are not the cause of further allegations. I will continue to monitor conditions related to forcibly displaced persons at the borders – including the African diaspora – and I will continue to support resources for Ukraine to aid in these efforts.

I thank you for your government’s attention to this matter, and I reiterate my earnest support for the Ukrainian people in this conflict. The strength and resolve that they have shown in the face of this violent invasion has inspired and rallied so many in the international community to stand with Ukraine.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, as the Beijing Winter Olympic Games near their conclusion, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee focused on democracy and human rights, sent a letter urging the Biden Administration to press the Chinese government to halt the harassment of their constituents — Ziba Murat from Reston, Adalet Sabit from Alexandria, and Subi Yuksel from Manassas — and seek the release of their Uyghur family members who have been forcibly and wrongfully detained in China’s Xinjiang region. For years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has forcibly detained more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang, a devastating assault on individual freedoms and basic human rights.

“We write to urge you to seek the immediate release of the Uyghur family members of our constituents, including Ziba Murat, Adalet Sabit, and Subi Yuksel, whose family members are detained forcibly or otherwise targeted by the CCP in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), and who may be targets of harassment themselves,” wrote the Senators. “We also ask that the Department of State raise each of these cases at the highest levels of the Chinese government.

“Virginia is home to one of the largest Uyghur American diasporas in the United States, and we will continue to advocate on behalf of these named cases, as well as those of other constituents. These are citizens and residents who are our neighbors and friends,” concluded the Senators. “While China attempts to whitewash its horrific crimes against Uyghur Muslims, including presently during the Olympics in Beijing, we must ensure that the world does not forget that one of worst atrocities of our era remains ongoing.”

Last year, Kaine held a joint hearing, where Dr. Rushan Abbas of Herndon was a witness, to highlight China’s atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province and discuss additional ways to pressure China to end this horrific genocide.

In June 2021, Kaine’s bipartisan amendment, co-sponsored by Senator Romney, to diplomatically boycott the Beijing Olympics as a way to highlight human rights issues in Hong Kong and with China’s Uyghur population passed as part of the bipartisan Endless Frontiers Act. Following Kaine and Romney’s urging, the Biden Administration announced a diplomatic boycott in November.

In March 2021, Kaine helped introduce a bipartisan Senate resolution condemning China’s human right abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and calling for an international investigation into the abuses and crimes committed there. In January 2021, Warner and Kaine co-sponsored the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, legislation to ensure that goods made with Uyghur forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) do not enter the United States. A version of this legislation was ultimately passed through the Senate on a unanimous basis, and signed into law by the President in December 2021.

In December 2019, as a response to the Chinese Community Party (CCP)’s mass internments, Warner introduced the UIGHUR Protection Act, which would place export controls on critical technologies to China, such as facial recognition software, that can be used to facilitate mass surveillance and detention.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Blinken:

We write to urge you to seek the immediate release of the Uyghur family members of our constituents, including Ziba Murat, Adalet Sabit, and Subi Yuksel, whose family members are detained forcibly or otherwise targeted by the CCP in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), and who may be targets of harassment themselves. We also ask that the Department of State raise each of these cases at the highest levels of the Chinese government.

For years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has forcibly detained more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang – a devastating assault on individual freedoms and basic human rights. The U.S. government and countless human rights organizations have documented the tools of oppression the Chinese government has deployed against Uyghur Muslims, including: abduction from third countries and forced disappearances within China, mass detentions, secret trials, forced labor, forced sterilization, separating families, banning the use of Uyghur language in schools, banning many religious practices, and political indoctrination.

The United States has rightly labeled the Chinese government’s attempts to essentially erase the Uyghur identity as genocide and has sanctioned various Chinese officials who have perpetrated these crimes. Even so, the CCP’s desire to punish those who speak against the crimes being committed in Xinjiang goes beyond the country’s borders. As a 2021 Freedom House report notes, “China conducts the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world.” For our constituents here in Virginia, the CCP’s campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslims is personal and has often come as direct retaliation for their advocacy in support of the Uyghur community.

In September 2018, Ziba Murat’s mother, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, a medical doctor who had spent her career caring for patients in Xinjiang, was detained, secretly tried, and then sentenced to 20 years in prison on phony charges. Dr. Abbas’ detention occurred after Ms. Murat’s aunt, Rushan Abbas – a former Radio Free Asia journalist – publicly denounced China’s use of detention camps in Xinjiang. For more than three years after Dr. Abbas’ imprisonment, the Chinese government refused to answer any questions about her whereabouts. To this day, the CCP refuses to disclose details about her physical well-being. Dr. Abbas is unjustly suffering the consequences of her family’s public advocacy against the Chinese government’s brutal treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.                         

On April 29, 2017, Ms. Subi Yuksel’s father, Mamat Abdullah, was arbitrarily detained on the day of his expected departure to the U.S. to visit his newborn grandchild. Mr. Abdullah, who is nearly 80 years old and was the Chief of the Xinjiang Forestry Department, had retired in 2008. During his trial in 2019, Mr. Abdullah was convicted – without evidence – of “bribery, two-facedness, and separatism,” and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Ms. Yuksel notes that Chinese officials told her family that they are at fault for Mr. Abdullah’s detention because they live in the U.S. near “politically active communities.” Ms. Yuksel contends that in reality, in the eyes of the Chinese government, prominent and well-educated Uyghurs like her father are considered a threat to the regime.

The Chinese government has also targeted Ms. Adalet Sabit’s husband, Abulimiti Abuliz, who is a Uyghur living in Xinjiang. Although Mr. Abuliz is not in an internment camp, the CCP has effectively banned him from travel. Following their marriage in 2017, Ms. Sabit left for the United States, and Mr. Abuliz expected to follow soon after. However, Chinese authorities seized his passport before his departure and never returned it, essentially barring him from leaving China for the last four years. CCP officials have also threatened Mr. Abduliz and told him that he would never see his wife again and never meet his now four-year-old daughter. The Chinese government has even threatened Ms. Sabit’s family here in the U.S., signaling the CCP’s desire to once again reach beyond China’s borders to silence dissent.

The heartbreak these detentions and harassment have caused is immeasurable. We applaud the State Department’s efforts to raise the plight of Uyghurs both publicly and with Chinese government officials directly. Similarly, we recognize that the agency continues to engage with our constituents on their respective cases. Still, it is vital that the U.S. maintain strong pressure on China to ensure that our constituents’ family members are free and that their basic human rights are respected.

Virginia is home to one of the largest Uyghur American diasporas in the United States, and we will continue to advocate on behalf of these named cases, as well as those of other constituents. These are citizens and residents who are our neighbors and friends. While China attempts to whitewash its horrific crimes against Uyghur Muslims, including presently during the Olympics in Beijing, we must ensure that the world does not forget that one of worst atrocities of our era remains ongoing.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, joined Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Chris Murphy, and Jeanne Shaheen, as well as 35 of their Senate colleagues, in a letter urging Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra to limit the sale and availability of short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI) plans, also known as “junk plans.” These plans fail to provide adequate, comprehensive health insurance coverage and weaken provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable and comprehensive health care coverage. In order to strengthen that commitment, HHS must act quickly to limit the proliferation and promotion of STLDI plans, and undue the sabotage caused by the previous administration,” said the Senators.

In 2018, the Trump Administration made junk plans more widely available to consumers in an effort to sabotage the ACA. Since then, the plans have continued to proliferate. However, they are not required to adhere to important standards, including prohibitions on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, coverage for the 10 essential health benefit (EHB) categories, and annual out-of-pocket maximums.

