Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $8,978,420 in federal funding to help Virginians access affordable housing across the Commonwealth. The funding was awarded through the Housing Choice Voucher Program and authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Warner and Kaine.

“As housing insecurity continues to rise for many Virginians, now more than ever, Congress needs to offer critical assistance to those in need,” the Senators said. “We’re pleased to announce these federal funds that will go directly towards supporting some of the most vulnerable communities right now.”  

Through the CARES Act, Congress provided $1.25 billion for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, which funds the Housing Choice Voucher program that helps lower-income families, the elderly, and disabled individuals afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing. This funding includes $400 million for increased subsidy costs and $850 million for administrative and other expenses incurred by public housing authorities (PHAs), including activities to support or maintain the health and safety of assisted individuals and families, and costs related to retention and support of participating owners.

The funding will be awarded as below:

Recipient                                                                                          City                            Amount

Abingdon Redevelopment and Housing Authority                                 Abingdon                  14,067

Accomack-Northampton Regional Housing Authority                            Accomack                  70,053

Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                  Alexandria                384,750

Arlington County Dept. of Human Services                                         Arlington                   382,489

Big Stone Gap Redevelopment and Housing Auth.                               Big Stone Gap           14,895

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                        Bristol                       44,015

Buckingham Housing Development Corp. Inc.                                     New Canton              12,112

Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority                             Charlottesville           60,969

Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                Chesapeake              273,293

County of Albemarle/Office of Housing                                               Charlottesville           68,308

Covington Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                   Covington                 6,188

Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                      Danville                    202,837

Fairfax County Redevelopment & Housing Authority                             Fairfax                      1,343,712

Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority                                   Franklin                     39,053

Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                    Hampton                   546,358

Harrisonburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority                              Harrisonburg              118,122

Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                   Hopewell                    83,304

James City County Office of Housing                                                 Williamsburg               26,718

Lee County Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                 Jonesville                   60,122

Loudoun County Department of Family Services                                Leesburg                   141,428

Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                 Lynchburg                102,166

Marion Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                     Marion                       32,611

Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority                          Newport News           457,534

Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                    Norfolk                      670,205

Norton Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                    Norton                       13,554

People Inc. of Southwest Virginia                                                   Abingdon                  18,907

Petersburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority                              Petersburg                120,138

Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority                             Portsmouth               332,279

Prince William County Office of HCD                                              Woodbridge               467,993

Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority                               Richmond                  506,406

Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                 Roanoke                    250,704

Scott County Redevelopment & Housing Authority                           Duffield                     28,438

Staunton Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                Staunton                   26,821

Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority                                Suffolk                      158,077

Virginia Beach Dept. of Housing & Neighborhood Pres.                     Virginia Beach          363,274

Virginia Housing Development Authority                                         Richmond                 1,381,408

Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority                           Waynesboro              46,973

Wise County Redevelopment & Housing Authority                            Coeburn                    90,291

Wytheville Redevelopment & Housing Authority                               Wytheville                17,848

 

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Washington - U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) were joined by 31 U.S. Senators in sending a letter asking President Trump to restore full funding to states for the National Guard forces responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week the President reduced FEMA reimbursement for National Guard units from 100 percent to 75 percent, with no explanation, and with the unexplained exception of Florida and Texas. Since March, National Guard units in every state and territory have supported response to help Americans, from distributing much-needed food, to running remote testing locations, to standing up alternate medical care facilities. After initial reluctance, the White House authorized using federal dollars to support the mission to provide states flexibility and members of the Guard equal benefits. On Aug. 3, without warning or explanation, the White House changed that, with two exceptions. After a press inquiry, a White House official said the reason was a personal appeal from those governors. Three additional states last Friday received a short-term additional federal match to reach full federal cost share until Oct. 1.


In the letter, the Senators said: “Congress has demonstrated repeatedly that we understand 32 USC 502(f) to include the ability for the National Guard, under command of state and territory governors, to respond with Federal resources to disasters that endanger Americans…. This new determination to reduce the cost share comes at the worst possible time, as positive cases continue to rise, and food security and other basic needs increase due to the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic… We ask that you re-authorize one hundred percent cost share for all states and territories through at least December 31.”

The letter shares a similar goal to a call from the National Governors Association Friday.

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

Dear Mr. President:

We write to request you restore one hundred percent Federal cost share to all states and territories for use of the National Guard under Title 32 of U.S. Code for responding to coronavirus, which was terminated by your August 3 memorandum for all states and territories except Florida and Texas. The National Guard response has been critical within our states to supporting the health and well-being of millions of Americans. 

Congress has demonstrated repeatedly that we understand 32 USC 502(f) to include the ability for the National Guard, under command of state and territory governors, to respond with Federal resources to disasters that endanger Americans. Most recently, the CARES Act included funding specifically for COVID-19 response for the Army and Air National Guards, as requested by the Department of Defense. You determined to use reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at one hundred percent cost share, and the resulting mission has lessened the negative impacts for Americans.

This new determination to reduce the cost share comes at the worst possible time, as positive cases continue to rise, and food security and other basic needs increase due to the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. Further, by singling out Florida and Texas for a full cost share as other states face challenges of similar magnitude, the decision appears arbitrary and without justification. Exacerbating the arbitrary and capricious decision, the White House on August 7 extended a short term restoration for some states to a one hundred percent cost share through September 30.  This inequity among states is irrational.

We ask that you re-authorize one hundred percent cost share for all states and territories through at least December 31.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Postmaster General raising concerns that he’s heard directly from Virginians regarding delayed mail service following structural and operational changes at the Postal Service. The current public health crisis has resulted in an unprecedented rise in Americans relying on mail service to receive prescription drugs, groceries, and other basic necessities in an effort to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. However, since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented sweeping operational changes to the agency last month under the guise of cost-saving measures, mail service has been significantly delayed.

“I have heard from many of my constituents in Virginia that vital packages, including medicine, are being delayed and some constituents report that they are going days without any mail delivery at all. This sudden decline in USPS quality of service poses a significant hardship in the context of COVID-19, when so many Americans are depending on the mail for delivery of groceries, household necessities, and medications. Even in the best of times, many seniors, some people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas particularly rely on the Postal Service as a critical link to vital resources. I strongly urge you to rescind any policy changes that are contributing to delays in mail delivery,” wrote Sen. Warner to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

In his letter, Sen. Warner also notes that like many Virginians, he worries that new policies that have already delayed mail delivery across the Commonwealth could also jeopardize timely distribution and processing of mail-in ballots for the upcoming November elections. 

“My constituents have also raised concerns that recent delays in mail delivery are part of the administration’s broader effort to erode the effectiveness of, and confidence in, voting by mail. Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail in November so as not to risk their health by voting in-person. I am gravely concerned that instead of working to dispel misinformation about the security of voting by mail and supporting states in expanding access as a public health measure, the Trump administration is instead casting doubt on the integrity of mailed ballots and accusing states that seek to expand it of “cheat[ing]”. It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect our electoral process from political interference and ensure that the process of voting by mail during the pandemic runs as seamlessly as possible. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to rescind any policy that might hamper the delivery and processing of mail-in ballots,” continued Sen. Warner.

In his letter, Sen. Warner also calls on the Postmaster General to answer a series of questions after the Postal Service’s Appalachian District erroneously posted notices at some Virginia Post Offices indicating that they would be closing in late August 2020.

“I heard from constituents in Danville real-time that the closure notification had appeared suddenly and without following statutory and regulatory processes. Although it was later communicated to my office that the postings were made in error, I remain concerned that established processes could break down so easily and spark such concern in the community,” wrote Sen. Warner.

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Mr. Louis DeJoy
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
United States Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 4012
Washington, DC 20260

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

I write to express deep concern about a number of issues related to the United States Postal Service (USPS or Postal Service) that my constituents have raised with me in recent weeks.

Several of my colleagues have written to you with questions and apprehension about operational changes implemented since your tenure as Postmaster General began on June 15, 2020. These abrupt changes are resulting in widespread delays in mail delivery and appear to have been implemented without proper consultation with Congress or key postal stakeholders, including unions. I echo these concerns and urge you to respond to their inquiries promptly and meaningfully.

I have heard from many of my constituents in Virginia that vital packages, including medicine, are being delayed and some constituents report that they are going days without any mail delivery at all. This sudden decline in USPS quality of service poses a significant hardship in the context of COVID-19, when so many Americans are depending on the mail for delivery of groceries, household necessities, and medications. Even in the best of times, many seniors, some people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas particularly rely on the Postal Service as a critical link to vital resources. I strongly urge you to rescind any policy changes that are contributing to delays in mail delivery.

My constituents have also raised concerns that recent delays in mail delivery are part of the administration’s broader effort to erode the effectiveness of, and confidence in, voting by mail. Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail in November so as not to risk their health by voting in-person. I am gravely concerned that instead of working to dispel misinformation about the security of voting by mail and supporting states in expanding access as a public health measure, the Trump administration is instead casting doubt on the integrity of mailed ballots and accusing states that seek to expand it of “cheat[ing]”. It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect our electoral process from political interference and ensure that the process of voting by mail during the pandemic runs as seamlessly as possible. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to rescind any policy that might hamper the delivery and processing of mail-in ballots.

I also continue to have concerns and unanswered questions about the series of events that led to the Postal Service’s Appalachian District erroneously posting notices at some Virginia Post Offices indicating that they would be closing in late August 2020. I heard from constituents in Danville real-time that the closure notification had appeared suddenly and without following statutory and regulatory processes. Although it was later communicated to my office that the postings were made in error, I remain concerned that established processes could break down so easily and spark such concern in the community. I respectfully request a detailed accounting of how many Post Offices nationwide and in Virginia were affected by similar inaccurate notifications; from what list(s) or based on what characteristic(s) these Post Offices were identified; what steps have been taken to correct the record and inform the general public that these Post Offices are, in fact, remaining open; and how many Post Offices are currently being considered or evaluated for closing, consolidation, or having their operating hours reduced. For all of the reasons detailed above, it is unconscionable to me that USPS would seek to limit access to postal services, and I seek your commitment that no such closings, consolidations, or reductions in hours will be pursued before the November 2020 election or before the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, whichever is later.

In addition to playing a vital and constitutionally mandated role in the life of every American, the Postal Service also directly supports nearly 17,000 jobs in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I strongly oppose any policy change or other effort to undermine the mail delivery that countless Virginians will continue to rely on to exercise their democratic right to vote and safely access groceries, medication, and other basic necessities in the midst of the pandemic. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reverse course and commit to strengthening and defending the Postal Service for the remainder of your tenure as Postmaster General.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced legislation to encourage Americans to seek preventive care in order to avoid an increase in more serious health conditions down the line. The Getting Early Treatment and Comprehensive Assessments Reduces Emergencies (GET CARE) Act would authorize a public awareness campaign to educate the public on the importance of resuming routine procedures and screenings – something Americans were discouraged from doing for a period of time during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Preventive health care and screenings can significantly reduce serious medical emergencies and improve long-term health outcomes,” said Sen. Warner. “In the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic, health providers rightly encouraged patients to avoid non-essential care, but now we have to make sure the American public is aware of the importance of getting their regular health check-ups.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a troubling decline in vital screenings and immunizations, undermining efforts to ensure prevention, early diagnosis, and effective treatment for dangerous diseases,” said Sen. Scott. “Drops in immunization and screening rates are particularly problematic for some of our most vulnerable populations, including our seniors. This bipartisan legislation would encourage Americans to safely and responsibly seek out the preventive care they need.”

During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans were discouraged from seeking non-emergency care in order to prevent the spread of the virus and free up needed capacity at overwhelmed hospitals that were struggling to administer life-saving care to individuals with COVID-19. During this time, many states put executive orders in place to suspend elective procedures, and health care providers all across the country worked to limit face-to-face interactions, restricting office appointments to emergency needs. As a result of these necessary measures, there has been a significant decrease in routine health visits that normally play a crucial role in detecting a number of conditions and diseases that can be effectively treated when caught early.

