Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to waive a requirement that needlessly forces children – including those who are immunocompromised – to physically accompany their parent or guardian to a school lunch distribution site in order to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, therefore putting them at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Current USDA regulations prohibit school districts from distributing meals to families unless the child is present. While we understand the need for this policy under normal circumstances, the current public health emergency demonstrates a clear need for flexibility in food distribution policies to ensure every child has access to a healthy meal,” the Senators wrote in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “The current policy is burdensome on families and places children at increased risk – especially those who are immunocompromised. This creates a difficult situation for some families who must decide between potentially placing their children at risk of infection and skipping meals.”

According to reports, Virginia families with at-risk children have already been put in the difficult position of choosing whether to seek the food assistance they need, or safeguard the health and safety of their child.

“To meet the nutrition needs of all children during the current public health crisis, we request that USDA establish guidelines for states that remove the in-person requirements for families with at-risk children to reduce unnecessary exposure to COVID-19,” they continued. “Removing this restriction would go a long way to ensuring children in Virginia have access to healthy meals during this public health emergency and are not placed at undue risk.”

In their letter, the Senators also urged USDA to do more to make sure that children in Virginia continue to have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this crisis.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier this week, the Senators urged USDA to swiftly approve Virginia’s request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program, which would allow food banks to distribute USDA foods directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. 

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

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue 

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today concerning the ongoing public health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 and the unprecedented nutrition challenges children in Virginia and across the country are facing. We appreciate all the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is doing to meet this unique challenge, including waiving the congregate meal requirements for child nutrition programs. However, we believe more must be done to ensure children in Virginia continue to have access to healthy and nutritious meals during this state of emergency.

Current USDA regulations prohibit school districts from distributing meals to families unless the child is present. While we understand the need for this policy under normal circumstances, the current public health emergency demonstrates a clear need for flexibility in food distribution policies to ensure every child has access to a healthy meal. The current policy is burdensome on families and places children at increased risk – especially those who are immunocompromised. This creates a difficult situation for some families who must decide between potentially placing their children at risk of infection and skipping meals. 

To meet the nutrition needs of all children during the current public health crisis, we request that USDA establish guidelines for states that remove the in-person requirements for families with at-risk children to reduce unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. Removing this restriction would go a long way to ensuring children in Virginia have access to healthy meals during this public health emergency and are not placed at undue risk.

Again, thank you for your attention to this matter and all you are doing to ensure children have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this challenging time. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Bob Casey (D-PA), along with Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), in writing a letter expressing concern for the wellbeing of families who face an increased risk of domestic violence during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and urged the Administration to ensure service providers have the flexibility and resources to help victims and survivors of domestic violence.

“We write to express our concern for the wellbeing of families who face an increased risk of domestic violence during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We also ask that the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) ensure that the organizations that help victims and survivors of domestic violence have the resources and information needed to continue to provide these critical services during the pandemic,” the senators wrote.

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

Dear Assistant Secretary Johnson and Acting-Director Rogers:

We write to express our concern for the wellbeing of families who face an increased risk of domestic violence during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We also ask that the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) ensure that the organizations that help victims and survivors of domestic violence have the flexibility, resources, and information needed to continue to provide these critical services during the pandemic. 

In recent weeks, states and cities across the country have taken a variety of steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, including closing schools, limiting access to public spaces and restaurants, and instructing people to shelter in place. Many people are now working from home, while others have been required to take unpaid leave or have lost their jobs.

An unintended but foreseeable consequence of these drastic measures will be increased stress at home, which in turn creates a greater risk for domestic violence. According to one recent article, emergency situations have “historically led to increased reports of domestic abuse” to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. In addition, domestic violence service providers expect an increase in the need for emergency childcare and domestic violence shelters, as well as for supplies to keep centers and program sites safe and secure.

Many of these programs are administered by your offices and funded through grants authorized by the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and the Violence Against Women Act. It is critical that your agencies ensure that victims and survivors of domestic violence continue to have access to these vital services. Accordingly, we request answers to the following questions, as well as a telephonic briefing with members of our staff, regarding actions ACF and OVW are taking no later than March 31, 2020:

1. Have the domestic violence programs that ACF and OVW administer seen an increase in need over the past 60 days, as a result of the COVID-19 mitigation efforts in place at the local, state, and federal level? If so, please provide detail, to the extent possible, broken down by state or territory.

2. How have the domestic violence programs administered by your offices been strained as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

3. What steps have ACF and OVW taken to prepare for a potential rise in the need for domestic violence programs or services?

4. What will ACF and OVW do to provide organizations an opportunity to request additional financial support to respond to an increased demand for services?

5. What steps has ACF and OVW taken to ensure that survivors continue to have to access to judicial proceedings, including the opportunity to seek a protective order?

6. What steps will ACF and OVW take to provide greater flexibility for service providers who may be required to alter their programs without risking their eligibility for funding?

7. If programs have to close or suspend services due to COVID-19, will ACF and OVW offer grantees flexibility to continue to support the programs’ employees?

8. What information or resources have you made available to domestic violence organizations, particularly with regard to ensuring the safety of front line employees?

9. Have ACF and OVW provided guidance about how organizations should alter their operations in order to maintain services while providing for the safety of staff, including remote or mobile operations? 

10. What additional guidance or resources are ACF and OVW providing domestic violence organizations that serve American Indians / Alaska Natives, rural, and underserved communities?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We urge you to take immediate action to prepare for a potential increase in incidents of domestic violence and look forward to your prompt response. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to the Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging for swift approval of Virginia’s request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program. This designation by the Food and Nutrition Service would allow food banks to distribute USDA foods directly to Virginia’s neediest families while limiting the interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients during the coronavirus outbreak. 

“In Virginia, many households are out of work due to the ongoing public health emergency. This has created an unprecedented increase in need for food services across the Commonwealth. With little time to prepare, many families have found themselves without the finances to maintain a healthy diet. Unfortunately, congregate food distribution is not an option at this time due to the potential spread of COVID-19. A household distribution program is required to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of food to families in need,” wrote the Senators to Administrator Pam Miller of the Food and Nutrition Service. 

In their letter, the Senators underscore that food banks serve as a vital lifeline for families across the Commonwealth. With the designation of the Disaster Household Distribution Program, the burdensome paperwork that often accompanies a family’s application for food assistance would be removed in an effort to expeditiously distribute food to families in need.

“The Virginia Federation of Foodbanks – working in conjunction with VDACS – will operate the Disaster Household Distribution Program in the Commonwealth. Virginia foodbanks will utilize their existing inventories of USDA foods and donated foods to help supplement families’ nutritional needs. Participants in the program will not be required to complete long and burdensome application forms. The goal will be to limit interaction between staff, volunteers, and recipients to ensure the safe and expeditious delivery of food to families,” they continued.

On March 19, 2020, the Commonwealth submitted a formal request to operate a Household Disaster Distribution Program.

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

 

Dear Administrator Miller: 

We write today in support of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s (VDACS) request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program in Virginia due to the ongoing public health emergency caused by the spread of COVID-19. Timely approval of this request is needed to ensure families in Virginia have access to healthy foods during this crisis.

In Virginia, many households are out of work due to the ongoing public health emergency. This has created an unprecedented increase in need for food services across the Commonwealth. With little time to prepare, many families have found themselves without the finances to maintain a healthy diet. Unfortunately, congregate food distribution is not an option at this time due to the potential spread of COVID-19. A household distribution program is required to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of food to families in need.

The Virginia Federation of Foodbanks – working in conjunction with VDACS – will operate the Disaster Household Distribution Program in the Commonwealth. Virginia foodbanks will utilize their existing inventories of USDA foods and donated foods to help supplement families’ nutritional needs. Participants in the program will not be required to complete long and burdensome application forms. The goal will be to limit interaction between staff, volunteers, and recipients to ensure the safe and expeditious delivery of food to families.

In order to ensure Virginians in need are able to access food in a safe and timely manner, we urge you approve the Commonwealth’s request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program. Thank you for your consideration of this request and all you do to ensure Americans have access to healthy foods.

Sincerely, 

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joines Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.),  Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and 24 Senate colleagues in calling on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to withdraw the proposed Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Rule (MFAR), a dangerous proposal to disrupt state Medicaid financing. The rule’s complex technical changes would limit the types of financing mechanisms states can use to pay for their non-federal share of Medicaid costs. Moreover, the discretion reserved by CMS to approve or deny state proposals provides far too little clarity and certainty to states who must plan far ahead for program expenditures. Nevada hospitals have warned that it could cost the state’s hospitals between $21 million and $205 million depending on how its implemented.

In a time when state budgets are strained and Medicaid programs are set to take on new populations of unemployed Americans, this change would be devastating to providers across the country and the vulnerable low-income patients who rely on them. 

The senators said in part, “We are writing to express our serious concern regarding the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) recently proposed rule entitled, Medicaid Program; Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation, 84 Fed. Reg. 63722 (Nov. 18, 2019). This proposed rule would have disastrous consequences for the Medicaid program and the millions of individuals it serves, and we request that CMS withdraw the proposed rule.”

The senators continued, “According to the National Governors Association, the proposed rule would ‘significantly curtail the longstanding flexibility states have to fund and pay for services in their Medicaid programs’ having ‘significant and broad impacts’ that will ‘result in decreased access to care for many vulnerable Americans.’”

In addition to Sens. Warner, Cortez Masto, Schumer, and Wyden, the letter was signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Angus King (I-Maine), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ed Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Full text of the letter can be found below.