The letter was also signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Angus King (I-ME), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Charles Schumer (D-NY), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long fought to protect the ACA and expand access to quality health care. In 2020, they sent a letter led by Kaine calling on the Trump Administration to end efforts to sabotage the ACA. In 2019, they introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution  led by Warner, which would have prevented the Trump Administration from pushing junk health plans to 3 million Virginians with pre-existing conditions. Later that year, Sen. Warner successfully filed a discharge petition to force the Senate to vote on the CRA, which was ultimately defeated by Senate Republicans.  

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

Dear Secretary Becerra:

This year, 14.5 million Americans signed up for comprehensive health insurance coverage during Open Enrollment, a new record. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, four out of five consumers who receive health insurance from the marketplace are finding quality coverage for less than $10 per month, and a majority of those enrollees are also receiving subsidies to decrease their co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket spending. We write to congratulate you and your entire department for this significant achievement and encourage you to take additional steps to ensure that even more Americans are protected from substandard plans that do not provide coverage for pre-existing conditions. Now is the time to issue new regulations limiting the sale and availability of short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI) plans, also known as “junk plans” because of their failure to provide adequate coverage.

Despite the important gains that we have made in providing comprehensive and affordable coverage for more Americans, STLDI plans continue to sow confusion and cause harm to patients. These plans, which are not required to adhere to important standards, including prohibitions on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, coverage for the 10 essential health benefit (EHB) categories, and annual out-of-pocket maximums, have continued to proliferate. In 2018, the Trump administration issued a rule to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by promoting STLDI plans and that same year all Senate Democrats and one Republican Senator voted to block the rule. Unfortunately, this effort to undermine critical patient and consumer protections has yet to be undone.

We were pleased to see the Biden administration include amending regulations concerning STLDI plans in the Fall 2021 Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan, and are proud of the historic coverage gains that we have seen as a result of President Biden’s and your leadership. However, it is past time for us to take action. STLDI plans undermine the integrity of the ACA and put those with pre-existing conditions at risk. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should immediately restore the three-month duration limit for plans, limit plan renewability, and reduce the ability to purchase back-to-back STLDI plans. We also urge you to consider additional efforts to protect patients and consumers such as banning sales during Marketplace Open Enrollment, limiting internet and phone sales, establishing a prohibition on retroactive coverage rescissions, and requiring additional consumer disclosures about plan coverage.

It is our responsibility to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable and comprehensive health care coverage. In order to strengthen that commitment, HHS must act quickly to limit the proliferation and promotion of STLDI plans, and undue the sabotage caused by the previous administration.

Sincerely,

 

###

 

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led the entire Virginia Congressional Delegation in requesting that the Biden administration continue its support of the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project by including at least $76.9 million in federal funding for the project in President Biden’s FY23 budget request.

In a letter to President Biden, the members stressed the importance of securing these funds in FY23 to ensure that the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project remains on schedule to be completed by early 2025. This critical project is expected to expand Norfolk Harbor’s shipping channels and ensure that larger commercial and military vessels can continue to pass through Norfolk Harbor safely, especially in light of the rapid growth of vessels entering maritime trade.

“Allocating the remaining $76.9 million of the Federal share to Norfolk Harbor in Fiscal Year 2023 is essential to keep this nationally significant project on track for completion by early 2025 and allow the Norfolk District to award the Inner Harbor segment in a timely manner,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“The Port of Virginia is one of the Commonwealth’s most powerful economic engines. On an annual basis, the Port is responsible for more than 400,000 jobs and $100 billion in spending across our Commonwealth and generates more than eight percent of our Gross State Product. However, the Port’s true reach extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and into the Midwest and Ohio Valley. The Port maintains a balanced portfolio of container and bulk trade, and it serves a robust rail market to and from the American farmers and manufacturers throughout the Midwest and Ohio Valley,” they continued. 

The Norfolk Harbor project was included in President Biden’s FY22 budget request as a construction New Start. The proposed funds for the project were subsequently included in the FY22 House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee spending bills that are currently pending before Congress.

Last year, Sen. Warner led the Virginia Congressional Delegation in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) requesting a New Start designation for the project in the USACE Fiscal Year 2021 Work Plan – a request that was also made in 2020. In December, Sen. Warner led members of the Virginia Congressional Delegation in requesting funding for Norfolk Harbor through the resources made available to USACE by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was granted by USACE on January 19, 2022. In July 2021, Sen. Kaine advocated for the project to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor as part of his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Furthermore, in 2018, Sens. Warner and Kaine successfully fought for the inclusion of the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project, in addition to other coastal resiliency programs, in the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), and Bob Good (R-VA).

Full text of the letter is here and below.

Dear President Biden:

As representatives from the Commonwealth of Virginia, home to the Port of Virginia – the fifth largest and fastest growing port in the nation – we write today concerning the Norfolk Harbor and Channels Widening and Deepening project and your FY23 budget request. We respectfully request that you include $76.9 million in funding for the Norfolk Harbor project in your FY23 budget request to ensure this nationally significant project continues to move forward on schedule.

The Port of Virginia is one of the Commonwealth’s most powerful economic engines. On an annual basis, the Port is responsible for more than 400,000 jobs and $100 billion in spending across our Commonwealth and generates more than eight percent of our Gross State Product. However, the Port’s true reach extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and into the Midwest and Ohio Valley. The Port maintains a balanced portfolio of container and bulk trade, and it serves a robust rail market to and from the American farmers and manufacturers throughout the Midwest and Ohio Valley.

The deepening and widening of Norfolk Harbor is essential to continue safe and timely passage of ever-increasing commercial and military vessels through the harbor. Deepening Norfolk Harbor to 55 feet from its current 50 feet depth and widening Thimble Shoal Channel to 1,400 feet will enable safe, two-way traffic in and out of the harbor and will help prevent delays to commercial and military vessels – a necessity in today’s global trading landscape. Expanding Norfolk Harbor to allow for two-way traffic will also help prevent backlogs of commercial vessels that could cause costly delays and supply chain disruptions that are currently affecting some port facilities across the U.S.

We are pleased that the Norfolk Harbor project recently received a New Start designation and an initial tranche of Federal funding that will allow the Port and USACE to initiate a Project Partnership Agreement. As the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations process continues, the additional $83.7 million, which was originally included in the President’s FY22 Budget request and has been carried forward in both the House and Senate’s Fiscal Year 2022 Energy and Water Appropriations bills, will allow the Norfolk District to advertise the Atlantic Ocean Channel segment this summer.

The Commonwealth of Virginia provided full funding of $20 million for Preconstruction Engineering and Design and $330 million for construction in its FY19-20 biennial budget. The deepening of Thimble Shoal Channel – West as well as the deepening and widening of Thimble Shoal Channel – East are both currently under construction with scheduled completion by August 2022. Both contracts are funded and administered by the Port and are in full compliance with Federal standards under a Memorandum of Understanding with USACE in July 2017. Further, the construction work is eligible as Work-In-Kind once a Project Partnership Agreement is signed, which may happen as soon as this month now that Federal funds have been received.

However, a recent Army Corps cost estimate update and approval of the previously authorized widening of Thimble Shoal Channel – West as a cost-shared element of the project have increased the projected Federal share of the project to $235.9 million. Allocating the remaining $76.9 million of the Federal share to Norfolk Harbor in Fiscal Year 2023 is essential to keep this nationally significant project on track for completion by early 2025 and allow the Norfolk District to award the Inner Harbor segment in a timely manner

The Port of Virginia is a commercial and economic engine for the United States and continues to play an integral role in American foreign and domestic commerce and trade. Completion of this project will allow the Port to remain a prominent economic hub for the nation and a key player in domestic and international trade by generating more than $3.9 billion in net national economic development benefits. 

