Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in introducing comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will seek to address the digital divide by investing $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities. The legislation in the House of Representatives is led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force.

“The current health crisis has only underscored what we already know: that too many households across the country lack reliable access to broadband,” said Sen. Warner. “In Virginia alone, it’s estimated that more than 700,000 Virginians lack access to broadband, making it harder for families to access essential services during these unprecedented times. Access to broadband helps communities meaningfully participate in the digital economy. Individuals can apply for a job or submit a college application, families can connect with their health care providers without having to travel long distances, and teachers and students can advance and supplement their online learning. Accessibility to broadband is vital to increasing digital literacy, achieving economic stability, and advancing education, and this critical legislation will help bridge the gap for communities that still need access to this critical technology.” 

“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for every American,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “In 2020, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code — and this legislation is a critical step to help bridge the digital divide once and for all.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent Broadband Deployment Report, 18 million people lack access to broadband – a figure that experts widely agree is understated.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would:

  • Encourage Universal Broadband Access by:
    • including $80 billion to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide;
    • allocating $5 billion for low-interest financing of broadband deployment through a new secured loan program; and
    • establishing a new office within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure efficient use of federal money.
  • Ensure Internet Affordability by:
    • requiring an affordable option for internet service plans offered on the newly-built infrastructure;
    • providing a $50 monthly discount on plans for low-income consumers; and
    • directing the FCC to collect and publicize data on prices charged for broadband service throughout the country. 
  • Promote Internet Adoption by:
    • providing over $1 billion to establish grant programs for states to close gaps in broadband adoption, as well as digital inclusion projects for organizations and local communities to implement;
    • including $5 billion to enable students without internet at home to participate in remote learning; and
    • authorizing funding for Wi-Fi on school buses so students can stay connected, especially in rural areas where longer bus rides are common.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is endorsed by the Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Consumer Law Center, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Consumer Reports, Schools, Health, Libraries, and Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Common Cause, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Leadership Conference, Access Now,  Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Education Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Communications Workers of America, and North America’s Building Trades Union.

“Broadband access is a civil right that we can’t afford to lose, but one that millions of Americans, in rural and urban communities across this country, simply can’t afford. This legislation prioritizes broadband affordability and promises to make a real difference in the fight to close the digital divide,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffery Starks. 

“Broadband is now essential for work, education, healthcare, and so much of modern life. So kudos to Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues for their efforts to develop a plan to connect us all. Working together like this we can solve the digital divide, fix the homework gap, and give everyone a fair shot at internet age success,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. 

“As providers based in the communities they serve, NTCA members are committed to ensuring rural Americans receive reliable broadband to engage with critical activities such as telemedicine, distance learning and remote work. Time and again, Senator Klobuchar has led the charge in highlighting the fundamental significance of broadband in all aspects of Americans’ lives and seeking to promote better connectivity for all Americans,” saidShirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. “We particularly appreciate her acknowledgment here of the need to ensure new networks will be built to meet the challenges of both today and tomorrow, and we look forward to working with the Senator and other policymakers to ensure any new programs to stimulate broadband deployment or make broadband more affordable complement and coordinate with existing deployment commitments and programs aimed at sustaining such efforts.”

“Millions across this country do not have access to broadband -- leaving them struggling to work, learn, access medical care, and connect with loved ones. Closing the digital divide requires funding high-quality broadband deployment, ensuring that broadband service is affordable, and ensuring that individuals have the skills and devices they need to access it. This bill takes action on all of those fronts. By utilizing a comprehensive approach, we believe this legislation will significantly narrow the digital divide. We are glad to see this important legislation introduced in the Senate,” said Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge.

“We commend Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues in the Senate for introducing this landmark legislation to ensure everyone is connected to affordable, high-speed, quality broadband. The Accessible, Affordable, Internet for All Act takes significant steps to address all aspects of the digital divide through provisions that provide robust broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved areas, affordable options to connect low-income communities, and digital equity programs to address systemic disparities in broadband connectivity disproportionately impacting people of color and other marginalized communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fault lines in broadband connectivity our nation has faced for far too long, leaving millions of Americans unable to participate in our democracy and economy. Now is the time to pass this legislation and take significant strides in closing the digital divide,” said Yosef Getachew, Director of Media and Democracy Program, Common Cause.  

“We applaud Senate leaders for introducing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. The legislation represents a comprehensive and targeted approach to closing the digital divide for anchor institutions and the people they serve. In addition to tackling the many obstacles to ubiquitous internet access, the bill recognizes that health clinics and hospitals across the country need more bandwidth to keep up with the increased demand for telemedicine. By embracing broadband solutions for telehealth and remote learning from home, this legislation will lead to a healthier and better educated America,” said John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition.

"Millions of Americans have struggled through the COVID-19 crisis without internet connectivity. Congress needs to do something to help these people, and we applaud Senator Klobuchar for stepping up. Her bill would make internet service more affordable and accessible, which is exactly what is needed right now. The Senate should pass this bill immediately," said Joshua Stager, Senior Counsel, New America's Open Technology Institute.

“Affordable broadband service is essential for access to opportunities. Black, Hispanic, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have lower broadband subscription rates than their White counterparts, and one of the main barriers to broadband service is cost. The Broadband Service for Low-income Consumers program will help close the digital divide by providing low-income households with a $50 broadband benefit ($75 for households on Tribal lands) and the Digital Equity Program will ensure consumers have the digital skills necessary for full participation in our society. On behalf of our low-income clients, we commend the leadership of Senator Klobuchar in introducing this critically important bill," said National Consumer Law Center Staff Attorney Olivia Wein.

“Millions of families in the United States do not have access to affordable, reliable broadband internet connections — totally unacceptable before, but especially unacceptable during a pandemic when many are being asked to stay at home to bend the curve to save lives. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act introduced today includes strong provisions to expand broadband access to rural communities and protect good union jobs across the country,” said Chris Shelton, President, Communications Workers of America (CWA). 

“Free Press Action welcomes Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues’ introduction of this tremendous, comprehensive broadband package in the Senate, linking up with the legislation that Representative Clyburn and the House majority introduced last week and plan to pass as part of the Moving Forward Act. While the deployment and financing strategies will understandably draw attention in an infrastructure bill, its digital equity, affordability and pricing transparency provisions are just as essential or more so for getting everyone online. Lawmakers must recognize, as this bill does, that the vast majority of people disconnected today are offline because they cannot afford the high price for internet, which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people, poorer communities, and exacerbates the digital divide and economic inequities,” said Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel, Free Press Action.

"The Senate version of the “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act” includes all of the critical provisions of the House version, but goes even further to address this country’s gaping digital divide. Like the House bill, it addresses the twin problems of broadband affordability and lack of network infrastructure and seeks to promote competition in a consolidated market by preferencing open access networks and repealing state laws that prohibit communities from building their own broadband networks. In addition, the Senate bill would expand the FCC’s Rural Health Care program to provide funding for telehealth programs in urban as well as rural areas, and would create a fund to ensure that higher education students in need have access to robust broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “The pandemic has laid bare the need for every American to have robust, high speed broadband Internet access at home. Yet over 140 million Americans still are without a service that is essential to full participation in our economy, our education system, our culture and our democracy. It is long past time for Congress to act. Thanks to Senator Klobuchar and her Senate colleagues for co-sponsoring this vital legislation. The Senate should pass this bill without delay.” 

Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth during his tenure as Governor and during his time in the Senate. Earlier this year, he introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during the coronavirus pandemic. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services. 

In addition to Sens. Warner and Klobuchar, this legislation was cosponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV). 

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WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Debbie Stabenow (MI), Tom Carper (DE), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Ben Cardin (MD), and Tim Kaine (VA) today hosted a virtual hearing to examine why Washington, D.C. should become the country’s 51st state. The hearing, titled, “Statehood and Equality for Washington, D.C.,” focused on the statehood process outlined in the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. It also focused on the need to provide voting representation in Congress and full local self-government to the more than 700,000 residents of the current District of Columbia.  

The Senators heard testimony from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mayor Muriel Bowser, Monica Hopkins with the American Civil Liberties Union, Rick Lee, the owner of Lee’s Flower and Card Shop, and James Nelson Rimensnyder, veteran and lifelong D.C. resident. A video hearing of the hearing can be viewed here.

“It’s about time that the District’s 700,000 residents get proper representation in Congress and a say over how their federal dollars are spent,” said Senator Warner. “I’ve supported a Senate bill to make Washington D.C. the 51st state and I’m going to keep pushing until Virginia’s neighbors receive the same level representation they would get in any other part of our country.”

“I am grateful for our witnesses today who spoke about what statehood would mean for Washington D.C. residents. For far too long, the people of D.C. have been denied full representation in our Democracy. Meanwhile, they keep our federal government running, serve in our military and pay federal taxes. Now is the time to act and pass H.R. 51 the Washington, D.C. Admission Act,” said Senator Stabenow.

“People often ask me why a U.S. Senator from Delaware would spend his time trying to get statehood for Washington, D.C. I tell them that, to me, this issue is all about fairness. I point them to the Golden Rule – treat other people the way you would want to be treated. In Delaware, we have a little less than a million people. We have two senators and a congresswoman who have a vote in Congress. The same goes for Wyoming and Vermont, two of the smallest states with even fewer people than Delaware and DC. Nobody would dare suggest that they or any of our smaller states don’t deserve to have representation in Congress. Yet we’ve left nearly 700,000 DC residents – the majority of whom are people of color – with no voice in this body,” said Senator Carper. “These U.S. taxpayers work, study, raise families, start businesses and serve in our military. In fact, DC residents have fought in every single American war, yet have never been afforded the right to have their voices heard on those wars in Congress. And DC residents pay more in federal taxes per capita than citizens of any other state, yet they aren’t able to have a say in how those taxes are spent. It’s why for years, Congresswoman Norton and I have reintroduced our DC Statehood bills in both Chambers – and I am so proud that last week, the House voted to advance the Congresswoman’s version and right this wrong. Here in the Senate, we still have work to do, but today’s hearing is a promising step. I want to thank Senator Stabenow for hosting today’s discussion and Congresswoman Norton, Mayor Bowser, and other leaders in this fight for appearing today and for their work to further the cause of full voting rights and equality for the people who live here in our nation’s capital. Together, we will get this done.”