 

Dear Administrator Verma:

We are writing to express our serious concern regarding the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) recently proposed rule entitled, Medicaid Program; Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation, 84 Fed. Reg. 63722 (Nov. 18, 2019). This proposed rule would have disastrous consequences for the Medicaid program and the millions of individuals it serves, and we request that CMS withdraw the proposed rule. 

Medicaid provides comprehensive, affordable coverage for over 71 million Americans, including children, individuals living with disabilities, pregnant women, seniors, and low-income parents and adults. Ensuring the fiscal integrity of the program is vital to assuring the program can efficiently and effectively serve the millions of Americans who depend on it. Yet, this Administration continues to take actions to undermine this essential program. In addition to attempts to block grant and cap Medicaid, rescind important access protections, and promote policies that make it harder for individuals to get the health care they need, this proposed rule is yet another step in the Administration’s ongoing agenda to dismantle the financing structure of Medicaid and cut benefits, coverage, and access.

Numerous stakeholders including: the bipartisan National Governors Association; the independent Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC); states; providers including safety net hospitals, nursing homes, and academic medical institutions; managed care plans; children’s groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics and March of Dimes; disability advocates; groups representing millions of patients such as those with cancer and rare diseases; and the bipartisan National Association of Medicaid Directors have all expressed significant concern with the proposed rule.

According to the National Governors Association, the proposed rule would “significantly curtail the longstanding flexibility states have to fund and pay for services in their Medicaid programs” having “significant and broad impacts” that will “result in decreased access to care for many vulnerable Americans.” Organizations such as the American Hospital Association representing hospitals and providers across the country and the American Health Care Association representing nursing facilities nationwide have stated that under the rule, “[e]ntire communities could lose access to care . . . especially in rural areas where 15 percent of hospital revenue and nearly two-thirds of nursing facility revenue nationwide depend on Medicaid funding.” Groups representing patients with chronic health conditions and individuals with disabilities have said that CMS's proposed rule “will severely undermine the ability of Medicaid as a health insurer to effectively address the needs of patients,” and “make substantive changes to long-standing Medicaid policy that would jeopardize access to care for Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities and chronic conditions.” Even the independent MACPAC, which provides policy and data analysis to Congress on a non-partisan basis, publicly expressed concern that the proposed rule “could reduce payments to providers in ways that could jeopardize access to care for Medicaid enrollees.” The Commission went further saying that  “CMS should collect and rigorously examine data on the potential effects of such changes on beneficiary access,” an analysis “especially important given CMS’ previous proposal to rescind the requirement that states evaluate access before reducing or restricting provider payments.” 

Such responses are representative of feedback from thousands of stakeholders who have weighed in warning of the calamitous impact CMS’s proposed Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation would have on the Medicaid program, states, providers, and the millions of Americans Medicaid serves. To make matters worse, in issuing its proposed rule, the Administration failed to conduct a full fiscal impact analysis stating that the “fiscal impact on the Medicaid program from the implementation of the policies in the proposed is unknown.” This is one of the many reasons that independent organizations like MACPAC urged CMS “not to implement new limits for supplemental payments and financing arrangements at this time.” Such blatant administrative malpractice is completely unacceptable and one more item on a long list of reasons why the proposed rule must not move forward.

It is for these reasons that we request CMS withdraw the proposed Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation and instead work with Congress to identify areas where additional transparency may improve efficiency, economy, and quality of care under the program to ensure the millions of American’s who rely on Medicaid for comprehensive coverage and care have access to the care and services to which they are entitled.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined their Democratic colleagues in a letter to President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence demanding answers about supplies and equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) critical to addressing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The Senators asked the President and Vice President to confirm any relevant supply and equipment shortages in the SNS, to outline their strategy to close any such shortages, and to clarify how they plan to use Defense Production Act powers to increase production of supplies and equipment needed for the pandemic response. Senator Kaine also cosponsored legislation to expedite the procurement of medical equipment under the Defense Production Act to quickly produce and ensure access to supplies like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers on the frontlines of this pandemic.

“State, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies are leading the response to the pandemic. These departments know their communities well and are making the best decisions they can to keep their citizens safe. However, our constituents working as health care providers and front line responders in hospitals, public health departments, and throughout their communities report the health care system is woefully under-resourced, especially in our rural, underserved areas and minority communities that are often overlooked. This problem is most acute with shortages of supplies and equipment that are desperately needed to test for and treat COVID-19 patients,” wrote the Senators in the letter.

The Senators continued, “Given the scale of the threat that COVID-19 poses to public health, responding to the outbreak is placing substantial strain on state, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies’ already- limited resources. Furthermore, states and health care facilities who are trying to do as the President says and ‘get it yourself,’ find that the supply simply is not available. We urge you to be proactive and utilize the powers that you invoked on March 18, 2020, under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to mobilize private industry to manufacture the supplies and equipment needed to address this crisis.”

The Senators call on the President and Vice President to answer the following questions no later than March 24:

  1. What is the current status of supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) that may be used in the COVID-19 response? Please include data on which, and the number of, pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, and any other medical supplies currently in the SNS that may be utilized in the response. 
  1. What is the current nationwide status of supplies and equipment available to test for and treat COVID-19 and what is the quantity of supplies and equipment the administration has determined is necessary to fully provide states, local, and tribal organizations with what they need throughout the length of the pandemic? Please include the quantity of personal protective equipment (including N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, eye protection), testing supplies (including reagents and swabs), and ventilators that is currently available and the quantity needed throughout the length of the pandemic.
  1. What is the current total nationwide COVID-19 diagnostic testing capacity for public health, commercial, and academic laboratories per day? What is your plan to increase testing capacity? When will testing capacity be sufficient to be fully responsive to the current outbreak? 
  1. What is your plan to mobilize the private industry to manufacture supplies and equipment under the DPA and what is your timeline on invoking that power? 
  1. What is your plan for using the MEP network to identify manufacturers with excess or idle production capacity? What are your plans for organizing MEP (Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership) and National Institute of Standards and Technology expertise and resources to optimize production?

The letter is available HERE and below.

 

March 21, 2020

Dear President Trump and Vice President Pence:

We appreciate the work that has been done so far to ensure that the states, local governments, and tribal organizations we represent in the United State Senate get the supplies and equipment they need to respond to and prepare for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). On February 28, 2020, the first patient in the United States died due to COVID-19, and since then many more have died and thousands have tested positive for the virus. More widespread testing will hopefully provide a clearer picture of the true prevalence.

State, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies are leading the response to the pandemic. These departments know their communities well and are making the best decisions they can to keep their citizens safe. However, our constituents working as health care providers and front line responders in hospitals, public health departments, and throughout their communities report the health care system is woefully under-resourced, especially in our rural, underserved areas and minority communities that are often overlooked. This problem is most acute with shortages of supplies and equipment that are desperately needed to test for and treat COVID-19 patients.

On the morning of March 16, 2020, President Trump told the nation’s governors on a phone call to get supplies themselves. Specifically, the President said, “respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves. We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”

Given the scale of the threat that COVID-19 poses to public health, responding to the outbreak is placing substantial strain on state, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies’ already-limited resources. Furthermore, states and health care facilities who are trying to do as the President says and “get it yourself,” find that the supply simply is not available. We urge you to be proactive and utilize the powers that you invoked on March 18, 2020, under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to mobilize private industry to manufacture the supplies and equipment needed to address this crisis.

Additionally, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers in every state and Puerto Rico represent an existing, high-quality network connecting small and medium manufacturers with technical experts to develop strategies for innovation, optimizing supply chains, and improving efficiency and productivity. Given that efficiency, productivity, and supply chain management are critical for rapidly manufacturing much-needed medical equipment, we urge that you utilize the capabilities and connections of the MEP network to expedite the search for excess manufacturing capacity.

We urge you to within 3 days, provide the members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives the answers to the following questions in a manner that does not compromise national security: 

  1. What is the current status of supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) that may be used in the COVID-19 response? Please include data on which, and the number of, pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, and any other medical supplies currently in the SNS that may be utilized in the response.
  2. What is the current nationwide status of supplies and equipment available to test for and treat COVID-19 and what is the quantity of supplies and equipment the administration has determined is necessary to fully provide states, local, and tribal organizations with what they need throughout the length of the pandemic? Please include the quantity of personal protective equipment (including N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, eye protection), testing supplies (including reagents and swabs), and ventilators that is currently available and the quantity needed throughout the length of the pandemic.
  3. What is the current total nationwide COVID-19 diagnostic testing capacity for public health, commercial, and academic laboratories per day? What is your plan to increase testing capacity? When will testing capacity be sufficient to be fully responsive to the current outbreak?
  4. What is your plan to mobilize the private industry to manufacture supplies and equipment under the DPA and what is your timeline on invoking that power?
  5. What is your plan for using the MEP network to identify manufacturers with excess or idle production capacity? What are your plans for organizing MEP and National Institute of Standards and Technology expertise and resources to optimize production?

While Congress has provided supplemental funding for state, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies, the need for additional support across the nation remains high. The large magnitude of this crisis requires an even larger response from our national leaders. Americans depend on this. We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,  

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined their Democratic colleagues in a letter to President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence demanding answers about supplies and equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) critical to addressing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The Senators asked the President and Vice President to confirm any relevant supply and equipment shortages in the SNS, to outline their strategy to close any such shortages, and to clarify how they plan to use Defense Production Act powers to increase production of supplies and equipment needed for the pandemic response. Senator Kaine also cosponsored legislation to expedite the procurement of medical equipment under the Defense Production Act to quickly produce and ensure access to supplies like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers on the frontlines of this pandemic.

