Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to introduce a pair of bills aimed at protecting federal health care benefits in the event of a government shutdown. Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House yesterday, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). 

The two bills would amend current law to ensure that workers who have qualifying life events – like the birth or adoption of a child – are able to make the proper adjustments to their health insurance plans and continue dental and vision benefits during lapses in federal funding.

“I’ve heard story after story about how the recent government shutdown caused significant financial hardship for Virginians. But stories like Brian Uholick’s really struck a nerve. During the 35-day shutdown, Brian struggled to get his newborn on his health insurance to ensure he could get the medication she needed because his own HR department was furloughed,” said Warner. “It’s just not right. That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing a set of bills to ensure the health and well-being of our federal workforce and their families.” 

“Our hardworking federal employees should never have to go through the pain of a shutdown in the first place, and they should never have to fear losing access to their health benefits as a result. Our legislation would help ensure that federal workers and their families can get the care they need during a shutdown,” said Kaine.     

Press reports during the recent shutdown indicated that federal employees had difficulty obtaining health insurance coverage for their newborns because some agencies were not processing new enrollments or changes to enrollments. 

In January, Sens. Warner and Kaine pressed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director to prevent the termination of dental and vision coverage for federal workers during the 35-day shutdown after reports emerged that employees could stand to lose their coverage if they did not pay their premiums. During the government shutdown, OPM announced that coverage would continue only for two or three pay periods, after which insurers would start billing employees directly.   

Both bills are supported by the American Federation of Government Employees, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) – all members of the Senate Committee on the Budget – filed four amendments to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution aimed at protecting federal employees and contractors. The amendments would put the Senate on the record in favor of preserving retirement security for federal employees, and providing back pay to service contractors affected by the recent federal government shutdown. 

“Federal workers are the backbone of our government. If we want to recruit and retain top talent, we have to offer competitive pay and benefits, including retirement security,” said Sen. Warner, who added, “Though the shutdown itself may be over, for many federal contractors who went without pay for 35 days, the effects have been long-lasting. The Senate cannot forget about these workers, many of whom work paycheck to paycheck. We owe it to them to provide back pay.” 

“This year, federal workers experienced the longest shutdown in history. Their finances were pinched and their families were hurt. As we look at next year’s budget, my priority is to ensure that we’re protecting federal workers against pay cuts, preserving their retirement security, and trying to secure back pay for the service contractors impacted by government shutdowns,” said Sen. Kaine. 

“Our federal workers and federal contract employees provide crucial services to the American people. These amendments will protect the hard-earned paychecks and benefits of our federal employees and help secure back pay for contract workers harmed by the government shutdown,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

One amendment would ensure that federal workers are not shouldering more than their fair share of deficit reduction. This amendment would establish a scorekeeping rule that would prevent federal employees from being subject to increased retirement contributions meant to offset the cost of other, unrelated congressional spending. Despite there being no solvency concerns related to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), Congress has repeatedly increased the required federal employee contribution rate without offering any additional benefit. Combined with years of pay freezes, the increased requirements have resulted in de facto pay cuts for thousands of hardworking federal employees. 

Another amendment would preserve the retirement security of civil service employees by preventing further retirement benefit reductions and protecting the retirement plans that employees have spent decades building.

A third amendment would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to provide back pay to service contractors affected by the recent government shutdown. The shutdown caused more than 800,000 employees and thousands of contractors to go without pay for 35 days, and while affected federal employees were assured that they would be compensated for their missed wages, their contractor colleagues – who perform essential functions like cleaning, food service, and security – were not given that same guarantee. This amendment would put the Senate on the record in support of making these workers whole, following the record-breaking shutdown. 

A fourth amendment would protect federal workers’ retirement benefits by striking a provision in the draft budget that could cut federal employees’ benefits by at least $15 billion.

Sens. Warner, Kaine, and Van Hollen have fiercely advocated for federal employees and contractors, especially during and following the government shutdown. In January, the Senators, along with several colleagues, introduced a bill to pay back federal contract workers after the shutdown. They also joined a bipartisan group of Senators earlier this month in urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to include contractor back pay in the upcoming disaster package. Additionally, the Senators pressed OMB in February for a timeline detailing the implementation of the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees that the Senators worked to pass into law earlier in the year. 

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to begin its two-day markup on the FY20 budget resolution on Wednesday, March 27. Though nonbinding, the budget resolution provides a blueprint for future congressional action on federal programs.  

 

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Washington – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Kennedy (R-LA) to introduce the Protect Federal Workers’ Credit Act, legislation to protect the credit reports of federal workers and contractors who were hurt by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. 

“The recent shutdown may be over, but federal employees and contractors are still feeling its effects,” said Sen. Warner. “They shouldn’t have their credit scores threatened because the President recklessly decided to shutter the government for 35 days.”

The bipartisan Protect Federal Workers’ Credit Act would require credit bureaus to remove negative information that was placed on the credit reports of federal workers and contractors who missed payments as a result of a government shutdown. The bill would apply to the recent shutdown and any future government shutdowns. 

Virginia is home to more than 170,000 federal employees and thousands of federal government contractors. During the 35-day shutdown, Sen. Warner met and heard from Virginia families who had to miss bills or draw down on their savings to afford basic necessities. These financial decisions can have a damaging effect on an individual’s credit score and make it harder to qualify for future bank loans.

Sen. Warner previously introduced the Stop STUPIDITY Act to end the threat of future shutdowns and protect federal government workers from being used as pawns in political negotiations. In addition, Sen. Warner introduced legislation that the President signed into law that secured back pay for federal workers. He continues to press the Administration and his colleagues to pass bipartisanlegislation that would provide back pay to low- and middle-wage federal contractor service employees affected by the government shutdown.

A copy of the legislation can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) wrote to the Small Business Administration (SBA) today to express concern and solicit information on the backlog of loans created by the partial government shutdown. The 35-day lapse in appropriations jammed the approval process of SBA loans—a particularly alarming fact for Virginia, where 1.5 million individuals, nearly half of the Commonwealth’s employees, are employed by small businesses.

“I fear the fallout from the Administration’s 35-day shutdown will slow Virginia’s economic growth and innovation,” wrote Sen. Warner. “According to some estimates, the shutdown delayed about $2 billion in SBA lending and more than 300 small business loans per day. A backlog of loan applications could have a chilling effect on small businesses’ confidence, investment, and hiring.” 

According to SBA’s shutdown contingency plan, more than 2,000 SBA positions were subject to furlough, freezing essential loan programs that allow individuals to start or expand businesses, make essential repairs and refinance debt. SBA loans are vital contributors to innovation and growth and have been used by the founders of companies like Under Armour, Chipotle and Apple to kick-start their businesses.

“News reports shared the stories of small business owners who had to cancel SBA-financed expansion plans because of the shutdown, as well as entrepreneurs who were unable to access SBA loans to open their businesses,” Sen. Warner continued.“Throughout the 35-day period, Americans hoping to obtain an SBA loan to start or expand their small business had to put their ambitions on hold — or turn to more costly capital alternatives— while they waited for the government to get its act together. I am deeply concerned with backlog left for SBA employees now that the shutdown is over, and other impacts the lapse in funding had on SBA’s vital functions.”

In his letter to SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, Sen. Warner asked for information in order to evaluate the shutdown’s lasting damage on small businesses. Specifically, he requested a list of all functions that were reduced or postponed. He also asked about the number of loan applications in the backlog and about SBA’s plan to address this backlog.

A PDF copy of the letter is available here and the text appears below.

 

January 31, 2019

 

Linda McMahon

Administrator

Small Business Administration

403 3rd Street, SW

Washington, DC 20024

 

Dear Administrator McMahon:

 

I write to raise concerns with a potential backlog of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans created by the government shutdown. Virginia has over 680,000 small businesses, which collectively employ approximately 1.5 million Virginians, almost half of the Commonwealth’s employees.[1] The Commonwealth’s economy, like our nation’s economy, depends on our small businesses and entrepreneurs. I fear the fallout from the Administration’s 35-day shutdown will slow Virginia’s economic growth and innovation.

 

Support from the SBA has been a key contributor to our nation’s innovation leadership, providing early funding and resources to renowned companies such as Apple, HP, Intel, FedEx, and AOL in the early years.[2] Under Armour was started by founder Kevin Plank with the help of a small SBA loan at just 23 years old. Chipotle used a SBA loan to open a third store setting the food chain on a path to open more than 2,450 restaurants and to employ over 70,000 people.

 

According to SBA’s Lapse Appropriations Contingency Plan, over 2,000 positions at the agency were subject to furlough. Moreover, reports indicated that, during the shutdown, the SBA stopped approving routine small business loans upon which entrepreneurs and established firms depend. According to some estimates, the shutdown delayed about $2 billion in SBA lending and more than 300 small business loans per day. A backlog of loan applications could have a chilling effect on small businesses’ confidence, investment, and hiring. 

 

For over a month, the reduced flow of capital put many small businesses in a precarious position. News reports shared the stories of small business owners who had to cancel SBA-financed expansion plans because of the shutdown, as well as entrepreneurs who were unable to access SBA loans to open their businesses. Throughout the 35-day period, Americans hoping to obtain an SBA loan to start or expand their small business had to put their ambitions on hold — or turn to more costly capital alternatives— while they waited for the government to get its act together.