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions regarding this request. We look forward to continue working with you to support this critical project for Virginia and our nation’s ports

Sincerely,

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME) in urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with the Department of Labor (DOL) to quickly make available an additional 44,716 H-2B visas, the maximum number of Congressionally-authorized visas in order to ensure that seafood processors and other businesses in Virginia have the workforce they need ahead of the seasonal start date on April 1.

“American businesses from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries,” the senators wrote. “Without meaningful H-2B cap relief, many seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking action to release and process additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences and instead help contribute to the American economy.”

“Given the growing demand for H-2B workers as our economy continues to reopen and employers continue to struggle with staffing shortages, we urge DHS to promptly make available all 64,716 additional H-2B visas authorized under law and urge DOL to allow employers to utilize emergency procedures for their applications to expedite processing times,” they continued. “These vital American businesses depend on access to a sufficient number of seasonal H-2B workers on April 1.”

The H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Visa Program allows U.S. employers to hire seasonal, non-immigrant workers during peak seasons to supplement the existing American workforce. In order to be eligible for the program, employers are required to declare that there are not enough U.S. workers available to do the temporary work, as is the case with the seafood industry, which relies on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs. 

Along with Sens. Warner, Kaine, Rounds, and King the letter was signed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jim Risch (R-ID), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Tom Carper (D-DE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Thune (R-SD), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), John Barasso (R-WY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Tim Scott (R-SC).    

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for the seafood processing industry – a community largely made up of rural, family-owned operations. Last year, the Senators urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release additional H-2B visas needed to support local seafood businesses in Virginia and Maryland. In December 2021, Sen. Warner applauded the release of an additional 20,000 H-2B visas for seasonal workers.

Sens. Warner and Kaine are committed to providing long-term relief for seasonal seafood processors through reform of the H-2B program. The release of these additional visas is an important step in ensuring that seafood processors in Virginia are able to meet their staffing needs in the upcoming season.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Secretary Walsh:

We write on behalf of seasonal businesses in our states to urge you to provide expeditious H-2B cap relief to address the seasonal labor shortages caused by the inadequate H-2B visa cap. Specifically, we urge that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Department of Labor (DOL), utilize the authority provided by Congress to release the maximum allowable number of additional H-2B visas for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22).  We further request that your agencies take steps to process pending H-2B applications in advance of the start of the April 1 hiring period for the second half of FY22, including by instituting emergency procedures previously used by DOL to address labor certification processing delays. 

American businesses from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries. Without meaningful H-2B cap relief, many seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking action to release and process additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences and instead help contribute to the American economy.

As Congress has allowed in each of the past five fiscal years, the current FY22 Continuing Resolution continues to provide the Department of Homeland Security the authority to lift the existing annual 66,000 H-2B visa cap.  In the past year, DHS has provided supplemental cap relief in the amounts of 22,000 in May 2021 and 20,000 in January 2022. While these supplemental visas helped some employers, they were not sufficient to satisfy the total need for H-2B workers. Additionally, the release of these visas did not occur until well into many businesses’ peak seasons, which caused significant harm to these employers.

We urge you to release all allowable additional visas as soon as possible to make certain workers can begin working on April 1, 2022, the start date for the second half of FY22. According to your Departments’ January 28, 2022 temporary final rule titled “Exercise of Time-Limited Authority to Increase the Fiscal Year 2022 Numerical Limitation for the H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker Program and Portability Flexibility for H-2B Workers Seeking To Change Employers,” DHS is authorized to release a total of 64,716 additional visas this fiscal year.

As you know, the first half H-2B visa cap for FY22 was reached on September 30, 2021, almost two months earlier than previous years. The urgency and high level of need for nonagricultural worker visas prompted your agencies to announce, for the first time ever, the release of an additional 20,000 H-2B visas in the first half of the fiscal year. This leaves tens of thousands of additionally authorized visas available for the remainder of FY22. 

As a result, we encourage you to release and process the authorized 44,716 additional visas in a manner that will make certain all H-2B workers can begin work on the April 1, 2022 start date for the second half of FY22. These additional visas are imperative, as evidenced by the Office of Foreign Labor Certification announcement that between January 1-3, 2022, the Foreign Labor Application Gateway System for the peak filing season received 7,875 applications from employers for more than 136,555 worker positions with an April 1, 2022 or later work start date. This is more than quadruple the number of H-2B visas currently available for the second half of the fiscal year.

In a December 20, 2021 press release, DHS outlined the agency’s intention to “implement policies that will make the H-2B program even more responsive to the needs of our economy.” It is clear from the number of applications received during the filing period for the second half of FY22 that the release of the remaining H-2B worker visas would be responsive to the needs of our economy.

We are also concerned that the unprecedented demand for the program has led to delays in processing labor certifications at DOL that, without emergency procedures, will prevent employers from completing the H-2B application process before the April 1, 2022 start date for the second half of FY22. In the second half of FY21, employers assigned to the final review group did not receive a first action from DOL until late February and a labor certification until March. This year, DOL is already running a week behind compared to last year, with a larger group of total applications to process. At this rate, it appears DOL may not finish processing labor certifications for the final review group until late March, making it impossible for employers to complete the full H-2B process before April 1. In 2016, due to similar processing delays, DOL instituted emergency procedures to allow employers to begin U.S. worker recruitment prior to receiving their first actions from DOL. We request that DOL again institute these emergency procedures, which will allow employers to submit their recruitment reports immediately upon receiving a Notice of Acceptance from DOL, saving two weeks.

Given the growing demand for H-2B workers as our economy continues to reopen and employers continue to struggle with staffing shortages, we urge DHS to promptly make available all 64,716 additional H-2B visas authorized under law and urge DOL to allow employers to utilize emergency procedures for their applications to expedite processing times. These vital American businesses depend on access to a sufficient number of seasonal H-2B workers on April 1. We thank you in advance for your attention to this pressing matter.

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers in calling for the extension of expanded coverage of telehealth services to be included in must-pass legislation in February. Provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, reintroduced by Sen. Warner in April 2021, were included in previous COVID-19 relief legislation to allow Medicare beneficiaries to utilize telehealth services and to expand the types of health care providers eligible to provide telehealth. However, these provisions will expire following the pandemic unless congressional leaders act to extend those measures or make them permanent.

“We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Sen. Warner was an original co-sponsor of the 2016 Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act and has been a longtime advocate for the expansion of telehealth in order to ease access to healthcare. In June 2020, Sen. Warner called for the permanent expansion of telehealth services in a letter to congressional leadership. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Warner included a provision to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY.), Tina Smith (D-MN), Rob Portman (R-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), John Boozman (R-AR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), James Langevin (D-RI), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Don Bacon (R-NE), and Michael Guest (R-MS).

A full copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that patients continue to receive the health care they need while keeping health care providers and patients safe.  Congress recognized the importance of telehealth and included provisions in COVID-19 legislation to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic.  We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes.  While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February.  

An extension to maintain expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time would provide much-needed certainty to health care providers and patients.  Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs and resources from health care providers. However, the pandemic telehealth authorities are temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments.  Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth.  An extension of the telehealth authorities would provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term.  It would also reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly. 

In addition, since the use of telehealth in Medicare was very low before the pandemic, an extension would provide additional time to collect and analyze data on the impacts of telehealth.  This data could help inform Congress’s next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections.  In the meantime, it is crucial that an extension not include unnecessary statutory barriers in accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period. 

Telehealth has become an essential part of the health care system.  The permanent telehealth reforms included in the CONNECT for Health Act, which has bipartisan support from over 170 members of Congress, as well as other telehealth bills, are imperative to increase access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes.  In February, Congress should extend the authorities that have expanded coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to maintain access to telehealth and provide necessary certainty for Medicare telehealth coverage. 