Reuters has reported that diagnostic panels and cancer screenings fell by 68 percent nationally, with even more dramatic drops in COVID-19 hot spots. Additionally, the Epic Health Research Network estimates that over the span of three months, between March 15 and June 16, Americans missed about 65 percent of breast, colon, and cervical exams, which are essential in detecting cancer. There has also been an alarming decrease in childhood vaccination rates, which experts worry could trigger an epidemic of other infectious but vaccine-preventable diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the health care system could save over 100,000 additional lives per year if every person received recommended preventative care.

According to the CDC, preventative care is also essential in reducing health care costs. In fact, estimates show that avoidable chronic diseases account for more than 75 percent of the nation’s health care spending.

With many Americans still reluctant to seek non-emergency care, the GET CARE Act would authorize a public awareness campaign in order to bring attention to the importance of resuming preventive. Specifically, this legislation would direct the CDC to make competitive grants available to public or private entities in order to carry out a national, evidence-based campaign.

This campaign would:

  • Increase awareness of the importance of recommended preventive care services for the prevention of and control of diseases, illness and other medical conditions during and after the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Combat misinformation about seeking preventive care during the pandemic;
  • Disseminate scientific, evidence-based preventive care-related information to increase the utilization of preventive care services; and
  • Ensure the public awareness campaign is appropriately tailored to medically underserved communities, racial and ethnic minorities, and communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic;

This legislation has the support of a number of organizations, including American College of Preventive Medicine, American Public Health Association, American Hospital Association, Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association and Ballad Health System.

“We thank Senators Warner and Scott for introducing the GET CARE Act, which will help to educate the public about the importance of prevention and preventive care. This is especially important for individuals living with, or at risk of getting, preventable chronic diseases, which may place them at increased risk for serious health complications due to COVID-19,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association.

“The American College of Preventive Medicine strongly advocates for this initiative to support prevention as the cornerstone of our health care system. Increased adoption of preventive services will reduce the burden of disease, especially in communities facing racial, demographic, and economic disparities in care and worsening health outcomes, and make our health system more sustainable and equitable. The power of prevention is to better prepare individuals, communities, and the nation for health crises of all types by building resilience through better health,” said Stephanie Zaza, MD, MPH, President, the American College of Preventive Medicine. 

“Prevention has the power to save lives, create healthier communities, and transform our healthcare system. Increased use of preventive services makes health care systems and communities more resilient and better prepared to fight disease. It is of critical importance that we balance efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic with innovative and safe approaches to continuing essential preventive services, such as childhood vaccination and flu vaccination,” said Donna Grande, MGA, CEO, the American College of Preventive Medicine.

“During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care facilities across the Commonwealth voluntarily postponed non-emergency scheduled procedures to free up additional treatment capacity to accommodate incoming patients and to preserve personal protective equipment as part of the strategy to fight this deadly virus,” said Sean T. Connaughton, President and CEO, Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. “Taking these necessary, proactive steps meant that many Virginians had to forgo care for conditions including cancer and cardiac care and preventive screenings and treatment services such as vaccinations, mammograms, and colonoscopies. While many hospitals and health care facilities resumed scheduled procedures in early May, data indicates that many patients are avoiding or delaying care, perhaps due to fears associated with COVID-19. The GET CARE Act of 2020 is important legislation that will help spread the word that health care facilities are open and ready to safely care for patients. It’s important that all Virginians who need care, whether for a routine check-up, a vaccination, or care for a serious medical condition, get the care they need without delay.”

“Our entire team applauds Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Scott for proposing bipartisan support for America’s health systems and hospitals as we strive to save lives and serve our communities,” said Alan Levine, Chairman and CEO, Ballad Health. “The Get Care Act would create a public awareness campaign underscoring the importance of preventative health screenings and seeking routine medical care.   Among other things, this bill provides important resources and templates to help hospitals and health systems initiate and sustain public service communications efforts.  This effort follows a similar initiative provided by Ballad Health, in which resources were provided by Ballad Health for free to any rural, not-for-profit health system for use in their communities. This effort by the Senators brings scale to something desperately needed. Right now, many Americans are forgoing not only preventative health screenings but even treatment of acute health conditions because of concern about the COVID-19 pandemic. Ballad Health has witnessed this trend firsthand, as our hospital and outpatient volumes have decreased by as much as 70% during the past several months. Like other healthcare providers, we are concerned about the long-term impacts for patients who are not seeking the routine care they need. Healthcare providers everywhere have established detailed and deliberate safeguards to protect their patients during the pandemic, and this bill would help reassure patients that it is safe to seek both routine and emergency care. I congratulate the Senators for this important bipartisan effort.”

“Inova has made significant investments in technology and procedures to ensure patients feel and are safe managing their health, whether they seek care in person or through telehealth,” said J. Stephen Jones, MD, FACS, President & CEO of Inova Health System. “I thank Senator Warner for championing this timely and proactive initiative encouraging all Americans to make their preventative health a priority.”     

A summary of this bill is available here. Bill text can be found here.  

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act of 2020 to help ensure Americans who earn a living through a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income (1099) can fully access the financial relief made available under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program.

Following March passage of the CARES Act, states were directed to establish PUA to distribute benefits to workers who would normally not be eligible for unemployment assistance, such as self-employed workers or freelancers, to help them stay afloat during the COVID-19 economic crisis. However, the program has unintentionally disqualified these non-traditional workers from participating in the PUA program if they have mixed sources of income that make them eligible to receive the minimum benefit in regular unemployment insurance. This affects any primarily self-employed or independent worker who receives a secondary source of W-2 income, such as working part-time as a server or caterer, retail worker, entertainment worker, or otherwise are hired by a company part-time as an employee.  

“As the nation continues to deal with the economic devastation caused by COVID-19, we’ve got to ensure that workers have the assistance they need to cope with the dire financial straits many are unexpectedly finding themselves in,” said Sen. Warner. “While Congress extended a lifeline under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, a large swath of gig and independent workers were unexpectedly left out from receiving the full benefits they are entitled to. Today, we’re introducing a commonsense fix to help millions of independent, freelance, and entrepreneurial workers who were left out of this critical safety net at no fault of their own.”

“In the current economic crisis we must do all we can to support Americans who have been forced to go without work," said Sen. Smith. "Earlier this year, Congress enacted a historic expansion of unemployment insurance, but some people who worked multiple jobs have found themselves in an unintended no man’s land between unemployment programs that has resulted in drastically reduced unemployment compensation. I’ve heard directly from several Minnesota workers caught in this position who are now struggling to get by. That’s why I’m working to fix this problem and help these families get the assistance they need during difficult times.”    

According to recent figures by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 1 in 10 American workers may presently participate in the labor market with gig, independent, and self-employed work as their primary form of occupation. Last week, based on the unadjusted data released by the U.S. Department of Labor, 2 million Americans filed new unemployment claims – 1.2 million for regular unemployment insurance and almost 1 million for the PUA program. The data also indicates that 33.8 million Americans are either receiving unemployment benefits or have applied and are awaiting approval. Out of the total number of unemployment claims, more than 15 million have been for the PUA program. 

The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act would:

·       Allow workers who earn a minimum of $7,250 independent (e.g. 1099) income to request reconsideration into receiving PUA benefits instead of regular state unemployment compensation.

·       Allow states to opt-in to implement this expanded coverage for mixed earners, acknowledging that not every state will be ready to implement this change.

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM)and Chris Coons (D-DE). A copy of the bill text can be found here. Companion legislation was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA).

The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act is endorsed by the Actors’ Equity Association, All Creative Writes – New York, Alternate ROOTS, American Association of Independent Music, American Federation of Musicians, Americans for the Arts, American Photographic Artists, Artist Rights Alliance, Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, Arts in a Changing America, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts – Tennessee, Asian American Arts Alliance, Association of Performing Arts Professionals, Atlanta Contemporary – Georgia, The Authors Guild, BMI, C4 Atlanta, California Lawyers for the Arts, CERF+- the Artists Safety Net, Chocolate Factory Theater – New York, Chorus America, Christian Music Trade Association, Copyright Alliance, CreativeFuture, Dad’s Garage Theatre Company – Georgia, Dance/NYC – New York, Department for Professional Employees – AFL-CIO, Digital Media Association, Dramatists Guild of America, The Field – New York, Fourth Arts Block – New York, Freelancers Union, Future of Music Coalition, Graphic Artists Guild, Guild of Italian American Actors, Halau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine – Hawaii, Independent Music Professionals United, International Documentary Association, The Laundromat Project – New York, Lawyers for the Creative Arts – Chicago, League of American Orchestras, Live Nation, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, Mississippi Center for Cultural Production, More Art Inc – New York, Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art, Music Artists Coalition, Music Business Association, Music Workers Alliance, Musicians for Musicians Inc., The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), National Coalition for the Art’s Preparedness and Emergency Response, National Employment Law Project, National Press Photographers Association, National Writers Union, Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts – New York, New Yorkers for Culture and Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, North American Nature Photography Association, Opera American, PA’I Foundation – Hawaii, Peters Valley School of Craft – New Jersey, Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, Power Haus Creative – Georgia, Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America, SAG-AFTRA, Songwriters Guild of America, Songwriters of North America, SoundExchange, Southeast Community Cultural Center – Georgia, Springboard for the Arts, Minnesota Lawyers for the Arts, St. Louis Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, True Colors Theatre Company – Georgia, Universal Music Group, UrbanGlass – New York, Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, and the Writers Guild of America – East.

The legislative fix comes on the heels of a letter Sens. Warner and Smith led, along with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Coons (D-DE), to urge Senate leaders to ensure that these workers who have mixed forms of income can access the PUA program – which is available through December 2020 – as negotiations between Senate Republicans and Democrats continue.

It is clear that allowing workers in alternative work arrangements to access the PUA program is an important lifeline for many during this crisis,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance. “However, for workers whose primary source of income is independent, freelance, or self-employed work but who also receive some W-2 wages as a secondary source of income – such as working part-time as a server or caterer, retail worker, entertainment worker, or otherwise are hired by a company part-time as an employee – an exclusion leaves them without access to a safety net for their primary source of income. Specifically, we hope that modification of the PUA program can be made to allow individuals with over $7,250 in self-employed income to request a reconsideration of their PUA eligibility, where both their 1099 and W-2 income will be aggregated for their weekly benefit calculation. Acknowledging that some states will be better positioned than others to implement this, participation in the fix to the PUA process should be optional for individual states.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine cosponsored the Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act of 2020, legislation that would establish a $120 billion revitalization fund to help independent restaurants deal with the long-term structural challenges facing the industry because of COVID-19 and support the reemployment of 11 million workers.

“Virginia’s independent restaurants have been especially hurt by the coronavirus emergency and require much-needed relief,” the Senators said. “This bill can help save restaurants across the Commonwealth by offering the critical assistance needed to cover costs of operations and supporting staff. We’re glad this effort has bipartisan support to help millions of restaurants from closing their doors for good.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the restaurant industry has lost over 6.1 million jobs – the most of any industry and double the figure from the next most affected industry. Without further action from Congress, over 11 million independent restaurant workers are at risk of permanently losing their jobs. Restaurants are facing months of massive revenue losses because of social distancing, rising costs of supplies, new expenses for personal protective equipment, and a decrease in the public’s willingness to dine out.

The National Restaurant Association estimates that more than 237,000 restaurant employees in Virginia have been laid off or furloughed since March – representing at least 78 percent of the 305,000 employees that were working at Virginia’s eating and drinking places in February.

The Senate bill was led by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and was cosponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Doug Jones (D-AL), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV).

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) introduced the Governors Broadband Development Fund

The legislation:

·        Allocates $10 billion to the Broadband Development Fund to prioritize funding for areas that currently lack service.

·        Supports the deployment of advanced technologies in areas where there is greatest need.

·        Encourages projects that can provide internet service quickly.