“State, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies are leading the response to the pandemic. These departments know their communities well and are making the best decisions they can to keep their citizens safe. However, our constituents working as health care providers and front line responders in hospitals, public health departments, and throughout their communities report the health care system is woefully under-resourced, especially in our rural, underserved areas and minority communities that are often overlooked. This problem is most acute with shortages of supplies and equipment that are desperately needed to test for and treat COVID-19 patients,” wrote the Senators in the letter.

The Senators continued, “Given the scale of the threat that COVID-19 poses to public health, responding to the outbreak is placing substantial strain on state, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies’ already- limited resources. Furthermore, states and health care facilities who are trying to do as the President says and ‘get it yourself,’ find that the supply simply is not available. We urge you to be proactive and utilize the powers that you invoked on March 18, 2020, under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to mobilize private industry to manufacture the supplies and equipment needed to address this crisis.”

The Senators call on the President and Vice President to answer the following questions no later than March 24:

  1. What is the current status of supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) that may be used in the COVID-19 response? Please include data on which, and the number of, pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, and any other medical supplies currently in the SNS that may be utilized in the response.
  2. What is the current nationwide status of supplies and equipment available to test for and treat COVID-19 and what is the quantity of supplies and equipment the administration has determined is necessary to fully provide states, local, and tribal organizations with what they need throughout the length of the pandemic? Please include the quantity of personal protective equipment (including N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, eye protection), testing supplies (including reagents and swabs), and ventilators that is currently available and the quantity needed throughout the length of the pandemic.
  3. What is the current total nationwide COVID-19 diagnostic testing capacity for public health, commercial, and academic laboratories per day? What is your plan to increase testing capacity? When will testing capacity be sufficient to be fully responsive to the current outbreak?
  4. What is your plan to mobilize the private industry to manufacture supplies and equipment under the DPA and what is your timeline on invoking that power?
  5. What is your plan for using the MEP network to identify manufacturers with excess or idle production capacity? What are your plans for organizing MEP (Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership) and National Institute of Standards and Technology expertise and resources to optimize production?

The letter is available HERE and below.

 

March 21, 2020

Dear President Trump and Vice President Pence:

We appreciate the work that has been done so far to ensure that the states, local governments, and tribal organizations we represent in the United State Senate get the supplies and equipment they need to respond to and prepare for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). On February 28, 2020, the first patient in the United States died due to COVID-19, and since then many more have died and thousands have tested positive for the virus. More widespread testing will hopefully provide a clearer picture of the true prevalence.

State, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies are leading the response to the pandemic. These departments know their communities well and are making the best decisions they can to keep their citizens safe. However, our constituents working as health care providers and front line responders in hospitals, public health departments, and throughout their communities report the health care system is woefully under-resourced, especially in our rural, underserved areas and minority communities that are often overlooked. This problem is most acute with shortages of supplies and equipment that are desperately needed to test for and treat COVID-19 patients.

On the morning of March 16, 2020, President Trump told the nation’s governors on a phone call to get supplies themselves. Specifically, the President said, “respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves. We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”

Given the scale of the threat that COVID-19 poses to public health, responding to the outbreak is placing substantial strain on state, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies’ already-limited resources. Furthermore, states and health care facilities who are trying to do as the President says and “get it yourself,” find that the supply simply is not available. We urge you to be proactive and utilize the powers that you invoked on March 18, 2020, under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to mobilize private industry to manufacture the supplies and equipment needed to address this crisis.

Additionally, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers in every state and Puerto Rico represent an existing, high-quality network connecting small and medium manufacturers with technical experts to develop strategies for innovation, optimizing supply chains, and improving efficiency and productivity. Given that efficiency, productivity, and supply chain management are critical for rapidly manufacturing much-needed medical equipment, we urge that you utilize the capabilities and connections of the MEP network to expedite the search for excess manufacturing capacity.

We urge you to within 3 days, provide the members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives the answers to the following questions in a manner that does not compromise national security:

  1. What is the current status of supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) that may be used in the COVID-19 response? Please include data on which, and the number of, pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, and any other medical supplies currently in the SNS that may be utilized in the response.
  2. What is the current nationwide status of supplies and equipment available to test for and treat COVID-19 and what is the quantity of supplies and equipment the administration has determined is necessary to fully provide states, local, and tribal organizations with what they need throughout the length of the pandemic? Please include the quantity of personal protective equipment (including N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, eye protection), testing supplies (including reagents and swabs), and ventilators that is currently available and the quantity needed throughout the length of the pandemic.
  3. What is the current total nationwide COVID-19 diagnostic testing capacity for public health, commercial, and academic laboratories per day? What is your plan to increase testing capacity? When will testing capacity be sufficient to be fully responsive to the current outbreak?
  4. What is your plan to mobilize the private industry to manufacture supplies and equipment under the DPA and what is your timeline on invoking that power?
  5. What is your plan for using the MEP network to identify manufacturers with excess or idle production capacity? What are your plans for organizing MEP and National Institute of Standards and Technology expertise and resources to optimize production?

While Congress has provided supplemental funding for state, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies, the need for additional support across the nation remains high. The large magnitude of this crisis requires an even larger response from our national leaders. Americans depend on this. We look forward to your prompt response.

 

Sincerely, 

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, pushed the Department of Defense (DoD) to issue guidance for uniformed, civilian, and contractor personnel to help them better understand their options for paid leave and telework amid the COVID-19 outbreak. In a letter to Secretary Mark T. Esper, Sen. Warner requested that the DoD clarify what types of leave are applicable in a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios, and provide guidance on the types of DoD workers that are eligible for telework.

“An area of particular concern is how administrative leave, weather and safety leave, sick leave, and annual leave apply under a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios,” wrote Sen. Warner. “These personnel should not face uncertainty or obstacles in their efforts to preserve our individual or collective health.” 

Currently, there is fragmentation in the DoD’s current leave policy that creates ambiguity regarding the kind of leave that would apply if employees needed to take time off work in the event that they were symptomatic, exposed but not symptomatic, or if they needed to care for family members who have contracted COVID-19. 

In his letter, Sen. Warner, who has heard from several Virginians who have been forbidden from teleworking despite considerable safety concerns, also urged the DoD to clarify which employees occupy mission-critical positions, and which are eligible for telework.

“The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance for agencies to expand telework flexibility, but at present, guidance issued by OMB, OPM, and the Department have ambiguity that is creating confusion and anxiety,” he continued. “Personnel whose duties and responsibilities do not immediately contribute to a critical national security function would benefit from a clear directive instructing them to work remotely and would make a significant impact for our nation.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner encouraged the Department to create further telework options, as appropriate, for employees currently deemed ineligible for telework in order to protect their safety and health and that of their family members. He also emphasized that any guidance should be consistent and transparent for all eligible personnel stationed across the country and abroad.  

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for federal workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Yesterday, he led seven of his Senate colleagues in calling on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to post department and agency contingency plans amid the COVID-19 outbreak as more federal agencies begin to ramp up teleworking capabilities. Additionally, he has urged President Trump to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to utilize telework capabilities to the maximum possible extent, and has called on the House and Senate to address the potential financial hardship for Congress’ support workforce if their work schedules are unexpectedly disrupted as the result of changes to congressional operations.

A copy of the letter is available here and below, and a full list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

The Honorable Mark T. Esper

Secretary

U.S. Department of Defense 

Washington, D.C.  20301

Dear Secretary Esper:

I write to ask you to clarify personnel policy governing the Department’s response to COVID-19 so that uniformed, civilian, and contractor personnel better understand how they can and should adapt to minimize the spread and impact of this virus.

An area of particular concern is how administrative leave, weather and safety leave, sick leave, and annual leave apply under a variety of COVID-19 related scenarios, to include for personnel whose normal duty station is a classified facility, whether personnel occupy a mission critical position or not, if they are symptomatic or exposed but not symptomatic, and if they must care for family members who have contracted COVID-19.

These personnel should not face uncertainty or obstacles in their efforts to preserve our individual or collective health. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance for agencies to expand telework flexibility, but at present, guidance issued by OMB, OPM, and the Department have ambiguity that is creating confusion and anxiety.  For example, personnel should have due flexibility to telework, as appropriate, to protect their safety and health and that of their family members.

Personnel whose duties and responsibilities do not immediately contribute to a critical national security function would benefit from a clear directive instructing them to work remotely and would make a significant impact for our nation.  For personnel deemed ineligible for telework, the Department should investigate and create further options, when possible, to temporarily make them eligible. The urgency for the Department to take necessary steps and clarify concerns about telework options for personnel will ensure personnel do not feel aggrieved during the outbreak of COVID-19.  This guidance should be consistent and transparent for all eligible personnel stationed across the country and abroad.

Maintaining a healthy workforce with confidence in the government’s commitment to their welfare is of the utmost importance to us.  Thank you in advance for your prompt response and attention to this matter.

I look forward to working with you to address this matter of urgent priority.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, urging the agency to issue clear guidance for child care providers to determine whether these centers should remain open amid the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak. School closures across the country have increased demand for child care services, yet these providers are left to make their own decisions about whether and how to stay open due to the federal government’s lack of clear guidance.