 

I am deeply concerned with backlog left for SBA employees now that this shutdown is over, and other impacts the lapse in funding had on SBA’s vital functions. To assess the lasting damage that the shutdown has caused, please provide me with the following information:

 

1.      A list of all SBA functions that were stopped or reduced during the lapse in funding.

 

2.      The number of loan applications that are in the backlog. 

 

3.      How will SBA address the loan backlog that was created by this shutdown?

 

I appreciate the vital functions SBA provides to small businesses and entrepreneurs in Virginia and across the country. I hope the SBA can quickly dig out of the hole in which the Administration placed both your agency and our nation’s small businesses.  

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

 

 

 

Sincerely,

 

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[1] Small Business Administration, “Virginia Small Business Profile,” 2018, available at https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/advocacy/Virginia.pdf

[2] Small Business Administration, “SBIC Early Stage Initiative,” available at https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/articles/SBIC-Early-Stage-Initiative.pdf

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner led a letter with 26 colleagues calling on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to improve guidance the Department of Education is giving to student loan borrowers impacted by the shutdown. In the letter, the Senators cited concerns that guidance the Department is currently giving borrowers does not help them navigate repayment options effectively and may cause borrowers to experience further difficulties navigating student loan forgiveness, leading to financially unwise decisions.

“Among the 800,000 federal workers that are furloughed, or working without pay, are thousands of student loan borrowers,” the Senators wrote. “We urge you to improve advice that the Department is providing to impacted student loan borrowers, immediately conduct proactive outreach to borrowers, prioritize requests for student loan assistance from all federal workers, and explore other ways to assist impacted student loan borrowers.”

“Federal workers who serve their country deserve a federal student loan program that supports their needs during this time. We urge you to deploy the resources of your Department to provide the assistance we have requested as soon as possible,” the Senators concluded. 

Joining Kaine and Warner on the letter are Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Edward Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).                                                            

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

 

January 25, 2019

 

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20202

 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

 

We write to you on behalf of the federal workers and their families affected by President Trump and Congressional Republicans’ inexcusable and harmful government shutdown. Among the 800,000 federal workers that are furloughed, or working without pay, are thousands of student loan borrowers. Many of these borrowers and their families are struggling to make rent and mortgage payments, pay for child care and medical treatment, afford food, and meet other basic needs—all while their student loan bills come due. Committed public servants who have federal student loans deserve better assistance from the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) during the shutdown. We urge you to improve advice that the Department is providing to impacted student loan borrowers, immediately conduct proactive outreach to borrowers, prioritize requests for student loan assistance from all federal workers, and explore other ways to assist impacted student loan borrowers.

 

We recognize and appreciate that the Department recently attempted to increase awareness about repayment options for federal workers in a January 11, 2019, blog post which directs impacted federal student loan borrowers to seek loan forbearance or deferment, or enroll in—or recertify income early for—an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan.[1] As the blog post mentions, interest on a loan in deferment or forbearance will accrue and such interest may capitalize if left unpaid, which results in more debt for borrowers in the long-run. However, we are concerned that the Department’s advice to borrowers does not help them effectively navigate their options, may cause them to experience further difficulties navigating student loan forgiveness, and could lead to financially unwise decisions.

 

The Department’s advice only briefly describes a few options without helping borrowers make fully informed choices or proceed to obtain relief. For example, while the blog post mentions Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and correctly notes that periods of deferment or forbearance do not count towards the 120 qualifying payments for forgiveness, the post does not help impacted student loan borrowers determine whether the trade-off between the administrative ease of deferment or forbearance is better than the more involved process of entering—or recertifying income for—an income-driven repayment plan. The blog post also fails to discuss tradeoffs between deferment and forbearance, including the option for interest subsidies under deferment. Especially in an era when irresponsible government shutdowns are increasingly frequent, the Department should develop a fact sheet or guidance document for its website, loan servicers, and borrowers that helps affected borrowers decide which type of benefit to pursue, directs them on how to apply for and receive such benefits, and lists the administrative steps to improve relief that we are requesting and that the Department has agreed to.

 

IDR is a beneficial option for many borrowers, and particularly for federal workers interested in PSLF. These repayment plans can provide federal workers who are student loan borrowers, and who are furloughed or working without pay, with a $0 “payment” amount, interest subsidies, and a lower risk of substantial interest capitalization. Borrowers who enroll in IDR may be entitled to a subsidized interest rate effective the moment their enrollment is processed. Borrowers with subsidized student loans are allowed up to three years of interest subsidy if their student loan payment under any IDR plan is insufficient to cover accruing interest charges—a certainty for borrowers with a $0 payment. In addition to this benefit, borrowers with unsubsidized student loans are entitled to have 50 percent of unpaid interest charges waived if they enrolled in the IDR plan known as “Revised Pay As You Earn” (REPAYE), a substantial benefit that is unavailable to borrowers under any other payment arrangement.

 

Revising IDR payment amounts to $0, along with interest subsidies, is certainly a more beneficial option than deferment or forbearance for all federal workers who are already seeking PSLF and who are now not currently receiving any income. Additionally, enrollment in IDR is not time-limited, unlike the three year limitation on deferment. Since eligible borrowers already have the opportunity to qualify for short-term interest subsidies in IDR, and they run the risk of forgoing qualifying payments for PSLF and accruing interest at the end of deferment or forbearance, we ask that the Department ensure the guidance we are requesting more fairly and prominently discusses the benefits of IDR compared to deferment or forbearance. And for borrowers who miss payments or end up in deferment or forbearance during the shutdown, the Department should use its settlement and compromise authority to waive all interest that accrues on these loans during the shutdown.[2]

 

One reason that some borrowers are reluctant to pursue IDR as a temporary relief option, despite its potential benefit, is the Department’s extended processing time that occurs with contracted federal student loan servicers. However, IDR applications need not take weeks to process—and this customer service level is fully within the Department’s control. This is especially the case for furloughed federal workers or those working without pay, who have the option to self-certify that they are not currently receiving any income, which would result in a $0 monthly payment amount. The Department can and must ask its contracted servicers to process IDR applications from federal workers, including any adjustments of payment amounts from existing IDR borrowers, on a timeline of days—not weeks or months. For example, the Department should direct its contractors to prioritize all applications for borrowers whose applications are easier to process because they applied online and have self-certified that they have no income.

 

We also ask that the Department do everything in its power to reach out directly to borrowers who, due to the submission of a PSLF form or enrollment in a federal loan repayment assistance program, have a record of federal employment. Such outreach should include emailing, calling, and texting every borrower employed in federal service to ensure that they are aware of their repayment options and the ability to receive a $0 payment under IDR. The Department should also explore the possibility of a secure data match to identify other federal workers with federal student loans who are not in the PSLF program. Such outreach could be easily paid for with funds set aside for outreach about PSLF in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, as well as the Department of Education Appropriations Act, 2019. Finally, the Department should issue a change request to student loan servicers that covers IDR processing times, training for customer service agents to respond to all inquiries and requests from impacted student loan borrowers, and instruction to conduct the necessary outreach to affected borrowers.

 

Despite President Trump and Congressional Republicans’ decision to continue this unnecessary government shutdown, federal workers should not bear the consequences of their obstinance and irresponsibility. In this case, there is a clear path to allow federal workers who are temporarily without income to pay nothing toward their loans under IDR. Federal workers who serve their country deserve a federal student loan program that supports their needs during this time. We urge you to deploy the resources of your Department to provide the assistance we have requested as soon as possible.

 

Sincerely,

 

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[1] U.S. Department of Education, Home Room, the Official Blog of the [1] U.S. Department of Education. January 11, 2019. https://blog.ed.gov/2019/01/federal-employees-manage-student-loans-government-shutdown/

[2] 20 U.S.C. § 1082(a)(6); 34 C.F.R. § 30.70

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) was joined by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in requesting financial flexibility from childcare organizations for parents and guardians affected by the partial government shutdown. Among the expenses piling up for these families, who do not know when their next paycheck will come, are steep costs of childcare—a necessity parents cannot forgo. With a regional shortage of daycares, many parents are continuing to pay for childcare they are not using to avoid losing their spots at the facilities.

“We ask that your company make efforts to support federal workers and contractors who are furloughed or working without pay by offering them as much financial flexibility as is possible,” wrote the Senators. “There have been reports of federally contracted childcare providers agreeing to waive fees for late payments, allowing the option of deferred payments, and reducing rates for those who do not send their child to daycare for entire weeks during the shutdown. Given how scarce and sought after quality childcare can be, it is crucial that federal workers and contractors impacted by the shutdown not risk forfeiting the very care that their families will need again when the government reopens.

“It is also of the utmost importance that federally connected families not be penalized financially for a shutdown for which they bear no responsibility. Accordingly, we respectfully request that you provide us with information regarding how your company is supporting federal workers and their families during the shutdown. We have been pleased to learn about flexibilities many businesses have extended to federal employees and contractors during this challenging time and would be interested in learning if your organization is offering any comparable accommodations,” they concluded.