We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and 212 colleagues in a bipartisan, bicameral letter calling on the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide penalty relief for taxpayers and help reduce processing backlogs at the IRS, after hearing from Virginians who are still waiting on their refunds from the 2021 filing season. Taxpayers may qualify for relief from penalties if they made an effort to comply with legal requirements but weren’t able to meet their tax obligations due to circumstances beyond their control, including processing backlogs. The lawmakers noted the delayed processing of amended returns has been particularly devastating to small businesses whose applications for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) have been caught in limbo nearly two years after the pandemic began.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every federal agency, the impact on the IRS has been particularly severe,” wrote the lawmakers. “As of December 23, 2021, the IRS continued to have a backlog of 6 million Forms 1040 (Individual Income Tax Returns) and 2.3 million amended individual tax returns. In addition, the IRS has 2 million Forms 941 (Employer Quarterly Tax Returns) that must be processed before the nearly 500,000 amended Forms 941 can be processed.”

“Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming. We stand ready to support the IRS and look forward to hearing how we can help you address any obstacles facing the agency,” the lawmakers added. “However, we respectfully request the IRS consider the following measures to bring immediate relief to taxpayers, and reduce the backlog, during this tax filing season. ...While we recognize no single action will alleviate issues that have resulted from difficulties at the IRS spanning administrations of both political parties, these steps would provide our constituents with greater certainty as we enter this year’s filing season.”

Last week, Senator Warner raised concerns with the IRS after hearing from Virginians who are still waiting on their refunds from the 2020 filing season, following a February 2021 letter addressing the same issue of persistent processing delays at the IRS. As members of the Senate Budget Committee, Senators Warner and Kaine are currently pushing for legislation to substantially increase funding for the IRS and help the agency improve operations in the long term.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Menendez, and Cassidy, the letter was signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

This effort is supported by the Tax Professionals United for Taxpayer Relief Coalition, which includes the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), Padgett Business Services, H&R Block, Latino Tax Professional Association, National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP), National Society of Accountants (NSA), National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA), National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP), Diverse Organization of Firms Advocacy Committee, National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), and Prosperity Now.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

As the 2022 tax filing season fast approaches, we are concerned about the unprecedented challenges facing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the ongoing impact on our constituents. While the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every federal agency, the impact on the IRS has been particularly severe. As of December 23, 2021, the IRS continued to have a backlog of 6 million Forms 1040 (Individual Income Tax Returns) and 2.3 million amended individual tax returns.  In addition, the IRS has 2 million Forms 941 (Employer Quarterly Tax Returns) that must be processed before the nearly 500,000 amended Forms 941 can be processed.

In many cases, the delayed processing of amended returns has been devastating to small businesses in our communities whose applications for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration have been caught in limbo nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began. The situation has deteriorated to a point that the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will no longer accept cases solely involving the processing of amended returns] This has made it impossible for frustrated taxpayers to find any help.  When our constituents cannot get assistance from the IRS and TAS, they contact us, and we have our hands tied at this point as well. 

Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming. We stand ready to support the IRS and look forward to hearing how we can help you address any obstacles facing the agency. However, we respectfully request the IRS consider the following measures to bring immediate relief to taxpayers, and reduce the backlog, during this tax filing season:

  • Halt automated collections from now until at least 90 days after April 18, 2022;
  • Delay the collection process for filers until any active and pending penalty abatement requests have been processed;
  • Streamline the reasonable cause penalty abatement process for taxpayers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic without the need for written correspondence; 
  • Provide targeted tax penalty relief for taxpayers who paid at least 70 percent of the tax due for the 2020 and 2021 tax year; and
  • Expedite processing of amended returns and provide TAS and congressional caseworkers with timely responses.

While we recognize no single action will alleviate issues that have resulted from difficulties at the IRS spanning administrations of both political parties, these steps would provide our constituents with greater certainty as we enter this year’s filing season. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and the dedication of the IRS and Treasury personnel to improving the filing process in these extraordinary times.

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner today joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of colleagues in calling on the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide penalty relief for taxpayers amid extensive, ongoing processing backlogs at the IRS. The House version of the letter was led by U.S. Representatives Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.-38), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.-18), Richard Neal (D-Mass.-01), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.-16), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.-05), Tom Rice (R-S.C.-07), Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.-09), Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.-03), Judy Chu (D-Calif.-27), and Ron Estes (R-Kan.-04).

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every federal agency, the impact on the IRS has been particularly severe,” wrote the group of lawmakers to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “As of December 23, 2021, the IRS continued to have a backlog of 6 million Forms 1040 (Individual Income Tax Returns) and 2.3 million amended individual tax returns. In addition, the IRS has 2 million Forms 941 (Employer Quarterly Tax Returns) that must be processed before the nearly 500,000 amended Forms 941 can be processed.”

The lawmakers noted the delayed processing of amended returns has been particularly devastating to small businesses whose applications for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration have been caught in limbo nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming. We stand ready to support the IRS and look forward to hearing how we can help you address any obstacles facing the agency. However, we respectfully request the IRS consider the following measures to bring immediate relief to taxpayers, and reduce the backlog, during this tax filing season,” the lawmakers added. “...While we recognize no single action will alleviate issues that have resulted from difficulties at the IRS spanning administrations of both political parties, these steps would provide our constituents with greater certainty as we enter this year’s filing season.”

This effort is supported by the Tax Professionals United for Taxpayer Relief Coalition, which includes the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), Padgett Business Services, H&R Block, Latino Tax Professional Association, National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP), National Society of Accountants (NSA), National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA), National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP), Diverse Organization of Firms Advocacy Committee, National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), and Prosperity Now.

“The Tax Professionals United for Taxpayer Relief Coalition is grateful to Senators Menendez and Cassidy and the 214 Members of Congress for their leadership towards making this tax filing season a little easier for taxpayers and practitioners. The Coalition represents millions of taxpayers from diverse backgrounds, including those representing Latinos, African Americans, small businesses and low-income taxpayers – Senators Menendez and Cassidy and their colleagues are fighting for these taxpayers. Together, we aim to reduce contact with an agency under strain. We ask that the IRS heed the unified voice of our stakeholder coalition and Members of Congress to grant taxpayers relief now.”  

Full text of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

As the 2022 tax filing season fast approaches, we are concerned about the unprecedented challenges facing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the ongoing impact on our constituents. While the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every federal agency, the impact on the IRS has been particularly severe. As of December 23, 2021, the IRS continued to have a backlog of 6 million Forms 1040 (Individual Income Tax Returns) and 2.3 million amended individual tax returns.  In addition, the IRS has 2 million Forms 941 (Employer Quarterly Tax Returns) that must be processed before the nearly 500,000 amended Forms 941 can be processed.

In many cases, the delayed processing of amended returns has been devastating to small businesses in our communities whose applications for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration have been caught in limbo nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began. The situation has deteriorated to a point that the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will no longer accept cases solely involving the processing of amended returns. This has made it impossible for frustrated taxpayers to find any help.  When our constituents cannot get assistance from the IRS and TAS, they contact us, and we have our hands tied at this point as well. 

Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming. We stand ready to support the IRS and look forward to hearing how we can help you address any obstacles facing the agency. However, we respectfully request the IRS consider the following measures to bring immediate relief to taxpayers, and reduce the backlog, during this tax filing season:

  • Halt automated collections from now until at least 90 days after April 18, 2022;
  • Delay the collection process for filers until any active and pending penalty abatement requests have been processed;
  • Streamline the reasonable cause penalty abatement process for taxpayers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic without the need for written correspondence; 
  • Provide targeted tax penalty relief for taxpayers who paid at least 70 percent of the tax due for the 2020 and 2021 tax year; and
  • Expedite processing of amended returns and provide TAS and congressional caseworkers with timely responses.