“As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, we write on the topic of K-12 school closures and the lack of sufficient guidance for child care operations. We are concerned that there has not been an official guidance for child care operators to determine whether these centers should remain open, leaving administrators and parents without direction for how to best protect the safety of children and limit the spread of the virus,” wrote the Senators in their letter to Secretary Azar.

In Virginia, the Governor has ordered K-12 schools to close for a minimum of two weeks in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Similarly, states across the country have also ordered the closure of their schools to curb the spread of the virus. With millions of children out of school, child care providers are implementing policies in disparate ways and, in many cases, struggling to heed the social distancing guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Earlier this week, Virginia ordered child care facilities to follow federal guidelines, which includes limiting total classroom size to ten individuals.

“This increased demand on child care centers contradicts guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which announced a federal guidance limiting gatherings of ten people or more. As the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Anthony Fauci said during a White House briefing on Monday afternoon, ‘There is no social distancing in child care. It’s impossible.’ As you well know, guidelines on social-distancing that may be feasible in schools, work places, and public areas may not be feasible in child care centers,” continued the Senators.  

In their letter, the Senators commended Virginia for providing clear guidance for child care centers and urged that the federal government follow that lead and provide guidance for child care centers nationwide in an effort to protect the health and safety of the children they serve and the staff who care for them.

 

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

Dear Secretary Azar: 

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, we write on the topic of K-12 school closures and the lack of sufficient guidance for child care operations. We are concerned that there has not been an official guidance for child care operators to determine whether these centers should remain open, leaving administrators and parents without direction for how to best protect the safety of children and limit the spread of the virus.

As you well know, several states have ordered K-12 schools to close in recent days. On March 13, 2020, all K-12 schools in Virginia closed for a minimum of two weeks in response to the continued spread of the novel coronavirus. School closures in Virginia and across the country mean that millions of children are no longer under the supervision of teachers and school administrators each day. We have heard widespread confusion from child care operators about whether they should remain open to care for this population, with no guidance from the federal government.   

Despite a lack of guidance, many day care centers have opted to remain open because of increased need for child care services during the coronavirus outbreak, since many parents are unable to stay at home with their children who are no longer at school. 

This increased demand on child care centers contradicts guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which announced a federal guidance limiting gatherings of ten people or more. As the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Anthony Fauci said during a White House briefing on Monday afternoon, “There is no social distancing in child care. It’s impossible.” As you well know, guidelines on social-distancing that may be feasible in schools, work places, and public areas may not be feasible in child care centers. 

On March 18, 2020, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that it would issue guidance for child care services in Virginia. This guidance informs child care centers on how to best protect the health and safety of the children they serve. We encourage the Administration to follow Virginia’s example and issue guidance for child care countries across the nation to follow.

We recognize that the CDC has posted resources and minimal guidance on its website. While these guidelines mention child care centers periodically, they do not specifically mention guidelines child care centers should take. This non-comprehensive and contradictory guidance from the Administration are not only causing frustration, but may cause an unintentional spread of the virus. Therefore, we request that your Department issue guidance clarifying the following questions:

  • What guidelines should child care centers follow in determining the need for closures?
  • Are there particular variables that child care centers serving families of health care providers and first responders should take into account as they weigh the decision of whether or not to close?
  • What mitigation measures must child care centers implement in order to limit the spread of the virus among the children they serve and the staff who care for them?
  • What information can you provide regarding the safety of child care centers during this outbreak?

It is our hope that you continue to issue additional guidance to diminish confusion surrounding this issue. Furthermore, we encourage you to consider the broader implications of such confusion on Americans’ health and safety. We urge you to proactively issue guidance in this already unsettling time. 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response on the issue.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged four Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers to expend every effort to ensure that veterans and the health providers who care for them are safe amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. In letters to the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, the Salem VA Medical Center, the Hampton VA Medical Center, and the Washington DC VA Medical Center, the Senators asked for more information on each facility’s efforts to address the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring the health of VA employees.  

“Many of Virginia’s veterans are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 due to age and underlying health conditions,” wrote the Senators, who have heard from veterans and VA employees concerned about the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on VA medical centers. “As the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government respond to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States and around the world, we urge the VA to expend every effort to ensure that veterans will be appropriately cared for during the outbreak of this deadly disease, and to seek further assistance when required.”

They continued, “As the VA works to care for our nation’s veterans with COVID-19 and to reduce the spread of this disease, the VA must also prioritize the protection of its employees – the health care providers, administrators, support staff, and others – who are on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19, and who risk daily exposure to the virus.”

In their letters, the Senators urged each medical center to allow individuals to telework whenever possible, as in the case of hospital administrators who may be able to perform their duties remotely. They also urged the facilities to make every effort to provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment in order to safely support patients and help prevent healthcare workers from getting sick. 

They also requested that the hospitals provide more information on their efforts to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Specifically, they asked for details on each facility’s ability to test patients and staff for COVID-19; whether any steps were being taken to train and protect medical staff from the virus; whether each medical center is allowing employees to telework when possible; whether facilities believe they can meet the growing demands during this crisis; and whether any steps have been taken to ensure that each facility can handle a surge of patients with possible or confirmed COVID-19 patients.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) urged the body that regulates public utilities including electricity, natural gas and water in Virginia to promptly issue an order suspending the charging of late fees through the duration of Virginia’s state of emergency due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

In a letter to the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the Senators wrote, “First, we want to applaud the Commission for its recent order directing regulated electric, natural gas, and water companies in Virginia to suspend service disconnections due to non-payment for at least 60 days in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The temporary suspension of service disconnections is necessary to minimize adverse impacts on Virginians and public health. The continued service of public utilities – including electricity, water, and natural gas – is essential to protect the health and well-being of Virginians and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The Senators encouraged the Commission to enact additional measures to protect vulnerable Virginians during this public health emergency, specifically by suspending late fees for the duration of the crisis.

“While the suspension of service disconnections will ensure the continued service of essential public utilities for Virginians, the unprecedented scope of this public health crisis requires additional measures to ease the burden on Virginians. One such measure should be a temporary suspension of late payment charges by public utilities,” advised the Senators. “As this public health emergency intensifies, thousands of Virginians will likely be furloughed or have their work hours substantially reduced. This will put an enormous strain on countless families in the Commonwealth to make ends meet. Suspending late fees during this state of emergency would help ease the burden on the most vulnerable Virginians during this tumultuous time, if only slightly.”

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Mark C. Christie

Chairman

The Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission

P.O. Box 1157

Richmond, VA 23218

Judith Williams Jagdmann

Commissioner

The Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission

P.O. Box 1157

Richmond, VA 23218

Dear Commissioners:

We write today concerning the ongoing public health emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) role in regulating public utilities during this state of emergency. Due to this ongoing health crisis, we respectfully request that the Commission promptly issue an order suspending the ability of any public utility in Virginia to charge late fees through the duration of Virginia’s state of emergency.

First, we want to applaud the Commission for its recent order directing regulated electric, natural gas, and water companies in Virginia to suspend service disconnections due to non-payment for at least 60 days in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The temporary suspension of service disconnections is necessary to minimize adverse impacts on Virginians and public health. The continued service of public utilities – including electricity, water, and natural gas – is essential to protect the health and well-being of Virginians and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While the suspension of service disconnections will ensure the continued service of essential public utilities for Virginians, the unprecedented scope of this public health crisis requires additional measures to ease the burden on Virginians. One such measure should be a temporary suspension of late payment charges by public utilities. As this public health emergency intensifies, thousands of Virginians will likely be furloughed or have their work hours substantially reduced. This will put an enormous strain on countless families in the Commonwealth to make ends meet. Suspending late fees during this state of emergency would help ease the burden on the most vulnerable Virginians during this tumultuous time, if only slightly. 

Again, we want to thank the Commission for its recent order directing public utilities to suspend service disconnections due to non-payment during this public health emergency. We also want to thank you in advance for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to working with you and other stakeholders to ensure the health and well-being of all Virginians moving forward. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced S. 3533, the “Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic (SECURE) Notarization Act of 2020,” today. This bipartisan legislation permits immediate nationwide use of Remote Online Notarizations (RONs), a type of electronic notarization where the notary and signer are in different physical locations. 

“Americans shouldn’t have to risk their health or safety to execute important financial or legal documents, especially when they could do so from the safety of their own home,” said Senator Cramer. “The SECURE Notarization Act brings the notary process into the 21st century, allowing people to securely complete documents while still following recommended health and social practices amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

“Virginia has safely and securely allowed the use of remote notarizations for years,” said Senator Warner. “At a time when most people should be staying at home, there’s no reason anyone should have to leave just to get notary services.”

The SECURE Notarization Act authorizes every notary in the United States to perform RONs, requires tamper-evident technology in electronic notarizations, and provides fraud prevention through use of multifactor authentication. Click here for a one pager on the bill and here for an FAQ section.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Land Title Association (ALTA), Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and the National Association of Realtors (NAR). North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum also supports the bill.

“By harnessing the power of technology, we can give North Dakotans and all Americans the convenient service they expect and deserve in the safety of their own homes,” said Governor Burgum. “We’re grateful to Senator Cramer and Senator Warner for introducing this legislation to bring the notarization process into the 21st century.”

Click here for the text of the bill.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led seven of his Senate colleagues in a letter to the Acting Directors of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) calling on the agencies to post department and agency contingency plans amid the COVID-19 outbreak so that Americans know what services to expect as more federal agencies begin to ramp up teleworking capabilities to mitigate the spread of the virus. In their letter, the Senators stress that publicly posting the information would provide federal employees and contractors with thorough guidance and allow policymakers to ensure proper compliance.