“Before this crisis, we saw that broadband access was a precondition to full participation in the digital economy,” said Sen. Warner. “But with this crisis we’ve seen that it’s more than that: it’s the enabling technology for remote education, tele-work, and tele-medicine; it’s the means by which Americans apply for and access critical government benefits; and it provides us with the ability to stay close with loved ones we can no longer be in direct contact with. States like Virginia are leading the way in identifying and closing broadband gaps and this legislation will help expand and strengthen those important efforts.”

“There are places in South Carolina you might as well be on the moon when it comes to getting high speed internet service,” said Sen. Graham.  “The benefits of broadband technology – as it relates to education, medicine, and business – are endless. There is bipartisan support for expanding broadband access and our legislation dramatically improves access in rural and underserved areas. I’m cautiously optimistic we can get this done and signed into law soon.” 

“Too many South Carolinians lack access to the global economy, telehealth, and educational tools due to the lack of broadband technology,” said Senator Scott. “This bipartisan legislation gives governors the opportunity to effectively deploy broadband in the parts of their state that need it most. It is critical that we continue to find pathways to increase connectivity for all Americans to ensure that they are equipped with the tools necessary to thrive.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), about 21 million Americans do not have access to 25/3 mbps internet, which is the FCC’s standard for high speed broadband. Of that 21 million, 16 million live in rural areas, while 5 million live in urban areas. 

###

 

The Governors’ Broadband Development Fund 

  • The legislation will be introduced this week in the United States Senate.  Original co-sponsors will be Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Scott (R-SC).
  •  The legislation allocates $10 billion to the Broadband Development Fund. 
  • Each state is provided a minimum of $75 million and the rest of the funding is distributed based on state populations.
    • 30 percent of a state’s funding must be used in Opportunity Zones.
    • South Carolina would receive roughly $170 million from this program.
    • Virginia would receive roughly $237 million from this program.
    • Funding can be used for infrastructure development, providing free or reduced cost broadband service, community center improvements and other applications.
  • The Governors’ Broadband Development Fund prioritizes funding for areas that currently lack service, supports the deployment of advanced technologies, and encourages projects that can provide internet service quickly.
  • This block grant is designed off of the successful USDA ReConnect program, which has seen more than three times the demand than funding available.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and a bipartisan group of Senators in sending a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urging them to include maximum telework requirements for federal employees and contractors in the next coronavirus relief package. 

“As the Senate considers the next coronavirus relief package, we urge you to include requirements to ensure maximum telework for federal employees and contractors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal employees and contractors have been teleworking successfully throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, many of whom have been keeping vital services running and implementing relief measures to support the economy and stop the spread of COVID-19,” the Senators begin.

“As new waves of COVID-19 cases continue to hit areas across the country, it is especially important for federal agencies to have a clear mandate that sets a positive example for employers to keep their workforces and communities safe. Plans to bring federal employees back into offices prematurely would threaten to erase the progress made against the coronavirus and increase community spread,” they continue. 

They emphasize the public health benefits of telework, writing, “All federal employees and contractors who can perform their duties remotely should be doing so. Agencies should enable telework for as many federal workers and contractor personnel as possible, and should continue to maximize telework throughout the pandemic. Telework protects not only federal employees from the spread of COVID-19, but also their families and the communities across the country in which they work.”

Along with Sens. Warner and Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Angus King (I-Maine), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). 

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

 

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer: 

As the Senate considers the next coronavirus relief package, we urge you to include requirements to ensure maximum telework for federal employees and contractors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal employees and contractors have been teleworking successfully throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, many of whom have been keeping vital services running and implementing relief measures to support the economy and stop the spread of COVID-19.

As new waves of COVID-19 cases continue to hit areas across the country, it is especially important for federal agencies to have a clear mandate that sets a positive example for employers to keep their workforces and communities safe. Plans to bring federal employees back into offices prematurely would threaten to erase the progress made against the coronavirus and increase community spread.

All federal employees and contractors who can perform their duties remotely should be doing so. Agencies should enable telework for as many federal workers and contractor personnel as possible, and should continue to maximize telework throughout the pandemic. Telework protects not only federal employees from the spread of COVID-19, but also their families and the communities across the country in which they work.

We appreciate your past support for federal employees and the funding provided in the CARES Act to help agencies expand telework. We ask that you continue this support by requiring maximum telework in the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the next coronavirus relief package. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 28 of their Senate colleagues in urging Senate leadership to reject the Trump Administration’s desire to condition education funds in the next coronavirus relief package on the reopening of elementary and secondary schools for in-person instruction. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Senators said that the Senate should not be complicit in President Trump’s demands that would risk the health and lives of students and school personnel, and that Congress should instead provide federal assistance to schools in need and support for local officials to base reopening decisions on facts and science.

“Instead, Congress should provide federal assistance to elementary and secondary schools that gives state and local officials the tools and resources they need to ensure a safe and effective learning environment for students, including students from low-income families and students of color, and a safe and effective working environment for educators and staff—whether it be in-person, remote, or a hybrid model,” the Senators wrote. “Every one of us wants schools to reopen when it is safe to do so.  But, facts and science must drive those decisions, not Presidential pipedreams or impatience.” 

The Senate Republican proposal, unveiled this week by McConnell, would provide only $70 billion to elementary and secondary education – with an estimated two-thirds of that federal funding held hostage unless schools reopen to in-person learning.  Durbin and other Senate Democrats, led by Senator Patty Murray of Washington, have proposed the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, which would provide $175 billion to elementary and secondary education without regard to the operating status of schools. 

In addition to Sens. Warner and Durbin, the letter was signed by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ron Wyden (D-OR),  Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA),  Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D_MI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV),  Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Gary Peters (D-MI). 

Text of this letter is available here.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged President Trump to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to the immigration detention center in Farmville, Va., where nearly every detainee has contracted COVID-19. This disastrous situation comes despite repeated requests by Sens. Warner and Kaine, who have urged the Trump Administration time and time again to cease the transfer of detained individuals during the current public health crisis.

“In early June, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to Farmville ICA from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. Within two weeks of their transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. There are now 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst detainees, which is approximately 80% of the population housed at Farmville, and 26 confirmed cases amongst staff members,” wrote the Senators.

They continued, “The Farmville ICE facility and surrounding community now face a dire situation where almost every detainee at the Farmville facility has tested positive for COVID-19. This presents a clear risk to individuals within the facility, but also endangers the broader community as facility staff and released detainees have interaction with the general public.”

In the letter, the Senators requested that the Trump Administration bring teams of epidemiologists to Farmville to conduct an overall assessment of the situation at the immigration detention facility – a request that has been backed by Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have repeatedly pushed this Administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia detention facilities. In June, after a transfer that resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at Farmville, the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the health of detainees and workers. Nearly a month later, with approximately 80 percent of the Farmville population testing positive for COVID-19, the Senators once again pressed ICE and DHS to stop transfers between facilities. They also posed a series of questions regarding the measures in place to safeguard the health of people in custody, staff members, and the community.

Full text of today’s letter is available here or below.

 

The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Trump: 

On July 16, 2020, we sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Matthew Albence regarding the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) at the ICE detention facility in Farmville, Virginia.  Among other things, we asked Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Secretary Albence to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an overall assessment of the situation at the Farmville facility.  We write today to reiterate that request, which Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam also supported in a July 22, 2020 letter to you.

In early June, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to Farmville ICA from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. Within two weeks of their transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. There are now 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst detainees, which is approximately 80% of the population housed at Farmville, and 26 confirmed cases amongst staff members. 

The Farmville ICE facility and surrounding community now face a dire situation where almost every detainee at the Farmville facility has tested positive for COVID-19.  This presents a clear risk to individuals within the facility but also endangers the broader community as facility staff and released detainees have interaction with the general public.  It is incumbent upon your administration to work with the CDC to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the Farmville ICE facility. State and local officials stand ready to support the CDC in efforts to help contain the current outbreak before it spreads to the surrounding Farmville community.

We must prioritize the health and well-being of the detainees and staff at the Farmville ICE facility as well as the Farmville community. We appreciate your attention to these issues and look forward to working together to address the public health crisis at the ICA Farmville detention facility.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine

Cc: Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) took to the Senate floor to request immediate passage of the States Achieve Medicaid Expansion (SAME) Act to allow states – including Virginia – to further benefit from expanding Medicaid, and to further incentivize states who have not yet expanded to do so. Immediately after Sen. Warner requested to pass the SAME Act by unanimous consent, Senate Republican objected and thereby blocked the immediate passage of this crucial legislation, which would have brought in additional federal Medicaid dollars for states during the greatest public health crisis in generations.

Sen. Warner’s request comes as the nation surpasses four million COVID-19 cases and Americans find themselves increasingly without health care after having lost their jobs and their employment-connected benefits.

“I can think of no better time to pass this legislation than right now, when more than 5 million Americans find themselves having lost their health care coverage in the last three months alone. In fact, some reports actually estimate that nearly 27 million Americans have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance and are now in jeopardy of becoming uninsured,” Sen. Warner said on the Senate floor. “Estimates show that if every state were to expand its Medicaid program, about 3 million additional Americans would have health care coverage. This is not a political argument nor a philosophical exercise – this legislation has a real-world impact and it’s clear that Americans want and need this legislation to pass.”

He continued, “Across our nation, Americans are making clear they want expanded access to health coverage – and Congress needs to listen. With all due respect to my Republican colleagues, you can’t say you want to help Americans in this devastating time and simultaneously oppose this bill, which would do just that. As we stand here in this chamber, we have the privilege of knowing that we and our families have access to the health care coverage we need. That if anything were to go wrong, we would be covered. So why shouldn’t we ensure that same access for more Americans?” 

The SAME Act would allow states like Virginia that expanded Medicaid after 2014 to receive the same full federal matching funds as states that expanded earlier under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Under this legislation, the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid would also be eligible for increased federal funds once they choose to expand the program. 

The Affordable Care Act provides financial support to states that have expanded their existing Medicaid programs to provide healthcare coverage to all individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government covers the full cost of expansion for three years, phasing down to a 90 percent match rate for the sixth year of the expansion and in subsequent years. Currently, states choosing to expand coverage after 2014 do not receive the same federal matching rates as those that expanded immediately. This is due to the Supreme Court’s holding in National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) v. Sebelius, which made expansion optional for states, despite intentions to make Medicaid expansion national in 2014. The SAME Act would ensure that any states that expand Medicaid receive an equal level of federal funding for the expansion, regardless of when they chose to expand.

In his remarks, Sen. Warner noted the $14,000 median cost of a COVID-19-related hospitalization and stressed this cost could mean bankruptcy for the 30 million Americans without health insurance.  

“I know my colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to do right by their constituents and the millions of Americans that need help. So today, I ask you to come together to support the SAME Act,” stressed Sen. Warner. “No one should go bankrupt because they got sick and sought medical care. But more importantly, no one should go bankrupt when this legislative body has the opportunity to act. Let’s do the right thing here – put politics aside and pass this commonsense legislation.”

 

Sen. Warner’s floor remarks as originally prepared for delivery are available below:

Madam President, I rise today to talk about an issue that is weighing on too many American families right now, and that’s access to health care coverage. 

We’re in the midst of the greatest public health crisis in generations. And this unprecedented time calls for equally unprecedented action from this Congress.  

Today, I come to the floor to pass legislation I introduced along with Senator Doug Jones and several of our colleagues – legislation that could provide access to quality and affordable health care coverage for millions of Americans.

To be clear, the SAME Act is the bill I’ve been pushing for more than three years. This bill was a good idea before this pandemic, but the need for it has become even greater in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The SAME Act would ensure that states like Virginia – that have expanded their Medicaid programs to serve more Americans – can get their fair share of federal matching dollars. It would also incentivize additional states – who haven’t yet expanded Medicaid – to expand this critical program to millions more Americans. 

I can think of no better time to pass this legislation than right now, when more than 5 million Americans find themselves having lost their health care coverage in the last three months alone.

In fact, some reports actually estimate that nearly 27 million Americans have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance and are now in jeopardy of becoming uninsured.

My legislation would provide much-needed financial support to states that are seeing an increase in Medicaid enrollment, as folks face the fallout of this crisis. And for those millions of people, the SAME Act would provide a significant lifeline.