“For far too long the people of the District of Columbia have faced taxation without representation. And the need for urgent action has only been further underscored by recent events. The District has been denied the basic right of self-governance even though its residents pay more in taxes than 22 other states – and the population of D.C. is greater than Wyoming and Vermont. The message we heard today was clear – now that the House has acted, Republican Senate Majority Leader McConnell must immediately bring this bill up for Senate consideration. It’s time for Republicans to stop treating the citizens of the District of Columbia as second class citizens and recognize their most basic right to have voting representation in the Senate and House,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Our Constitution guarantees a right to representation for all citizens, yet we are the only democratic country in the world where citizens of our capital do not have a vote in their national legislature. The U.S. is an outlier. This is a violation of basic human rights that needs to be corrected,” said Senator Cardin. “Human rights should not be a partisan issue. Full voting rights and representation for the 700,000 citizens of the District of Columbia should not be a partisan issue. Statehood is long overdue.” 

“D.C. deserves statehood. It has long met the criteria that we’ve applied throughout our history for becoming a state,” said Senator Kaine. “Making D.C. the 51st state is about protecting the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans. I’m proud to support this effort.”  

On January 3, 2019, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which would admit the new State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth as the 51st state of the United States and reduce the size of the federal district. The House of Representatives voted to approve the bill by a vote of 232-180 on June 26, 2020, marking the first time a chamber of Congress has passed the D.C. statehood bill.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Rules Committee responsible for election legislation, spoke on the Senate floor and warned of a rise in voter suppression tied to the coronavirus pandemic. He highlighted specific steps that states and the federal government should take to protect the right to vote, including implementing no-excuse absentee ballots, curbside voting, and expanded early voting opportunities.  

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said in part, “Americans must be able to exercise their right to vote in a way that is safe and secure this November. From Wisconsin to Georgia to Kentucky, we are already seeing a dangerous trend of making voters choose between their safety and their right to vote. And I fear that if we head into November without a plan… without a strategy for protecting the right to vote and ensuring equal access to the ballot box… we could see levels of voter suppression not seen since the Jim Crow era.”

He continued, If we are going to preserve the integrity of our elections and the trust of the American people, it is essential that states and the federal government adapt to the challenge of this pandemic and expand access to the ballot box. In short, we need to make it easier and safer for Americans to exercise their right to vote.”

In his remarks, Sen. Warner highlighted the ways that voter suppression efforts disproportionately harm the most vulnerable Americans—particularly voters in communities of color. According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, Black voters, on average, wait 45 minutes longer to vote than white voters, and Latino voters wait 46 minutes longer.

Speaking about voter restrictions that have been implemented in the name of COVID-19 safety this year, Sen. Warner said: “We know who these restrictions disenfranchise: it’s the poor… it’s the elderly… it’s workers just getting off their shift. And disproportionately, it is Black and Latino voters who face the brunt of these restrictions.”

Last week, Sen. Warner led all Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Association of State Election Directors, and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis. The letter included a series of recommendations to prevent voter suppression.

 

The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:

Mr./Madam President, I rise today because Americans must be able to exercise their right to vote in a way that is safe and secure this November.

From Wisconsin to Georgia to Kentucky, we are already seeing a dangerous trend of making voters choose between their safety and their right to vote.

And I fear that if we head into November without a plan… without a strategy for protecting the right to vote and ensuring equal access to the ballot box… we could see levels of voter suppression not seen since the Jim Crow era.

It is true, we are in uncharted territory due to COVID-19. Of course, we must make sure that voters and poll workers are protected. We must make sure that polling places do not become another vector for spreading the virus.

But the way we do that is not by restricting access to the ballot box. Not in the United States of America. That is not how the world’s greatest democracy should meet this challenge.

Mr. President, if we are going to preserve the integrity of our elections… and the trust of the American people… it is essential that states and the federal government adapt to the challenge of this pandemic and expand access to the ballot box.

In short, we need to make it easier and safer for Americans to exercise their right to vote.

The good news is, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A number of states—red, blue, purple—have adopted a range of ‘convenience voting’ procedures that work quite well. Some of those procedures including ample early voting opportunities and no-excuse absentee ballots… both of which reduce the risk that voters will be forced to break social distancing guidance in order to vote. 

In my home state of Virginia, we have curb-side voting for seniors and people with disabilities.

This has greatly expanded access to the ballot for Virginians with health issues that prevent them from going into a polling place. 

Every single state already has some form of convenience voting… to support voters who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day. And every election cycle, Americans securely cast millions of votes using these programs. 

We need to build on the success of these programs to ensure that every voter, regardless of circumstance, can safely and easily vote in our elections.

Unfortunately, despite these effective and secure tools at our disposal, we have also seen states implement restrictions in the name of safety that have disenfranchised far too many Americans.

In Wisconsin’s April primary, for example, Milwaukee reduced its number of polling places from 180 to just 5 locations. We saw similar moves this month in Georgia and Kentucky.

We know who these restrictions disenfranchise: it’s the poor… it’s the elderly… it’s workers just getting off their shift. And disproportionately, it is Black and Latino voters who face the brunt of these restrictions.

According to a new report from the Brennan Center, Black voters, on average, wait 45 minutes longer to vote than white voters. And Latino voters wait 46 minutes longer.

This is not right, Mr. President. We have a moral obligation to make sure that our tools to counter COVID-19 are not used to intimidate and suppress voters.

Just last week, Senator Klobuchar and I sent letters raising the warning that bad actors could use testing, immunity and protective equipment as a pretense to turn away voters or increase the difficulty of reaching the ballot box on Election Day.

Ideally, our elections officials could come together around a national strategy… of preparing every polling place and precinct… for administering our elections during a pandemic.

Unfortunately, there are those, including the President, who have tried to politicize this issue. In fact, we’ve seen the President spreading utter misinformation about mail-in voting.

The President seems to have forgotten that he has voted by mail in the last three elections. But what he fundamentally fails to understand is that the right to vote belongs to the voters, not to the politicians. It is our job to make sure Americans can exercise their rights in a way that is safe and secure.

Mr. President, that’s why Congress must rise to the occasion and ensure Americans can vote safely and securely.

The time is now to start serious preparations on contingencies to protect our elections from both the pandemic and those who would take advantage of it. I am a sponsor of the bill Sen. Klobuchar has tried to UC tonight, and I am disappointed it was blocked from passing.

I look forward to continuing with this group and the rest of our colleagues to do so. Thank you. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va) joined Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 (NDAA) that would require President Trump to unlock the full authority and power of the Defense Production Act to scale up nation-wide production of the testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and medical equipment needed at the local level to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“New coronavirus cases are rising in states across the country, which means we need more testing supplies, more testing, and more personal protective equipment for workers on the frontlines of this pandemic,” said Senator Baldwin. “President Trump’s response to this pandemic has been a failure of leadership, so this amendment will force action to increase national production of testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and medical equipment needed to save lives.”

The amendment includes legislation she introduced in April with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). The Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act requires the president to utilize all available authorities under the Defense Production Act to mobilize a federal response to the pandemic through an equitable and transparent process. Key parts of Baldwin’s legislation are included in the House-passed HEROES Act, but the Republican majority in the Senate has failed to take action on the legislation.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the amendment is cosponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). 

The NDAA is being considered on the Senate floor this week.

The full amendment is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) pressed Facebook regarding its failure to prevent the propagation of white supremacist groups online and its role in providing such groups with the organizational infrastructure and reach needed to expand. In a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Senators criticized Facebook for being unable or unwilling to enforce its own Community Standards and purge white supremacist and other violent extremist content from the site. They also called on Zuckerberg to answer a series of questions regarding Facebook’s policies and procedures against hate speech, violence, white supremacy and the amplification of extremist content.

“The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society. Americans of all races, ages, and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all,” wrote the Senators. “While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement, its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests.”

Citing reports by the Tech Transparency project and other numerous investigative reports, the Senators highlighted ways in which right-wing extremist groups have used Facebook as a recruitment and organizational tool. They also underscored Facebook’s own contributions to the public safety problem, which include autogenerating pages for white supremacist organizations, promoting white supremacist pages and even directing users who visit these groups to other extremist or far-right content.

“This evidence stands in marked contrast to Facebook’s professed commitment to combat extremism by redirecting users who search for terms associated with white supremacy or hate groups to the page for ‘Life After Hate,’ an organization that promotes tolerance,” the Senators added.  “The Tech Transparency Project found that Facebook directed users to the ‘Life After Hate’ page in only six percent of the searches for white supremacist organizations.”

Sens. Warner, Hirono and Menendez also cited a number of instances where online radicalization facilitated by Facebook led to real life consequences, such as when three members of a “boogaloo” group on Facebook plotted to bring Molotov cocktails to a Black Lives Matter Protest, or when Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Carrillo used Facebook to talk about committing violent acts and to meet the individual who eventually drove his getaway van after Carrillo shot and killed a federal security officer. 

In the letter, the Senators requested answers to the following questions by July 10th:

  1. Does Facebook affirm its policy against hate speech and will it seriously enforce this policy?
  2. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove hate speech from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  3. Does Facebook affirm its policy against violence and incitement and will it seriously enforce this policy?
  4. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove violence and incitement from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  5. Does Facebook affirm its commitment to ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram” as detailed in the company’s May 27, 2019 post and will it seriously enforce this commitment?
  6. What steps has Facebook implemented since announcing this policy to remove “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram?”
  7. Please provide our offices with any Facebook internal research concerning the platform’s amplification of extremist groups.
  8. How often are you personally briefed on the status of domestic extremist and white supremacist groups on Facebook and the platform’s efforts to address these groups?
  9. Who is the senior-most Facebook official responsible for addressing white supremacist groups’ activity on Facebook and which Facebook executive does this employee report directly to?
  10. What role did Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan play in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity on Facebook?
  11. What role did Mr. Kaplan play in the participation of the Daily Caller, an outlet with longstanding ties to white nationalist groups, in Facebook’s fact-checking program?
  12. When violent extremist groups actively and openly use a platform’s tools to coordinate violence, should federal law continue to protect the platform from civil liability for its role in facilitating that activity?

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

We write to express our serious concerns about Facebook’s lack of action to prevent white supremacist groups from using the platform as a recruitment and organizational tool. The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society. Americans of all races, ages, and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all. While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement,[1] its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests.