Letters were sent to the ten largest for-profit child care organizations, including KinderCare EducationLearning Care GroupBright Horizons Family SolutionsGoddard SystemsPrimrose SchoolsChildcare NetworkKids ‘R’ Learning AcademiesNobel Learning CommunitiesThe Learning Experience, and Cadence Education

 

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WASHINGTON – Following concerns raised by Virginia’s mayors, Sen. Warner inquired today whether lenders plan to extend and expand the assistance being offered to federal workers and contractors affected by the shutdown. In letters addressed to the six largest consumer banks and credit unions in the DMV region, the Senator also asked about any steps being taken to ensure that affected individuals are informed of their options. 

“The consequences of even a single missed paycheck—let alone two—can be severely devastating. Some federal workers and contractors don’t know how they will put food on the table, pay their electrical bills, or pay their mortgage,” wrote Sen. Warner. “I continue to hear from those affected by the shutdown that they feel like they are without options to address their most pressing financial obligations while they wait for an end to the shutdown. What steps have you taken to publicize the assistance you are offering and how have you sought to ensure that those affected by the shutdown are aware of the assistance?”

“Although affected federal employees are, at the very least, assured back pay, many still face trouble making ends meet until paychecks resume, and federal contractors see no relief in sight,” he continued. “The financial pain felt by all of these workers will increase exponentially as the shutdown continues.  Do you have any plans to increase the level of assistance to affected federal workers and contractors?” 

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history continues, more federal workers and contractors find themselves struggling financially. Many banks have already taken steps to help federal workers and contractors, such as making no-fee personal loans available, offering mortgage and loan forbearance, deferring payment obligations, and waiving or adjusting fees. As many federally-connected families confront the possibility of missing a second paycheck this Friday, they face an increasing financial pressure that may render many of them unable to pay their rent, mortgage or other critical personal obligations. 

On Monday, Senator Warner hosted a phone call with Virginia’s mayors to hear the most pressing local concerns triggered by the government shutdown. Many of the mayors expressed worry that while cities were able to offer forbearance on municipal costs like water and electrical bills, that with a second missed paycheck fast approaching, many more of their constituents would soon be struggling to afford their housing costs and private sector loan payments such as mortgages.  

In addition to asking about extended assistance for those affected by the shutdown, Sen. Warner also acknowledged and thanked the CEOs for measures already in place. Letters were sent to the Chief Executive Officers of Bank of America Corp., Citigroup,JPMorgan Chase & Co., U.S. Bancorp, Wells Fargo and Navy Federal Credit Union.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to inquire about the impact of the government shutdown on craft breweries in Virginia. The shutdown has halted operations at the federal agency that regulates alcohol production and distribution, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. As a result, craft brewers across Virginia have been unable to secure approvals for labeling changes, new recipes, or operating permits. 

“According to various reports, thousands of applications for alcohol labels have been put on hold. The craft beer industry depends on innovation to drive growth, and the shutdown has and will prevent craft breweries from introducing new beers to the market. It is hard enough for these craft brewers to operate a business, and the shuttering of TTB is yet another example of how the Administration’s shutdown is making it harder for American business owners,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators requested that the Department provide answers about how many craft brewery requests for TTB action are currently pending as a result of the shutdown, and what plans are for reducing and resolving the backlog.

The beer industry employs more than 28,000 people in Virginia, and contributes more $9.3 billion annually to Virginia’s economy. Virginia is home to 206 licensed breweries, a growth rate of more than 450 percent since 2012, making craft beer an important economic driver for the Commonwealth.

“Breweries in Virginia operate in a supply chain, and the shutdown’s impacts on breweries will resonate up and down the supply chain, negatively impacting the farmers, suppliers, and customers. The shutdown will limit business owners’ investment, hiring, and growth. Virginia is not alone in benefiting from this industry; craft brewing contributes $76.2 billion and more than 500,000 jobs to the U.S. economy,” the Senators told Mnuchin. 

In the letter, Warner and Kaine raised the example of Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria, whose founder Bill Butcher wrote to the Senators earlier this month to say, “We work hard to get ahead of our business and this shutdown wrecks our plans.  If we can’t get our new labels approved in a timely manner, it affects our entire operation, and damages our revenue stream, which relies on new beers in the market... We have spent the closing months of 2018 planning our business out for 2019. This shutdown has made all of this planning work futile.”

A copy of today’s letter is available here, and the text appears below. 

 

The Honorable Steven Mnuchin

Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW 20220

Dear Secretary Mnuchin:

We write to raise concerns with the impact the government shutdown is having on Virginia’s craft brewers. As a result of the funding lapse, The Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) has ceased its review and approval of labeling changes, new recipes, or permits for brewers and distillers. According to various reports, thousands of applications for alcohol labels have been put on hold. The craft beer industry depends on innovation to drive growth, and the shutdown has and will prevent craft breweries from introducing new beers to the market. It is hard enough for these craft brewers to operate a business, and the shuttering of TTB is yet another example of how the Administration’s shutdown is making it harder for American business owners. 

Virginia has seen a surge of economic activity resulting from the growth of craft brewing. According to the Brewers Association, Virginia ranks 13th in the country for the most craft breweries, with well over 100 new breweries opening in the Commonwealth since 2011. Virginia is home to 206 licensed breweries, with the craft beer industry contributing more than $9 billion annually to the Commonwealth’s economy and employing over 28,000 people in production, distribution, and retail. This includes the new Southwest Virginia Mountain Brew Trail, which boasts more than 18 unique breweries and was a product of years of planning by small businesses and local stakeholders. 

We have heard from many breweries, large and small, about the negative impacts the lapse in funding has had on their business. For example, Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria wrote to us about how they spent the closing months of last year mapping out their business plan for 2019, only to have the government shutdown “wreck” months of planning. They are unable to introduce new beers and are awaiting a Small Business Administration loan for new bottling equipment. Port City Brewing Company is one of many breweries that have had their operations damaged by the government shutdown. 

Breweries in Virginia operate in a supply chain, and the shutdown’s impacts on breweries will resonate up and down the supply chain, negatively impacting the farmers, suppliers, and customers. The shutdown will limit business owners’ investment, hiring, and growth. Virginia is not alone in benefiting from this industry; craft brewing contributes $76.2 billion and more than 500,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.

Please let us know how many craft brewery requests for TTB action are pending and your plans to resolve the backlog.  We call on the Administration to end the shutdown and put TTB employees back to work.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) today in urging the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to do everything in its power to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance coverage for federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown. In a letter to OPM, the Senators stood up for the federal employees who risk losing their coverage unless they pay out of pocket for premiums that would usually be deducted from their paychecks. 

“Your guidance to employees has been insufficient and fails to account for the significant financial strain already placed on these employees and their families,” wrote the Senators. “If the status quo persists, you are undoubtedly risking the health and wellness of federal workers, their spouses, and children enrolled in federal vision and dental plans. We have already heard from individuals who are worried about what this will mean for them and their health care needs.”  

“We believe it is unreasonable to expect unpaid employees to take on this financial responsibility,” continued the Senators. “Instead, we ask that you immediately work with federal contractors administering these dental and vision benefits to develop alternative payment arrangements that ensure continuous coverage at no risk of terminated benefits. In addition, we ask that – upon any such agreement – you immediately reissue guidance to employees who are in jeopardy of having their benefits terminated.”

OPM recently announced that many federal employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program will be billed directly for their premiums after the date of their second missed pay period – as soon as this Friday. This notice places additional financial pressure on strained government employees who are already struggling to pay for expenses like childcare and mortgages. 

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

 

January 23, 2019

 

Margaret Weichert

Acting Director

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20415

 

Dear Acting Director Weichert: 

We write today concerning federal employees that may lose their dental and vision health insurance benefits as a result of the government shutdown. As you may know, if the current lapse in government funding continues more than 800,000 federal employees will miss their second pay period. From this time forward – federal employees with dental and vision insurance must also begin to pay their premiums directly to BENEFEDS or risk having their coverage terminated.  

Recent guidance from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to federal employees’ enrolled in the BENEFEDS dental and vision plans states:

“Payroll deductions will cease for any employee that does not receive pay. BENEFEDS will generate a bill to enrollees for premiums when no payment is received for two consecutive pay periods. The enrollee should pay premiums directly billed to him/her on a timely basis to ensure continuation of coverage.”

The above guidance will require federal employees to tap into their savings and pay these costs or risk having their coverage terminated. We are alarmed that unpaid federal employees will be required to incur this additional financial hardship during a time when they can least afford it. This is unacceptable.

Your guidance to employees has been insufficient and fails to account for the significant financial strain already placed on these employees and their families. If the status quo persists, you are undoubtedly risking the health and wellness of federal workers, their spouses, and children enrolled in federal vision and dental plans. We have already heard from individuals who are worried about what this will mean for them and their health care needs. We also understand that certain insurers are willing to allow individuals to continue their coverage without payment, and we encourage OPM to continue to work with all insurers to help members maintain continuity of coverage. 

We believe it is unreasonable to expect unpaid employees to take on this financial responsibility. Instead, we ask that you immediately work with federal contractors administering these dental and vision benefits to develop alternative payment arrangements that ensure continuous coverage at no risk of terminated benefits. In addition, we ask that – upon any such agreement – you immediately reissue guidance to employees who are in jeopardy of having their benefits terminated. 

Thank you for your attention to this letter. If our offices can be further helpful in resolving this matter please do not hesitate to contact us. 