Estimates show that if every state were to expand its Medicaid program, about 3 million additional Americans would have health care coverage.

This is not a political argument nor a philosophical exercise – this legislation has a real-world impact and it’s clear that Americans want and need this legislation to pass. 

Take Oklahoma, for example. Just a few weeks ago, Oklahomans voted to expand their Medicaid program to provide broader access to coverage. We have seen similar actions from citizens in Utah, Maine, Idaho, and others. 

Across our nation – Americans are making clear they want expanded access to health coverage – and Congress needs to listen.

With all due respect to my Republican colleagues, you can’t say you want to help Americans in this devastating time and simultaneously oppose this bill, which would do just that.  

As we stand here in this chamber, we have the privilege of knowing that we and our families have access to the health care coverage we need. That if anything were to go wrong, we would be covered. So why shouldn’t we ensure that same access for more Americans? 

The median cost of a hospitalization due to COVID-19 is $14,000. For Americans without health insurance – the nearly 30 million and growing – that could mean losing their house or their car… It could mean bankruptcy. 

I know my colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to do right by their constituents and the millions of Americans that need help. So today, I ask you to come together to support the SAME Act.

No one should go bankrupt because they got sick and sought medical care. But more importantly, no one should go bankrupt when this legislative body has the opportunity to act.  

Let’s do the right thing here – put politics aside and pass this commonsense legislation. Thank you. 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wrote a letter to the Appropriations Committee leadership urging the Committee to include funding to modernize federal information technology within the next COVID-19 relief package.

The Senators begin, “As the Senate begins the process of negotiating and considering the next coronavirus pandemic relief supplemental appropriations bill, we urge you to include significant additional funding to modernize federal information technology (IT) systems through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF).”

They go on to urge the need for updated federal IT in order to best serve individuals and businesses seeking help from federal agencies at this time. They write, “The federal COVID-19 response has dramatically exposed the failures of outdated, legacy federal IT systems and shone a light on the need for agencies to more quickly modernize their networks. For example, in its June 2020 report, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee identified multiple agencies where IT systems struggle to accommodate large percentages of teleworking federal employees, causing system problems that slow the place of normal functions like claims processing, increasing security risk, and making telework inefficient and frustrating. In other cases, small business owners and citizens were deeply frustrated by poorly functioning claims systems.”

The Senators stress the relevance of the TMF to address current IT needs, stating, “Congress authorized the TMF specifically to rapidly advance projects that can have an impact quickly, subject to oversight of a board of experts and specific criteria. We should provide a major funding allocation to the TMF now for projects that will provide the bandwidth, security, and functionality needed to make teleworking federal workers just as productive at home as in the office, and for other urgent COVID-19 response needs...”

They conclude, “As you are aware, the HEROES Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 15, 2020, included $1 billion for the TMF, to remain available until the end of Fiscal Year 2022. We urge you to include the same level of funding for TMF in the next COVID-19 supplemental spending bill to help address technology and related risks identified during the ongoing COVID-19 response.”

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

 

Chairman Shelby, Vice Chairman Leahy, Chairman Kennedy, and Ranking Member Coons:

As the Senate begins the process of negotiating and considering the next coronavirus pandemic relief supplemental appropriations bill, we urge you to include significant additional funding to modernize federal information technology (IT) systems through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF).

Congress created the TMF in 2017 through the Modernizing Government Technology Act to help federal agencies rapidly execute IT modernization projects that meet specific criteria. The TMF is governed by an eight-member board of federal IT, financial management, and acquisition experts with significant transparency and ample opportunity for Congressional oversight, including periodic reports to Congress and submission of spending plans. Since 2018, the TMF has sponsored a range of IT system modernizations with specific benefits to citizen services and transitioning outdated systems to more modern platforms.

The federal COVID-19 response has dramatically exposed the failures of outdated, legacy federal IT systems and shone a light on the need for agencies to more quickly modernize their networks. For example, in its June 2020 report, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee identified multiple agencies where IT systems struggle to accommodate large percentages of teleworking federal employees, causing system problems that slow the place of normal functions like claims processing, increasing security risk, and making telework inefficient and frustrating. In other cases, small business owners and citizens were deeply frustrated by poorly functioning claims systems. While some federal agencies are to be commended for heroic efforts to address these challenges using small amounts of funding in the CARES Act, their individual successes highlight the scale of the remaining needs.

Congress authorized the TMF specifically to rapidly advance projects that can have an impact quickly, subject to oversight of a board of experts and specific criteria. We should provide a major funding allocation to the TMF now for projects that will provide the bandwidth, security, and functionality needed to make teleworking federal workers just as productive at home as in the office, and for other urgent COVID-19 response needs such as scaling claims processing systems, improving the security of citizen information, enhancing fraud prevention, and addressing long-delayed and well documented enterprise legacy IT systems modernizations.

As you are aware, the HEROES Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 15, 2020, included $1 billion for the TMF, to remain available until the end of Fiscal Year 2022. We urge you to include the same level of funding for TMF in the next COVID-19 supplemental spending bill to help address technology and related risks identified during the ongoing COVID-19 response.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to working with you on this and other matters.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to include the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act in the next coronavirus relief package as negotiations between Senate Republicans and Democrats are underway. Inclusion of the legislation will help strengthen the public’s trust to participate in critical screening and contact tracing efforts to aid in the fight against COVID-19.

“As you begin negotiations on another coronavirus stimulus package, we write to urge inclusion of commonsense privacy protections for COVID health data. Building public trust in COVID screening tools will be essential to ensuring meaningful participation in such efforts. With research consistently showing that Americans are reluctant to adopt COVID screening and tracing apps due to privacy concerns, the lack of health privacy protections could significantly undermine efforts to contain this virus and begin to safely re-open – particularly with many screening tools requiring a critical mass in order to provide meaningful benefits,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Labor.

According to a recent survey, 84 percent of Americans feel uneasy about sharing their personal health information for COVID-19 related mitigation efforts. Public reluctance can be attributed to a myriad of investigative reports and congressional hearings that have exposed widespread secondary use of Americans data over the years. The Senators noted that with the inclusion of their bill, Congress can establish commonsense targeted rules to ensure the collection, retention, and use of data by COVID screening tools are focused on combatting COVID and not for extraneous, invasive, or discriminatory purposes.

“Our urgent and forceful response to COVID-19 can coexist with protecting and even bolstering our health privacy. If not appropriately addressed, these issues could lead to a breakdown in public trust that could ultimately thwart successful public health surveillance initiatives. Privacy experts, patient advocates, civil rights leaders, and public interest organizations have resoundingly called for strong privacy protections to govern technological measures offered in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In the absence of a federal privacy framework, experts and enforcers – including the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection of Federal Trade Commission – have encouraged targeted rules on this sensitive health data. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act meets the needs raised by privacy and public health communities, and has been resoundingly endorsed by experts and civil society groups,” the Senators continued.

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

 

Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Chairman Alexander, and Ranking Member Murray,

As you begin negotiations on another coronavirus stimulus package, we write to urge inclusion of commonsense privacy protections for COVID health data. Building public trust in COVID screening tools will be essential to ensuring meaningful participation in such efforts. With research consistently showing that Americans are reluctant to adopt COVID screening and tracing apps due to privacy concerns, the lack of health privacy protections could significantly undermine efforts to contain this virus and begin to safely re-open – particularly with many screening tools requiring a critical mass in order to provide meaningful benefits. According to one survey, 84% of Americans “fear that data collection efforts aimed at helping to contain the coronavirus cost too much in the way of privacy.”

Public health experts have consistently pointed to health screening and contact tracing as essential elements of a comprehensive strategy to contain and eradicate COVID. Since the onset of the pandemic, employers, public venue operators, and consumer service providers have introduced a range tools and resources to engage in symptom monitoring, contact tracing, exposure notification, temperature checks, and location tracking. Increasingly, we have seen higher education institutions mandate the use of these applications for incoming students and employers mandate participation in these programs among employees.

Health data is among the most sensitive data imaginable and even before this public health emergency, there has been increasing bipartisan concern with gaps in our nation’s health privacy laws. While a comprehensive update of health privacy protections is unrealistic at this time, targeted reforms to protect health data – particularly with clear evidence that a lack of privacy protections has inhibited public participation in screening activities – is both appropriate and necessary.

Our legislation does not prohibit or otherwise prevent employers, service providers, or any other entity from introducing COVID screening tools. Rather, it provides commonsense and widely understood rules related to the collection, retention, and usage of that information – most notably, stipulating that sensitive data collected under the auspices of efforts to contain COVID should not be used for unrelated purposes. As a litany of investigative reports, Congressional hearings, and studies have increasingly demonstrated, the widespread secondary use of Americans’ data – including sensitive health and geolocation data – has become a significant public concern. The legislation also ensures that Americans cannot be discriminated against on the basis of COVID health data – something particularly important given the disproportionate impact of this pandemic on communities of color.

Efforts by public health agencies to combat COVID-19, such as manual contract tracing, health screenings, interviews, and case investigations, are not restricted by our bill. And the legislation would allow for the collection, use, and sharing of data for public health research purposes and makes clear that it does not restrict use of health information for public health or other scientific research associated with a public health emergency.

Our urgent and forceful response to COVID-19 can coexist with protecting and even bolstering our health privacy. If not appropriately addressed, these issues could lead to a breakdown in public trust that could ultimately thwart successful public health surveillance initiatives. Privacy experts, patient advocates, civil rights leaders, and public interest organizations have resoundingly called for strong privacy protections to govern technological measures offered in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In the absence of a federal privacy framework, experts and enforcers – including the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection of Federal Trade Commission – have encouraged targeted rules on this sensitive health data. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act meets the needs raised by privacy and public health communities, and has been resoundingly endorsed by experts and civil society groups.

Providing Americans with assurance that their sensitive health data will not be misused will give Americans more confidence to participate in COVID screening efforts, strengthening our common mission in containing and eradicating COVID-19. For this reason, we urge you to include the privacy protections contained in the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act in any forthcoming stimulus package.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.                                                                       

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued the following statement today in response to the release of the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act – the proposal put forward by the White House and Senate Republican leaders as a starting point for bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on another COVID-19 relief package:

“The Democratic House passed the HEROES Act ten weeks ago. Since then, the health and economic crisis has continued unabated. Millions of Americans are facing eviction or foreclosure; state and local governments are drowning in red ink; and 30 million Americans relying on unemployment to survive are facing the expiration of expanded benefits this week. Instead of taking urgently needed steps to address these problems, the White House and Senate Republican leaders have put forward a bill that fails to match the scale of the crisis or the needs of the American people. Instead, their proposal focuses on liability protections for businesses, as though that is our country’s most urgent challenge right now, and bizarrely includes money for a new FBI building in Washington, D.C. that has no connection to the current crisis and which the FBI neither wants or needs, having already spent millions planning for a new headquarters building in Virginia or Maryland.

“In our conversations with the Administration and our colleagues from both parties, we will be strongly advocating for a bill that funds critical priorities like healthcare and testing, rental and mortgage assistance, broadband access, child care, K-12 and higher education, job training, election security, hunger assistance, and help for communities of color that have been disproportionately hard-hit by the effects of COVID-19. The American people simply cannot afford for the Senate to waste any more time in addressing these urgent crises, and we are eager to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, who is ready to do something about these serious challenges.” 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on May 15 by a vote of 208 - 199.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (Both D-Md.) and Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (Both D-Va.) are calling on Senate leadership to reject the Trump adminstration’s attempt to add funding for a downtown headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the latest COVID-19 relief package. The four senators urged that the language be removed from any COVID-19 legislation.

“The United States is in the midst of a public health crisis and an economic downturn. Addressing these related challenges requires us to work together to consider the ways Americans have been suffering during this pandemic and the many different sectors of our economy that have been impacted. Faced with this formidable task, the Administration’s request for nearly two billion dollars for a pet real estate project reveals a warped sense of priorities and further demonstrates its inability to formulate a plan to lead us forward,” the senators wrote in their letter to Senators Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Richard Shelby and Patrick Leahy.