While we recognize no single action will alleviate issues that have resulted from difficulties at the IRS spanning administrations of both political parties, these steps would provide our constituents with greater certainty as we enter this year’s filing season. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and the dedication of the IRS and Treasury personnel to improving the filing process in these extraordinary times.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 16 senators in calling on the Social Security Administration (SSA) to provide an update on its efforts to improve field office services for beneficiaries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“SSA has a responsibility and a duty to provide timely and quality service to the public, whether it is provided online, via telephone, or in-person,” the senators wrote. “COVID-19 has amplified and exacerbated gaps in service for all. We write to request an update on the Social Security Administration’s efforts to improve service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to modernize its business processes going forward.” 

In the letter, sent to Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi, the senators called on the agency to outline the steps it is taking to ensure those who need in-person service are able to receive it, including details on the appointment system and drop boxes for original documents that need to be reviewed. Last week, SSA announced an agreement with labor unions representing the agency’s workforce about a reentry plan beginning as early as March 30th.

The letter also noted the substantial dip in applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and asked the agency how they are working to address this shortfall.

Sen. Warner has pushed the SSA to continue assisting beneficiaries in an effective manner since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an April 2021 Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Warner highlighted the need for SSA to conduct outreach to vulnerable populations to ensure they are being served in the midst of the pandemic.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA) Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Acting Commissioner Kijakazi:

We write to request an update on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) efforts to improve service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to modernize its business processes going forward.

In March 2020, SSA took the unprecedented—and necessary—step to close its 1,230 field offices and shift the agency’s operations to a nearly 100 percent remote environment. Since then, your employees have done a tremendous job quickly adapting to the new environment and continuing to serve the public and should be commended.

With COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations soaring to their highest recorded levels due to the Omicron variant, we support the agency’s efforts to prioritize the safety and well-being of the public and the Agency’s staff, especially those who are immunocompromised, as it finalizes the phased reentry plan. That said, SSA has a responsibility and a duty to provide timely and quality service to the public, whether it is provided online, via telephone, or in-person.

As you know, nearly 70 million people rely on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits to pay for rent, groceries, medical bills, and other essential expenses. Additionally, over 45 million people visit SSA’s 1,230 field offices every year to file for benefits, make changes to their earnings record, and get guidance from SSA’s experienced staff. An incorrect denial of benefits or inaccurate payment can be the difference between a beneficiary having a home or being evicted, or whether or not they can afford their prescription drugs. A recent Washington Post article illuminated the devastating impacts that poor service delivery can have on vulnerable populations. Further, a November 2021 SSA Inspector General report found that nearly half of the 151 million callers to field offices and the national 800-number went unanswered, including 16.4 million callers who gave up while waiting in the queue. Many of these service issues have persisted long before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has amplified and exasperated these gaps in service for all, particularly for those whose sole source of income is Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both.

When you started the job as Acting Commissioner six months ago, your goals were ensuring everyone who is eligible for benefits should receive them and that SSA must treat employees fairly and equitably. Both the Finance Committee and Special Committee on Aging have been concerned about access to Agency services and want to support responsive, effective and accurate information about Agency programs. The April 2021 Finance Committee hearing highlighted many of the challenges our constituents encounter when interacting with Social Security, and discussed possibilities to rethink SSA’s application process and other services.

Chairman Wyden noted at the outset of the hearing, “making smart improvements to Social Security based on the experience of COVID-19 can pay off big in the future.”

With that in mind, we request a response to the following questions about SSA’s efforts to improve service delivery, no later than February 17, 2022:

Field Office Service Delivery

1. How will you ensure people who need in-person assistance receive service? Is SSA tracking the number of requests for in-person appointments and what percentage of those requests have been granted; if so, what are the results and how do they vary across regions and field offices? What challenges does SSA face in providing face-to-face services and how will you overcome those challenges?

2. As noted in SSA’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan , field office access is restricted to the public by appointment only “for critical services that [SSA] cannot handle remotely.” However, SSA’s procedures for an individual to secure an in-person appointment appears to favor those who have reliable telephone or Internet access, leaving out at-risk groups. What is SSA doing to ensuring equitable access to in-person appointments?

3. The recent Washington Post article reported that one field office limited drop box hours to just one hour per day. Are such limited hours for drop boxes a common practice at field offices and, if so, what steps are being taken to increase available hours in those field offices? Further, individuals who need to drop off original documents at SSA have to call the field office to find out the office’s drop box hours. Are there plans to publish field offices’ drop box hours online or on its automated messaging system so individuals do not have to wait on hold to find out a relatively simple request, and SSA does not have to divert resources to respond to each call?

4. How is SSA reducing the need for hands-on review of documents (e.g., driver’s licenses, immigration documents, birth certificates, and passports), such as adding features to my Social Security and data sharing with other state and federal agencies?

SSDI and SSI Benefits

5. SSDI and SSI benefit applications dipped substantially during the pandemic. State Disability Determination Services received nearly 16 percent fewer SSDI and SSI initial claims during the COVID-19 pandemic than the prior year. What new efforts are SSA using to increase outreach to eligible groups, including homeless individuals, seniors, children with disabilities, and adults with disabilities?

6. At the Finance Committee hearing, Members and witnesses noted the length and the complexity of the SSI application, stretching over 30 pages. At the request of Chairman Wyden, SSA submitted a plan to simplify the SSI application process and make it more accessible. Please provide an update on SSA’s progress on simplifying the application and creating an online version of it (or an online option to express intent to file and protect the filing date).

7. We are deeply concerned about the large and growing backlog of cases at the initial and reconsideration levels pending at state agencies, and increased delays in applications and appeals being sent from field offices and Workload Support Units to state agencies. What are SSA’s plans to ensure timely and accurate decisions are provided to disability claimants?

8. Is SSA tracking the time to effectuate disability decisions (from favorable decision until retroactive and continuing benefits are provided to claimants)? If so, what trends have you witnessed in recent years, what types of cases are the most challenging to effectuate, and what goals do you have for improving the effectuation process? If not, why, and does SSA have any plans to study this metric?

Improving Service Delivery Going Forward

9. Advocacy groups, non-profit organizations, and claimant representatives are a valuable resource to communicate policy and process changes, as well as provide a “front line” perspective to help develop strategies to improve customer service. What is SSA doing to keep them apprised of policy or process changes? How is SSA leveraging their knowledge and expertise to improve service?

10. Under the previous Administration, SSA implemented Executive Orders to reduce the influence of employee unions and labor-management relations suffered. What steps have you taken to restore the relationship between the agency and the unions? What efforts have you made to work with the unions to return employees to the office?

We look forward to working with you to meet the needs of Social Security beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and all those who use SSA’s services.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Following a recent $65 million settlement between the U.S. government and Balfour Beatty Communities (BBC) LLC, a privatized military housing provider that pled guilty to fraudulent business practices, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 16 Democratic Senators in a new oversight effort to protect the nation’s servicemembers from unsanitary, unsafe living conditions at military base housing operated by BBC, as well as by other privatized housing companies. 

In a letter to the Department of Defense, the Senators requested information regarding the management and oversight of long-term military housing contracts following the guilty plea by Balfour Beatty Communities LLC, which continues to operate military housing communities at 55 military installations across the country, including in Virginia – at Fort Eustis and Fort Story. Many of these management contracts have several decades remaining.