 

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON— Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced legislation to put an end to future government shutdowns and protect federal government workers from being used as pawns in policy negotiations. This bill would keep the government running in the case of a lapse in funding by automatically renewing government funding at the same levels as the previous fiscal year, with adjustments for inflation. The Stop STUPIDITY (Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The Coming Years) Act would fund all aspects of the government except for the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President – effectively forcing Congress and the White House to come to the negotiating table without putting at risk the economy or hurting the American public. 

“The Stop STUPIDITY Act takes the aggressive but necessary step of forcing the President and Congress to do the jobs they were elected to do,” said Sen. Warner. “It is disturbing that the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of workers are at the mercy of dysfunction in Washington. Workers, business owners and tax payers are currently paying the price of D.C. gridlock and my legislation will put an end to that.” 

Sen. Warner has been outspoken on the impact of the Trump Administration’s government shutdown. He recently passed a bill to give back pay to the federal and other government workers who have been affected by the shutdown and introduced legislation to pay back federal contract workers. 

For a copy of the bill text, click here.

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance, Banking, Budget and Rules committees and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today wrote to the heads of several federal Departments raising questions about the Trump Administration’s compliance with the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal agencies from obligating or expending federal funds not appropriated by Congress. Now in its 32nd day, the current shutdown is the longest in American history, and questions are being raised about the seemingly ad hoc way in which the Trump Administration is picking “winners and losers” during the shutdown – determining which employees will be furloughed and which employees will be deemed “excepted,” expected to continue working without pay to keep certain government services operational. 

Previous presidential administrations have applied a narrow interpretation to determine which employees are considered essential during a shutdown, restricting such a designation only to employees whose jobs were necessary to avoid “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

“Government shutdowns are never good, the current one being no exception, and they never produce positive results. Our hard-working federal employees deserve to be paid for their work, and to be paid in a timely manner rather than waiting weeks, months, or even years for a shutdown to end. Rather than finding ways to minimize the impact of the current government shutdown, and straining legal bounds to do so, it is my strong belief that the best way to fix the current situation is to simply end the shutdown,”Sen. Warner wrote to several Trump Administration officials.

Press reports indicate that Department heads under the Trump Administration have taken a questionable and inconsistent approach towards determining what programs will continue to operate under the shutdown:

  • For example, at the Department of the Interior, furloughed employees from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management were recalled after several weeks in order to work on upcoming offshore oil and gas lease sales;
  • During the shutdown, the State Department proceeded with holding a conference for all U.S. chiefs of mission and ambassadors abroad in Washington, D.C. from January 15-18, requiring many State Department employees to work without pay to organize and work at the conference; moreover, the Department recently recalled all furloughed employees in order to carry out the Department's mission without providing additional explanation on how this complied with the Antideficiency Act and why that move was needed to avoid imminent threats to human life or protection of property;
  • More than three weeks after the shutdown began, the Department of Transportation recalled  thousands of employees to perform work such as air-safety checks, and routine activities such as approving new aircraft for commercial carriers’ fleets and new flight routes;
  • At the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS), employees were recalled, reportedly at the behest of the mortgage industry, to conduct income verification checks, and to process tax refunds, even though both activities were initially designed as non-excepted activities under the IRS’s shutdown plans;
  • The Department of Agriculture recalled 2,500 Farm Service Agency employees to help farmers with existing loans and tax paperwork, among other tasks. 

Letters were sent to the InteriorStateTreasuryAgriculture, and Transportation Departments, as well as the IRS

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today issued the following statement:

"President Trump's remarks today failed to acknowledge the pain and suffering he has caused to federal workers, contractors, and millions of Americans with this unnecessary government shutdown, and his rhetoric toward immigrants was inflammatory and unproductive. ?We would be glad to review, starting this week, any proposals he has to responsibly improve and increase border security and provide certainty to TPS recipients and DREAMers. To start this process, we have to immediately reopen the government.”

###?

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter today to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, stressing the importance of sustained funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The lawmakers expressed concern with the agency’s ability to support states and grocery stores, following a decision by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue February SNAP benefits weeks ahead of schedule. The letter also highlights a lack of guidance for recipients who may be forced to go without the assistance if the government shutdown persists beyond the month of February.

USDA has been particularly impacted by the partial government shutdown. Nearly 95 percent of USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) workers have been furloughed, affecting the agency’s ability to run SNAP—a program that 776,000 Virginians rely on to meet their basic nutritional needs. SNAP keeps more than 150,000 Virginians, including 79,000 children, out of poverty every year by granting families and individuals access to nutritious foods.

“Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was taking the unprecedented step of issuing SNAP benefits a month early to ensure that individuals are able to receive their benefits for February. While we are pleased that USDA was able to identify funds to continue SNAP benefits during the shutdown, we are concerned the agency is not providing adequate support to states and grocery retailers, who are dealing with the massive logistical challenge of distributing SNAP benefits weeks earlier than normal,” wrote the Senators. 

The Senators continued, “In addition, we are troubled by the lack of information from USDA about its ability to continue SNAP benefits through March and beyond if this shutdown continues into February… We urge you to provide additional information on other funding options you have at your disposal to continue SNAP payments for March and beyond if the shutdown is not resolved in a timely manner… Given the importance of this program for many of our constituents, we ask that you do all you can to ensure the uninterrupted issuance of SNAP benefits as long as this shutdown continues.”

 

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

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary         

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250 

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

 

We write today concerning the uncertainty surrounding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the ongoing partial federal government shutdown. Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was taking the unprecedented step of issuing SNAP benefits a month early to ensure that individuals are able to receive their benefits for February. While we are pleased that USDA was able to identify funds to continue SNAP benefits during the shutdown, we are concerned the agency is not providing adequate support to states and grocery retailers, who are dealing with the massive logistical challenge of distributing SNAP benefits weeks earlier than normal. In addition, we are troubled by the lack of information from USDA about its ability to continue SNAP benefits through March and beyond if this shutdown continues into February.

Every month, approximately 776,000 Virginians receive SNAP benefits to meet their basic nutritional needs. One out of every eleven Virginians received SNAP benefits in 2017 and almost 70 percent of SNAP participants were households with children. According to Michael McKee, CEO of Virginia’s largest food bank, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, a funding lapse for SNAP will prevent food banks from feeding thousands of Virginians. Currently, SNAP provides about 12 times the amount of food as the nation’s food banks combined. A lapse in SNAP funding would be devastating for the thousands of Virginians that depend on this program each month. Low-income Virginians should not suffer the consequences of this unnecessary shutdown. 

Unfortunately, the ongoing government shutdown has impacted the ability of USDA to carry out this essential program. The Food and Nutrition Service, which processes SNAP benefits, has furloughed nearly 95 percent of its workforce. Even with a fully-staffed agency, it would be a tremendous undertaking for USDA and states to issue SNAP benefits weeks earlier than usual. Given the lack of available staff at USDA, the uniqueness of this situation, and the tight timeline, we are worried about the agency’s ability to support states as they rush to ensure their SNAP recipients receive their February benefits by the January 20th deadline. 

Additionally, we are concerned by USDA’s lack of guidance concerning SNAP benefits after February, should the government shutdown continue into next month. Last year, Congress provided USDA $3 billion for a SNAP contingency fund. While not an insignificant number, this fund would likely not cover a full month of SNAP benefits for current users, considering the average monthly cost of the program is $4.8 billion. This means that the nearly 40 million recipients of SNAP do not know when additional funds will be added to their benefit cards after January 20th. We urge you to provide additional information on other funding options you have at your disposal to continue SNAP payments for March and beyond if the shutdown is not resolved in a timely manner.

Beyond providing Virginians access to healthy and nutritious foods, SNAP is one of Virginia’s best tools to fight poverty. The program keeps more than 150,000 Virginians, including 79,000 children, out of poverty annually. Given the importance of this program for many of our constituents, we ask that you do all you can to ensure the uninterrupted issuance of SNAP benefits as long as this shutdown continues.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, Members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump on the direct and immediate consequences of the shutdown on housing security for more than four million households across the country. Both the short-term operations and long-term viability of affordable housing programs are dependent on Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) rental assistance initiatives. An estimated 2.2 million low-income households are among those at risk of eviction, including housing for thousands of veterans, seniors, and people living with disabilities. 

The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX-33).

“By now, virtually every American has either been hurt by this shutdown, or knows someone who has,” said Sen. Warner. “No one – particularly our most vulnerable citizens – should have to lose their home just so that the President can make a political point. This has to stop now. The President must allow the government to re-open before the damage gets even worse.” 

“Every day that the Trump shutdown continues, more Texas children and families are placed in immediate danger of losing their housing,” said Rep. Veasey. “Public servants and their families should never be faced with eviction from their homes. This must end. That’s why Senator Warner and I urged the President and Secretary Carson to put aside politics and consider the unjust burden on Americans across the country.”

Text of the letter can be found below. PDF of the letter is available here.

 

Dear President Trump:

We write to express our deep concern regarding the harmful impacts the current government shutdown is having on the ability of Americans to afford their homes. This partial shutdown is undermining both the short-term operations and long-term viability of our affordable housing programs that serve over four million Americans, the majority of whom are seniors and people with disabilities living on a fixed income. For the sake of the families whose homes are at stake, we urge you to end the shutdown and protect the American people.