“To make progress towards this common goal of providing our FBI agents with the facility they deserve, perhaps the Administration can answer the backlog of questions from Congress about why, at great cost to American taxpayers, it abandoned efforts to develop a new campus headquarters for the FBI, and it can cooperate with the ongoing Department of Justice Inspector General’s investigation into this conduct. These actions would be more productive than asking taxpayers to fund this proposal in an unrelated COVID-19 relief bill,” they added.

“We look forward to working with you on an effective relief package that provides essential support to American families, workers, and the economy.”

The full letter can be found at this link.

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WASHINGTON – Members of Congress representing the Delmarva region led a bicameral and bipartisan letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) highlighting the severe impacts COVID-19 is having on the seafood industry and requesting that USDA consider establishing a short-term purchasing program for shellfish products. The letter was signed by U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and U.S. Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.),  Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Andy Harris, M.D. (R-Md.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), and Anthony Brown (D-Md.). 

“The shellfish industry has been significantly impacted by the disruption in normal supply chains and these products are ideally positioned to aid USDA’s efforts to address food insecurity during this difficult time. We request that USDA consider establishing a short-term purchasing program for shellfish products, including farmed and wild-caught oyster and clam products, as part of AMS’s Section 32 authority,” wrote the members of Congress.

The full letter is available here.

“Delmarva and the Chesapeake Bay region’s seafood industries generate billions of dollars in economic activity and support tens of thousands of jobs throughout the region. In particular, clam and oyster operations across Delmarva and throughout the Chesapeake Bay region are important to local economies and help support regional seafood supply chains. Nearly 70 percent of all seafood consumed in the United States is sold at restaurants and hospitality venues. As restaurants were forced to close and continue to adhere to restrictions decreasing service capacity, our local seafood industries, many of which are small businesses, have suffered extreme losses due to substantial reductions in demand.“

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced legislation to prevent the Trump Administration from reducing or redirecting education funding for schools that determine they cannot safely reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. This bill comes as the Trump Administration continues to pressure education leaders to fully reopen schools by threatening to cut education funding.

“The decision to reopen schools should be informed by local health figures and determined by community health officials, parents and teachers,” said Sen. Warner. “Instead of working to support such efforts during this global pandemic, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are blindly pressuring schools all across the country to make decisions that may put students, teachers, and families at risk. This bill makes it clear that the Administration has no legal authority to cut critical education funding during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Specifically, the legislation prohibits the promulgation of any federal regulation, guidance, or policy that requires in-person instruction during this public health crisis. It clarifies that the Secretary of Education cannot compel in-person instruction during an emergency as declared by a federal, state, or local authority, with respect to COVID-19. The bill would apply to any program for which the Secretary of Education has administrative responsibility under the General Education Provisions Act.

Sen. Warner has continued to be a strong advocate for education during the COVID-19 crisis. In May, he joined his Senate colleagues in introducing a bill to ensure K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices so that they may participate in online learning during this health crisis. He has also repeatedly advocated for robust funding and distance learning resources for K-12 students.

Full text of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Steve Daines (R-MT), members of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a $500 million emergency portable benefits fund for states. Under this legislation, the U.S. Department of Labor would administer funds to states to assist them with setting up a portable benefits program for independent workers. The federal funds would also pay for a portion of the costs associated with modernizing states’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) technology systems – a move that would facilitate expanded benefits eligibility and support long-term innovation. Sens. Warner and Daines are seeking to include the proposed legislation in the next COVID-19 relief package.

“Right now, millions of independent, freelance, domestic, and entrepreneurial workers have no social safety net to fall back on. I’ve been sounding the alarm on this for years, and as this pandemic has shown, this is a problem that can wreak havoc on both individual families and on our economy as a whole,” said Sen. Warner. “As we continue to face this health and economic crisis, Congress must act to give states the tools they need to address this problem for the long term. We shouldn’t need an Act of Congress to get workers access to a safety net every time there’s a crisis or economic downturn. We will be right where we were before this crisis if we don’t find some innovative solutions. That’s why we’re introducing this legislation to provide funding for states to experiment with new models for assisting workers and learn what works through a national impact evaluation.”

“Allowing states to experiment with portable benefit models and providing funding to modernize Unemployment Insurance technology systems are just plain commonsense ideas,” said Sen. Daines. “This bill will help encourage bottom-up solutions to the problems we are seeing play out in real-time during this pandemic, and help make sure the country is better prepared to deal with these issues when the next crisis hits.”

The CARES Act granted these non-traditional workers access to state-administered unemployment insurance (UI) programs for the first time. However, reports indicate that millions of these workers have struggled to access these benefits in part due to clunky and outdated state IT systems that administer the benefits and implementation issues. What’s more, the programs created by Congress are temporary and do not address access to portable benefits in the long term. 

Moving forward, this legislation would provide supplemental funds for states to update their unemployment systems for the 21st century, for the purposes of long-term innovation. The emergency benefits proposal would also provide funding for states – in partnership with cities, localities and worker advocate non-profits – to experiment with innovative proposals for portable benefits, such as paid leave, retirement plans, the longer-term expansion of UI eligibility, and other programs specific to local economies.

This bill will also help shed light on which experimental portable benefit models work best. Under this legislation, states are required to submit data on the effectiveness of their approach and its returns for workers, broken down by socioeconomic and racial figures. The Government Accountability Office will then evaluate this data and use it to create a report on the impact of the program.

For more than three years, Sen. Warner has led the bipartisan Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act to establish a grant fund for states, localities and nonprofit organizations to experiment with portable benefits models for the growing independent workforce. Today’s bill – which comes after an initial bill proposal – builds on that effort in light of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, which has left many self-employed entrepreneurs and independent workers with no or reduced incomes and little access to long-term traditional benefits programs. 

This legislation has the support of a number of experts and groups including David Rolf the former President of SEIU 775, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative, Marcela Escobari of the Brookings Institution, R Street Institute, the Center for American Entrepreneurship, and SAG-AFTRA.

“The Center for American Entrepreneurship applauds the introduction of the Emergency Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Act.  The fact that critical benefits such as paid leave, worker retraining, child care, and retirement security are typically provided by corporate employers has emerged as a significant public policy challenge, as 1 in 10 Americans in the labor force are consistently in alternative work arrangements.  In addition, the prospect of losing such employer-provided benefits is a major structural obstacle to entrepreneurship at a time when rates of new business formation have been in decline for years.  By providing a framework for entrepreneurs to access benefits independent from employers, the Act will accelerate policy innovation within states with regard to the provision of critical benefits and enhance worker mobility.  CAE thanks Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Steve Daines (R-MT) for their leadership, and looks forward to working with them toward swift passage of the Act,” said John Dearie, President, Center for American Entrepreneurship.

“We applaud Senator Warner’s long commitment to ensure independent workers have basic protections for themselves and their families when striving to make a living in the emerging gig economy.  Establishing a basic set of benefit protections that working Americans can carry with them, when working and when between jobs, is critical to the safety and well-being of a growing workforce.  This truth has become ever more essential in the era of a global pandemic, when so many Americans have lost jobs but still need to provide the protection of basic health care and other support for their children and families. Many of our SAG-AFTRA members take on all manner of jobs as they work to build a career in entertainment, and we want to see them supported throughout their journey,” said David White, National Executive Director, SAG-AFTRA.

“For years, a mix of too much regulation and too little creativity has led to near-stasis in the ways American firms and governments have allowed those working under alternative arrangements to access benefits. This bill promises to break through the morass and encourage real creativity. Anyone who wants to use this moment of crisis to innovate should strongly consider supporting it,” said Eli Lehrer, President, the R Street Institute.

A summary of the bill is available here. Text of the bill can be found here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and group of Senate colleagues in introducing the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. The bill would require  targeted testing, contract tracing, public awareness campaigns and outreach efforts specifically directed at racial and ethnic minority communities and other populations that have been made vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has had a particularly devastating impact on racial minorities across America,” said Sen. Menendez. “The fact is black and brown Americans suffer higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, fewer economic opportunities, and in some cases real language barriers. Add to that the lack of testing, tracing and education efforts by the Trump Administration targeting communities of color during this pandemic and the impact is deadly. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would create a much needed plan of action specifically designed to address this issue at the federal, state and local levels.”

“COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color and the Trump administration’s response has failed to address the needs of these vulnerable populations,” said Sen. Cardin. “Health disparities for people of color is rooted in systemic racism, racial discrimination, and record-high levels of income inequality. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act will ensure that future public health response efforts, including testing, contact tracing, and potential vaccine distributions are tailored for diverse communities. Our bill will help racial and ethnic minorities in the ongoing fight against this pandemic, and will help inform future reform efforts to reverse long-standing systemic racism in medical research, testing and delivery of care.”

According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, the pandemic has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Nationwide, African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at approximately 2.5 times the rate of white people. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Asian American communities are also facing disproportionate rates of COVID-19.

In New Jersey, 21.3 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve African Americans, although they make up just 14 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics account for 25.7 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up 20.6 percent of the state’s population.

In Maryland, 40.6 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve African Americans, although they make up 30 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics account 25.9 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up just 10 percent of the state’s population.

The bill is supported by Families USA, the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), the National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health (NADPH) the Friends of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) and UnidosUS.

“Families USA thanks Senator Menendez and Senator Cardin for their leadership at such a critical time in our country and for championing health equity. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020 centers the needs of historically marginalized communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said Amber A. Hewitt, Ph.D., Director of Health Equity, Families USA. “This bill addresses the need for complete and accurate data collection on COVID-19 health outcomes, to better inform and tailor testing and contact tracing efforts, and eventually equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, which will be dependent upon culturally and linguistically appropriate messaging. This pandemic has not only exacerbated disparities in health and health care outcomes, but also health inequities, which are unjust and avoidable.”

“Latino communities continue to have high rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19. NHMA strongly supports the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act because it will support targeted strategies to reduce health disparities for COVID-19 and future public health emergencies,” said Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, FACP, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

“As the impact of COVID-19 health disparities has shown all too well, whether from a public health or an economic perspective, the effect of health disparities is a National crisis,” said Alex J. Carlisle, Ph.D.; Founder, Chair, & CEO, National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health (NADPH). “By allocating resources to the communities most severely impacted by COVID-19, and the agencies and stakeholders with recognized and demonstrated commitments to serving these communities, the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020 provides the National leadership and response needed to help our Nation overcome this crisis.” 

The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would:

  • Require the Trump Administration to develop an action plan to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations.
  • Require states to revise testing and contact tracing plans to address racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations experiencing health disparities related to COVID-19.
  • Authorize the development of targeted public awareness campaigns about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and treatment directed at racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other socially vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  • Ensure that federally funded contact-tracing efforts are tailored to the racial and ethnic diversity of local communities.  

Joining Sens. Warner, Menendez and Cardin as co-sponsors of the legislation are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“We’ve seen that communities of color all over the country have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. In many cases, these disparities have been exacerbated by factors like overrepresentation in front-line jobs, higher rates of chronic health conditions, inequitable access to health care, and bias within the health care system itself. That’s why we need to be doing everything possible to make sure the hardest hit communities have access to the targeted tools they need to respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner.  

“Structural racism continues to plague our country, and its impact can be seen in the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on Black and Latino neighborhoods and in Indian Country,” said Sen. Warren. “Addressing the public health impacts of systemic racism must be at the very heart of the federal government's response to this pandemic, and that starts with quickly passing the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act.”

“COVID-19 has ravaged communities of color in Maryland and throughout our country. This pandemic has laid bare the deep-seated health and socioeconomic inequities that many Black and Latino Americans face and their deadly impacts. As they experience higher rates of COVID-19 and are disproportionately working on the front lines of the COVID response, it is unacceptable that the Trump Administration has no plan to tackle this crisis. Our bill will concentrate resources where they’re needed most and ensure that our response to COVID-19 is tailored to best reach these communities,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a public health and economic crisis without precedent in our lifetimes, and it is abundantly clear that this virus has not only exposed, but also exacerbated, the deep, structural racial inequalities that have been taking the lives and livelihoods of people of color and Black Americans in particular for centuries,” said Sen. Booker. “Our bill seeks to create a much-needed national strategy for addressing the deadly disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 and any future public health crises by directing resources that are accessible and responsive to the communities that need them the most.”    