“Given that BBC continues to manage housing communities at 55 installations across the nation and has several decades left on their long-term contracts, we ask the following questions about how this settlement will affect the management of these properties and how DoD plans to ensure quality housing for military families moving forward,” the Senators wrote.

The letter inquires as to whether DoD plans to renegotiate or alter any of the existing terms of long-term contracts with private housing contractors to provide for more immediate and comprehensive oversight for military housing.

Sen. Warner has fiercely advocated for and secured a number of reforms to the privatized military housing system over the years, in response to the well-documented health hazards in military homes across the country. As noted in the letter, he successfully secured large portions of his military housing legislation, the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, in the FY20 annual defense bill, and subsequently passed provisions in the FY21 defense bill to improve military housing metrics. Most recently, Sen. Warner supported the passage of the FY22 annual defense bill, which included increased accountability measures around military housing, by requiring the Secretaries of the military departments to ensure that personnel performance evaluations assess the extent to which certain military officers have exercised effective oversight and leadership of military privatized housing.

Joining Sen. Warner were 16 Senators including: U.S. Sens. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Austin,

We write regarding current Department of Defense (DoD) oversight of private housing contractors in the wake of the recent Department of Justice (DoJ) settlement with Balfour Beatty Communities LLC.

On December 22, 2021, the Department of Justice announced that the housing contractor Balfour Beatty Communities LLC (BBC) pleaded guilty to major fraud against the U.S. government and agreed to pay $65 million in fines and restitution. Following national publicity of pervasive concerns with privatized on-post military housing in 2018, the Department of Defense took steps to hold housing contractors to account for their failures to maintain adequate housing conditions for military families and to communicate with servicemembers and their families their rights. Congress also endeavored to improve military housing with the “Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act” as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 Defense Authorization Act. Despite these efforts, concerns persist, and bases and families continue to file lawsuits against the companies, including BBC, for many issues, including for repair delays, toxic mold, pests, unsealed windows and doors, and gas leaks.  We cannot expect our nation’s military families to suffer these conditions.    

In the DoJ release concerning the BBC plea and settlement, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said, “Instead of promptly repairing housing for U.S. servicemembers as required, BBC lied about the repairs to pocket millions of dollars in performance bonuses. This pervasive fraud was a consequence of BBC’s broken corporate culture, which valued profit over the welfare of servicemembers.” According to the release, for over six years, BBC employees falsified information to allow BBC to claim incentive fees for performance objectives primarily related to housing upkeep and resident satisfaction that had, in fact, not been met. These actions resulted in maintenance delays and an inability of the military services to accurately conduct oversight of the company and correct performance.

Given that BBC continues to manage housing communities at 55 installations across the nation and has several decades left on their long-term contracts, we ask the following questions about how this settlement will affect the management of these properties and how DoD plans to ensure quality housing for military families moving forward.

  • How will the December 2021 Department of Justice settlement with BBC affect the company’s current contracts with the Department of Defense?
  • According to the Department of Justice release, the settlement with BBC includes three years of probation and engagement with an independent compliance monitor. What does this mean for BBC’s current contracts at 55 installations? 
  • What mechanisms are in place to ensure similar fraudulent behavior will not happen again?
  • Does the Department of Defense plan to renegotiate or alter any of the existing terms of long-term contracts with private housing contractors to provide for more immediate and comprehensive oversight?
  • How does the Department of Defense plan to instill trust in military families that BBC and others will meet their housing needs?
  • What actions will the Department take to ensure BBC and other privatized housing companies are providing a sufficient quantity of quality housing for military families at bases where there is a serious need for additional housing? Has the Department considered increasing competition by allowing multiple companies to operate on bases, or by other means, to improve the availability and quality of housing for military families?

Thank you for your urgent attention to this critical issue. Our nation’s servicemembers and military families deserve to live in quality housing and trust that the U.S. government and private contractors will be responsive, respectful, and committed to meeting their needs.

###

WASHINGTON – On the first day of the 2021 tax filing season, Sen. Warner raised concerns with the IRS after hearing from Virginians who are still waiting on their refunds from the 2020 filing season. These delays come as millions of Americans continue to face economic hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Sen. Warner stressed the importance of getting Virginians their individual tax refunds as soon as possible in order to avoid further processing delays. As of December 31, 2021, there were approximately 6 million unprocessed tax returns from 2020.

“I appreciate the IRS’ efforts to address the significant backlog of unprocessed returns, and recognize the significant challenges the agency has faced in operating during the pandemic while implementing major programs such as the stimulus payments and the Advance Child Tax Credit payments,” wrote Sen. Warner. “However, persistent delays harm taxpayers who are waiting for their returns to process – often those who need their refunds most –  and the agency has an obligation to implement a clear plan that alleviates this backlog while avoiding major delays for the processing of filed returns during the 2021 tax filing season.” 

This letter follows up on a February 2021 letter addressing the same issue of persistent processing delays at the IRS.

“Since my last letter, I have continued to hear from constituents that have still not had their 2020 tax returns processed, which has also caused delays in receiving the Advance Child Tax Credit payments, stimulus payments, tax refunds, and other much needed financial aid from the IRS,” Warner noted. “Additionally, businesses that have pending tax returns face delayed processing of their SBA EIDL loan applications. Taxpayers have increasingly expressed to my staff that they are unable to garner any information related to the processing of their tax returns via IRS phone lines or the website.”

In order to further understand the ongoing situation, Sen. Warner asked for answers to the following questions:

  1. What formal plans have the IRS and Treasury developed to resolve the significant backlog of individual and business tax returns that remain unprocessed from the 2020 tax filing season?
  2. How specifically will that plan allow the IRS to continue to process the backlog in parallel with the processing of returns for the tax year 2021 filing season?
  3. Will taxpayers whose 2020 returns remain unprocessed or delayed face any difficulties in filing returns – electronically or in paper form – for the 2021 tax year?  If so, what might these delays or difficulties be, what are your specific plans for addressing them, and how will taxpayers be informed in a timely fashion?
  4. When do you anticipate that the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will resume accepting inquiries related to the processing of amended tax returns?  If TAS is unable to accept this casework, will the IRS dedicate other resources to assist with inquiries that TAS is unable to accept?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for Virginians, working to ensure that they get the funds to which they are entitled. In April 2020, he pressed the Treasury Department to ensure that families who are not normally required to file taxes do not need to wait until the following year to receive the additional $500 payment per dependent child that they were promised. He also successfully pushed the Treasury Department to allow Social Security recipients to automatically receive CARES Act direct cash assistance without needing to file a tax return.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

I write today to express my concern with the alarming number of my constituents who have not received their long-awaited tax refund from their 2020 taxes.  As you are well aware, millions of Americans are still facing economic hardships and are desperately in need of these funds to help make ends meet.

In my letter to you on February 8, 2021, I noted that as of November 6, 2020 there were approximately 6.8 million unprocessed tax returns.  As of December 31, 2021, there are still 6 million unprocessed tax returns; additionally, as of January 8, 2022, there are still 2.3 million unprocessed 1040-X, and 1.1 million unprocessed business tax returns as of January 12, 2022.

Since my last letter, I have continued to hear from constituents that have still not had their 2020 tax returns processed, which has also caused delays in receiving the Advance Child Tax Credit payments, stimulus payments, tax refunds, and other much needed financial aid from the IRS. Additionally, businesses that have pending tax returns face delayed processing of their SBA EIDL loan applications. Taxpayers have increasingly expressed to my staff that they are unable to garner any information related to the processing of their tax returns via IRS phone lines or the website. 