On April 22, a full month before Americans started recent protests for racial justice, the Tech Transparency Project issued a report detailing the ways right-wing extremist groups were using Facebook to plan a militant uprising in the United States in response to stay-at-home orders issued to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.[2] The organization’s research uncovered “125 Facebook groups devoted to the ‘boogaloo,’” a term with ties to white supremacist movements used to describe a coming civil war.[3] Many of the groups’ posts were explicit in their calls for violence, including discussions of “tactical strategies, combat medicine, and various types of weapons, including how to develop explosives and the merits of using flame throwers.”[4] The groups experienced unchecked growth in the months leading up to the report and remained on Facebook at least as of early June,[5] despite Facebook’s prior claims that it was “studying trends around [boogaloo] and related terms on Facebook and Instagram” and that it “do[es]n’t allow speech used to incite hate or violence, and will remove any content that violates our policies.”[6]

A subsequent report issued on May 21 provided further detail regarding the extent of Facebook’s white-supremacist problem—and Facebook’s lack of attention to this public safety problem.[7] The Tech Transparency Project found that 113 of the 221 white supremacist organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League—a staggering 51%—have a presence on Facebook.[8] Many of the organizations’ pages were actually auto-generated by Facebook after a Facebook user identified a white supremacist or neo-Nazi organization as his or her employer.[9] Perhaps more troubling, Facebook actively promoted these and other white supremacist sites. According to the Tech Transparency Project, “Facebook’s ‘Related Pages’ feature often directed users visiting white supremacist Pages to other extremist or far-right content, raising concerns that the platform is contributing to radicalization.”[10] 

The Tech Transparency Project report echoes similar findings by the Southern Poverty Law Center (which has also tracked how these groups spread dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 on Facebook),[11] along with several investigative news reports.[12] One investigative report even concluded that Facebook served as a key recruitment tool for right-wing militia groups to recruit police officers to their movements.[13]Facebook is hardly a passive actor in this context: a recent exposé by The Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook’s own researchers had found that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools.”[14] The report concluded that Facebook senior executives shut down efforts to reform the platform’s tendency to amplify hyperpolarized and extremist content after Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan deemed the efforts “paternalistic.”[15]

This evidence stands in marked contrast to Facebook’s professed commitment to combat extremism by redirecting users who search for terms associated with white supremacy or hate groups to the page for “Life After Hate,” an organization that promotes tolerance.[16] The Tech Transparency Project found that Facebook directed users to the “Life After Hate” page in only six percent of the searches for white supremacist organizations.[17]

Unfortunately, the online radicalization facilitated by Facebook can lead to deadly consequences. On June 16, federal authorities charged Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Carrillo with the June shooting death of a federal security officer outside a courthouse in Oakland.[18] Authorities also charged the driver of the getaway van,Robert Alvin Justus.[19] Justus and Carrillo had met on Facebook.[20] According to the criminal complaint against Carrillo, a search of Carrillo’s Facebook account revealed not only communications with Justus, but instances where Carrillo expressed his intention to commit violent acts.[21]

In another instance in early June, federal authorities arrested three men on charges that they planned to bring Molotov cocktails to a Black Lives Matter protest.[22] All three were members of a boogaloo group on Facebook.[23] According to the Tech Transparency Project, one of the men arrested was a member of two private boogaloo groups identified in Tech Transparency Project’s April 22 report.[24] Following reporting in the Huffington Post and other media outlets, a Facebook representative told Huffington Post on April 23, “[w]e’ve removed groups and Pages who’ve used [boogaloo] and related terms for violating our policies.”[25] Yet, according to the complaint, the three men used a different online group—a Nevada boogaloo Facebook group—to facilitate organizing a planned attack on the march.[26]

The prevalence of white supremacist and other extremist content on Facebook—and the ways in which these groups have been able to use the platform as organizing infrastructure—is unacceptable. Facebook’s Community Standards expressly state:  “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook.”[27] In a March 27, 2019 post, Facebook made clear that this prohibition “has always included white supremacy.”[28] At that same time, Facebook expanded its prohibition to include “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism.”[29] And the Community Standards purport to prohibit “organizations and individuals that proclaim a violent mission,” including “organized hate” groups.[30]

In light of these clear policies—and others against “Violence and Incitement” and “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations”—we are concerned Facebook is unable (or unwilling) to enforce its own Community Standards[31] and rid itself of white supremacist and other extremist content. 

We request that you to answer the following questions by July 10, 2020:

  1. Does Facebook affirm its policy against hate speech and will it seriously enforce this policy?[32]
  2. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove hate speech from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  3. Does Facebook affirm its policy against violence and incitement and will it seriously enforce this policy?[33]
  4. What procedures has Facebook put in place to identify and remove violence and incitement from its platform? To what degree do these procedures differ with respect to public Facebook pages and private groups?
  5. Does Facebook affirm its commitment to ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram” as detailed in the company’s May 27, 2019 post[34]and will it seriously enforce this commitment?
  6. What steps has Facebook implemented since announcing this policy to remove “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram?”
  7. Please provide our offices with any Facebook internal research concerning the platform’s amplification of extremist groups.
  8. How often are you personally briefed on the status of domestic extremist and white supremacist groups on Facebook and the platform’s efforts to address these groups?
  9. Who is the senior-most Facebook official responsible for addressing white supremacist groups’ activity on Facebook and which Facebook executive does this employee report directly to?
  10. What role did Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan play in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity on Facebook?[35]
  11. What role did Mr. Kaplan play in the participation of the Daily Caller, an outlet with longstanding ties to white nationalist groups,[36] in Facebook’s fact-checking program?
  12. When violent extremist groups actively and openly use a platform’s tools to coordinate violence, should federal law continue to protect the platform from civil liability for its role in facilitating that activity? 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this critical matter. 

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine cosponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 (NDAA) that would require President Trump to unlock the full authority and power of the Defense Production Act to scale up nationwide production of the testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and medical equipment needed at the local level to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“As coronavirus cases continue to rise throughout Virginia and the country, it’s vital that we continue pushing for more testing and personal protective equipment,”  the Senators said. “Several months into this crisis, the Administration has failed to protect Americans. This amendment will help ensurewe have the resources needed to save American lives."   

The amendment includes the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act, legislation the Senators cosponsored to require the president to utilize all available authorities under the Defense Production Act to mobilize a federal response to the pandemic through an equitable and transparent process. Key parts of the legislation are included in the House-passed HEROES Act, but the Republican majority in the Senate has failed to take action on the legislation.

The amendment, led by U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, is also cosponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The NDAA is being considered on the Senate floor this week. 

The full amendment is available here.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and 44 Senate colleagues in introducing a resolution officially condemning the Trump Administration’s “reckless” effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which provides coverage for millions of Americans. The Senate resolution also demands that the Department of Justice (DOJ) defend existing law in court and halt its efforts to repeal the health care protections for millions – including 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions— in the middle of a public health emergency.

“The Trump Administration has made it clear that it will not stop its assault on our nation’s health care law until millions of Americans have lost the protections and coverage they desperately need,” said Sen. Warner. “This resolution affirms what we have said for years – that this Administration’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act are despicable and put too many vulnerable Virginians at risk. The Department of Justice must immediately put a stop to these efforts and fight to increase access to health care during the largest public health crisis in a generation.” 

“To rip health care away from millions of people during a pandemic would be like dousing a fire with gasoline,” said Kaine. “For the sake of the more than 431,000 Virginians benefiting from Medicaid expansion, more than 3 million Virginians with pre-existing conditions, and all else who rely on the ACA for affordable coverage and consumer protections, I oppose this administration’s latest display of inept cruelty.” 

Last week, the DOJ and a group of Republican Attorneys General submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to invalidate the ACA and pull the rug out from underneath the millions of Americans with preexisting conditions who depend on the law for health care coverage. This move would take away health care coverage for more than 23 million Americans who receive health care coverage through the ACA marketplaces.

Additionally, if the Supreme Court agrees to overturn the ACA, it could sabotage protections for more than 3 million Virginians living with a preexisting condition such as COVID-19, diabetes, asthma, or cancer, potentially exposing them to annual or lifetime caps, medical underwriting for their insurance coverage, or denials for the care they need. Across the board, the Commonwealth could lose needed federal funds, causing significant job losses and jeopardizing the viability of Virginia’s rural hospitals in the midst of a global health crisis.

The resolution urges DOJ to reverse its position and instead protect the millions of people who rely on the ACA for health care coverage amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 2.4 million Americans.

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

In the Senate, Sens. Warner and Kaine have fought for expanded access to health care and have spoken out against the Trump Administration’s attempts to overturn the ACA. Last year, Sen. Warner led and Sen. Kaine joined a legislative maneuver to protect health coverage for Americans with preexisting conditions. The Senators have also demanded that the Trump Administration stop the health care sabotage that has undermined our preparedness and ability to respond to COVID-19. Recently, Sen. Warner penned an op-ed sounding the alarm of the devastating effects the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has had on record high uninsured rates across the country.  

The full text of the resolution is available here.

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the Senate floor and offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) aimed at preventing foreign election interference. The amendment would incorporate into the annual defense bill Sen. Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, which would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election.

The FIRE Act was initially set to be included in the NDAA as part of Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), which passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month and was later incorporated into the NDAA. Over the weekend, Senate GOP leadership removed the FIRE Act from the NDAA, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor.   

Sen. Warner, who has attempted to pass the FIRE Act several times over Republican objections in the past year, took to the Senate floor today to decry the backroom deal and offer the FIRE Act as a floor amendment, setting the stage for a possible up-or-down vote in the coming week.  

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said in part, “In a different time, with a different president, this bill would not be controversial. It would simply say to all presidential campaigns going forward: if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance or offering dirt on a political opponent, the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is to call the FBI. What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country, when we can’t even agree on that.”

He continued, The [Intelligence] Committee voted 14-1 to pass an intel authorization bill that included theFIRE Act. So, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned of a backroom deal to strip the FIRE Act out of the Intelligence Committee’s legislation because of a supposed turf war with another Committee. Mr. President, I am back again today because the security of our elections cannot wait. Let’s not hide behind process and turf wars. The stakes are far too high to continue the partisan blockade of election security legislation that we’ve seen over the last three years.” 

The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:

 

Mr. President, I’m here today because I fear the Senate is about to fail once again…to protect our elections from foreign interference.

For the last three years, I’ve worked as Vice Chairman of the Intel committee to investigate Russia’s attack on our democracy in 2016. We are the only bipartisan investigation of Russian election interference to make it to the finish line. 

Any member of the public can read our declassified conclusions. And any member of this body can read additional classified materials. 

Our report offers a stark warning of Russia’s intent to interfere in future U.S. elections… and a clear roadmap for how to defend our democracy from Russia or other adversaries copying their playbook. 

Unfortunately, the White House and the leadership of the United States Senate seem to be the only ones not taking this threat seriously. Since 2016, this body has failed to vote on a single piece of standalone election security legislation. 

So, four times in the last year, I have come to the floor in an attempt to pass my bipartisan election security legislation, known as the FIRE Act, by unanimous consent. 

And each time, those efforts were blocked by my Republican colleagues— earning applause from the President on Twitter. 