“Growing data on COVID-19 is making one thing clear: communities of color are being disproportionately affected by this pandemic,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “Many are frontline workers who don’t have the luxury of working from home and for those who live in multigenerational homes, social distancing is nearly impossible. We cannot hope to get ahead of the curve without addressing the racial inequities that exist in how COVID-19 spreads and how we respond. This bill does exactly that by developing a different approach to COVID-19 to address the health disparities that exist in our communities.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the grim reality of persistent disparities in our health care system. Nationwide, racial and ethnic minorities have experienced higher rates of infection and worse health outcomes, and in Hawaii, our Pacific Islander community has been disproportionately impacted by the virus,” said Sen. Hirono. “This legislation takes important steps to address COVID-19 health disparities with a clear strategy to tailor testing, contact tracing, and outreach to communities of color.”

“COVID-19 has taken a particularly devastating toll on communities of color while the administration has failed at remedying this tragedy,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation to help address existing health disparities which have acutely exacerbated this crisis. This bill will ensure a robust investment in a public health approach tailored to communities of color and help combat deeply-rooted racism in medical research and the health care delivery system, strengthening our public health system for generations to come.”

“Longstanding inequities have caused communities of color to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus,” said Sen. Rosen. “In Nevada, our state’s Latino population is being devastatingly impacted at a higher rate from COVID-19 than any other group. This legislation will help address racial and ethnic health disparities by increasing testing, contact tracing, and outreach to our most affected communities. We must take concrete steps to overcome these health inequalities now and for the future. I will continue working to protect the well-being of all Nevadans.”

“People of color represent 10 percent of New Hampshire’s population, but 25 percent of our COVID-19 cases – and similar health care disparities have existed for far too long,” Sen. Hassan said. “I recently spoke with public health leaders in New Hampshire about the racial disparities in health care outcomes and this legislation is a good first step to help address these unacceptable inequities in our health care system.” 

Earlier this year, Sen. Menendez called on the Trump Administration to do more to help minority communities that are seeing a disproportionately higher impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, and also urged pharmaceutical companies to include patients from diverse backgrounds in clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The text of the bill can be downloaded here and a one pager is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are introducing the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, legislation to make a new, $17.9 billion investment in low-income and minority communities that have been especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) will introduce companion legislation in the House.

The legislation would provide eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) with capital, liquidity, and operational capacity, to expand the flow of credit into underserved, minority, and historically disadvantaged communities, helping small businesses stay afloat and expand operations, while providing affordable access to credit for lower income borrowers. The Senators are seeking to include the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act in any upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation to help hard-hit communities weather and recover from the economic blow of the pandemic.

“We know that Black and Latino Americans are disproportionately suffering from the dual health and economic effects of COVID-19, putting many low-income and minority neighborhoods at risk of sustained economic damage that will last far beyond the current crisis. Steps like PPP loans, expanded UI, and one-time stimulus payments helped to soften the blow in some places, but not enough. Jobs that supported these neighborhoods are disappearing overnight, and if we don’t act now, we could see a hemorrhaging of already-limited economic opportunities from these communities that will take generations to recover,” said Sen. Warner. “The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act directs billions in new investments to help low- income and minority communities withstand this unprecedented economic downturn and emerge stronger with increased access to capital and new economic opportunities.”

“Even before the pandemic, communities of color and low-income communities were facing deep- seated challenges and structural inequities in accessing capital and economic opportunity,” said Sen. Booker. “Now, as the Coronavirus crisis exposes and exacerbates these inequities, it’s past time we act boldly, by investing in the families, businesses, and communities that have been most impacted and providing them with the resources they need to recover and rebuild.”

“We are in the midst of multiple crises in our country: a public health crisis, which is disproportionately impacting people of color in America; and the resulting economic crisis that is causing financial hardship for our small and minority-owned institutions. As we work to secure additional funding for the survival of businesses across the country, I am proud to work with my colleagues on this next step in not only lifting up the hardest hit communities, but ensuring they thrive in the coming months,” said Sen. Harris.

“Since long before they were hit with the recession created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Black families and business owners have struggled to gain access to capital and banking services necessary to build and maintain strong communities and opportunities for growth. The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act would mean billions in resources for the institutions that serve the underfunded and underbanked and provide minority and low income neighborhoods with the resources they need to help them not just weather the storm but thrive over the long-term,” said Sen. Schumer. “If our Republicans colleagues are serious about addressing inequity and getting aid to those who need it most, they should stop focusing on providing immunity to big corporations and make sure our truly small and minority owned businesses, and the institutions that truly seek to serve them, have access to the resources and funding they need to survive and thrive.”

“As Chairman of the House Financial Service Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions, my focus has been squarely on address the inequities faced by unbanked and underbanked communities, and communities of color that continue to be discriminated against to this day, including in banking and financial services. The COVID19 pandemic has laid bare the vulnerability of these communities, and the urgency of addressing the failures of the financial system that leave these communities behind. Achieving a balanced and sustainable economic recovery requires inclusion of, and investments in minority banks, community development financial institutions, and those banks and lenders that reach marginalized communities,” said Rep. Meeks.

A summary of the bill is available here. Text of the bill is available here.

“The compounding effects of COVID-19 will put many low-income and minority neighborhoods at risk of sustained economic damage,” said David Clunie, Executive Director, Black Economic Alliance. “The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act seeks to mitigate economic damage and break down some of the economic barriers Black communities face by strengthening the financial institutions that serve communities of color so they can boost operational capacity and increase lending to Black businesses and lower-income borrowers. By improving access to capital and providing new economic opportunities, this legislation will help Black Americans emerge stronger from the economic downturn that is harming Black communities disproportionately. BEA is proud to have helped shape this billWe are grateful to Senators Schumer, Warner, Harris, and Booker and Rep. Meeks for their leadership, and we look forward to swift passage of this proposal.”

“In this critical moment, our communities are in dire need of being supported and uplifted,” said Derrick Johnson, President and CEO, NAACP. “The disproportionate impact and strain COVID-19 has placed on low-income neighborhoods has been devastating, and the relief Jobs and Neighborhood Act will provide is sorely needed. I am encouraged by the organizations, elected officials and community leaders that continue to step up and fill in the gap amid this turbulent time; and the NAACP will continue to lead in this fight.”  

 “Underserved communities require specific actions to inject resources that impact families and businesses. The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act as Senator Warner proposes must be pointed to these communities as the data proves that there is a disproportionate impact from COVID-19. Therefore, we must itemize the need to repair, restore, and regenerate economic vitality in these communities,” said Kenneth Kelly, Chairman, National Bankers Association.

“The pandemic has illuminated the barriers faced by Black borrowers, business owners and their employees like nothing else in recent memory,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League. “The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act is a step toward not only reclaiming the economic ground that has been lost over the last few months, but revitalizing the Black communities that still lag behind because of systemic racism and lack of opportunity. The National Urban League recommends passage of this legislation.”

“This bill provides critical support for  CDFIs and MDIs and is a good step toward expanding the flow of credit into underserved and historically disadvantaged communities. This is especially important for communities of color, which have been hit hardest by the current crisis. This legislation will enable business owners of color to survive and expand operations,” said Ashley Harrington, Director of Federal Advocacy and Senior Counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. “This is a commonsense approach to help local economies, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Senators Warner, Harris, and Booker and Congressman Meeks in further strengthening this legislation and in getting it passed into law.”

“The African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs supports the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act. We believe it is a positive step to ensuring that small businesses most impacted by the pandemic will receive funding- through CDFIs and minority lenders- to assist with restoring and rebuilding communities,” said Donna Gambrell, Chair, and Calvin Holmes, Vice-Chair, The African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act has the potential to dramatically increase the flow of responsible investment capital into communities of color. This could be a game changer for community development institutions that are helping underserved communities emerge from the current economic crisis,” said Noel Andrés Poyo, Executive Director, National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders.

“This legislation proposed by Sen. Mark Warner (VA) works to provide the needed capital investments in Black communities that will help families in crises due to the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These resources will strengthen businesses, increase employment and provide access to affordable credit for many hardworking residents in our country’s most underserved communities,” said Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Chairman, Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC).

“Prosperity Now has been honored to work with Senators Warner, Booker, Harris and Congressman Meeks on their Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, a comprehensive plan to capitalize and strengthen Minority-Owned Banks and CDFIs, which are fundamental to our communities and their recovery from COVID-19. A key value of this legislation is that it would also prepare us for and respond to the next economic crisis. We fully endorse this bill,” said Doug Ryan, Senior Fellow, Prosperity Now.

“The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) applauds Senator Warner and the other co-sponsors for recognizing the critical role that CDFIs and Minority Depository Institutions play in providing capital to underserved borrowers and communities, and for providing them with the resources needed to meet the scale of the challenge that is facing the country as we recover from both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. There is little doubt that the communities served by CDFIs and MDIs are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and this legislation provides a thoughtful means of ensuring that scarce federal resources get to the businesses and residents of those communities,” said Maurice Jones, President and CEO, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act’s support of minority-owned and minority-led lenders is a great step forward for promoting access to capital for underserved communities and the country at large. We look forward to bipartisan passage and working with all stakeholders to ensure its intent is realized,” said Aron Betru, Managing Director, Milken Institute Center for Financial Markets.

“The current global pandemic has made plain that our financial system is stronger and more dynamic when community development financial institutions grow and thrive.  We applaud the work of Senators Warner, Booker, Harris and Congressman Meeks in advancing the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act to strengthen the efforts of community-based lenders by providing them with additional tools to continue reaching those most deeply affected by this crisis,” said Cathie Mahon, President and CEO, Inclusiv.

“Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by the health and economic effects of the pandemic. More than 40% of black businesses already have shut down. We need urgent investments to change this trajectory, empower a banking system that reaches deep into our minority communities, and help us reach the urgent goal of economic justice. This legislation provides vital support to community and minority-owned banks. Eliminating the racial wealth gap would add more than $1 trillion to our country’s GDP, benefitting all communities. This isn’t a political issue, and I’m hopeful leaders across both parties will come together to drive real change forward, without delay,” said Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Vista Equity Partners.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act recognizes the critical role CDFIs play in serving communities struggling against persistent racial and economic inequality.  In particular, the Opportunity Finance Network applauds the inclusion of $1 billion in immediate CDFI Fund grants to strengthen CDFIs to do more in the challenging months ahead,” said Jennifer A. Vasiloff, Chief External Affairs Officer Opportunity Finance Network.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act will inject vital resources into families, businesses and communities that have been hardest hit by COVID and the economic crisis. By prioritizing investments that increase and leverage the capacity of minority lenders and CDFIs, the Act will significantly advance economic opportunity among America’s most underserved people and places,” said Bill Bynum, CEO, Hope Credit Union.

“Over the past four months, we have watched in awe as CDFIs and MDIs across the country have mobilized any and all available resources at their disposal to mitigate the devastating effects of COVID- 19. We have seen their willingness and ability to ensure that the communities they serve weather this crisis, restart and recover quickly, and build back stronger and with more resilience. The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act would provide the necessary capital and operating support so that these community-based lenders can significantly grow their efforts to meet the incredible need across urban, rural, and Native communities,” said Jennifer Pryce, President & CEO, and Frederick “Bart” Harvey, Chairman of the Board, Calvert Impact Capital.