“As the federal government continues to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, we request that you require departments and agencies to post their continuity of operation (COOP) plans online in an accessible format and central location, unless there are legitimate intelligence or national security reasons not to do so. Making these plans transparent and readily available is key to ensuring that our constituents understand what services are continuing in the midst of the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19. It is also important for federal employees and contractors to understand and properly implement the required mitigation measures and for policymakers to ensure compliance with these measures,” wrote the Senators.

In their letter, the Senators underscore that providing this information publicly would be consistent with the way in which the government handles contingency plans during a government shutdown. Further, publishing the information publicly would provide Congress with greater transparency to ensure compliance.

“Sharing this information publicly would be consistent with how the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has posted department and agency contingency plans for lapses in federal appropriations. Such transparency is critical to give citizens confidence in the government response during this difficult time and assure federal employees and contractors that the government is prioritizing their health and well-being,” they continued.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

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

 

The Honorable Michael Rigas

Acting Director

Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street NW

Washington, DC 20415-1000

The Honorable Russell Vought

Acting Director

Office of Management and Budget

725 17th Street NW 

Washington, DC 20503 

Dear Acting Director Rigas and Acting Director Vought:

As the federal government continues to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, we request that you require departments and agencies to post their continuity of operation (COOP) plans online in an accessible format and central location, unless there are legitimate intelligence or national security reasons not to do so. Making these plans transparent and readily available is key to ensuring that our constituents understand what services are continuing in the midst of the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19. It is also important for federal employees and contractors to understand and properly implement the required mitigation measures and for policymakers to ensure compliance with these measures.

Sharing this information publicly would be consistent with how the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has posted department and agency contingency plans for lapses in federal appropriations. Such transparency is critical to give citizens confidence in the government response during this difficult time and assure federal employees and contractors that the government is prioritizing their health and well-being.

Maintaining a healthy federal workforce with confidence in the government’s commitment to their welfare is of the utmost importance to us. Thank you in advance for your prompt response and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after the Senate approved bipartisan coronavirus relief legislation, sending it to President Trump’s desk for signature.

“This legislation is a critical step forward to support workers and families impacted by the coronavirus. We’re pleased the bill includes our priorities to guarantee free coronavirus testing and establish paid sick leave for some American workers. This is one of many steps we must take to confront this pandemic. We will keep fighting for the resources Virginia needs to defend against this virus and help our economy recover from its consequences.”

Senators Warner and Kaine have cosponsored legislation to expand free coronavirus testing. Additionally, the Senators have cosponsored legislation to require all employers to provide paid sick days immediately to workers in light of the coronavirus crisis. The Senators have also introduced legislation to provide unemployment assistance to those affected by the coronavirus.

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U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and lawmakers from across the National Capital Region have written to President Donald Trump urging that that the region be prioritized for early locations of federally-supported COVID-19 testing sites. The joint letter reinforces the regional cooperation shown by Governors Larry Hogan and Ralph Northam and Mayor Muriel Bowser asking for federal testing.

“[T]he National Capital Region is home to over six million residents and the seat of the federal government, with hundreds of thousands of military and civilian employees serving the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Defense, and other mission critical agencies.  The health and safety of this region – which includes employees who commute, work, and live in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia – must remain a top priority for continuity of operations for our democratic government in carrying out critical functions of the federal government for the entire United States,” the lawmakers wrote.

In addition to Sen. Warner , the letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), as well as U.S. Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.-5), John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.-3), Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.-4), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.-8), David Trone (D-Md.-6), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.-11), Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D-Va.-8), and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.-10).

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

Dear President Trump:

We write in support of the March 15, 2020 request by District of Columbia Mayor Bowser, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to add the National Capital Region to the priority locations for federally-supported COVID-19 testing sites.

As noted in the letter, the National Capital Region is home to over six million residents and the seat of the federal government, with hundreds of thousands of military and civilian employees serving the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Defense, and other mission critical agencies.  The health and safety of this region – which includes employees who commute, work, and live in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia – must remain a top priority for continuity of operations for our democratic government in carrying out critical functions of the federal government for the entire United States.

When standing up the Department of Homeland Security, Congress specifically established the Office of National Capital Region Coordination (ONCRC) in response to the unique coordination challenges facing the National Capital Region (NCR) due to the region’s large federal presence, including all three branches of government; the intersection of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; and a number of other unique complexities.  The ONCRC closely coordinates with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG).  The region is already working closely together on the COVID-19 response, including coordinating with HHS and FEMA regional leadership.

We are pleased that our jurisdiction’s health departments and state emergency management agencies continue to work together across borders to identity proposed drive-through testing sites that we would stand up with federal support.  Therefore, the region is well-positioned to make the best possible use of federal support for this testing, and each of our jurisdictions have pledged to commit to host a drive-through testing site.

Thank you for considering this urgent request.  We request an immediate response.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the State Department to provide guidance and assistance to Americans stuck abroad after heightened travel restrictions, lockdowns, and border closures across the globe to curb the spread of coronavirus have left U.S. citizens stranded in foreign countries indefinitely.  

“I have heard from an alarming number of Virginians in the past few days who are abroad and unable to return to the United States due to restrictions on movement, closed borders, nationwide lockdowns, and canceled flights. Stranded in Peru, Honduras, Morocco, China, Guatemala and other countries, these Americans are desperately trying to navigate these difficult and rapidly evolving circumstances to return to their homes and their families,” wrote Sen. Warner.

The State Department is responsible for the safety and security of Americans overseas, which includes providing information to help U.S. citizens navigate rapidly shifting travel restrictions in a world wide effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“I have been in touch with State Department personnel, both here and abroad, as well as with foreign embassies based in the United States, and I commend the round-the-clock work by so many to help in this difficult time. But these Americans need greater support by the State Department. I urge you to implement a response effort that is comprehensive, nimble, and timely and gets these Americans home as soon as possible,” continued Sen. Warner.

In his letter to Secretary Pompeo, Sen. Warner asked the agency to provide a prompt response on the following questions:

  1. What outreach are the State Department and embassies conducting to Americans about the current and potential near-term restrictions in their particular country?
  2. What guidance are you providing Americans who are actively attempting to return to the United States?
  3. What guidance and support are you providing to travelers who are facing an impending travel restriction or border closure affecting their ability to leave the country to return home?
  4. What support are you providing to Americans who find themselves already locked down in a country, unable to return home?
  5. What efforts are underway, or are you considering, in terms of emergency repatriation flights and/or chartered options?

 

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

 

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:                                                                           

I write to express serious concerns about American travelers who have found themselves stranded abroad, with no clear way to get home, as other countries close down borders and restrict movement in response to the spread of coronavirus.

I have heard from an alarming number of Virginians in the past few days who are abroad and unable to return to the United States due to restrictions on movement, closed borders, nationwide lockdowns, and canceled flights. Stranded in Peru, Honduras, Morocco, China, Guatemala and other countries, these Americans are desperately trying to navigate these difficult and rapidly evolving circumstances to return to their homes and their families. 

I have been in touch with State Department personnel, both here and abroad, as well as with foreign embassies based in the United States, and I commend the round-the-clock work by so many to help in this difficult time. But these Americans need greater support by the State Department.  I urge you to implement a response effort that is comprehensive, nimble, and timely and gets these Americans home as soon as possible.

To that end, I ask that you provide my office with answers to these questions as soon as possible:

1.       What outreach are the State Department and embassies conducting to Americans about the current and potential near-term restrictions in their particular country?
2.       What guidance are you providing Americans who are actively attempting to return to the United States?
3.       What guidance and support are you providing to travelers who are facing an impending travel restriction or border closure affecting their ability to leave the country to return home?
4.       What support are you providing to Americans who find themselves already locked down in a country, unable to return home?
5.       What efforts are underway, or are you considering, in terms of emergency repatriation flights and/or chartered options?

I again ask for your prompt response to this letter, and increased engagement with American citizens abroad. My office will continue our efforts assisting these constituents as they navigate this incredibly complex, rapidly changing, and frightening landscape. I urge you and those hard at work at the State Department to do everything within your power to help these Americans return home.

If there are any questions about this letter, or if either my staff or I can be of assistance to you in this effort, please reach out at 202-224-2023.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, following passage of a bipartisan coronavirus economic relief package (H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act), U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a former Governor of Virginia, led a letter signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Gary Peters (D-MI), urging state governors and workforce administrators to implement its provisions easing restrictions on emergency unemployment benefits.

In a letter sent to the governors and heads of state workforce agencies for all 50 states, the Senators wrote, “Given the unique nature of the pandemic we are facing, we encourage you to take advantage of recently enacted federal legislation that increases resources for states to deliver timely unemployment insurance benefits to affected workers. The legislation should make it easier for workers to access unemployment benefits by waiving waiting weeks and work search requirements, as well as experience ratings for employers. Given these unavoidable circumstances, employers should not be penalized for encouraging their workers to receive unemployment compensation and workers should be able to access compensation immediately, particularly when other work opportunities may not be available.”