In a different time, with a different President, this bill would not be controversial.

It would simply say to all Presidential campaigns going forward: if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance…or offering dirt on a political opponent the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is to call the FBI

What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country when we can’t even agree on that.

Mr. President, I introduced this bipartisan legislation months before the facts came to light… about the President pressuring Ukraine into announcing politically motivated investigations into the Bidens. 

I’m not here to rehash the impeachment trial, but I do want to note one thing.

A number of my Republican colleagues justified their votes by saying that, while not impeachable, it was wrong for the President to solicit foreign interference in our elections.

I take my colleagues across the aisle at their word that they believe foreign interference has no place in our elections.

But at some point, you have to put your money where your mouth is. 

We know the President tried to trade election favors with Ukraine. According to the new book from John Bolton, the President tried to trade political favors with Xi Jinping during trade negotiations. Maybe that happened, maybe it didn’t. 

But I’d be much more inclined to give the President the benefit of the doubt, if he hadn’t asked China to investigate the Bidens on national television; if he hadn’t asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign; or if he’d shown even a shred of interest in defending our democracy from foreign interference over the last four years.

Mr. President, we are under attack from adversaries who see this new era of cyberwarfare and disinformation as a golden opportunity to undermine American democracy. 

We cannot afford to have a system that allows Presidential candidates to welcome this interference with open arms. If we can’t trust the President of the United States and his campaign to do the right thing and report foreign interference, then we need to require it by law.

I’ve spent over a year inviting my colleagues across the aisle to work with us on this already bipartisan legislation. I’ve answered every objection and worked through the right channels to get this legislation to the floor as part of the NDAA.

We went back to the Intelligence Committee—the only committee engaged in serious efforts to prevent foreign election interference. We made sure that this year’s intel authorization bill included several provisions to strengthen our defenses ahead of the November elections.

The Committee voted 14-1 to pass an intel authorization bill that included the FIRE Act. 

So, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned of a backroom deal to strip the FIRE Act out of the Intelligence Committee’s legislation… because of a supposed turf war with another Committee.  

So, Mr. President, I am back again today because the security of our elections cannot wait. Let’s not hide behind process and turf wars. The stakes are far too high to continue the partisan blockade of election security legislation that we’ve seen over the last three years.

If my Republican colleagues want to strip this legislation out of the NDAA behind closed doors, then I’m going to offer it as an amendment… force an up-or-down vote and put every member of this body on the record. 

More than ever, it is time to put country over party… and defend our democracy from those who would do it harm. I encourage my colleagues to support this amendment and send a clear message: foreign interference has no place in our elections.  

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sens. Bob Menendez and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in introduced the Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act to expand access to critical information, assistance programs and services for millions of families struggling to remain in their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout. The bill is also co-sponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.),Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.),  Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

“Millions of families across our country – already suffering through job and income loss -- are now living in fear that in a matter of weeks or months, they will be facing down foreclosure, eviction and even homelessness,” said Sen. Menendez. “Knowledge is power. Along with fighting for more federal assistance and protections – we’ve got to expand access to housing counseling so that these individuals and families can get help in finding affordable ways to stay in their homes.”

“Losing a home to foreclosure or eviction turns a family’s life upside down,” said Sen. Brown. “During a pandemic, it also puts their health at risk. Providing vital funding to housing counselors will ensure that homeowners and renters – especially Black and brown homeowners and renters who have been hardest hit by this pandemic – have the tools and support they need to navigate our nation’s complex housing system.”

“Millions of Americans continue to face financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Van Hollen. “The Congress must do everything in its power to not only extend financial relief, but also to give families the information they need to access these relief options and keep a roof over their head. This legislation provides Americans with crucial resources to stay in their homes – especially those in communities of color who have been hit hardest – so that they can weather the COVID-19 storm.”

“Arizona families are facing tough times through no fault of their own. Increasing access to housing counseling resources helps ensure Arizona families can stay in their homes during this economic and public health crisis,” said Sen. Sinema

“COVID-19 has exacerbated our national housing crisis, putting thousands of families at risk of losing their home,” said Sen. Blumenthal.  “Foreclosure, eviction, and homelessness are traumatic experiences without the added risks associated with a contagious pandemic. Better access to housing counseling means that families facing foreclosure and eviction will know their rights and how to access resources.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the barriers to accessing affordable housing in Nevada,” said Senator Rosen. “Nevada families now face an even greater challenge as they work to keep their homes during this public health crisis. Our legislation would help NeighborWorks America in supporting housing counseling services across the country so Nevada families have resources to help them navigate their housing options during the pandemic and afterwards. I will continue fighting in Congress to ensure that Nevadans, and all Americans have the resources they need in these challenging times.” 

“We must do everything that we can to support homeowners and renters during this worldwide health crisis – and housing counseling is a critical tool for people to access and maintain stable, healthy, and affordable housing. I’m glad to join Senator Menendez and Senator Brown on a bill to increase access to housing counseling services during this crisis," said Senator Warren. 

“COVID-19 is forcing families in Oregon and across the country to make tough decisions – balancing how to get food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, all while protecting themselves against a global pandemic,” said Sen. Wyden. “Congress must step up to the plate in order to give homeowners and renters the resources they desperately need to stay in their homes.”  

“Expanding housing counseling and support services will keep more Delawareans in their homes, period,” said Sen. Coons. “Amid the economic struggles many families are facing due to COVID-19, Congress needs to lay the groundwork to prevent foreclosures, evictions, or other disruptive housing events. Our bill – in tandem with the housing relief provided by the CARES Act in March – will help Delawareans learn about the housing protections and resources available to them as we weather this crisis. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure this information is broadly accessible in our communities.”

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, more than 4.2 million homeowners have entered foreclosure prevention plans since the end of March.

Low-income and minority households have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and economic fallout. According to a Census Household Survey taken between June 4 June 9, 12.43% of Hispanic households and 12.74% of Black households were not able to pay their mortgage, compared to 5.71% of white households. Additionally, 23.27% of Hispanic households and 25.77% of Black households were unable to pay their rent, compared to 11.78% of white households.

HUD-approved housing counseling agencies provide individual counseling and education services to help consumers avoid foreclosure, avoid eviction, purchase homes, secure affordable rental housing, and develop sustainable budgets. They can be especially important during an economic crisis.  According to a 2018 report from NeighborWorks America, households that utilized the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program through a housing counseling agency during the Great Recession were three times more likely to receive loan modifications and less likely to go into foreclosure or re-default on their home loans compared to those who did not.

“We applaud U.S. Senator Bob Menendez for advancing this critical legislation that will help millions of families to keep a roof over their heads during these uncertain times,”said Melissa Stegman, Senior Policy Counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. “Robust funding for housing counseling is crucial during a time that so many are suffering economic pain as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly families of color, low-income homeowners, renters, and people at risk of homelessness. The funding will ensure that economically vulnerable families receive access to quality housing counseling that they so urgently need. Therefore, helping them to significantly prevent delinquencies, foreclosures, and financial devastation.”  

“We are surging into homeowner and renter crises with record unemployment and unpredictable COVID-19 infection rates,” said Bruce Dorpalen, Executive Director for the National Housing Resource Center.  “As we saw in the foreclosure crisis, working with a housing counselor can make the difference on who can stay in their home.  This bill provides the funding and support to double the capacity of housing counseling agencies to work with housing consumers and find the most sustainable solutions for America's stressed households.”

“Having a safe, affordable place to call home is an essential pillar of the National Urban League’s mission,” said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. “In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, too many of our minority communities and families of color are facing an unprecedented eviction and foreclosure crisis that we must address. We are so thankful that Senator Menendez has introduced this legislation to expand access to professional housing counseling and keep these families in their homes.”

“HUD certified housing counselors are bracing for a tidal wave of homeowners and renters in need of assistance when moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures expire,” said Staci Berger, President and CEO, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “Housing counseling should be a key component of pandemic relief efforts and we applaud Senator Menendez for introducing a bill that invests in this valuable resource.”

The legislation is also endorsed by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act would:

  • Provide $700 million for NeighborWorks to support housing counseling services to help homeowners, renters, people experiencing homelessness, and people at risk of homelessness navigate their housing options and rights during the COVID-19 crisis, including protections and resources provided through COVID-19 relief legislation.
  • Requires that no less than 40 percent of the $700 million fund is targeted to counseling organizations that serve minority and low-income homeowners and renters. 

The CARES Act included housing provisions to help homeowners and renters financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeowners with Federal Housing Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture or Veterans Affairs mortgages and those with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac can request forbearance on their payments for up to 6 months, with a possible extension for another 6 months without fees, penalties, or extra interest.  While it also included a temporary moratorium on eviction filings for tenants in properties with federal assistance or federally related financing, Senator Menendez is fighting to ensure the next federal stimulus package includes an extension of this vital protection. 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Ben Cardin, and Chris Van Hollen released the following statement upon House passage of legislation to make D.C. the 51st state:

“Virginia and Maryland’s neighbors in D.C. deserve the representation that states have. Today, the House took a historic vote to pass legislation to make D.C. the 51st state. Leader McConnell should bring this bill up for a vote in the Senate immediately. There is no good reason hundreds of thousands of Americans should be denied their civil rights and subject to taxation without representation.”

###

 

WASHINGTON – After the Trump Administration filed its brief in the Texas v US lawsuit to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA), U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement blasting the Trump Administration for its efforts to take away health care coverage for more than 23 million Americans who receive health care coverage through the ACA marketplaces and sabotage protections for more than 3 million Virginians living with a preexisting condition in the middle of a health pandemic: 

“The President has completely failed to contain the virus, and now he is asking the Supreme Court to make the consequences as painful as possible for millions of Americans.  

“The Trump Administration's lawsuit would kick millions of Americans off their insurance and end protections for preexisting conditions in the middle of a pandemic. This deadly mixture of cruelty and Presidential incompetence puts the lives of countless Americans at risk.

Since taking office, President Trump has sought to undermine the success of the Affordable Care Act, which protects more than 3 million Virginians with preexisting conditions like COVID-19, diabetes, asthma, or cancer from discrimination or being kicked off of their insurance. In the Senate, Sen. Warner has been a longtime champion of access to health care, and has been outspoken about the Trump Administration’s efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act in court. Last year, Sen. Warner led the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in a legislative maneuver to protect health coverage for Americans with preexisting conditions from the Trump Administration’s attempts to undermine those safeguards. Amid the coronavirus health crisis, Sen. Warner has been a fierce advocate in demanding that the Trump Administration stop its health care sabotage that has undermined our preparedness for and ability to respond to COVID-19. Recently, Sen. Warner penned an op-ed sounding the alarm of the devastating effects the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has had on record high uninsured rates across the country. 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop the transfer of individuals in ICE custody – such as the ones that recently resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at the ICE detention facility in Farmville, Va. 