An immediate result of the shutdown is that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been forced to scramble to find funds to renew federal contracts for over 1,100 project-based rental assistance properties, housing tens of thousands of low-income renters, that have expired since the government shutdown began. Additional contracts will expire later in January and February, should the shutdown continue, as HUD does not have funding to renew contracts while the government is shut down. HUD proposes that private owners use their individual funding reserves, where available, to cover shortfalls. The longer the shutdown continues, the more untenable this guidance becomes.

Additionally, the shutdown will delay public housing authorities from receiving funding to help address pressing capital needs, such as fixing boilers and repairing leaking roofs. Funding is also dwindling for grants that support developmental projects and programs in local communities that depend on such funding to serve low-income families. Finally, the lapse in federal funding is curbing economic growth as more Americans are unable to purchase homes due to the Federal Housing Authority’s (FHA) delay in processing loans. 

The American people should not be used as leverage, or be held hostage, to fulfill a political agenda. The longer we extend the shutdown, the more harm will be done to seniors, families with children, people with disabilities, and other Americans who rely on these programs. We urge you to end this shutdown and provide immediate relief to Americans being impacted by this funding crisis. In these times of uncertainty and tension, we must continue to prioritize the American people. We owe it to the people we serve to choose their best interest over politics.

 

###

WASHINGTON – Following inquiries by Virginia and Maryland’s Senators, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) disclosed today that it is losing, on average, $400,000 each weekday during the government shutdown. In response, the Senators issued the following statement:

“At a time when Metro already is undertaking substantial, disruptive projects to improve safety and reliability, President Trump’s shutdown is jeopardizing the health and stability of the entire Metro system. This wasteful, destructive shutdown must come to an end.” 

On Friday, Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), wrote to WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld, seeking information on the impact that the partial government shutdown has had on WMATA’s transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, financial position, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.  

In response, the Senators received a letter tonight from Wiedefeld detailing the multiple ways in which President Trump’s government shutdown is harming WMATA’s safety and finances:

  • According to Wiedefeld, “Our preliminary analysis estimates that for an average weekday when the government is closed, Metro is losing approximately $400,000 in fare and revenue.”
  • Additionally, the shutdown is putting $638 million in federal transit funding in jeopardy. If a prolonged shutdown of the Department of Transportation leads to delays in certifying the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) by the April 15, 2019 statutory deadline, “the [Federal Transit Administration] indicates that it would be prohibited by law from issuing a total of $638 million in FY2019 federal transit funding to all transit providers across the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia,” according to the letter.
  • As of January 10, the federal government owes Metro $33 million in unreimbursed expenses as a result of the shutdown. That number is expected to grow to $50 million by the end of this month.
  • Other federal funding sources are also on hold, including a $20 million BUILD grant that Metro was awarded last year, and $15 million in grant revisions that are awaiting FTA review. According to Wiedefeld, “If the federal shutdown continues for an extended period, Metro will be forced to either turn to its Line of Credit (LOC) to support the Capital program, incurring additional costs, or defer important state-of-good-repair projects, which could undermine our recent reliability gains.”
  • The combined shutdowns of the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service means environmental review work for a number of planned projects has also been delayed.

A copy of Wiedefeld’s full response to the Senators is available here.

 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in introducing legislation to secure back pay for the federal contractor service employees who continue to go without pay during the government shutdown. The bill—the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act—aims to help low-wage federal contractor employees—including janitorial, food, and security services workers—who have been furloughed or forced to accept reduced work hours as a result of the government shutdown. 

“Thousands of people across the Commonwealth are out of a job right now because of President Trump’s unnecessary, destructive shutdown. Right now many low- and middle-wage federal contractors – whose paychecks often depend on the number of hours they work – are worrying about how they’ll afford to keep the lights on or pay their rent. Congress has already passed legislation to secure back pay for federal workers. Federal contractors – especially those who are already working paycheck to paycheck – deserve some peace of mind too. This important bill will ensure that federal service contractors, who work side-by-side with federal employees, get the pay they missed out on because of President Trump’s reckless shutdown,” Warner said

“Just like federal employees, federal contractors work hard to keep our government running. So many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and this painful shutdown has meant that many of them can't afford to pay their bills. This legislation is an effort to ensure that these contractors who have been denied pay during a shutdown they had no role in causing receive the pay they deserve,” Kaine said.

The Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act would provide financial relief for eligible federal service contractors missing pay during the shutdown by:

  • Completely replacing missed wages for workers making less than $50,200 per year (twice the poverty level for a family of four.)
  • Compensating workers earning more than $50,200 per year up to the $50,200 threshold ($965 per week.)
  • Restoring paid leave for workers who were required by the contractor to use it.

The bill appropriates funding for federal agencies to adjust the price accordingly of any contracts impacted by the shutdown. By building on existing contract review and approval processes, the bill provides financial relief for lower-wage workers without creating new administrative or financial burdens for contractors. Eligible employees include those covered under the Service Contract Act (which governs federal service contracts) and the Davis-Bacon Act (which governs federally-funded construction projects). Although the Service Contract Act does not apply to “executive, administrative, or professional” employees, they would be eligible for back pay under the bill.

The bill is also supported by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

 

Read a summary of the bill HERE.


###

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a bicameral letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in support of the National Park Service’s (NPS) grant application to secure $54 million in funding to repair more than 11 miles of the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown, Va. 

The Colonial Parkway is a major commuting route that connects Virginia’s Historic Triangle: Historic Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield. In some sections of the Parkway, more than four million vehicles travel across the Eastern Virginia route a year. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the Parkway is predicted to see a traffic increase of nearly 50 percent over the next 20 years.

The grant application, under the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) Program at the Department of Transportation (DOT), would help repair this stretch of highway, while addressing a substantial portion of Colonial National Historical Park’s $420 million deferred maintenance backlog.

“The Park Service’s proposed project along the Colonial Parkway will address significant safety and flooding concerns, preserve and improve access to historical sites like Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield, and extend the useful life of the Parkway by more than 40 years. If funded, the project will replace deteriorated concrete roadway slabs, rehabilitate deficient drainage systems, and stabilize roadway embankments along the York River. In addition, the proposed project on the Colonial Parkway would address a significant portion of Colonial National Historical Park’s $420 million deferred maintenance backlog,” wrote the Members of Congress.

“The views along the Colonial Parkway continue to inspire, but the Parkway, designed and built between 1931 and 1957, is in desperate need of repair. The 50-year old design life expires a generation ago for much of the Parkway. Significant rehabilitation and reconstruction are essential to preserve this scenic and historic drive for generations to come. This proposed project will help maintain this historic Parkway as an icon of the Park Service’s road network and as a primary visitor experience linking major historic sites of the Colonial National Historical Park,”they concluded.

 

Sen. Warner was joined on the letter by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (VA-2).

 

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

 

The Honorable Elaine Chao

Secretary

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590-0001

 

 

Dear Secretary Chao,

 

We write today in support of the National Park Service’s application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Nationally Significant Federal Land and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) Program seeking funding to rehabilitate a portion of the Colonial Parkway at Colonial National Historical Park (COLO). If approved, the project will restore an 11.8-mile section of the Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia.

Completed in 1957, the Colonial Parkway is a 23-mile scenic roadway that extends from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown. The Parkway connects Virginia’s Historic Triangle: Historic Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefields – three of the most historically significant sites in our county. In addition to linking these historic sites, the Parkway has become an important local commuter route in Eastern Virginia; some sections carry over four million vehicles per year and the Federal Highway Administration predicts a traffic increase of nearly 50 percent over the next 20 years. 

The Park Service’s proposed project along the Colonial Parkway will address significant safety and flooding concerns, preserve and improve access to historical sites like Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield, and extend the useful life of the Parkway by more than 40 years. If funded, the project will replace deteriorated concrete roadway slabs, rehabilitate deficient drainage systems, and stabilize roadway embankments along the York River. In addition, the proposed project on the Colonial Parkway would address a significant portion of Colonial National Historical Park’s $420 million deferred maintenance backlog.

The views along the Colonial Parkway continue to inspire, but the Parkway, designed and built between 1931 and 1957, is in desperate need of repair. The 50-year design life expired a generation ago for much of the Parkway. Significant rehabilitation and reconstruction are essential to preserve this scenic and historic drive for generations to come. This proposed project will help maintain this historic Parkway as an icon of the Park Service’s road network and as a primary visitor experience linking major historic sites of the Colonial National Historical Park. 

We understand the NSFLTP grant program is highly competitive and we appreciate your consideration of this project. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about our request

Thank you again for your consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led a letter with U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) to President Trump urging him to meet with federal workers suffering from the impacts of the shutdown. 

The Senators write, “We are writing to ask that you meet with some of the federal civil servants who are either working without pay or locked out of their job as a result of the government shutdown. We believe that you would benefit from listening to their stories.”

They continue, “When asked about the situation facing federal workers, you said, ‘I can relate. I'm sure the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do.’ Some federal workers – like millions of Americans – live paycheck-to-paycheck. According to the Federal Reserve, 40% of Americans cannot pull together $400 for an emergency, without going into debt or selling something. Speaking with some of the workers who cannot afford to miss a paycheck may help you better relate to the adjustments you expect them to make for your shutdown.”