The Senators continued, “We are also especially concerned about the hardships facing workers who do not meet the eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits, including so-called “gig workers” or other non-traditional workers that generally receive 1099 income as either a primary or secondary source of earnings. Many of these workers are not eligible for unemployment insurance, paid leave, sick leave, and other benefits that traditional, full-time workers typically receive from their employers, as well as workers who earn a large share of their incomes from tips. We continue to push for passage of Senator Wyden and Senator Peters’ Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, which is modeled on the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program, and would ensure that gig workers and contractors are covered. However, given the severity of the crisis, we ask you to do whatever is possible to extend support to workers who do not fit into the usual framework of unemployment compensation. It is critical that there be no delay in using your existing authorities to support these workers to the greatest extent possible. ” 

The coronavirus economic relief legislation the Senate sent to the President’s desk today provides $1 billion in additional funding to state unemployment insurance programs. It also waives certain restrictions, including work search requirements and waiting periods for Americans who are either diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have lost their jobs due to the spread of the virus.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

March 18, 2020

Governors and State Workforce Administrators:

We write today to thank you for your efforts to support workers during the unprecedented situation due to the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). As we continue our efforts to provide federal assistance during these challenging times, we want to encourage you to do whatever is within your existing authorities to support workers facing hardship due to lost hours or jobs, sickness, family caretaking responsibilities, and other COVID-19-related circumstances.

Given the unique nature of the pandemic we are facing, we encourage you to take advantage of recently enacted federal legislation that increases resources for states to deliver timely unemployment insurance benefits to affected workers. The legislation should make it easier for workers to access unemployment benefits by waiving waiting weeks and work search requirements, as well as experience ratings for employers. Given these unavoidable circumstances, employers should not be penalized for encouraging their workers to receive unemployment compensation and workers should be able to access compensation immediately, particularly when other work opportunities may not be available. This is not only a matter of economic security but one of public health, as workers who cannot access unemployment benefits are likely to try and find work even when the costs to public health may be severe.

We are also especially concerned about the hardships facing workers who do not meet the eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits, including so-called “gig workers” or other non-traditional workers that generally receive 1099 income as either a primary or secondary source of earnings. Many of these workers are not eligible for unemployment insurance, paid leave, sick leave, and other benefits that traditional, full-time workers typically receive from their employers, as well as workers who earn a large share of their incomes from tips. We continue to push for passage of Senator Wyden and Senator Peters’ Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, which is modeled on the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program, and would ensure that gig workers and contractors are covered. However, given the severity of the crisis, we ask you to do whatever is possible to extend support to workers who do not fit into the usual framework of unemployment compensation. It is critical that there be no delay in using your existing authorities to support these workers to the greatest extent possible.

An effective response to COVID-19 will require a collaborative effort at the federal, state, and local levels of government and we stand ready to assist you in carrying out these critical efforts to protect public health while supporting workers through the economic shocks of the pandemic.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) as well as Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sent a letter to the financial regulators asking them to take action to mitigate the adverse impacts of the coronavirus on workers in the hospitality and tourism industry. The letter was sent to Jerome Powell, Chairman of the Federal Reserve; Joseph Otting, Comptroller of the Currency; Jelena McWilliams, Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Mark McWatters, Chairman of the National Credit Union Administration; and John Ryan, President and CEO of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.

 The Senators write, “As Americans take necessary precautions to protect the well-being of their families, their workplaces and their communities from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the economic fallout on workers and businesses is becoming increasingly severe. Given the recent guidance and bans on travel, the millions of workers who serve in sectors like hospitality, travel, special events, and tourism are particularly hard hit. To that end, we urge you to take all actions within your power to ensure that workers do not lose their jobs or wages as a result of this public health crisis while also using your authority to maintain the safety and soundness of our banking system.”

They note, “This is of particular concern to our regional economy, which relies heavily on tourism and business travel, especially during this time of year. To put this into context, the Maryland Department of Commerce estimates that in 2018 alone, visitor spending contributed $18.1 billion to Maryland’s economy. Virginia’s tourism industry generated $26 billion in visitor spending in 2018. And, in 2018 the District of Colombia saw tourists spend $7.8 billion.”

They continue, “We appreciate your recent joint agency statement to encourage financial institutions to meet the needs of customers and members affected by the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak. We encourage you to apply similar guidance for businesses in the travel, hospitality, and tourism sectors so they can continue to pay their employees and provide them with full pay and benefits, including paid sick leave, during the ongoing coronavirus health crisis. Enacting this guidance would help employees, lenders, and businesses alike – lenders would not have to write-off loans, businesses could continue paying their employees, and employees would continue receiving paychecks.”

They close the letter noting a variety of options available to the regulators, including:

  • Providing loan workouts to modify or restructure loans to avoid foreclosure
  • Allowing borrowers to defer payments without penalty, provided that the businesses use the deferral for employee-related expenses
  • Allowing borrowers to defer the principal portion of the monthly payment and make an interest-only payment.
  • Allowing borrowers to refinance without fees.
  • These measures could not be used in any way for owner distributions. 

The full text of the letter is available below.

 

Dear Chairman Powell, Comptroller Otting, Chair McWilliams, Chairman McWatters, and Mr. Ryan:

As Americans take necessary precautions to protect the well-being of their families, their workplaces and their communities from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the economic fallout on workers and businesses is becoming increasingly severe. Given the recent guidance and bans on travel, the millions of workers who serve in sectors like hospitality, travel, special events, and tourism are particularly hard hit. To that end, we urge you to take all actions within your power to ensure that workers do not lose their jobs or wages as a result of this public health crisis while also using your authority to maintain the safety and soundness of our banking system.

While the first priority for our response has rightly focused on detection and medical care, we are also developing a legislative response to the harmful economic impacts this pandemic is having on working families. Last week, Congress passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020, which includes provisions to help small businesses, and Congress is currently considering additional measures.

With conferences and other public events canceled, travel discouraged, and consumers staying home, the hospitality and tourism industries are among the sectors that have been particularly hard hit, and workers in these industries are at greater risk of losing their jobs and/or wages.

Federal data shows that travel and tourism accounted for 5.9 million U.S. jobs in 2018, including positions in lodging, dining and transportation. In 2017 alone, business events in North America generated $221.6 billion in direct GDP, representing 35.7% of global business events GDP. Consequently, the damaging economic impact on this sector and its workforce will reverberate throughout the economy. 

This is of particular concern to our regional economy, which relies heavily on tourism and business travel, especially during this time of year. To put this into context, the Maryland Department of Commerce estimates that in 2018 alone, visitor spending contributed $18.1 billion to Maryland’s economy. Virginia’s tourism industry generated $26 billion in visitor spending in 2018. And, in 2018 the District of Colombia saw tourists spend $7.8 billion.

We appreciate your recent joint agency statement to encourage financial institutions to meet the needs of customers and members affected by the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak. We encourage you to apply similar guidance for businesses in the travel, hospitality, and tourism sectors so they can continue to pay their employees and provide them with full pay and benefits, including paid sick leave, during the ongoing coronavirus health crisis. Enacting this guidance would help employees, lenders, and businesses alike – lenders would not have to write-off loans, businesses could continue paying their employees, and employees would continue receiving paychecks.

For businesses that have been in good standing with their financial institution prior to the crisis and that commit to retaining employees and providing them with full pay and benefits, including paid sick leave, we encourage you to implement the appropriate mix of the following options:

  • Providing loan workouts to modify or restructure loans to avoid foreclosure
  • Allowing borrowers to defer payments without penalty, provided that the businesses use the deferral for employee-related expenses
  • Allowing borrowers to defer the principal portion of the monthly payment and make an interest-only payment.
  • Allowing borrowers to refinance without fees.
  • These measures could not be used in any way for owner distributions. 

As we continue to see impacts of coronavirus, we urge you to take proactive measures to ensure the long-term health of these hard hit sectors and their employees. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined more than 30 of their Democratic colleagues to press the Coronavirus Task Force on their preparedness and response plans for seniors and individuals with disabilities. The Senators sent three letters to the Trump Administration regarding the safety of people living in nursing homes, the ability of seniors living in the community to maintain critical services including delivered meals and home care, and ensuring that up-to-date and accurate information is easily accessible to seniors and people with disabilities.

“As this pandemic continues to spread, the health of seniors and individuals with disabilities is increasingly at risk,” Warner and Kaine said. “It’s crucial that the Administration address the growing threat to our most vulnerable communities.”

In an effort to guard against the spread of the virus in nursing homes, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services took the unprecedented step of directing states to suspend nearly all nursing home inspections and oversight unrelated to infection control or instances of abuse and neglect.

The Senators requested information on steps that are being taken to protect nursing home residents, staff, and their families. They also urged the Trump Administration to outline its plans for ensuring that older adults who receive services in their homes and communities through their local Area Agencies on Aging, senior centers, and other community organizations will remain safe from the virus, and to what extent the Administration is taking action to ensure that information about the virus is accessible to everyone, including people who are deaf or have limited English proficiency.

Read the letter on nursing homes here.

Read the letter on home and community-based services here.

Read the letter on accessible information for people with disabilities here.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced plans to pay clinicians across the country for telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries during the coronavirus outbreak. This decision was enabled by passage earlier this month of provisions from Sen. Warner's bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, as part of the initial $8.3 billion coronavirus response package.

“I am relieved that Medicare is quickly moving to take advantage of the telehealth authorities Congress has given it through my legislation. There is no doubt that, if properly implemented, this technology will be a crucial tool for protecting American seniors during the coronavirus outbreak,” said Sen. Warner. ”The key now is for Medicare to take clear and decisive steps to swiftly put this technology in the hands of doctors and seniors at this critical moment in the COVID-19 outbreak. While it is unfortunate that it took a public health crisis to push these important telehealth provisions through, I am hopeful that, with proper implementation, this experience will eventually lead to a full expansion of telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries through passage of the bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act.”