In a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, the Senators urged the Secretary to prioritize the health of detainees and workers at ICE detention centers and to work with the Virginia Department of Health to increase COVID-19 testing at these facilities.

“In early June, ICE transferred over 70 detainees from Arizona and Florida to the Immigration Centers of America Farmville (Farmville ICA) detention facility. While Farmville ICA appears to have followed appropriate quarantine measures, it seems the decision to transfer detainees between facilities has instead resulted in over 50 positive COVID-19 cases at Farmville ICA. Additionally, at least two staff members at Farmville ICA have tested positive for COVID-19,” wrote the Senators. “The situation in Virginia highlights the inherent danger of such interstate transfers at this time. We believe further transfers between local, state, and federal jails and detention centers would risk accelerating COVID-19 cases in facilities nationwide, along with putting surrounding communities at heightened risk and must be ceased at this time.” 

In the letter, the Senators called for widespread testing in the facilities in order to reduce further spread of the virus. Specifically, they pushed ICE to work with the Virginia Department of Health following a May offer by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam,  to provide testing support to the federally-controlled ICE detention facilities in both Farmville and Bowling Green.

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

 

Full text of the letter is available here or below.

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

We write to seek immediate review of the conditions at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in Farmville, Virginia and Bowling Green, Virginia. It is our understanding that despite the ongoing 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, ICE is continuing its practice of interstate detainee transfer among facilities.  Not unsurprisingly, as a result of such transfers, the facility in Farmville, Virginia recently took in detainees and then found a spike in positive cases of COVID-19 at the facility. The health and well-being of detainees and the workers should be the priority of ICE.  We urge ICE to immediately halt transferring individuals in ICE custody, and in the case of the two facilities in the Commonwealth, work quickly with the Virginia Department of Health to increase testing at each facility. 

In early June, ICE transferred over 70 detainees from Arizona and Florida to the Immigration Centers of America Farmville (Farmville ICA) detention facility. While Farmville ICA appears to have followed appropriate quarantine measures, it seems the decision to transfer detainees between facilities has instead resulted in over 50 positive COVID-19 cases at Farmville ICA. Additionally, at least two staff members at Farmville ICA have tested positive for COVID-19. The situation in Virginia highlights the inherent danger of such interstate transfers at this time. We believe further transfers between local, state, and federal jails and detention centers would risk accelerating COVID-19 cases in facilities nationwide, along with putting surrounding communities at heightened risk and must be ceased at this time.

Further, it is important that there be more widespread testing at the facilities in the Commonwealth now to stop any further spread of the virus. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, in a May 14, 2020, letter to the Virginia Congressional Delegation offered to provide testing support to the federally-controlled ICE detention facilities in both Farmville and Bowling Green. We encourage ICE to take the offer from the Governor and allow the State Health Commissioner and the Virginia Department of Health access to these facilities. Increased screening and testing within these detention centers will undoubtedly help curb the outbreaks that have resulted from transfers. 

Until ICE discontinues the practice of transfers and expands testing accessibility and resources, ICE will only continue to exacerbate conditions for individuals in its custody as well as staff members. We appreciate your attention to these issues, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and 18 of their Senate colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to grant emergency refugee protections to Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan facing persecution as religious minorities. In a bipartisan letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators called on the State Department to prioritize resettlement opportunities under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program allocation ceilings for Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities, whose populations have plummeted markedly due to years of persecution by the Taliban and more recent terrorist actions perpetrated by ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K).

“This Administration has repeatedly highlighted protecting religious freedom as a top foreign policy priority,” the senators wrote. “Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities.” 

The letter also calls on Secretary Pompeo to offer additional support to members of the Sikh and Hindu communities that choose to remain in Afghanistan, and to ensure that Afghan religious minorities benefit from the $20.6 million in American aid already provided to address COVID-19.

“Ensuring that religious minorities receive U.S. COVID-19 assistance should be a priority in all countries where protection of religious minorities is a challenge,” the senators added.

Joining Sens. Warner and Menendez in signing the letter were Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.).

A copy of the letter may be found below:

 

Dear Secretary Pompeo: 

We are writing to express our concern about the serious threats facing religious minorities in Afghanistan. Terrorist attacks by ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K) threaten the very survival of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities, which have already reached historically low numbers. To protect members of these vulnerable religious minority communities, we urge the State Department to provide emergency refugee protection to Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus as they face terrorist violence at the hands of ISIS-K. We further urge the State Department and USAID to ensure that U.S. COVID-19 assistance reaches religious minorities in Afghanistan.

ISIS-K targets religious minorities in Afghanistan and poses an existential threat to Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities in particular. The Sikh and Hindu communities once numbered around 250,000 people but now have fewer than 1,000 individuals due to decades of persecution. The communities continue to face discrimination in access to housing and employment, and the Taliban has previously mandated that Sikhs and Hindus wear yellow armbands or patches as a marker of their religious status. In recent years a new threat to Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities has emerged: terrorist attacks from ISIS-K. In March, ISIS-K launched an attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul that killed 25 worshippers, and later detonated an explosion during a funeral service for those victims. As ISIS-K continues to attack civilians and international troops draw down in Afghanistan, Sikhs and Hindus are likely to face more violence.

In light of this existential threat, we urge the State Department to provide emergency refugee protection to Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus by referring them to the FY20 U.S. Refugee Admissions Program through Priority 1 (P1) embassy referrals. We further request that the Department consider designating this group for Priority 2 (P2) referrals. We believe the potential to eliminate this population of less than 1,000 people represents a dire circumstance that requires both the urgency of individual P1 referrals as well as access to the P2 designation. A P2 designation would maximize opportunities for resettlement of Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus under the FY20 allocations ceilings for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including the allocation for refugees who “have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion.” For members of the Sikh and Hindu communities who prefer to remain in Afghanistan despite this existential threat, we urge State to work with the Government of Afghanistan to ensure that it provides proper protection for these communities.

In addition, the United States has provided $20.6 million in total assistance to Afghanistan to address COVID-19. We urge the State Department and USAID to ensure that religious minorities in Afghanistan benefit from this assistance, as well as from any future COVID-19 assistance sent there. Ensuring that religious minorities receive U.S. COVID-19 assistance should be a priority in all countries where protection of religious minorities is a challenge.

Finally, we recommend that you engage with other members of the International Religious Freedom Alliance and encourage them to help ensure the security of vulnerable religious minorities in Afghanistan in the face of this existential threat.

This Administration has repeatedly highlighted protecting religious freedom as a top foreign policy priority. Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – In the wake of nationwide protests on racial injustice, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced an amendment to the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to mandate reporting on whether servicemembers have faced “racist, anti-Semitic, or supremacist activity” while on duty. Sen. Warner’s bipartisan amendment builds upon an existing requirement for the Department of Defense (DoD) to include in appropriate surveys whether military personnel “have ever experienced or witnessed [or reported] extremist activity in the workplace.”

“There is no question that Americans have encountered racism and discrimination while on the job, but we don’t have a clear and comprehensive picture of how prevalent these unacceptable and destructive biases are in the military,” said Sen. Warner. “Like the country it serves, our military is made stronger by the diversity of its people. And just as in every other aspect of society, attitudes of discrimination and bias for any reason – certainly race or religion – only serve to weaken our military. Our men and women in uniform who pledge to faithfully serve our country shouldn’t also have to face discrimination or threat from any of their peers. Our nation’s military leaders have committed to facing these issues head on. We have to give them the information and tools to do so. It is my hope that this critical bipartisan provision will be included in the final defense bill.”

In 2019, The Military Times surveyed 1,630 active servicemembers on their experience with extremist activity within their military ranks. Of the respondents, more than one-third of all active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members say they have personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism. Additionally, there has been a recent increase in reporting of servicemembers with affiliation to white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. In July 2018, Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis was kicked out of the Marine Corps after it was revealed that he had connections to a violent neo-Nazi organization and participated in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. In January 2020, the FBI arrested three alleged members of the white-supremacist group “The Base,” one of which had served as a member of the U.S. Army, on gun charges for plotting deadly attacks ahead of a gun rights rally in Richmond, Va. Text of Sen. Warner’s amendment, which mirrors a bill by U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD),can be found here.

After having successfully worked to pass into law reforms to fix the deplorable housing conditions in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth, Sen. Warner is keeping up the pressure in Congress to ensure servicemembers and their families can feel safe in their on-base housing. Sen. Warner introduced a provision for the FY21 NDAA to provide greater oversight of privatized military housing.

“Last year, the President signed into law critical measures I championed to give military families new tools to hold private housing companies accountable for substandard living conditions. After meeting with countless military families and hearing the poor housing conditions that these families have been exposed to, I’ve heard the same question over and over: how do we make sure these privatized housing companies are held accountable for failing to fulfill their basic obligations?” said Sen. Warner. “This amendment will build upon the work we’ve done to improve military oversight and increase accountability to make sure our servicemembers feel safe in their homes.”

In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found deficiencies in the DoD’s oversight of privatized military housing, concluding that the DoD lacked reliable information to provide a full picture of the conditions of privatized housing. Currently, the military departments use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private housing companies’ performance. However, the metrics used are designed to focus on resident satisfaction and on the quality of the maintenance conducted on housing units, and do not always provide meaningful information or reflect actual housing conditions. For example, the GAO found that a common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, not whether the issue was actually addressed. Ultimately, these metrics matter because they feed into decisions around whether privatized housing companies earn performance incentive fees.

To improve this gap in housing condition metrics, Sen. Warner’s amendment would require that the military services review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they adequately measure the condition and quality of the home. Additionally, the provision would require the Secretary of Defense to publish in DoD’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative Performance Evaluation Report these underlying indicators for performance metrics for each project, in order for Congress to provide effective oversight. Text of Sen. Warner’s military housing amendment is available here.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Jack Reed (D-RI) led a group of 14 senators in calling for answers from the Treasury Department about ongoing difficulties facing Americans who received their CARES Act stimulus payments as debit cards.

The Treasury Department did not alert Americans who would receive their payment through a debit card, and many Americans missed or threw out the debit cards because they looked like a scam. Now, these individuals can face fees to get the card replaced quickly. Discussing this issue, the Senators wrote, “We are seriously concerned about imposing these fees on individuals who urgently need the direct cash assistance to which they are entitled under the CARES Act.”