The Senators closed the letter stating, “You already met a few carefully handpicked federal workers who support your position of shutting down the government to demand taxpayer dollars for a border wall. But the vast majority of federal workers oppose your shutdown, and we hope you will listen to them as well. Most of all, we hope that you will swiftly end this unnecessary and damaging shutdown.”

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

 

Dear President Trump: 

We are writing to ask that you meet with some of the federal civil servants who are either working without pay or locked out of their job as a result of the government shutdown. We believe that you would benefit from listening to their stories. 

You have said that you are, “proud to shut down the government.” Earlier, you tweeted about the need for a “good shutdown.” We have spoken to federal workers who will not be able to afford to keep their home, purchase their medication, or put money in their child’s school lunch account if this shutdown continues. These civil servants are proud of their jobs, and this government shutdown is preventing them from doing important work for the American people. If you heard directly from them, it would be clear that there is no such thing as a good government shutdown.

When asked about the situation facing federal workers, you said, “I can relate. I'm sure the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do.” Some federal workers – like millions of Americans – live paycheck-to-paycheck. According to the Federal Reserve, 40% of Americans cannot pull together $400 for an emergency, without going into debt or selling something. Speaking with some of the workers who cannot afford to miss a paycheck may help you better relate to the adjustments you expect them to make for your shutdown.

You already met a few carefully handpicked federal workers who support your position of shutting down the government to demand taxpayer dollars for a border wall. But the vast majority of federal workers oppose your shutdown, and we hope you will listen to them as well. Most of all, we hope that you will swiftly end this unnecessary and damaging shutdown.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined 32 colleagues in writing to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb asking how the government shutdown has impacted the FDA and its work to protect public health. Warner and Kaine wrote out of concern about how the shutdown’s effects on the FDA could harm Virginians.

“The shutdown has severely limited federal oversight of the nation’s food supply and medical products and may result in slower approvals for drugs and devices. While we appreciate the efforts of the agency and the tireless work of your staff to help mitigate the impact of the shutdown on the public health, we remain deeply concerned about the halt of vital regulatory and compliance activities at FDA. FDA plays a crucial role in ensuring the health and safety of families across the country, and it’s important we fully understand how the ongoing shutdown has impacted its ability to fulfill that role,” the Senators wrote

The Senators expressed concern that the shutdown may jeopardize the agency’s ability to detect and address preventable food safety issues and create a backlog in the approval process for innovative prescription drugs, generic drugs, and medical devices.  

Senators Warner and Kaine have been outspoken against President Trump’s use of a government shutdown as a negotiating tactic. Warner and Kaine have called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on a House-passed spending bill that would reopen the government and allow hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors to go back to work and get paid.

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

 

 


January 11, 2019

The Honorable Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Commissioner

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

10903 New Hampshire Avenue

Silver Spring, Maryland 20993

 

Dear Commissioner Gottlieb:

We are writing to request information regarding the effect of the partial federal government shutdown on the operations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This shutdown will be, as of midnight, the longest in U.S. history and is hampering your agency’s critical role in protecting the public health. The shutdown has severely limited federal oversight of the nation’s food supply and medical products and may result in slower approvals for drugs and devices. While we appreciate the efforts of the agency and the tireless work of your staff to help mitigate the impact of the shutdown on the public health, we remain deeply concerned about the halt of vital regulatory and compliance activities at FDA. FDA plays a crucial role in ensuring the health and safety of families across the country, and it’s important we fully understand how the ongoing shutdown has impacted its ability to fulfill that role. 

While FDA has helped ensure that our nation has one of the safest food supplies in the world, foodborne disease results in 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths the United States each year.[1] The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), enacted in January 2011, provided FDA with new enforcement authorities to work towards reducing those numbers and preventing future food safety problems.[2] In 2018 alone, there were two major, multistate outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7; the first resulted in 210 illnesses, 96 hospitalizations, and five deaths across 36 states, and the second resulted in 62 illnesses and 25 hospitalizations across 16 states and the District of Columbia.[3] 

However, during the shutdown, FDA’s inspectorate is unable to conduct any activities deemed non-critical, resulting in diminished oversight of many foreign and domestic food facilities. As the shutdown enters its fourth week, we are concerned that the agency will soon be unable to determine which food facilities pose an “imminent threat to health and life.”[4] Though FDA is able to use appropriated funds to support high-risk food recalls when products endanger consumers and patients, and respond to any outbreaks related to foodborne illness during the shutdown, we are concerned about the agency’s ability to detect and address otherwise preventable food safety issues before they occur. FDA field staff have voiced fears about immediate threats to health and safety as a result of the shutdown, including a consumer safety officer in FDA’s Stoneham, Massachusetts, office:  "When you go out to a restaurant or a grocery store, the American public trusts it. There is a higher risk of injury or death in a potentially very, very serious way."[5]           

We are also concerned about the effects of the shutdown on the agency’s medical product review process. During the shutdown, FDA is legally prohibited from accepting new submissions that require industry user fee payments,[6] which support the review and approval of applications for innovative new prescription drugs, generic drugs, and medical devices.[7] As a result, the agency will likely receive a large influx of applications from drug and device makers following the conclusion of the shutdown, requiring the agency to triage review activities and probably causing a backlog in the approval process. 

Although FDA is currently able to support ongoing medical product review processes with carryover user fee funding from Fiscal Year (FY) 2018,[8] the agency estimates the FY 2018 balances for these programs will run out if the shutdown continues. The first user fee program anticipated to burn through carryover funding is the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) program, which funds the review of new drugs. As of January 7, PDUFA has about one month of funding remaining in the FY 2018 balance, while the remaining user fee programs were estimated to have between one and two months of funding left.[9] Should the remaining FY 2018 balance for these programs expire, the vast majority of FDA’s ongoing product review functions will cease to continue, and user fee-funded employees (just under half of the agency) would no longer be paid.  

Given that, due to the shutdown, FDA is currently unable to perform essential regulatory and compliance activities, we want to ensure the agency is doing everything it can to fulfill its critical public health mission at this time. In order to better understand the impact of the shutdown on public health and FDA staff, and in light of the fact that President Trump has indicated he is willing to continue the government shutdown for months or years, we request answers to the following questions by January 18th:

 

1.      How has the agency scaled back food and medical product lab analysis, surveillance, and inspection activities during the shutdown?

2.      Which inspections of domestic food facilities does the agency plan to reinstate in the coming days, and what percentage of the currently ceased inspectional activities will be reinstated prior to the end of the shutdown?

3.      Please provide a detailed overview of the increase in anticipated backlog of applications for new medical products at this time, and for each additional week of the shutdown, including, to the agency’s best estimates, when normal functionality can be expected to resume. 

4.      Please provide an update on remaining FY 2018 carryover funds, and their anticipated burn rate, for user-fee funded programs, including prescription drug, generic drug, tobacco product, animal drug, biosimilar, and medical device review activities. 

5.      Please provide an update on the status of the guidance you released to FDA’s field force investigators and any additional steps FDA plans to take to mitigate financial burdens incurred by the inspectorate as a result of the shutdown. 

6.      What are FDA’s plans to address financial hardship sustained by excepted and furloughed employees as a result of the shutdown? Is FDA aware of any employees that have left the agency as a result of the shutdown?  

7.      How will the freeze on unfunded employee recruitment activities and new employee onboarding affect your strategic hiring plan for the agency?

8.      Please detail any delays in normal operations that you anticipate to occur once the shutdown is over. Will FDA be able to immediately resume all suspended activities upon receiving full funding for FY 2019?

 

We recognize FDA’s efforts to mitigate the impact of this government shutdown on the public health and its employees. However, we remain alarmed that the continued shutdown will result in increasingly harmful effects on the agency’s employees and the safety and security of the nation’s food and medical products. 

Thank you for your immediate attention to this important issue. If you have any questions, please contact Katlin McKelvie Backfield of the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions at (202) 224-7675.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

 



[1] https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/estimates-overview.html

[2] https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm239907.htm

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2018/o157h7-04-18/index.htmlhttps://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2018/o157h7-11-18/index.html

[4] https://twitter.com/SGottliebFDA/status/1076329985143640064

[5] https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/08/health/fda-employee-concerns-shutdown/index.html

[6] https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/WorkingatFDA/ucm629100.htm

[7] https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R44576

[8] https://twitter.com/SGottliebFDA/status/1080632053220233216

[9] https://twitter.com/SGottliebFDA/status/1082441112005066755

 

 

WASHINGTON – Today Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), wrote a letter to Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), seeking information on the impact that the partial government shutdown has had on WMATA’s transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, financial position, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.  

WMATA “serves a unique national security role, providing transportation for federal employees traveling to and from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security and ensuring continuity of federal operations during an emergency,” wrote the Senators. “Thus, it is critical that WMATA systems and services continue to serve riders in the nation’s capital.” 

In recent years, Metro’s investments to reverse declining ridership numbers have highlighted the extent to which transit systems depend on robust ridership to succeed. Federal employees currently make up about 40 percent of WMATA’s peak hour ridership. However, a government shutdown can adversely affect the transit system’s ridership and overall financial stance.