The Warner-authored language in the first coronavirus response bill cuts restrictions on Medicare's use of telehealth for the COVID-19 public health emergency response. CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced Medicare's telehealth expansion yesterday at the White House during a Coronavirus Task Force press conference. 

“These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus,” Administrator Verma said at the press conference. “Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries.”

The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019 builds on the progress made in recent years to increase the use of telehealth through Medicare. Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary;
  • Remove geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care;
  • Allow rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services; and
  • Require a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so that more people can access health care services in their own homes.

Sen. Warner has been a longtime advocate for increased access to health care through telehealth. Last year, he successfully included a provision to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.

A list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect and support Virginians during the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) expressed deep concern that Google – despite claiming to ban ads that capitalize on novel coronavirus (COVID-19) fears – continues to run ads for products such as face masks and hand sanitizer, which not only exploit fear for profit but also serve to trigger shortages of essential health care products at a time of critical need. In their letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Senators slammed Google’s inattention to the misuse of its advertising platform and urged the FTC to intervene in order to protect the public and the nation’s supply chains.

“Browsing in incognito mode across a range of different devices, our staffs were consistently served dozens of ads for protective masks and hand sanitizer – in each case while on a page related to COVID-19,” the Senators wrote. “Scrutinizing the targeting information that Google provides pursuant to the AdChoices program, it became clear that these ads were targeted to users specifically because they were browsing articles on COVID-19. In other words, using browsing data that Google collects through its third-party web trackers, unscrupulous and predatory advertisers were able to directly target consumers browsing content on the outbreak in order to exploit their fear for profit.”

 “Google has made repeated representations to consumers that its policies prohibit ads for products such as protective masks. Yet the company appears not to be taking even rudimentary steps to enforce that policy, such as easily automated and scalable actions like flagging ads with relevant terms in the outbound URL. These misrepresentations generate direct harm to consumers, exploiting their legitimate fears over the COVID-19 outbreak to over-charge them for products. They also create widespread social harms to our nation’s response to this crisis, such as by contributing to shortages of products essential to the health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response,” they continued. “Consumers should be able to rely on representations regarding a company’s business practices – particularly in cases, such as this, where Google has acknowledged that offending ads pose harm to consumers. If consumers cannot rely on a company’s representations, then the FTC must intervene.”

Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, it would need roughly 300 million N95 respirator masks – 270 million more masks than it currently has stockpiled. Due to this shortage, the U.S. Surgeon General urged the public to stop buying protective masks in order to ensure that health care workers have access to the resources they need to stay safe. 

On March 10, after several outlets reported that Google was serving these ads despite a policy that prohibits content that capitalizes off sensitive events, Google stated that it would formally ban ads for protective facemasks. However Google’s advertising platform continues to be exploited for fraudulent activity with these ads continuing to run, notably even on news articles reporting Google’s new policies.

In their letter, the Senators also highlighted previous efforts to encourage the FTC to address Google’s inattention to abuse and expressed disappointment with the FTC’s inaction.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

The Honorable Joseph J. Simons

Chairman

Federal Trade Commission

600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Chairman Simons,

The COVID-19 pandemic has impaired the global supply chain in myriad ways, but perhaps most notably by creating a shortage of products like protective face masks, which are needed by health care workers responding to this crisis. Major manufacturers like 3M are ramping up production in the wake of consumer-led shortages that are impacting supplies for the health care sector. In early March, the Department of Health and Human Services stated that while the U.S. has a stockpile of roughly 30 million N95 respirator masks, it needs roughly 300 million as the COVID-19 outbreak worsens.  In light of this, the U.S. Surgeon General has urged the public to stop buying protective masks.

Despite these pleas, a range of bad actors have continued to exploit fears surrounding the COVID-19 crisis for monetary gain. Earlier this month, CNBC and other outlets reported that Google was continually serving ads for products marketed as precautions for COVID-19 (including protective masks and hand sanitizer), despite a policy prohibiting content that capitalizes off of “sensitive events” such as natural disasters, conflicts, or death.  On March 10th, Google announced a formal ban on ads for protective face masks and claimed it would “take action as needed to protect users.”

Almost immediately, however, our staffs became aware that Google continued to serve ads for these masks – including, notably, on news articles reporting Google’s new policies. Browsing in incognito mode across a range of different devices, our staffs were consistently served dozens of ads for protective masks and hand sanitizer – in each case while on a page related to COVID-19. Scrutinizing the targeting information that Google provides pursuant to the AdChoices program, it became clear that these ads were targeted to users specifically because they were browsing articles on COVID-19. In other words, using browsing data that Google collects through its third-party web trackers, unscrupulous and predatory advertisers were able to directly target consumers browsing content on the outbreak in order to exploit their fear for profit.

These ads, from a range of different advertisers, were served by Google on websites for outlets such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, CNBC, The Irish Times, and myriad local broadcasting affiliates. In several hours of testing, our staffs were not served a single ad for such masks from other advertising platforms – yet generated several dozen from Google. Reporting by CNBC appears to confirm that other ad platforms seemed not to be serving such predatory ads.

Upon contacting the company, Google claimed it would need a full click string to detect these violations – a request that seemed odd in light of the sheer number of ads violating these policies and the ease with which our staffs were able to generate offending ads, across multiple devices and sites. Most disturbingly, the ad content included explicit references to “Protective Masks” and included a range of representations such as “Medical-Grade N95 filter mask.” The majority of these ads also suggested that consumers should take immediate action in light of “limited supplies.” Virtually every single outbound URL associated with these ads also contained clear indications that the ads violated the company’s policies – with “N95,” “mask,” “medical-grade,” and “3M-Mask” explicitly in the URL string. In addition to the social harm associated with contributing towards scarcity of these masks, the ads also appear to engage in price-gouging – with individual masks in many ads selling for $9.99 or $12.99.

For several years now, we have encouraged the FTC to address Google’s inattention to abuse, harmful activity, and fraud within the ad ecosystem that it largely dominates.  As one of us wrote your agency in 2018, “The FTC’s failure to act has had the effect of allowing Google to structure its own market; through a series of transactions, the company has accomplished a level of vertical integration that, in effect, allows it to act as the equivalent of market-maker, commodities broker, and commodities exchange for digital advertising… While the company controls each link in the supply chain and therefore maintains the power to monitor activity in the digital advertising market from start to finish, it has continued to be caught flat-footed in identifying and addressing digital ad fraud.”

Google’s inattention to the misuse of its advertising platform extends beyond digital ad fraud and predatory ads: in 2012, the Department of Justice announced one of the largest forfeitures in U.S. history, forcing Google to disgorge $500 million generated by unlawful ads marketing opioids to Americans.  Unfortunately, we have continued to see Google’s advertising platform exploited for abusive and fraudulent activity.

Google has made repeated representations to consumers that its policies prohibit ads for products such as protective masks. Yet the company appears not to be taking even rudimentary steps to enforce that policy, such as easily automated and scalable actions like flagging ads with relevant terms in the outbound URL. These misrepresentations generate direct harm to consumers, exploiting their legitimate fears over the COVID-19 outbreak to over-charge them for products. They also create widespread social harms to our nation’s response to this crisis, such as by contributing to shortages of products essential to the health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.

Consumers should be able to rely on representations regarding a company’s business practices – particularly in cases, such as this, where Google has acknowledged that offending ads pose harm to consumers. If consumers cannot rely on a company’s representations, then the FTC must intervene. The FTC routinely pursues enforcement actions against companies that don’t live up to the self-regulatory commitments they make, including in a 2012 case against Google for failing to follow the National Advertising Initiative code of conduct. 

Given the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s successful work in combatting similar misuse of the company’s advertising platform, we have provided a carbon copy of this letter to the DOJ to address this pattern of misbehavior in light of the FTC’s inaction.

Sincerely,

Cc:

Attorney General William Barr

Commissioner Rohit Chopra

Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter

Commissioner Noah Phillips

Commissioner Christine Wilson

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance and Banking Committees and a former business executive, released the following statement on a coronavirus response plan to support American workers amid the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19):

 “The novel coronavirus and the steps that are necessary to protect public health will have far-reaching and severe human consequences. Workers who cannot continue to earn a paycheck during the crisis will face enormous hardship. Furthermore, consumer spending is responsible for almost 70 percent of overall economic activity. The dramatic drop in spending we’ve seen in recent days will further devastate our economy. While we take the necessary steps required to protect public health, we cannot ignore their impact on our neighbors, businesses and communities. We must take bipartisan action immediately.

“We’ve already taken steps to secure better medical care and testing, and I’m working hard to provide more robust assistance for workers regarding paid family and sick leave, and expanded UI benefits – especially for gig workers and independent contractors. 

“But these efforts alone aren’t enough. Much more needs to be done – and done quickly – in order to stave off the worst effects of a deepening economic recession.  We have to get cash flow back to our small and mid-sized businesses so that they can remain open, retain their employees, and survive through this public health emergency. Nearly 18 million people are employed in industries whose revenues are severely curtailed and are vulnerable to layoffs. Many businesses, particularly small and mid-sized firms, are running down their cash and credit lines. As we see more areas enforce tighter social distancing restrictions, this problem is only set to get worse. 

“I am proposing that we immediately set up a small and mid-sized business liquidity facility, jointly run by the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve, to provide companies affected by the virus with federally-guaranteed loans at low rates throughout the crisis. The loans would be delivered through local financial institutions and backed by up to $1T in federal financing. A few important elements of this proposal include:

·         Simple terms and underwriting requirements in order to quickly deliver cash flow to these businesses;

·         Protections to ensure that any company taking a loan is required to retain a large portion of its workforce; and

·         Some specific mechanism to avoid any moral hazard and hold financial institutions accountable.