The Senators also addressed fees that individuals may incur when they try to access their payments, as well as difficulties individuals may face transferring funds from the card to a bank account. “These burdens are all the more concerning given that these individuals did not request a prepaid debit card and are unable to request a preferred method of receiving their stimulus payment with the IRS,” wrote the Senators.

In addition, the Senators shared concerns about Americans needing to submit personal information in order to use the cards, and whether this information can be shared with third parties for commercial purposes. The Senators are calling for answers on how Americans were chosen to receive debit cards instead of paper checks, fees associated with the cards, and the potential use of individuals’ personal information. 

The letter today follows successful efforts from Senators Hassan, Brown, and colleagues to ensure that more than 18 million Americans who are Social SecuritySupplemental Security Income, and VA beneficiaries and are not normally required to file taxes would receive their stimulus payments automatically. 

In addition to Sens. Warner, Hassan, Brown, and Reed, today’s letter was sent by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Angus King (I-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

Read the Senators’ letter below:

 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin and Commissioner Rettig: 

We write to urge you to clarify outstanding questions about the Treasury Department’s decision to distribute the direct cash assistance for individuals provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act through prepaid debit cards. We are concerned that this decision has imposed unnecessary burdens - including fees - on individuals who would have preferred to receive their stimulus payments by check, and that the process of activating these prepaid debit cards requires individuals to provide personal information that could be shared with third parties for marketing and other commercial purposes.

On May 18, 2020, the Treasury announced that 4 million Americans would receive their stimulus payments by prepaid debit card, instead of by paper check. However, Treasury’s announcement did not indicate which Americans would receive their stimulus payments by debit card. Further, these debit cards were mailed to individuals in plain envelopes from “Money Network Cardholder Services.” As a result, individuals who were not expecting prepaid debit cards from the Treasury mistook their stimulus payments for junk or scam mail. Although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced that it would waive the $7.50 replacement fee for an individual’s first reissued card, replacement cards take seven to 10 business days to arrive. To receive a reissued card within four to seven business days, individuals must pay a $17.00 fee. We are seriously concerned about imposing these fees on individuals who urgently need the direct cash assistance to which they are entitled under the CARES Act. 

Further, many individuals who received their stimulus payments by prepaid debit card have bank accounts. For these individuals, receiving their stimulus payments by debit card, rather than by check, can make it more difficult to access this important cash assistance. Debit card recipients with limited computer or internet access who visit ATMs or banks in-person are restricted by daily limits on ATM withdrawals and bank transfers, potentially requiring multiple trips to fully access their stimulus payments. Moreover, the fee schedule for these debit cards includes a $2.00 fee per out-of-network ATM withdrawal and $5.00 per over-the-counter bank withdrawal. Individuals who are able to successfully transfer debit card funds to their bank accounts on EIPCard.com must navigate a complicated registration process and provide substantial personal information. These burdens are all the more concerning given that these individuals did not request a prepaid debit card and are unable to request a preferred method of receiving their stimulus payment with the IRS. 

We are also concerned that the cardholder agreement for the stimulus payment debit cards allows our constituents’ personal information to be shared with third parties for marketing and other commercial purposes. The prepaid debit cards are managed by Money Network Financial, LLC and issued by Treasury’s financial agent, MetaBank, N.A. In order to activate or transfer stimulus payments off these cards, individuals must provide Money Network Financial with significant personally identifiable information. The cardholder agreement states that Money Network Financial “may disclose information to third parties about your Card account or the transactions you make” to “affiliates” and to “service providers.” This ambiguous language raises serious questions about whether Money Network Financial is permitted to sell personal information of individuals who activated stimulus payment debit cards 

In order to respond to the concerns outlined above, please answer the following questions: 

1.      How did Treasury determine which individuals would receive their stimulus payments by prepaid debit card? In making this determination, did Treasury take into account how receiving stimulus payments by debit card rather than check would economically affect individuals with bank accounts?

2.      How did Treasury set the fee schedule for stimulus payment debit cards, including the $17.00 fee to receive a replacement card within four to seven business days? In setting the fee for out-of-network ATM withdrawal, did Treasury take into account the geographical reach of the debit card ATM network? 

3.      Does the cardholder agreement for stimulus payment debit cards permit Money Network Financial to provide individuals’ personally identifiable information to third-party “affiliates” and to “service providers” for marketing or any other commercial purposes not necessary for the activation or use of the debit card? If so, is Money Network Financial required to disclose this information sharing, either publicly or to the Treasury?

4.      How is Money Network Financial retaining and using the account information of individuals who provided personally identifiable information in order to activate their stimulus payment debit cards? Is the Treasury performing oversight on how Money Network Financial is retaining and using individuals’ account information? What measures is Treasury requiring Money Network Financial to take to secure individuals’ personally identifiable information?

5.      Is Money Network Financial permitted to send individuals who activated their stimulus payment debit cards marketing or any other commercial correspondence? If so, are individuals required to opt-out of receiving this correspondence, and how is Money Network Financial informing individuals of the process by which they may opt-out?

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) applauded $767,139 in federal funding from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to support telehealth services at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, Va. The funding was made possible through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to help health care providers provide telehealth services to patients at home or in mobile locations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During this health crisis, telehealth services have been instrumental in making sure Virginians can continue to receive the health care they need without having to travel,” said the Senators. “We’re pleased that these federal dollars will help support the work of our health care providers as they treat individuals in our communities.” 

These funds will go towards telemedicine carts, tablets, video monitors, a telehealth platform, remote patient monitoring equipment, and network upgrades to support clinical videoconferencing with remote patient examination tools; to help build a virtual urgent care platform; and to expand remote patient monitoring program as patients are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are discharged from the hospital. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates for increased access to health care through telehealth. The first emergency bipartisan bill to combat COVID-19 included language from Sen. Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Kaine, to reduce restrictions on the use of telehealth for public health emergency response, as well as $500 million to facilitate its implementation. Earlier this month, the Senators sent a letter to congressional leadership urging Congress to ensure that access to telehealth services that were made available during the COVID-19 pandemic be madepermanent.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led all Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Association of State Election Directors, and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis.

In letters to Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and to the presidents of the National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State, the Senators affirmed that no American should have to choose between their franchise and their health, and stressed the importance of ensuring that any public health measures do not discourage voter participation or limit access to the polls for vulnerable groups, including communities of color and people with disabilities. To best ensure the safety of voters, the Senators encouraged the adoption of convenience voting measures such as vote-by-mail and curbside voting.

“While precincts nationwide can and should actively encourage measures like the use of PPE, substantial sanitation and social distancing in-line with recommendations from the CDC, reasonable modifications must be made to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities,” wrote the Senators. “For example, persons with autism are often unable to wear a mask for any extended period. In cases like this, it is critical that guidance interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act be issued to clarify that reasonable modifications must be made to ensure that social distancing measures do not serve as a barrier to the polls for individuals with disabilities.”

“The risk that novel procedures may deter voters is further complicated by the disturbing racial disparities in Coronavirus cases. In almost every state, evidence suggests that African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the virus,” they continued. “Communities of color have frequently faced active efforts to inhibit their franchise – unfortunately, it is likely that there are those who will attempt to use COVID-19 safety procedures as a pretext to suppress voters and undermine the political voice of these communities. We must proactively take steps to safeguard these communities and other vulnerable groups from voter suppression and intimidation.”

In their letters, the Senators noted the increased vulnerabilities facing the 2020 general election in light of the COVID-19 crisis. They highlighted delays and dangerous voting conditions reported in places like Wisconsin, where an in-person election with inadequate procedures resulted in at least 50 cases of COVID-19 during the spring primary season.

The Senators also issued a series of recommendations to prevent voter suppression. These include announcing any safety procedures months ahead of the November election, communicating voting and safety procedures in a variety of languages and formats, issuing strong privacy and security testing months ahead of the deployment of any screening tools, evaluating policies for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring that any polling places with accessibility problems are made accessible and that reasonable modifications are made to meet the needs of voters with disabilities, training poll workers on how to operate accessible voting machines and on how to interact with voters with disabilities, providing the opportunity for voters with a suspected illness to cast their ballots swiftly and securely, and conducting meaningful engagement with community leaders when determining the impact of any measures on historically disenfranchised communities.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letters were signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). 

A copy of the letter to the National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State is available here.

A copy of the letter to the DOJ Assistant Attorney General is available here

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in a letter joined by 34 other Senate colleagues to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig urging them to take action to ensure that survivors of domestic violence can access their Economic Impact Payment. Domestic violence survivors face unique barriers that can keep them from being able to access their economy recovery rebates they are legally entitled to under the law.

“The recovery rebate authorized by the CARES Act has been an essential lifeline for Americans suffering economic hardship during the pandemic, but unfortunately, victims of domestic violence face significant barriers in accessing their rebate,” the Senators wrote.“Research has shown that 99 percent of victims experience economic abuse as part of domestic violence. In our current environment, stimulus payments are a crucial mechanism of support for these victims. Some survivors have lost income or lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and may be trapped with or feel forced to return to an abusive partner to avoid homelessness. Access to domestic violence services, from shelters to protection orders, has also been limited by COVID-19, making it even harder for domestic violence survivors to maintain safety.” 

The Senators continued, “The barriers keeping domestic violence victims from accessing their rebates are varied and significant. Victims of domestic violence may be unbanked, have no permanent address, or have no access to the resources needed to file a tax return, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to obtain their stimulus payment through the methods currently prescribed.” 

In order to ensure that survivors can access their payments, U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS should, among other things, dedicate a telephone line for survivors to call and report a change of address or misdirected rebate, create a process with an online PIN to verify a victim’s identity, take proactive steps to ascertain the proper address and banking information for taxpayers if a pending “innocent spouse claim” or “Victim of Domestic Violence” indicator is on a taxpayer’s account and issue specific guidance for divorced and separated parents regarding qualified children who are shared between custodial and non-custodial parents. In addition to addressing the above reforms, the IRS and the Treasury should work closely with advocacy groups that specialize in the financial and other issues facing survivors, as well as relevant federal offices including the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and Office for Victims of Crime, and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, to ensure that solutions are survivor-informed. 

In addition to Sens. Warner and Cortez Masto, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tom Cardin (D-Md.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) also signed the letter.

Full text of the letter can be found here.

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WASHINGTON - Following last week’s historic Supreme Court ruling rejecting President Donald Trump’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee and author of the Dream Act, and the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calling on him to immediately take up the bipartisan House-passed American Dream and Promise Act, which will establish a path to citizenship for Dreamers and immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). 