“During the October 2013 shutdown, the Metro system experienced a 22 percent decrease in ridership, or a decline of 1.7 million trips.  According to a 2015 report, ridership during that shutdown dropped nearly 50% at stations near federal facilities.  The shutdown not only affected ridership, but also put the WMATA long-term operations at risk,” continued the Senators.“The 16-day shutdown, according to the agency, resulted in a loss of $5.5 million in revenue and funding was delayed as the federal appropriation process was halted.”  

To gauge the impact of the shutdown’s effects, the lawmakers requested data on changes in ridership and asked how a decline could affect the WMATA’s financial situation in the long-term and short-term. They also solicited information on any lapses in federal funding and possible contingency plans. Additionally, the lawmakers asked for the details of any halted infrastructure or capital improvement projects, as well as specifics on how the WMATA’s credit rating could be weakened if the shutdown continues. According to recent reports, large and mid-sized transit agencies across the country have already tapped into their lines of credit to make payment obligations to their vendors and Moody’s has warned that a prolonged shutdown could negatively impact the credit ratings of mass transit systems.

The four lawmakers reassured Wiedefeld that they are actively working to reopen the government. Earlier today, Sens. Warner and Kaine met in Alexandria with federal workers and families who have been hurt by the ongoing government shutdown.  

 

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

 

January 11, 2019

 

Mr. Paul J. Wiedefeld

General Manager & CEO

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

600 5th Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20001

 

Dear Mr. Wiedefeld, 

We write seeking information about the effects the current partial government shutdown has had – and the effects a prolonged shutdown could have – on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.

In recent years, WMATA has undertaken actions to prioritize safety, often through substantial rehabilitative projects that have caused significant disruption to the system. Metro’s recent investments to reverse declining ridership underscore the extent to which a functional and sustainable transit system depends upon robust ridership to succeed.

We have also seen that events outside the control of WMATA, such as a federal government shutdown, can adversely impact ridership and a transit system’s overall financial outlook. During the October 2013 shutdown, the Metro system experienced a 22 percent decrease in ridership, or a decline of 1.7 million trips.  According to a 2015 report, ridership during that shutdown dropped nearly 50% at stations near federal facilities.  The shutdown not only affected ridership, but also put the WMATA long-term operations at risk. The 16-day shutdown, according to the agency, resulted in a loss of $5.5 million in revenue and funding was delayed as the federal appropriation process was halted. 

Federal employees comprise approximately 40 percent of WMATA’s peak hour ridership, and during the current shutdown, many government employees continue to carry out their duties and rely on WMATA to do so. WMATA also serves a unique national security role, providing transportation for federal employees traveling to and from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security and ensuring continuity of federal operations during an emergency. Thus, it is critical that WMATA systems and services continue to serve riders in the nation’s capital.

To understand how WMATA and its transit systems have been affected by the government shutdown and to prevent the negative impacts displayed during the 2013 shutdown, please provide us with the following information by January 15, 2019:

 

1.      Data on changes in ridership, both rail and bus operations, during the government shutdown. Has there been a decline in ridership from the same period in prior years, or from the period immediately preceding the shutdown? 

2.      Assuming there has been a decline in ridership during the shutdown, can you provide information on how that decline will affect WMATA’s financial situation, both in the short-term and the long-term? For example, what is the current (or estimated) loss in revenue? What would be the estimated revenue losses if the shutdown lasts a full month, or if it lasts two months? What other financial, safety or operational impacts would result from a prolonged and substantial decline in ridership brought on by the government shutdown? 

3.      Given that WMATA receives federal funding to help run its transportation network, can you detail any lapses in funding that have occurred due to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration being shut down? Can you provide information on what funding may be at risk if the shutdown continues for a full month or even two? What contingency plans does WMATA have in place to address a lapse in expected funding?

4.      Please confirm if any planned infrastructure and capital improvement projects have been stalled or halted during the shutdown. What are the expected effects of the delay in starting and finishing these projects? 

5.      It has recently been reported that Moody’s believes a prolonged shutdown could negatively impact the credit ratings of the nation’s public transit systems, noting that the shutdown has already “interrupted an important source of operating, capital and debt-service funding.”  These interruptions, in turn, could lead to higher debt service costs and delays in numerous capital improvement projects. Can you provide information on how WMATA’s credit rating could be impacted if the government shutdown continues for a prolonged period of time? What effects would a credit downgrade have on WMATA’s overall financial position, capital construction plans and operational capacity? 

Please trust that all four of us are doing everything we can to support the federal workforce, re-open the government, and get back to working towards improving the lives of all Americans. We ask for answers to the above questions as soon as possible so that we better understand the impacts of the shutdown on the vital transportation networks that serve our constituents, and so we can continue to highlight all of the numerous reasons that the federal government should be re-opened. 

 

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined 32 colleagues in writing to the Trump Administration urging them to direct federal agencies to work with contractors to pay low- and middle-income employees for the wages they have lost during the shutdown. The Senators point out that federal contracting officers typically have existing authority that allows them to modify the terms of contracts, and they are encouraging them to do so.  

The Senators write, “Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause. Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues.”

They continue, “After past shutdowns, contractor employees have generally not received back pay. In addition to our fight to protect federal workers who are being hurt by this shutdown, we are committed to righting this wrong for contractor employees.”

The Senators close the letter, writing, “We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that contractor employees get the back pay that they deserve by providing clear directions for agencies and contractors to do so.”

In addition to Warner and Kaine, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Doug Jones (D-AL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Christopher A. Coons (D-DE), and Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT).

The text of the letter is available below and here.

 

Dear Mr. Vought:

We are writing to urge you to direct federal agencies to work with contractors to provide back pay to compensate low- and middle-income contractor employees for the wages they have lost as a result of not being able to report to work during this government shutdown.

Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause. Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues.

After past shutdowns, contractor employees have generally not received back pay. In addition to our fight to protect federal workers who are being hurt by this shutdown, we are committed to righting this wrong for contractor employees. Government contracts typically have provisions to modify the terms of the contract. Federal contracting officers should use these provisions to work with contractors to provide back pay for employees who lost wages as a result of the government shutdown.

Providing back pay to these low- and middle-income contractor employees who are furloughed by their employers is the right thing to do, and it is in the federal government's best interest to provide funding to the extent necessary to ensure that contractors deliver back pay to their workers. Contractor employees cannot afford the chaos and uncertainty of government shutdowns, and some of these workers may seek other jobs if back pay is not provided to compensate for shutdown-related losses. 

Most of all, this wasteful and destructive government shutdown must come to an end. We all support the legislation passed by the House of Representatives to reopen the government, which mirrors legislation that previously passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. 

We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that contractor employees get the back pay that they deserve by providing clear directions for agencies and contractors to do so.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

ASHINGTON – Twenty days into the federal government shutdown, the Senate has passed by unanimous consent a bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and three dozen senators to ensure federal and other government workers who have been impacted by the current federal government shutdown will receive their back pay. The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act stipulates that all employees shall be paid as soon as possible after the lapse in appropriations ends – this includes those forced to work without pay and those locked out of their jobs during the shutdown. The bill also clarifies that excepted employees who have scheduled previously approved leave occurring during an appropriations lapse may indeed take that leave without undue penalty.  It also clarifies that its provisions also apply to employees of the District of Columbia (DC) Government, D.C. Courts, and D.C. Public Defenders Service, who are also affected by federal government shutdowns. 

“On the eve of the first missed payday, the Senate has acted to make sure that federal employees get paid just as soon as the government reopens for business,” said Senator Warner. “I expect that the Democratic House will take up and pass this legislation in short order. Our federal workforce – Americans who dedicate their lives to serving this country – shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of this unnecessary shutdown. The President must allow the government to re-open for business immediately.”

“Yesterday I alerted both caucuses that I would object to Senators leaving for the weekend while 800,000 federal employees were on the cusp of losing out on pay Friday,” Senator Kaine said. “I am thankful that as a result we were able to engage in a discussion that will give those employees some measure of comfort that they will receive their paychecks when the shutdown is over. This is not the same thing as knowing when the shutdown will be over, or receiving their paychecks on time, but it is the right thing to do for us to show these hard working Americans we’re there for them.” 

“Federal workers are dedicated public servants who shouldn’t continue to suffer – working dangerous jobs without knowing when their next paycheck may come, or being forcibly furloughed and unable to carry out their mission – because of the government shutdown. Passage of our bill may not answer the question of when a paycheck will come, but it will guarantee that a paycheck will come when this shutdown finally ends,” said Senator Cardin. “We need to reopen the government immediately. Until we do, passage of our bill should be a sign of good faith and respect for federal workers, as well as a sign to creditors that our public servants will be made financially whole again. The House of Representatives should pass this legislation quickly and send it to the president, who has said he would sign it into law.”

“For three weeks, I’ve heard from the federal workers that I represent who are worried about how they will make ends meet if this shutdown continues. These hardworking men and women have nothing to do with the political gamesmanship that led to the Trump Shutdown, but they’ve had to pay the price,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen. “Today, the Senate has passed our legislation on a bipartisan basis to provide our federal workforce with the much-needed certainty that they will receive their paycheck when the shutdown ends. But they shouldn’t be without a paycheck at all – they should be at work. Now, we must work together to end this crisis and reopen the government without delay.”