On November 10, 2021, National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins announced that the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) would no longer accept congressional inquiries solely related to the processing of amended tax returns, due to the agency not being able to meaningfully expedite or improve case resolution for taxpayers.  Ms. Collins also issued a Taxpayer Advocate Directive directing the IRS to “complete processing of all backlogged amended tax returns by December 29, 2021 or provide a detailed plan for completing processing the backlog”.  The absence of assistance from TAS further aggravates the problems my constituents and other Americans face.  

I appreciate the IRS’ efforts to address the significant backlog of unprocessed returns, and recognize the significant challenges the agency has faced in operating during the pandemic while implementing major programs such as the stimulus payments and the Advance Child Tax Credit payments. However, persistent delays harm taxpayers who are waiting for their returns to process – often those who need their refunds most –  and the agency has an obligation to implement a clear plan that alleviates this backlog while avoiding major delays for the processing of filed returns during the 2021 tax filing season. 

Please reply to me as soon as possible, and no later than February 4, 2022, with specific answers to the following questions:

  1. What formal plans have the IRS and Treasury developed to resolve the significant backlog of individual and business tax returns that remain unprocessed from the TY 2020 tax filing season?
  2. How specifically will that plan allow the IRS to continue to process the backlog in parallel with the processing of returns for the tax year 2021 filing season?
  3. Will taxpayers whose 2020 returns remain unprocessed or delayed face any difficulties in filing returns – electronically or in paper form – for the 2021 tax year? If so, what might these delays or difficulties be, what are your specific plans for addressing them, and how will taxpayers be informed in a timely fashion?
  4. When do you anticipate that TAS will resume accepting inquiries related to the processing of amended tax returns?  If TAS is unable to accept this casework, will the IRS dedicate other resources to assist with inquiries that TAS is unable to accept?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

 

Sincerely,

###

 

 

 

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) land 16 of his Senate colleagues today in a bipartisan letter to President Biden urging him to include funding for emergency international food aid in any upcoming supplemental request to Congress.  Recently, the Biden Administration provided an additional $308 million in aid and eased procedures for humanitarian groups.  However, the Senators noted in their letter that both the United Nations and World Food Programme (WFP) indicate far more is needed to prevent mass starvation in multiple countries, particularly in Afghanistan where nearly half the population is at severe risk.

“Despite progress in recent decades to prevent and alleviate global hunger, 2020 and 2021 have seen the highest levels of hunger in more than ten years with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating conflict areas and severe droughts,” the Senators wrote.  “Nowhere are the humanitarian needs more acute than in Afghanistan, where freezing winter weather is only worsening acute hunger… As such, we urge you to include robust funding for emergency international food aid as part of any upcoming supplemental request to Congress.  These additional funds… would go a long way toward preventing starvation around the world.” 

According to the United Nations’ 2021 report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, close to 12 percent of the world’s population, representing 928 million people, faces severe food insecurity and 30 percent face at least moderate food insecurity.   The impact is particularly significant on women and children, with more than 149 million children under the age of five affected by stunting and nearly 30 percent of women around the world between the ages of 15 and 49 affected by anemia.  

Along with Durbin, today’s letter was signed by the following Senators: Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). 

Full text of today’s letter is available below:

Dear President Biden:

We write to convey our great concern with mounting global food insecurity, particularly in Afghanistan where nearly half the population is at severe risk.  We welcome your recent decisions to provide an additional $308 million in aid and ease procedures for humanitarian groups to help meet these desperate conditions, and hope other international donors will take similar actions.  However, given that both the United Nations and World Food Programme (WFP) indicate far more is needed to prevent mass starvation in multiple countries, we strongly urge you to include funding for emergency international food aid in any upcoming supplemental request to Congress. 

Despite progress in recent decades to prevent and alleviate global hunger, 2020 and 2021 have seen the highest levels of hunger in more than ten years with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating conflict areas and severe droughts.  According to the United Nations’ 2021 report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, close to 12 percent of the world’s population, representing 928 million people, faces severe food insecurity and 30 percent face at least moderate food insecurity.   The impact is particularly significant on women and children, with more than 149 million children under the age of five affected by stunting and nearly 30 percent of women around the world between the ages of 15 and 49 affected by anemia.   Such severe and rising levels of food insecurity impact nearly every region of the world.  In fact, the WFP warned in November that 45 million people are on the brink of famine across 43 countries, a devastating figure that is nearly 67 percent higher than the estimated 27 million in a similar dire situation in 2019.  

Nowhere are the humanitarian needs more acute than in Afghanistan, where freezing winter weather is only worsening acute hunger.  According to the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization, while Afghanistan has suffered from malnutrition for decades, recent factors put an estimated 23 million people, around 55 percent of Afghanistan’s population, at potentially life-threatening levels of food insecurity.   In addition, the United Nations Development Programme warned that as much as 97 percent of Afghanistan’s population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line by this summer.  

As such, we urge you to include robust funding for emergency international food aid as part of any upcoming supplemental request to Congress.  These additional funds, through the International Disaster Assistance account, Food for Peace Title II, or others as appropriate, would go a long way toward preventing starvation around the world.

We stand ready to help with such a request and appreciate your attention to this timely issue.

Sincerely,

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) yesterday requested more information from major retailers regarding omicron-related supply chain problems and shortages that are contributing to inflation and rising costs. In a letter to the National Retail Federation – the world’s largest retail trade association, representing large retail companies like Target and Wal-Mart – Sen. Warner expressed concern with the ongoing supply chain disruptions and stressed that companies and the government must work together to tackle the problems that are leading to higher prices and directly hitting Americans’ pockets.  

“Despite the unprecedented challenges associated with reopening the nation and fighting the Delta and Omicron variants, our economy has recovered significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, increasing prices continue to threaten our progress. I understand that persistent supply/demand imbalances and supply chain disruptions are contributing to inflation and urge you to continue working with me, my colleagues, and the Biden Administration to identify ways to alleviate these supply chain issues as quickly as possible,” Sen. Warner wrote.  

He continued, “I am also continuing to advance legislation that addresses targeted supply chain issues that have shown to have sweeping impacts on our economy, including the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act which includes $52 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing. However, it is clear that these efforts will likely take time to bear fruit, and that more needs to be done now to help Americans facing raising prices.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner asked companies what they are doing to resolve the supply chain problems and what more the federal government can do to support those efforts. Specifically he posed the following series of questions to better understand the steps being taken by companies to alleviate supply chain pressures and to inquire about any additional measures that Congress can take to assist with this effort:

  1. Alleviating existing backlogs continues to be an immediate priority for the private sector as well as the government. Can you please explain what your companies are doing to alleviate backlogs and what challenges you are facing? Are there any constraints that lend themselves to policies that Congress should pursue?
  2. How long do you see supply chain pressures lasting? Do you believe the supply chain problems we are seeing will begin to soften in 2022?
  3. What more can Congress, or the federal government, do to support your efforts to clear these backlogs and strengthen our nation’s supply chains?

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear National Retail Federation Board Leadership and Board of Directors:

I write today concerned with the challenges posed by elevated levels of inflation in our economy.  Despite the unprecedented challenges associated with reopening the nation and fighting the Delta and Omicron variants, our economy has recovered significantly sine the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, increasing prices continue to threaten our progress. I understand that persistent supply/demand imbalances and supply chain disruptions are contributing to inflation and urge you to continue working with me, my colleagues, and the Biden Administration to identify ways to alleviate these supply chain issues as quickly as possible.