In their letter, the Senators noted that with Republicans in the majority, the Senate has failed to address our nation’s immigration challenges.  In the 116th Congress, the Border Security and Immigration Subcommittee has held only one hearing; the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted on only one immigration bill – the Trump Administration’s anti-asylum bill – and the Republican majority limited debate to only one hour and did not allow a single amendment to be offered; and McConnell has not brought a single immigration bill to the floor of the Senate. 

“It is not too late to change course.  As Majority Leader, you can immediately schedule a vote in the Senate for the American Dream and Promise Act,” the Senators wrote to McConnell.  “It would be an American tragedy to deport DACA recipients who are saving lives in the midst of this pandemic.   We must ensure these talented young immigrants are not forced to stop working when the need for their public service has never been greater.  And we must give them the chance they deserve to become American citizens.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are working in occupational areas that the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies as part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.”  This includes an estimated 41,700 DACA recipients working in the health care industry, including physicians and physicians in training, intensive care nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, and health technicians. 

The Dream Act was included in the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that Durbin and Graham coauthored as part of the “Gang of Eight” – four Democrats and four Republicans.  The 2013 bill passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote of 68-32, but the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives refused to consider it.

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

Full text of today’s letter to Leader McConnell is available here and below: 

 

June 22, 2020 

Dear Leader McConnell:

Following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), last week President Trump tweeted, “We will be submitting enhanced papers shortly in order to properly fulfil the Supreme Court’s ruling & request of yesterday.”  The Senate has a responsibility to consider legislation to protect the young immigrants who are eligible for DACA.  We call on you to immediately schedule a vote in the Senate on H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, legislation to give DACA recipients a path to citizenship that passed the House of Representatives more than a year ago. 

Eight years ago, following bipartisan requests from Congress, President Obama used his legal authority to establish DACA.  DACA provides temporary protection from deportation on an individualized basis to immigrants who arrived in the United States as children if they register with the government, pay a fee, and pass criminal and national security background checks.

The young people who are eligible for DACA, known as Dreamers, are American in every way except for their immigration status.  More than 800,000 Dreamers have come forward and received DACA.  DACA has been vital for Dreamers, who are contributing to our country as soldiers, nurses, teachers, and small business owners, and in many other ways. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are working in occupational areas that the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies as part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.”  This includes an estimated 41,700 DACA recipients working in the health care industry, including physicians and physicians in training, intensive care nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, and health technicians.  Congress must take action to ensure these essential workers are not deported to countries they barely remember even as our nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

When President Trump announced his repeal of DACA, he called on Congress to “legalize DACA,” and last week he tweeted, “I have wanted to take care of DACA recipients better than the Do Nothing Democrats, but for two years they refused to negotiate.” In fact, the President has rejected numerous bipartisan deals to protect Dreamers. For example, on January 11, 2018, in a meeting in the Oval Office, he rejected a bipartisan immigration agreement that included protection for Dreamers.  On February 15, 2018, the Senate considered a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME), which included a path to citizenship for Dreamers.  A bipartisan majority supported the amendment, but it failed to reach the 60 votes needed to pass because the Trump Administration issued a statement of opposition.  On the same day, the Senate rejected the President’s immigration proposal by a bipartisan supermajority of 39-60. 

With Republicans in the majority, the United States Senate has failed to address our immigration challenges.  In the 116th Congress, the Border Security and Immigration Subcommittee has held only one hearing; the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted on only one immigration bill – the Trump Administration’s anti-asylum bill – and the Republican majority limited debate to only one hour and did not allow a single amendment to be offered; and you, as Majority Leader, have not brought a single immigration bill to the floor of the Senate. 

It is not too late to change course.  As Majority Leader, you can immediately schedule a vote in the Senate for the American Dream and Promise Act.  It would be an American tragedy to deport DACA recipients who are saving lives in the midst of this pandemic.   We must ensure these talented young immigrants are not forced to stop working when the need for their public service has never been greater.  And we must give them the chance they deserve to become American citizens.

We, and hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, await your response.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded $11,297,535 in federal funding for public transportation in Williamsburg and Blacksburg. The funding, for the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) and the town of Blacksburg, was authorized by the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Senators Warner and Kaine.

“As more Virginians begin to go back to work and engage in their communities, it’s vital that our transportation systems meet the necessary requirements to protect workers and passengers,” the Senators said. “We’re pleased to see federal dollars go directly towards helping Williamsburg and Blacksburg transit systems safely serve their communities.” 

  • The town of Blacksburg will receive $6,122,038
  • Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) will receive $5,175,497

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

The funds will support operating, administrative, and preventive maintenance costs for Williamsburg Area Transit Authority and the town of Blacksburg in order to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 public health emergency. The funds can be used to cover salaries, wages, benefits, maintenance, personal protective barriers, and cleaning supplies.

 

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WASHINGTON— Following yesterday’s historic Supreme Court ruling rejecting President Donald Trump’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee, and 42 of his Senate Democratic colleagues in a letter to President Trump urging him to finally end his cruel attempts to deport DACA recipients, who are commonly known as Dreamers.  

“As the Supreme Court has recognized, it is well within your executive authority to protect Dreamers.  By contrast, going ahead with your Administration’s efforts to deport DACA recipients would be needlessly cruel and would weaken our nation’s essential workforce,” the Senators wrote to President Trump.  “Only Congress can provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but it is up to you whether to use your Administration’s authority to allow these young immigrants who have benefitted America in countless ways to continue contributing to our nation, or to continue your efforts to deport them.”

Today, President Trump tweeted, “I have wanted to take care of DACA recipients better than the Do Nothing Democrats, but for two years they refused to negotiate.”  In fact, the President has rejected numerous bipartisan deals to protect Dreamers.  For example, on January 11, 2018, in a meeting in the Oval Office, he rejected a bipartisan immigration agreement that included protection for Dreamers.  On February 15, 2018, the Senate considered a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME), which included a path to citizenship for Dreamers.  A bipartisan majority supported the amendment, but it failed to reach the 60 votes needed to pass because the Trump Administration issued a statement of opposition.  On the same day, the Senate rejected the President’s immigration proposal by a bipartisan supermajority of 39-60. 

In their letter to President Trump, the Senators also noted that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are working in occupational areas that the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies as part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.”  This includes an estimated 41,700 DACA recipients working in the health care industry, including physicians and physicians in training, intensive care nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, and health technicians.  

The Dream Act was included in the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that Durbin and Graham coauthored as part of the “Gang of Eight” – four Democrats and four Republicans.  The 2013 bill passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote of 68-32, but the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives refused to consider it.

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

Full text of today’s letter to President Trump is available here and below: 

 

June 19, 2020 

Dear President Trump:

Following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), today you tweeted, “We will be submitting enhanced papers shortly in order to properly fulfil the Supreme Court’s ruling & request of yesterday”  We strongly urge you to change course and use your executive authority to protect, not deport, the young immigrants who are eligible for DACA. 

Eight years ago, following bipartisan requests from Congress, President Obama used his legal authority to establish DACA.  DACA provides temporary protection from deportation on an individualized basis to immigrants who arrived in the United States as children if they register with the government, pay a fee, and pass criminal and national security background checks.  The young people who are eligible for DACA, known as Dreamers, are American in every way except for their immigration status.  More than 800,000 Dreamers have come forward and received DACA.  DACA has been vital for Dreamers, who are contributing to our country as soldiers, nurses, teachers, and small business owners, and in many other ways. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are working in occupational areas that your Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies as part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.”  This includes an estimated 41,700 DACA recipients working in the health care industry, including physicians and physicians in training, intensive care nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, and health technicians.  It makes no sense to continue your efforts to deport these essential workers to countries they barely remember even as our nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When you announced your repeal of DACA, you called on Congress to “legalize DACA,” and today you tweeted, “I have wanted to take care of DACA recipients better than the Do Nothing Democrats, but for two years they refused to negotiate.” In fact, you have rejected numerous bipartisan deals to protect Dreamers. For example, on January 11, 2018, in a meeting in the Oval Office, you rejected a bipartisan immigration agreement that included protection for Dreamers.  On February 15, 2018, the Senate considered a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME) which included a path to citizenship for Dreamers.  A bipartisan majority supported the amendment, but it failed to reach the 60 votes needed to pass because your Administration issued a statement of opposition.  On the same day, the Senate rejected your immigration proposal by a bipartisan supermajority of 39-60.

On June 4, 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, legislation that would give Dreamers a path to citizenship, on a strong bipartisan vote of 237-187.  The American Dream and Promise Act has now been pending in the Senate for more than a year. 

Mr. President, it is not too late for you to do the right thing.  Specifically, we call on you to immediately:

  1. Publicly announce that you will not make another attempt to repeal DACA;
  2. Direct DHS to reopen DACA to eligible individuals who have been unable to apply due to your decision to terminate DACA; and.
  3. Endorse the American Dream and Promise Act, which would pass the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote if you simply called on Leader McConnell to bring it to a vote. 

As the Supreme Court has recognized, it is well within your executive authority to protect Dreamers.  By contrast, going ahead with your Administration’s efforts to deport DACA recipients would be needlessly cruel and would weaken our nation’s essential workforce.  Only Congress can provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but it is up to you whether to use your Administration’s authority to allow these young immigrants who have benefitted America in countless ways to continue contributing to our nation, or to continue your efforts to deport them.

It would be an American tragedy to deport DACA recipients who are saving lives in the midst of this pandemic.   We must ensure these talented young immigrants are not forced to stop working when the need for their public service has never been greater.  And we must give them the chance they deserve to become American citizens.

We, and hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, await your response.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a resolution introduced by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) honoring the 75th Anniversary of the Battle for Iwo Jima during World War II. The resolution recognizes the gallantry and heroism demonstrated 75 years ago during the victory that was led by the United States Marine Corps over Imperial Japan on the island of Iwo Jima. 

“I’m proud that the Senate has passed this resolution honoring the U.S. Marines – including my father, Robert Warner – who courageously fought for our country in the Battle of Iwo Jima,” said Senator Warner. “Today, more than 75 years after that bloody battle, we salute the resiliency of the Greatest Generation by remembering the servicemen who put their lives on the line as well as the many individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms.”

“As I’ve said many times before, Iwo Jima is hallowed ground for me, my fellow Marines, and all those who lost loved ones in the battle. I’m proud that our bipartisan resolution to recognize those who bravely sacrificed their lives in Iwo Jima seventy-five years ago has now passed the Senate,” said Senator Young. 

In April, Senator Young released an op-ed published by Stars and Stripes to honor the brave acts of the Marine Corps at the battle of Iwo Jima. Earlier this year, Senator Young hosted apress conference in honor of the 75th anniversary of this battle.