“This initiative is exactly what is needed to help low-income and communities of color rebuild. CDFIs have long been committed to racial and economic justice. This set of programs will provide the tools for CDFIs to help small businesses survive and thrive and communities to recover,” said Jeannine Jacokes, Chief Executive Officer, Community Development Bankers Association.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act will put resources and financial mechanisms into the communities where they can do the most good. Senators Warner, Booker and Harris, and Congressman Meeks, have introduced a measure that, if enacted, will catalyze growth and opportunity for underrepresented groups by unleashing the potential of small businesses in minority communities too often left behind by broader economic growth,” said David Grain, Founder and CEO, Grain Management.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act will help get needed funds into communities hardest hit by the crisis, by supporting community development financial institutions and minority depository institutions – those with the on-the-ground expertise and track record to get the job done,” said Professor Michael S. Barr, Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy, Frank Murphy Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, Roy F. and Jean Humphrey Proffitt Professor of Law, University of Michigan.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded $3,001,442 in federal funding for public transportation in the City of Winchester. The funding, for Winchester Transit, was authorized by the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine.

“We’re pleased to announce these federal dollars will help the Winchester Transit system continue to provide essential services while keeping their workers and riders safe,” said the Senators.

Through the CARES Act, Congress provided $25 billion for transit agencies to help prevent, prepare, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Winchester received its funding under the FTA’s Urbanized Area Formula Program, which makes federal resources available to urbanized areas and to governors for transit capital and operating assistance in urbanized areas and for transportation-related planning.

The funds will support operating, administrative, and preventive maintenance costs for Winchester Transit in order to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued a statement today regarding threats by the Trump Administration to withhold federal education funding from school districts that determine they cannot safely reopen for in-person instruction in the fall:

“Decisions about school openings should be made by local health officials, parents and teachers – not Betsy DeVos or Donald Trump,” said Sen. Warner. “I'll be introducing a bill to make it crystal clear that the Trump Administration doesn’t have the authority to cut off funding for local schools during the COVID-19 crisis.” 

Sen. Warner has continued to be a strong advocate for education during the COVID-19 crisis. In May, he joined his Senate colleagues in introducing a bill to ensure K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices so that they may participate in online learning during this health crisis. He has also repeatedly advocated for robust funding and distance learning resources for K-12 students.

###

Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and 44 of her Democratic Senate colleagues in writing to Vice President Mike Pence, and Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, urging the Trump Administration to reverse recent changes requiring hospitals to report data to a new system set up by the Department of Health and Human Services instead of the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) which is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has been in use for over a decade.

 “We write today to urge you to withdraw your confusing and harmful changes to hospital reporting requirements for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). In the midst of a global pandemic, these changes pose serious challenges to the nation’s response by increasing the data management burden for hospitals, potentially delaying critical supply shipments, compromising access to key data for many states, and reducing transparency for the public. The Trump Administration’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 response and refusal to heed public health expertise continue to put the country in a dangerous position,” write the Senators.

The letter the Senators sent today details how the sudden switch to the new system could undermine the COVID-19 response on several fronts: hospitals unable to switch within 48 hours could lose access to critical supplies; states who have built their own response and data systems on the NHSN could lose access to critical information; and the decision to circumvent CDC could lead to disruption in the data collected, questions about its accuracy, and hampered access for public health experts and the general public.

Before posing several questions to Administration about the shift, the Senators’ letter concludes, “Without adequate data, the country has been unable to appropriately adjust our response to COVID-19—a reality highlighted by the dearth of reliable data on the heavy burden of COVID-19 on communities of color and other vulnerable populations. The American people deserve to know the true scope of the pandemic, and that can only happen if public health experts lead in collecting and reporting data accurately and transparently. By abruptly changing the reporting process by requiring hospitals to report to HHS and circumventing CDC, we are concerned there will be a disruption in the data collected and questions about the accuracy of that data.”

The letter was also signed by Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Angus King (I-ME), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

 

See the full text of the letter below. A PDF is available HERE.

July 17, 2020

The Honorable Michael R. Pence

Vice President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable Deborah Birx, M.D.

Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Vice President Pence and Ambassador Birx,

We write today to urge you to withdraw your confusing and harmful changes to hospital reporting requirements for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). In the midst of a global pandemic, these changes pose serious challenges to the nation’s response by increasing the data management burden for hospitals, potentially delaying critical supply shipments, compromising access to key data for many states, and reducing transparency for the public. The Trump Administration’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 response and refusal to heed public health expertise continue to put the country in a dangerous position.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the primary repository of the nation’s public health data, including data on COVID-19. Leading public health groups agree that CDC is “uniquely qualified to collect, analyze and disseminate information regarding infectious diseases.”[1] The agency’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), which has played a critical role in collecting public health data for fifteen years, is used in over 25,000 health care facilities across the United States for mandatory reporting of infection-related data and for voluntary use for quality improvement. NHSN’s COVID-19 reporting module for hospitals, which launched on March 27, 2020, enables facilities to submit data on cases, personnel, and supply shortages. Following the launch of the COVID-19 module, Vice President Pence and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) required both hospitals and nursing homes to report to NHSN. Within six weeks of its launch, over 60 percent of the nation’s hospitals were reporting daily through the NHSN COVID-19 module. As a result, many states have built their own COVID-19 data management systems on this NHSN data feed. 

Despite the CDC’s well-established reporting mechanism, in early April, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) issued a six-month contract for $10 million on a non-competitive basis to TeleTracking to create an alternate hospital reporting pathway to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The new system inexplicably created a second, duplicative mechanism through which hospitals could report the same information already collected through NHSN – this time managed by a private contractor.

On July 13, 2020, you directed hospitals to cease reporting data to NHSN and instead report to HHS via the newly established TeleTracking or HHS Protect systems within 48 hours, splitting out hospital reporting and nursing home reporting into separate systems. Your request states “[a]s of July 15, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the COVID-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site. Please select one of the above methods to use instead.” [2] You further unreasonably urged states to consider deploying the National Guard to the nation’s hospitals to support this data reporting change.[3]

The change in reporting mechanism that you have ordered will only exacerbate ongoing challenges to tracking COVID-19 data, which is already hampered by serious limitations in how data is collected, managed, reported, and disseminated.  Combined with insufficient testing capacity, this has led to an incomplete picture of the scope and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The CDC has indicated it believes the true number of cases in the country is 10 times higher than the official counts.[4]

The CARES Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020, included $500 million for the CDC Data Modernization Initiative, to help CDC update, streamline, and scale up data collection. Rather than focusing on these critical efforts, however, the Trump Administration has chosen to instead reorganize and redirect data flow. This decision by the Administration to change the reporting process in the midst of a pandemic is deeply troubling. While there are certainly steps needed to improve public health data collection, waging interdepartmental jurisdictional battles to sideline our nation’s leading public health agency in the middle of an historic pandemic is bad management at best and malpractice at worst.

Rather than focusing on emergency response and patient care, hospitals must now spend precious time and resources changing their processes for reporting data.  You also announced that as soon as next week shipments of critical supplies that are in shortage, including personal protective equipment (PPE), will be based on data collected from these new systems. That means hospitals that are unable to change their reporting in under 48 hours may lose out on access to those critical supplies. Furthermore, the lack of transparency under the new data reporting requirements raises major concerns regarding their distribution. An opaque data collection mechanism invites political interference in processes and decisions that must be driven by data and public health.

Moreover, the abrupt change in data collection mechanisms threatens to leave states that rely on the NHSN data feeds in the dark about the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. By eliminating NHSN as the data source, and moving all federal hospital reporting to two systems that do not automatically share data or analytic reports created by CDC medical epidemiologists with states, the federal government is significantly undermining states’ ability to effectively respond to this crisis. This is unacceptable at any point in a pandemic – it is especially dangerous in a moment where cases are surging to unprecedented levels, with more than 66,000 new cases reported in the U.S. on July 15.[5] This Administration has repeatedly underscored the role and responsibility of states in responding to COVID-19, yet steps like these actively undermine states’ responses.

Without adequate data, the country has been unable to appropriately adjust our response to COVID-19—a reality highlighted by the dearth of reliable data on the heavy burden of COVID-19 on communities of color and other vulnerable populations. The American people deserve to know the true scope of the pandemic, and that can only happen if public health experts lead in collecting and reporting data accurately and transparently. By abruptly changing the reporting process by requiring hospitals to report to HHS and circumventing CDC, we are concerned there will be a disruption in the data collected and questions about the accuracy of that data.

The federal government must ensure data collection is led by public health experts, remains transparent and accurate, and is appropriately safeguarded. We urge that these changes to COVID-19 hospital reporting requirements be halted immediately.

Additionally, we request answers to the questions below about the decision to change data reporting requirements for hospitals. Please respond to the questions by July 31, 2020:

  1. What is the justification for requiring hospitals to change their reporting within 48 hours?
  2. What is the public health rationale for moving data collection from the CDC to HHS?
  3. Will HHS or TeleTracking now provide analytic reports of the hospital data to other federal government agencies, state health departments, and hospital facilities as CDC previously did?
  4. Will HHS or TeleTracking publicly report a portion of the hospital data as CDC previously did?
  5. To the extent HHS is limiting access to data or analytic reports for federal agencies, state health departments, hospital facilities, and/or the public, what is the justification for such limitations?
  6. How will data reported to HHS be transmitted to CDC to support ongoing holistic public health surveillance and analysis efforts of COVID-19 infections?
  7. Please detail any differences between the NHSN, TeleTracking, and HHS Protect systems on the basis of technological capability or data collected.
    1. Please explain why NHSN is insufficient to effectively collect and report relevant COVID-19 data.
    2. Is NHSN unable to determine any resource allotments or response activities for which TeleTracking or HHS Protect offers new capabilities?

                                                              i.      If so, what would be required to update NHSN in order to allow it to perform this function? Why was this not pursued?

                                                            ii.      If not, please explain the stated justification for these changes.

  1. Which office or entity will be in charge of managing the data at HHS?
  2. Please describe the steps the Administration is taking to ensure data is both accurate and readily available for CDC, states, public health departments, Congress, the research community, and the public.
  3. How will the Administration ensure a transparent data collection process?
  4. How will the Administration ensure improved collection of demographic data, including data broken down by race ethnicity, age, geography, disability status, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and socioeconomic status?
  5. What funding is being used to support the new HHS data collection system?  Please include details about which COVID-19 emergency supplemental bill appropriated this funding and the justification for HHS to use it for this purpose.  Please also include estimated costs for developing and implementing this new system as well as any other related expenses, the plans for its long-term use, and projections for its annual costs. 

We look forward to your responses.

Sincerely,

 ###

 

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and 44 of their Democratic Senate colleagues in writing to Vice President Mike Pence, and Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, urging the Trump Administration to reverse recent changes requiring hospitals to report data to a new system set up by the Department of Health and Human Services instead of the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) which is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has been in use for over a decade.  

“We write today to urge you to withdraw your confusing and harmful changes to hospital reporting requirements for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). In the midst of a global pandemic, these changes pose serious challenges to the nation’s response by increasing the data management burden for hospitals, potentially delaying critical supply shipments, compromising access to key data for many states, and reducing transparency for the public. The Trump Administration’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 response and refusal to heed public health expertise continue to put the country in a dangerous position,” write the Senators.

Earlier this year, Senator Murray wrote to the Trump Administration questioning its decision to award a $10 million non-competitive contract to develop a duplicative data system—the system which the Administration is now requiring hospitals switch to in place of NHSN, justifying the change as necessary to reduce duplicative hospital reporting that this Administration itself created. The Administration has yet to respond to her letter or explain how the new system differs from NHSN or improves reporting.

The letter the Senators sent today details how the sudden switch to the new system could undermine the COVID-19 response on several fronts: hospitals unable to switch within 48 hours could lose access to critical supplies; states who have built their own response and data systems on the NHSN could lose access to critical information; and the decision to circumvent CDC could lead to disruption in the data collected, questions about its accuracy, and hampered access for public health experts and the general public.

Before posing several questions to Administration about the shift, the Senators’ letter concludes, “Without adequate data, the country has been unable to appropriately adjust our response to COVID-19—a reality highlighted by the dearth of reliable data on the heavy burden of COVID-19 on communities of color and other vulnerable populations. The American people deserve to know the true scope of the pandemic, and that can only happen if public health experts lead in collecting and reporting data accurately and transparently. By abruptly changing the reporting process by requiring hospitals to report to HHS and circumventing CDC, we are concerned there will be a disruption in the data collected and questions about the accuracy of that data.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Angus King (I-ME), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

See the full text of the letter below. A PDF is available HERE.