The latest release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that prices increased seven percent from a year earlier, the fastest pace in decades.[1] As you know, these price increases are particularly harmful for low-income Americans who have smaller economic cushions to absorb them. Many factors are contributing to the current bout of inflation, but widespread supply chain issues are of particular concern. That’s why I am grateful to President Biden for engaging with the private sector, making supply chains a key priority, forming the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and directing a whole-of-government approach to address the vulnerabilities and problems facing the country’s supply chains.[2]

Congress has also taken decisive action to reduce friction in the economy by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to make historic investments in infrastructure. I am also continuing to advance legislation that addresses targeted supply chain issues that have shown to have sweeping impacts on our economy, including the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act which includes $52 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing. However, it is clear that these efforts will likely take time to bear fruit, and that more needs to be done now to help Americans facing raising prices.

To that end, I am writing to request answers to the following questions from the organizations you represent:

  1. 1.     Alleviating existing backlogs continues to be an immediate priority for the private sector as well as the government. Can you please explain what your companies are doing to alleviate backlogs and what challenges you are facing? Are there any constraints that lend themselves to policies that Congress should pursue?
  2. 2.     How long do you see supply chain pressures lasting? Do you believe the supply chain problems we are seeing will begin to soften in 2022?
  3. 3.     What more can Congress, or the federal government, do to support your efforts to clear these backlogs and strengthen our nation’s supply chains?

During these past two years, our nation has faced tremendous costs and dislocations from the pandemic, which required bipartisan and public-private cooperation. While the country has made substantial economic progress since the spring of 2020, this cooperation and focus will continue to be vital, particularly as we face rising prices and additional waves of the virus.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH), along with their bipartisan colleagues Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking the Treasury Department to work with Congress in order to ensure that the cryptocurrency provision included in the recently-enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is implemented effectively and in accordance with congressional intent. During consideration of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Senators Portman and Warner conducted a colloquy on August 9 to clarify the scope and intent of a provision implementing information reporting requirements for cryptocurrency brokers.

This is the federal government’s first attempt at incorporating digital assets into our nation’s tax code, which has led to concern over how it will interpret the provision’s definition of “broker.” The senators have asked the Treasury Department to issue information or informal guidance regarding the definition of “broker” as discussed during the legislative process and if needed, the senators are prepared to offer legislation to further clarify that intent.

“We thank you and your team for working with us in implementing this IIJA provision. We ask that you carefully consider the characteristics of the technologies which drive this space, which may include differences in the consensus mechanisms of various distributed ledgers and second layer protocols. We have conveyed to our constituents that we will continue working with you to ensure that the provision is implemented as Congress intended, and we look forward to doing so,” wrote the sens.

“Digital assets could be impactful technological developments in certain sectors, and clear guidelines on tax reporting requirements will be important to those in this ecosystem. It will be important that we continue to work to provide further clarity, and to help ensure that the United States remains a global leader in financial innovation and development, while ensuring that this technology does not become a vector for illicit finance, tax evasion, or other criminal activity,” continued the sens.

The full text of the letter can be found here or below:

Dear Secretary Yellen, 

President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law on November 15, 2021. Now that this bill has become law, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that it is implemented effectively and in accordance with congressional intent.

Section 80603 of the IIJA standardizes information reporting by brokers of digital assets to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax purposes by modifying Section 6045 of the Internal Revenue Code. The aim of this provision is to provide more certainty for Americans looking to invest in these digital assets, ensuring that crypto investors receive the same tax documents, generally a Form 1099-B, from their brokers that stock traders receive, which in turn will enable them to file their taxes more easily and promote higher compliance. This provision is one of the first efforts by the Federal government to better incorporate digital assets, like virtual currency, into our nation’s tax code.

Some market participants have expressed concern that an overly-broad interpretation of this provision’s definition of “broker” could capture certain individuals who are solely involved with validating distributed ledger transactions through mining, staking, or other methods, and entities solely providing software or hardware solutions enabling users to maintain custody of their own digital asset wallets.

As Senator Portman and Senator Warner articulated in a colloquy on the floor of the Senate on August 9, 2021, “[t]he purpose of this provision is not to impose new reporting requirements on people who do not meet the definition of brokers.” Further, our understanding from both the Administration and the Joint Committee on Taxation is that they shared the same interpretation of the provision as its authors: that the reporting requirements only cover brokers who enable the transfer of digital assets for consideration —and not other parties which are ancillary to the process unless they are serving in an additional capacity as brokers.

We urge you to engage in rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in an expeditious manner. However, because of the need for certainty and the time required for rulemaking under the APA, we urge the Department of the Treasury to provide information or informal guidance as soon as possible – no later than the end of the current calendar year – regarding the definition of “broker” as discussed during the legislative process. We are also prepared to offer legislation to further clarify that intent.

We thank you and your team for working with us in implementing this IIJA provision. We ask that you carefully consider the characteristics of the technologies which drive this space, which may include differences in the consensus mechanisms of various distributed ledgers and second layer protocols. We have conveyed to our constituents that we will continue working with you to ensure that the provision is implemented as Congress intended, and we look forward to doing so.

Digital assets could be impactful technological developments in certain sectors, and clear guidelines on tax reporting requirements will be important to those in this ecosystem. It will be important that we continue to work to provide further clarity, and to help ensure that the United States remains a global leader in financial innovation and development, while ensuring that this technology does not become a vector for illicit finance, tax evasion, or other criminal activity.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner & Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined a bicameral letter led by Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi urging the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to address student voter registration and participation as it formulates higher education rulemaking. The letter comes as states across the country pass legislation designed to curb the voting rights of Black, Brown, and young people.

“Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections,” wrote the lawmakers.

“Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request,” concluded the lawmakers.

Kaine, a former civil rights attorney, has long fought to protect voting rights and expand access to the ballot box. In September, Kaine introduced the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation cosponsored by Warner to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense election integrity reforms, and protect our democracy from attacks. The Freedom to Vote Act elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering and helping to eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections.

In October, Warner and Kaine helped introduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act legislation to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act and stop the spread of voter suppression.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Cardona:

We write to urge the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) to address student voter registration and participation in upcoming rulemaking for higher education accountability and to provide additional guidance to institutions of higher education to facilitate civic engagement.

Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections.

Section 487(a)(23) of the Higher Education Act requires each institution of higher education that receives federal financial aid funds to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials and to make such materials “widely available” to students. A college’s good faith effort to distribute voter registration information widely should reflect the most common methods by which individuals register to vote— including, increasingly, online registration—and the deadlines they must meet.

The Department has full authority to prescribe regulations to enforce the program participation agreement in Section 487(a)(23). In early 2022, as part of the upcoming institutional accountability rulemaking, the Department should propose regulations that specify the time, manner, and frequency by which voter registration materials are distributed to students.

Importantly, at least once per year, as part of the course registration or other institutional enrollment process, the rules should require institutions to distribute to student’s voter registration information, including, where possible, a direct and accessible web link to register to vote or to update their voter registration (such as providing a new address). The rules should also recommend institutions distribute voter registration materials to students during other interactions many students will have with institutions, such as student identification application processes. While the regulations should prioritize online voter registration options to ensure an easy and accessible process for students, they should also accommodate institutions in states that do not conduct online voter registration.

The Department should also swiftly issue sub-regulatory guidance that clarifies institutions’ responsibilities under current regulations. This guidance should remind colleges of their existing requirement to distribute voter registration information to students well in advance of state deadlines to register to vote. And, such guidance should strongly encourage institutions to adopt best practices for providing links to voter registration online and through direct notifications to students, including links during course registration and campus-wide email reminders. These reminders should also encourage students to check and update their voter registration information to ensure the most recent address is on file and explain current law on where students may register to vote based on their permanent residence. Finally, the guidance should make clear that Federal Work-Study funds can be used for nonpartisan voter registration, education, engagement, and poll watching activities—and can help institutions meet their community service requirements.

Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request.

Sincerely,

###