“The partial government shutdown represents a failure to govern and harms not only those who need to interact with the closed agencies, but also hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families who don’t know when they will receive their next paycheck,” said Senator Collins.  “Civil servants bring dedication, competence, and experience to their work, and I appreciate all that they do for our government and our nation.  Our legislation would guarantee that they are paid retroactively as soon as appropriations are restored.  I am also continuing to discuss with the White House and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle ways to bring an end to the shutdown as quickly as possible so that furloughed federal employees can return to work.” 

Additional cosponsors of the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act are: Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Angus King (I-Maine), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

 

 

###

 

 

Washington – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to introduce the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act, legislation that would protect federal workers and their families from foreclosures, evictions, and loan defaults during a government shutdown. 

“With each day that passes during President Trump’s shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are worrying about how they will pay for their bills even though their paychecks have stopped coming in,” said Sen. Warner. “This important legislation ensures that federal workers don’t face repercussions for making the hard choice between paying for basic necessities and paying their student loans. This unnecessary shutdown is already hurting federal workers, they don’t need additional hardships that could impact their financial future.”

The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act addresses the real threat of federal workers losing their homes, falling behind on student loans and other bills, having their car repossessed, or losing their health insurance because they have been furloughed during a shutdown or required to work without pay. Modeled after the Servicemembers Relief Act, the legislation will prohibit landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors who are hurt by the government shutdown and unable to pay rent or repay loans. The bill would also empower federal workers to sue creditors or landlords that violate this protection. The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act would safeguard workers impacted by a shutdown from the following:

  • Being evicted or foreclosed;
  • Having their car or other property repossessed;
  • Falling behind in student loan payments;
  • Falling behind in paying bills; or
  • Losing their insurance because of missed premiums.

The protection would last during and 30 days following a shutdown to give workers a chance to keep up with their bills. The partial government shutdown, now in its third week, hurts hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors. Virginia alone is home to more than 170,000 federal workers.

Additional cosponsors of the bill include U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

The Federal Employee Civil Act has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA). 

 

###

 

WASHINGTON — Last night, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sent a letter to their Democratic colleagues urging them to refuse to conduct business as usual on the floor of the Senate this week. They argue that the first vote we take this year should be to end the government shutdown.

“We write to urge you to join us in voting against the motion to proceed on Tuesday evening because the Senate should vote on the House-passed Appropriations bills as its first order of business. We must restore services to the American people and address the plight of the more than 800,000 federal employees who are being denied pay and facing mounting bills,” the Senators wrote.

They added, “The New Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives did their job and made opening the entire government the first order of business when they passed two measures to achieve that goal. Republican Leader McConnell should immediately bring those bills to a vote in the Senate. The Republican Caucus must not be allowed to contract out their constitutional responsibilities as a separate branch of government to President Trump. They have the power to immediately schedule a vote on the House-passed bills and should make that, or another agreement to end the shutdown, the first order of business.”

 

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

 

Dear Colleague,

 

We write to urge you to join us in voting against the motion to proceed on Tuesday evening because the Senate should vote on the House-passed Appropriations bills as its first order of business. We must restore services to the American people and address the plight of the more than 800,000 federal employees who are being denied pay and facing mounting bills. Our position is strongly backed by the unions that represent federal employees, as well as a growing chorus of grassroots organizations who agree it would be wrong for the Senate to postpone action to reopen the government while one-quarter of the federal government is shut down and hard-working public servants are not being paid. 

The shutdown is now over two weeks old with no end in sight. In addition to the more than 450,000 federal employees working without pay to protect our nation, keep our air and waters secure, and patrol our borders and 380,000 furloughed workers wondering if and when their next paycheck will come, everyday Americans are feeling the pain of the government shutdown. More than 30 million small businesses lack access to federally-assisted loans, farmers preparing for the spring planting season are unable to reach Farm Service Agency support, and thousands of people trying to buy a new home with an FHA-insured mortgage are on hold indefinitely. Progress on CDBG grants is stalled, local businesses that rely on tourism from national parks are losing money every day, and the vast majority of IRS staff is furloughed, putting timely receipt of tax returns in jeopardy. 

We have also seen tragic consequences from this shutdown. The Trump Administration has decided to leave some national parks open with limited staff, and three people, including a 14-year-old girl, have died in accidents since the shutdown began. 

The New Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives did their job and made opening the entire government the first order of business when they passed two measures to achieve that goal. Republican Leader McConnell should immediately bring those bills to a vote in the Senate. The Republican Caucus must not be allowed to contract out their constitutional responsibilities as a separate branch of government to President Trump. They have the power to immediately schedule a vote on the House-passed bills and should make that, or another agreement to end the shutdown, the first order of business.

We also encourage you to continue to highlight the plight of federal employees trying to make ends meet, telling the stories of small business contractors and contract service workers who are being hard hit, and broadcasting the mounting harm to delivery of public services. The federal employee and contractor unions stand ready to assist your offices in developing these events around those issues.

We urge you to join us — and a growing number of grassroots organizations —in taking this position. The Senate should vote on the House-passed Appropriations bills as its first order of business. 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking how Virginia taxpayers will be affected by the government shutdown, which has left the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) short-staffed and potentially underprepared for the beginning of the 2019 tax-filing season.

Funding for the IRS lapsed on December 22, 2018, leaving the agency to function on a contingency plan that provides some flexibility on operations during the first five days of a government shutdown. Now in the 17th day and nearing the 2019 tax-filing season that begins on January 29th, Sens. Warner and Kaine are asking for answers on how the IRS would accept and process tax returns, issue refunds, and address taxpayer correspondence.

“According to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Lapse Appropriations Contingency Plan, only 12.5 percent of the IRS’s workforce is authorized to work during a shutdown during a non-filing season and as a result, we understand the Treasury Department has furloughed roughly 70,000 IRS civil servants. While the contingency plan includes some flexibility in determining how the Department can respond to a lapse in government funding that continues beyond five business days, the issue of tax refunds is considered a ‘non-excepted activity,’ meaning that the funding lapse has led the IRS to stop issuing tax refunds in addition to other needed taxpayer services,” wrote the Senators.

Many hardworking families are counting on their tax refunds to catch up on bills or pay down their debt. However, with the IRS short-staffed during the government shutdown, many Virginia families are at risk of receiving a delayed return that could impact their personal finances. 

“The lapse in government funding has and will continue to pose other problems for taxpayers. Reports indicate many Americans are experiencing delays in financing or refinancing mortgages and other loans because of lenders inability to obtain tax transcripts to verify incomes for loans,” continued the Senators. “The American people deserve clarity during these uncertain times, particularly as it relates to their ability to afford their basic needs.”

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been outspoken against President Trump’s use of a government shutdown as a negotiating tactic. Sens. Warner and Kaine have called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on a House-passed spending bill that would reopen the government and allow hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors to go back to work.

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

 

The Honorable Steven T. Mnuchin

Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20220

 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin: 

We write to raise concerns with the impact the government shutdown will have on the Department of the Treasury, its employees, and American taxpayers. According to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Lapse Appropriations Contingency Plan, only 12.5 percent of the IRS’s workforce is authorized to work during a shutdown during a non-filing season and as a result, we understand the Treasury Department has furloughed roughly 70,000 IRS civil servants. While the contingency plan includes some flexibility in determining how the Department can respond to a lapse in government funding that continues beyond five business days, the issue of tax refunds is considered a “non-excepted activity,” meaning that the funding lapse has led the IRS to stop issuing tax refunds in addition to other needed taxpayer services. 

According to IRS data through April 2018, the IRS processed over 130 million individual tax returns and issued close to 100 million refunds that totaled $275 billion. The average refund during that period was close to $2,800. This money is vitally important for American families and their ability to pay for their basic needs. A delay in refunds would cause hardship, particularly to those American workers and families who live paycheck to paycheck. By this time last year, the IRS had announced the beginning of the 2018 Tax Filing Season, informing taxpayers it would begin accepting tax returns on January 29, 2018. A delay in the announcement or opening of the tax filing season could adversely affect taxpayers and their ability to receive their tax refund on time.  

The lapse in government funding has and will continue to pose other problems for taxpayers. Reports indicate many Americans are experiencing delays in financing or refinancing mortgages and other loans because of lenders’ inability to obtain tax transcripts to verify incomes for loans. To understand how the Department and the IRS will serve American taxpayers now that we have passed the first five business days laid out by the IRS’s contingency plan, please provide us with the following information by January 11, 2019: 

  1. The date when the IRS will begin accepting tax returns for 2019. If the tax filing season opens later than last year—on January 29, 2019—please explain the delay and whether the lapse in government funding played a role.
  2. Please confirm whether the IRS will reevaluate its contingency plan and issue federal tax refunds at any time during the government shutdown. If so, please provide the anticipated date when the IRS will begin issuing refunds.
  3.  Please confirm if the IRS has a filing season contingency plan for Fiscal Year 2019. If not, please provide a date when the IRS expects to have finalized such a plan.
  4. A list of all IRS functions that have stopped or been reduced during the lapse in funding. Please indicate the percentage of the reduction if IRS functions have been reduced.

The American people deserve clarity during these uncertain times, particularly as it relates to their ability to afford their basic needs. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

 

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