July 17, 2020

The Honorable Michael R. Pence

Vice President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable Deborah Birx, M.D.

Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500 

Dear Vice President Pence and Ambassador Birx,

We write today to urge you to withdraw your confusing and harmful changes to hospital reporting requirements for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). In the midst of a global pandemic, these changes pose serious challenges to the nation’s response by increasing the data management burden for hospitals, potentially delaying critical supply shipments, compromising access to key data for many states, and reducing transparency for the public. The Trump Administration’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 response and refusal to heed public health expertise continue to put the country in a dangerous position.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the primary repository of the nation’s public health data, including data on COVID-19. Leading public health groups agree that CDC is “uniquely qualified to collect, analyze and disseminate information regarding infectious diseases.”[1] The agency’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), which has played a critical role in collecting public health data for fifteen years, is used in over 25,000 health care facilities across the United States for mandatory reporting of infection-related data and for voluntary use for quality improvement. NHSN’s COVID-19 reporting module for hospitals, which launched on March 27, 2020, enables facilities to submit data on cases, personnel, and supply shortages. Following the launch of the COVID-19 module, Vice President Pence and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) required both hospitals and nursing homes to report to NHSN. Within six weeks of its launch, over 60 percent of the nation’s hospitals were reporting daily through the NHSN COVID-19 module. As a result, many states have built their own COVID-19 data management systems on this NHSN data feed. 

Despite the CDC’s well-established reporting mechanism, in early April, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) issued a six-month contract for $10 million on a non-competitive basis to TeleTracking to create an alternate hospital reporting pathway to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The new system inexplicably created a second, duplicative mechanism through which hospitals could report the same information already collected through NHSN – this time managed by a private contractor.

On July 13, 2020, you directed hospitals to cease reporting data to NHSN and instead report to HHS via the newly established TeleTracking or HHS Protect systems within 48 hours, splitting out hospital reporting and nursing home reporting into separate systems. Your request states “[a]s of July 15, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the COVID-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site. Please select one of the above methods to use instead.” [2] You further unreasonably urged states to consider deploying the National Guard to the nation’s hospitals to support this data reporting change.[3] 

The change in reporting mechanism that you have ordered will only exacerbate ongoing challenges to tracking COVID-19 data, which is already hampered by serious limitations in how data is collected, managed, reported, and disseminated.  Combined with insufficient testing capacity, this has led to an incomplete picture of the scope and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The CDC has indicated it believes the true number of cases in the country is 10 times higher than the official counts.[4]

The CARES Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020, included $500 million for the CDC Data Modernization Initiative, to help CDC update, streamline, and scale up data collection. Rather than focusing on these critical efforts, however, the Trump Administration has chosen to instead reorganize and redirect data flow. This decision by the Administration to change the reporting process in the midst of a pandemic is deeply troubling. While there are certainly steps needed to improve public health data collection, waging interdepartmental jurisdictional battles to sideline our nation’s leading public health agency in the middle of an historic pandemic is bad management at best and malpractice at worst.  

Rather than focusing on emergency response and patient care, hospitals must now spend precious time and resources changing their processes for reporting data.  You also announced that as soon as next week shipments of critical supplies that are in shortage, including personal protective equipment (PPE), will be based on data collected from these new systems. That means hospitals that are unable to change their reporting in under 48 hours may lose out on access to those critical supplies. Furthermore, the lack of transparency under the new data reporting requirements raises major concerns regarding their distribution. An opaque data collection mechanism invites political interference in processes and decisions that must be driven by data and public health. 

Moreover, the abrupt change in data collection mechanisms threatens to leave states that rely on the NHSN data feeds in the dark about the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. By eliminating NHSN as the data source, and moving all federal hospital reporting to two systems that do not automatically share data or analytic reports created by CDC medical epidemiologists with states, the federal government is significantly undermining states’ ability to effectively respond to this crisis. This is unacceptable at any point in a pandemic – it is especially dangerous in a moment where cases are surging to unprecedented levels, with more than 66,000 new cases reported in the U.S. on July 15.[5]This Administration has repeatedly underscored the role and responsibility of states in responding to COVID-19, yet steps like these actively undermine states’ responses.

Without adequate data, the country has been unable to appropriately adjust our response to COVID-19—a reality highlighted by the dearth of reliable data on the heavy burden of COVID-19 on communities of color and other vulnerable populations. The American people deserve to know the true scope of the pandemic, and that can only happen if public health experts lead in collecting and reporting data accurately and transparently. By abruptly changing the reporting process by requiring hospitals to report to HHS and circumventing CDC, we are concerned there will be a disruption in the data collected and questions about the accuracy of that data.

The federal government must ensure data collection is led by public health experts, remains transparent and accurate, and is appropriately safeguarded. We urge that these changes to COVID-19 hospital reporting requirements be halted immediately. 

Additionally, we request answers to the questions below about the decision to change data reporting requirements for hospitals. Please respond to the questions by July 31, 2020:

1.       What is the justification for requiring hospitals to change their reporting within 48 hours?

2.      What is the public health rationale for moving data collection from the CDC to HHS?

3.      Will HHS or TeleTracking now provide analytic reports of the hospital data to other federal government agencies, state health departments, and hospital facilities as CDC previously did?

4.      Will HHS or TeleTracking publicly report a portion of the hospital data as CDC previously did?

5.      To the extent HHS is limiting access to data or analytic reports for federal agencies, state health departments, hospital facilities, and/or the public, what is the justification for such limitations? 

6.      How will data reported to HHS be transmitted to CDC to support ongoing holistic public health surveillance and analysis efforts of COVID-19 infections?

7.      Please detail any differences between the NHSN, TeleTracking, and HHS Protect systems on the basis of technological capability or data collected.

a.      Please explain why NHSN is insufficient to effectively collect and report relevant COVID-19 data.

b.      Is NHSN unable to determine any resource allotments or response activities for which TeleTracking or HHS Protect offers new capabilities?

                                                              i.      If so, what would be required to update NHSN in order to allow it to perform this function? Why was this not pursued?

                                                           ii.      If not, please explain the stated justification for these changes.

8.     Which office or entity will be in charge of managing the data at HHS?

9.      Please describe the steps the Administration is taking to ensure data is both accurate and readily available for CDC, states, public health departments, Congress, the research community, and the public.

10.  How will the Administration ensure a transparent data collection process?

11.   How will the Administration ensure improved collection of demographic data, including data broken down by race ethnicity, age, geography, disability status, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and socioeconomic status?

12.  What funding is being used to support the new HHS data collection system?  Please include details about which COVID-19 emergency supplemental bill appropriated this funding and the justification for HHS to use it for this purpose.  Please also include estimated costs for developing and implementing this new system as well as any other related expenses, the plans for its long-term use, and projections for its annual costs. 

We look forward to your responses.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) raised alarm with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for continuing to transfer individuals in custody between detention facilities, even as approximately 80 percent of the population at the Farmville, Va. detention center tests positive for COVID-19. In a letter, the Senators urged ICE and DHS to prioritize the health and well-being of detained individuals and staff, and to protect the communities that surround these facilities. This letter follows a previous June 26 letter sent by Sens. Warner and Kaine urging ICE to stop transfers, following a spike of 50 COVID-19 cases at the Farmville detention center.

“Despite the recent surge in cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) across the country, it is our understanding that ICE has not halted interstate detainee transfers between facilities,” wrote the Senators. “If this is true, ICE is continuing to endanger the health and safety of detainees and workers, as evidenced by the recent outbreak at the Immigration Centers of America Farmville (Farmville ICA) facility.”

They continued, “In early June, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to Farmville ICA from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. Within two weeks of their transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. As we stated in our June 26 letter, prior to the transfers, the facility had only a few cases of the virus. ICE is endangering a staggering number of lives of detainees, staff, and the surrounding Farmville community because of its decision to transfer detainees during the pandemic.” 

In the letter, the Senators requested that Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Director of ICE Matthew Albence work with the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an overall assessment of the situation and confirm the seriousness of the spread in the Farmville facility. They also posed the following series of questions in order to understand what ICE is doing to protect the health of individuals in custody, staff members, and the community:

  1. Has ICE halted all transfers of detainees among detention facilities? If not, when was the last detainee or group of detainees transferred, and what were the original and final destinations?
    1. If all transfers have been halted, does ICE plan to resume transfers anytime soon? If so, please provide details, including when ICE expects to begin transfers and at which facilities.
  2. Did ICE distribute its COVID-19 Pandemic Response guidance to all detention facilities, and if so, on what date?
    1. How does ICE ensure detention facilities are implementing proper quarantine and isolation protocols?
    2. How does a detention center solicit help in containing a COVID-19 outbreak?
  1. Please explain in detail how ICE tracks COVID-19 cases in detention facilities and how quickly ICE updates its website with new numbers of cases.
  2. Is ICE notifying state and local health departments when a detainee who previously tested positive is released so that community experts can ensure appropriate contract tracing?  If so, what are the procedures for such notifications? If not, why is ICE choosing not to share this information with state and local health departments?

Sens. Warner and Kaine have previously pushed ICE to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities. In May, the Senators joined a letter calling on the DHS Inspector General to examine ICE detention facilities nationwide to evaluate whether the facilities’ operations, management, standards, and conditions have adapted to address the threat of COVID-19 to both the staff and detainees. 

Full text of today’s letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Albence:

We write to follow up on our June 26, 2020 letter regarding detainee transfers and conditions at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in Farmville, Virginia, and Bowling Green, Virginia, to which we have not received a response.  There are now 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst detainees, which is approximately 80% of the population housed at Farmville, and 26 confirmed cases amongst staff members. 

Despite the recent surge in cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) across the country, it is our understanding that ICE has not halted interstate detainee transfers between facilities. If this is true, ICE is continuing to endanger the health and safety of detainees and workers, as evidenced by the recent outbreak at the Immigration Centers of America Farmville (Farmville ICA) facility.

In early June, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to Farmville ICA from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. Within two weeks of their transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. As we stated in our June 26 letter, prior to the transfers, the facility had only a few cases of the virus.  ICE is endangering a staggering number of lives of detainees, staff, and the surrounding Farmville community because of its decision to transfer detainees during the pandemic. 

In order to assist in keeping the Commonwealth safe, we have several questions concerning how ICE is protecting the health of individuals in your custody, staff members, and the community.  Due to the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases at the Farmville detention facility, please reply by July 31, 2020.

  1. Has ICE halted all transfers of detainees among detention facilities? If not, when was the last detainee or group of detainees transferred, and what were the original and final destinations?
    1. If all transfers have been halted, does ICE plan to resume transfers anytime soon? If so, please provide details, including when ICE expects to begin transfers and at which facilities.
  2. Did ICE distribute its COVID-19 Pandemic Response guidance to all detention facilities, and if so, on what date?
    1. How does ICE ensure detention facilities are implementing proper quarantine and isolation protocols?
    2. How does a detention center solicit help in containing a COVID-19 outbreak?
  1. Please explain in detail how ICE tracks COVID-19 cases in detention facilities and how quickly ICE updates its website with new numbers of cases.
  2. Is ICE notifying state and local health departments when a detainee who previously tested positive is released so that community experts can ensure appropriate contact tracing?  If so, what are the procedures for such notifications? If not, why is ICE choosing not to share this information with state and local health departments?

Finally, as we witness almost the entire detainee population at Farmville testing positive for COVID-19, we ask that you work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an overall assessment of the situation and confirm the seriousness of the spread in the Farmville facility. 

It is incumbent upon ICE to prioritize the health and well-being of its detainees and staff, and at the same time it must also protect the communities that its facilities inhabit. ICE must not view its facilities as silos in the fight to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and should allow local health authorities access and information to protect our communities.

We appreciate your attention to these issues and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

 

###