“If we do not take action immediately, thousands of American businesses and millions of their employees are at enormous risk. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the coming days to provide them the assistance they need to weather the current crisis.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to enable thousands of federal civil servants, who have experience with rapid emergency response, to assist rural communities that are increasingly overwhelmed by the challenge of responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Of Virginia’s 67 confirmed cases, there are growing outbreaks in rural areas including James City County, Farmville, and Hanover. In their letter, the Senators underscore that the USDA and DOI have the relevant experience to best meet the challenges rural communities in Virginia face.

“We write to request your immediate assistance in mobilizing your agencies to offer coordinated support for rural counties, municipalities, and tribal communities as they respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” wrote the Senators in their letter to FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, and DOI Secretary David Bernhardt. “Rural communities are working to set up local emergency operation centers to help manage their response, but face challenges with limited staff capacity. Across many of our states, rural counties are experiencing outbreaks and some communities are already overwhelmed with the challenge.”

Federal civil servants across the country at agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are located in rural communities and uniquely qualified in emergency management. Many are Incident Command System qualified, have experience mobilizing resources, and coordinating communication and information flow to respond to and contain crises like forest fires. This expertise would bolster the response to coronavirus outbreaks in rural communities across the country.

“We believe these federal professionals are well suited to partner with rural counties and municipalities to enhance staff capacity and support communities facing this public health crisis,” continued the Senators. Therefore, in light of the national emergency declaration, we urge you to take immediate steps to ensure your agencies are working together to make your respective staff and resources available and able to assist with emergency response to COVID-19 across the country.”

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sen. Michel Bennet (D-CO) and signed by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI), Senate Indian Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), Doug Jones (D-Al), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeffery Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Jon Tester (D-MT).

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Dear Administrator Gaynor, Secretary Perdue, and Secretary Bernhardt:

We write to request your immediate assistance in mobilizing your agencies to offer coordinated support for rural counties, municipalities, and tribal communities as they respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Rural communities are working to set up local emergency operation centers to help manage their response, but face challenges with limited staff capacity. Across many of our states, rural counties are experiencing outbreaks and some communities are already overwhelmed with the challenge.

Throughout rural America, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture employ thousands of federal civil servants who have the relevant experience to assist with emergency response. For example, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employ thousands of staff across the country who are Incident Command System qualified and have experience rapidly responding to forest fires, mobilizing critical resources, and managing information flow in times of crisis. With this expertise available, it is crucial that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide the authorities necessary and work with both agencies to deliver effective, coordinated assistance to rural communities.

We believe these federal professionals are well suited to partner with rural counties and municipalities to enhance staff capacity and support communities facing this public health crisis. Therefore, in light of the national emergency declaration, we urge you to take immediate steps to ensure your agencies are working together to make your respective staff and resources available and able to assist with emergency response to COVID-19 across the country.

Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded announcements today by several major internet service providers that they adopt practices that will better accommodate the use of remote technologies that students, workers and public health officials will rely upon during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. On Thursday, Sen. Warner led 17 Senators in writing to the nation’s eight largest providers, calling on them to suspend data caps and overage fees that could present a barrier to telepresence services, and urging the companies to provide free or at-cost broadband options for students affected by the virus who otherwise lack broadband access for online learning during school closures caused by the outbreak. The letter also encouraged the companies to take proactive steps to provide under- and unserved households with broadband access, including through access to broadband hotspots.

“The coronavirus outbreak is already creating an unprecedented need for teleworking, telehealth and online education technology,” Sen. Warner said today. “I’m glad to see certain companies quickly responding to our letter and putting a pause on restrictive caps, fees and other policies that could interfere with online access during this critical time. I’m also pleased to see companies committing to expanding broadband access for students who may not have it so that their educations are not completely disrupted during school closures. I call on those internet providers that have not taken similar steps to do so immediately, in order to assist their fellow Americans during this time of great national strain.” 

Since receiving the Senator’s letter, AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Comcast, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and Cox, among others, have each announced a variety of new policies to help ensure Americans have reliable access to online services during the outbreak of COVID-19, such as service upgrades, fee waivers, free access to Wi-Fi hotspots, more affordable plans, free support services, and more. AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast announced they would temporarily suspend data caps, along with other service changes. In response to the letter, Charter (which emphasized that its plans do not have data caps) announced that it would provide 60 days of free broadband to households with K-12 or college students currently without service – and, drawing from the letter’s recommendations, pledged to work with school districts to make eligible households aware of the offer. T-Mobile announced that it would provide unlimited smartphone data to all current subscribers and increase the data allowance to schools and students using their digital learning programs. Cox announced that it would changes to its Connect2Compete plan for low-cost broadband, including increasing speeds and providing one month of free service to new customers. Sprint announced it would provide all its subscribers with unlimited data for 60 days, along with other billing and service changes to cushion the impact of COVID-19. Verizon (whose wireline operations do not include caps) announced it would increase capacity and accelerate network investments, among other billing and service changes. 

A list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect and support Virginians during the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and 25 of his colleagues, in sending a letter to President Trump urging him to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to utilize telework capabilities to the maximum possible extent. While the Administration has issued guidance recommending agencies expand their telework capabilities, too many federal employees are still required to come to work in-person when they can do their job from home. As the Centers for Disease Control and other public health experts recommend practicing social-distancing, the federal government should lead by example and cease all policies that could endanger the health and safety of its employees and exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.

The Senators write, “I urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope.”

They underscore, “Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions.”  

The Senators close the letter, noting, “Voluntary guidance is not enough – agencies need clear orders. In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and I hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in my state on a daily basis.” 

In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

 

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

Dear President Trump,

We urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing agencies to use telework to the maximum extent practicable in light of the COVID-19 emergency. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies to increase telework flexibility in the National Capital Region, but your order should be a clear direction – rather than general guidance – and it should be worldwide in scope. State and local governments have been far more proactive than the federal Executive Branch in making arrangements for their employees to telework where possible. We have maximized teleworking in our Senate Offices. You should order Executive agencies to do the same. We must lead by example. 

Your order should direct federal agencies to allow all telework-eligible federal workers to telework full-time, unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so for the effective operation of government. You should also order federal agencies to evaluate whether non-telework-eligible employees can be telework-eligible, and to do so for all employees where there is not a clear and compelling reason that telework is not compatible with the performance of their job functions. 

You should order agencies to immediately rescind all cuts to telework made since 2016. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, 21% of federal employees participated in telework – a slight decline after years of steady increases from 14% in 2012. In 2017, 43% of employees were telework-eligible, so allowing all of them to telework during this emergency would make an immediate difference. 

These telework directives should apply to federal workers throughout the United States and to other countries where there are cases of COVID-19. In the National Capital Region, 40% of Metro commuters during morning rush hour are federal employees, and these crowded trains and buses pose a major risk for COVID-19 transmission. But COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and only 15% of federal employees work in the National Capital Region. The federal government should not wait until an area already has widespread community transmission of COVID-19 to act.

Voluntary guidance is not enough – agencies need clear orders. In the absence of a clear order, agencies and managers have been hesitant to take major actions to shift towards telework and we hear from increasingly anxious federal workers in our states on a daily basis. 

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded announcements today by several major internet service providers that they adopt practices that will better accommodate the use of remote technologies that students, workers and public health officials will rely upon during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. On Thursday, Sen. Warner led 17 Senators in writing to the nation’s eight largest providers, calling on them to suspend data caps and overage fees that could present a barrier to telepresence services, and urging the companies to provide free or at-cost broadband options for students affected by the virus who otherwise lack broadband access for online learning during school closures caused by the outbreak. The letter also encouraged the companies to take proactive steps to provide under- and unserved households with broadband access, including through access to broadband hotspots.

“The coronavirus outbreak is already creating an unprecedented need for teleworking, telehealth and online education technology,” Sen. Warner said today. “I’m glad to see certain companies quickly responding to our letter and putting a pause on restrictive caps, fees and other policies that could interfere with online access during this critical time. I’m also pleased to see companies committing to expanding broadband access for students who may not have it so that their educations are not completely disrupted during school closures. I call on those internet providers that have not taken similar steps to do so immediately, in order to assist their fellow Americans during this time of great national strain.” 

Since receiving the Senator’s letter, AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Comcast, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and Cox, among others, have each announced a variety of new policies to help ensure Americans have reliable access to online services during the outbreak of COVID-19, such as service upgrades, fee waivers, free access to Wi-Fi hotspots, more affordable plans, free support services, and more. AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast announced they would temporarily suspend data caps, along with other service changes. In response to the letter, Charter (which emphasized that its plans do not have data caps) announced that it would provide 60 days of free broadband to households with K-12 or college students currently without service – and, drawing from the letter’s recommendations, pledged to work with school districts to make eligible households aware of the offer. T-Mobile announced that it would provide unlimited smartphone data to all current subscribers and increase the data allowance to schools and students using their digital learning programs. Cox announced that it would changes to its Connect2Compete plan for low-cost broadband, including increasing speeds and providing one month of free service to new customers. Sprint announced it would provide all its subscribers with unlimited data for 60 days, along with other billing and service changes to cushion the impact of COVID-19. Verizon (whose wireline operations do not include caps) announced it would increase capacity and accelerate network investments, among other billing and service changes. 

A list of Sen. Warner’s work to protect and support Virginians during the coronavirus outbreak is available here.

 

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