 The Joint Resolution was introduced by Senators Young and Warner on February 13, 2020. The Senate resolution was cosponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Richard Blumenthal (D- Conn.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mitt Romney (R- Utah), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Josh Hawley (R- Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). A companion resolution was introduced in House by U.S. Representatives Greg Pence (R-IN-06), Pete Visclosky (D-IN-01), and Ken Calvert (R-CA-42).

 

View the full text of the resolution here and below:

Title: Recognizing the 75th anniversary of the amphibious landing on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during World War II and the raisings of the flag of the United States on Mount Suribachi.

Whereas, following the surprise attack by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the United States formally declared war on the Imperial Government of Japan on December 8, 1941;

Whereas, during the 4 years that followed the attack, the United States and allied forces fought a prolonged counterattack against Japanese advances across the Pacific region;

Whereas the tactic of attacking, defeating, and controlling Japanese-held outposts through the use of amphibious assault landings against Japanese-held islands and territories (referred to in this preamble as “island hopping”) became crucial to successfully countering Japanese advances throughout the Pacific region;

Whereas the goal of island hopping was to secure airfields and supply bases—

(1) in order to launch aerial bombardment attacks against the mainland of Japan using the new Boeing B–29 Superfortress; and

(2) in preparation for, and in anticipation of, a United States invasion of Japan;

Whereas, by early 1945, the United States and allied forces bravely fought and advanced to the island of Iwo Jima, an 8-square-mile volcanic island with 3 strategic airfields, located between the Mariana Islands and Japan;

Whereas Iwo Jima was—

(1) a strategic island with airfields to support bombers of the United States with fighter escorts; and

(2) an essential base for emergency, refueling, and diversionary landings for B–29 bombers; 

Whereas, under the command of Japanese Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, Iwo Jima was a heavily fortified island with nearly 11 miles of underground and networked tunnels, rooms, bunkers, artillery emplacements, ammunition dumps, and pillboxes supporting more than 21,000 Japanese soldiers; 

Whereas, on February 19, 1945, under the leadership of United States Navy 5th Fleet Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, United States Marine Corps V Amphibious Corps Major General Harry Schmidt, 3rd Division Major General Graves B. Erskine, 4th Division Major General Clifton Cates, and 5th Division Major General Keller E. Rockey, the United States launched an amphibious landing and assault on Iwo Jima that culminated with the engagement of more than 70,000 members of the United States Marine Corps, buttressed by thousands of members of the United States Navy and the United States Army serving as assault, garrison, and support forces (referred to in this preamble as the “Battle of Iwo Jima”); 

Whereas the members of the United States Marine Corps who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima overcame numerous disadvantages in the 36-day battle that included treacherous terrain, unfavorable weather conditions, and heavy enemy fire from an embedded, determined, and fierce Japanese fighting force in places immortalized by members of the United States Marine Corps, including the “Meat Grinder” and “Bloody Gorge”; 

Whereas, on February 23, 1945, only 5 days into the Battle of Iwo Jima, members of the United States Marine Corps ascended the highest point on the island, Mount Suribachi, and raised the flag of the United States 2 times, the second of which resulted in the iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning image that—

(1) was captured on film by photographer Joe Rosenthal;

(2) has become a recognized symbol of determination, perseverance, and struggle; and

(3) has been memorialized as the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia;

Whereas the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the United States Marine Corps, resulted in more than 26,000 casualties of the United States, more than 6,800 of whom were killed;

Whereas most of the more than 20,000 estimated Japanese soldiers who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima were killed, with only 1,083 Japanese soldiers surviving at the conclusion of the campaign;

Whereas the Battle of Iwo Jima led to 22 members of the United States Marine Corps and 5 members of the United States Navy receiving the Medal of Honor, representing—

(1) the most members of the United States Marine Corps ever to receive the highest military decoration in the United States for a single battle; and

(2) more than \1/4\ of all members of the United States Marine Corps to receive the decoration during World War II;

Whereas the secured airfields on Iwo Jima became emergency landing locations for 2,400 B–29 Bombers, saving the lives of an estimated 24,000 flight crewmen; 

Whereas, 160 days after the end and victory of the pivotal Battle of Iwo Jima, the United States received the unconditional surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945; 

Whereas the world owes a debt of gratitude to the members of the United States Marine Corps who selflessly led the fight for the strategic island of Iwo Jima in the middle of the Pacific theater; and

Whereas, on March 28, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima will be marked by commemorative events on the island of Iwo Jima organized by the people of the United States and Japan: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) recognizes the 75th anniversary of the amphibious landing on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima that began on February 19, 1945 and ended on March 26, 1945;

(2) commemorates the iconic and historic raisings of the flag of the United States on Mount Suribachi that occurred on February 23, 1945;

(3) honors the marines, sailors, soldiers, army air crew, and coast guardsmen who fought bravely on Iwo Jima, including the thousands of Japanese soldiers who defended the island;

(4) remembers and venerates the service members who gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefield;

(5) recognizes the Allied victory in the Battle of Iwo Jima, which— 

          (A) was led by the United States Marine Corps; and

          (B) made the defeat of the Empire of Japan in World War II possible;

(6) affirms the immortal words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, who stated that “uncommon valor was a common virtue” among the service members of the United States who fought on Iwo Jima; 

(7) reaffirms the bonds of friendship between the United States and Japan;

(8) encourages the people of the United States to honor the veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities; and

(9) honors the service and sacrifice of the men and women who serve the United States today, carrying on the proud tradition of the individuals who came before them. 

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WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill championed by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) that would address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at National Park Service (NPS) sites across the country and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bipartisan legislation includes Sen. Warner’s Restore Our Parks Act, which would help tackle the $1.1 billion in deferred maintenance at Virginia’s national parks and create up to 10,340 jobs in the Commonwealth alone. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for approval. 

“Over the past few years, I’ve been sounding the alarm on the mounting costs associated with repairing and maintaining our national park sites across the Commonwealth. Frankly, the National Park Service hasn’t had the federal resources it needs to preserve our natural treasures in Virginia and across the country. Failing to act now would have put these historical treasures at risk, and would have taken a devastating toll on small towns and communities whose economies depend on Virginia’s outdoor tourism industry,” said Sen. Warner. “Last year, Virginia’s national parks helped to support and create 17,300 jobs – an increase of 1,300 from 2018. And once this bill is signed into law, more than 10,000 jobs could be created in Virginia just by the work needed to restore and maintain Park Service sites. I’m proud that the Senate finally passed this commonsense bipartisan solution, and now it’s up to the House to ensure we protect and preserve these irreplaceable resources for years to come.”

Today’s Senate passage comes more than three years after Sen. Warner first led the effort to provide relief to national parks in Virginia, where the increasing maintenance backlog surpasses that of every state except for California and the District of Columbia. 

Earlier this month, the National Park Service released a report that estimated that an average of 40,300 direct jobs and 100,100 direct and indirect jobs would be supported nationally by the Restore Our Parks Act if passed as part of the Great American Outdoors Act. In Virginia, it is estimated that 10,340 jobs would be created or supported as a result of Sen. Warner’s push to address the national parks backlog. 

Last week, a new NPS study highlighted the financial impact national parks sites have on Virginia’s economy. Last year, 22.8 million individuals from around the world visited national parks in Virginia, spending $1.2 billion. Additionally, national parks in Virginia helped support 17,300 jobs and contributed over $1.7 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy. Because of the economic impact national parks have on communities across the country, more than 800 organizations have pledged their support for getting the Great American Outdoors Act swiftly passed and signed into law.

Sen. Warner’s effort to address the maintenance backlog began in March 2017, when he worked with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to introduce the National Park Legacy Actwhich would have eliminated the NPS maintenance backlog by creating a thirty-year designated fund to take care of maintenance needs at visitor centers, rest stops, trails and campgrounds, as well as transportation infrastructure operated by NPS such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Arlington Memorial Bridge. That same year, the U.S.Department of the Interior announced its own proposaldrawing heavily on the initial proposal from Sens. Warner and Portman. However, the Administration proposal – which was introduced in the Senate as the National Park Restoration Act by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME) – would not have established a dedicated funding stream for NPS maintenance.

In March 2018, after extensive negotiations among Sens. Warner, Portman, Alexander, and King, the bipartisan group introduced the Restore Our Parks Act, a bipartisan consensus proposal endorsed by the Trump Administration, to invest in overdue maintenance needs at NPS sites. The bill would reduce the maintenance backlog by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” and allocating existing revenues from onshore and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury, not exceeding $1.3 billion each year for the next five years. In February 2019, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Restore Our Parks Act and, the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November. 

In March 2020, following the President’s announcement that he would back the bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act as well as full and permanent funding for LWCF, Sen. Warner, along with Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Portman, King, Alexander, and Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced the Great American Outdoors Actwhich would provide $9.5 billion over five years to the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education to address the deferred maintenance backlog at these agencies. The legislation would also provide permanent, mandatory funding for the LWCF, which provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve and protect public lands. Virginia has received approximately $368.5 million in LWCF funding over the past four decades to help protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more.

“Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) is a remarkable achievement in advancing historic bipartisan legislation for our national parks. The National Park Foundation is grateful for Senator Warner’s steadfast commitment to Virginia’s national parks and a bright future for all of our special places with his leadership on this bill. GAOA will ensure that national parks receive the funding required to address deferred maintenance needs, that parks remain accessible to all Americans, and continue to serve as economic engines for local communities in Virginia and across the country,” said Will Shafroth, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation.

“Senator Warner helped make history when the Senate passed the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act today, an effort that culminates his years of work to restore our national parks. If the House of Representatives follows through, this will be one of the most significant pieces of conservation and recreation legislation enacted in more than 50 years,” said Marcia Argust, Project Director of the restore America’s parks campaign at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Investment in our parks and public lands will have a high rate of return for park resources, visitors, and local economies, especially in Virginia, where park tourism supports over 17,000 jobs annually.” 

“Today, because of the leadership of Congressional park champions like Senator Warner, the momentum to fix our national parks and public lands is stronger than ever before,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. “On top of cuts to funding and staffing, our parks also face billions of dollars in needed repairs, from aging water systems at Grand Canyon to crumbling trails at Shenandoah. Senator Warner has spoken up in support of these treasured places and all they protect for years, and because of his inspiring work on this legislation, we are one step closer to preserving America’s legacy and providing much needed relief to local economies across the country.” 

“Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act with overwhelming bipartisan support brings us one step closer to an historic achievement on behalf of historic and cultural resources and our public lands. This legislation is a bipartisan solution that would provide $9.5 billion in dedicated funding over five years for much needed repairs of the National Park Service and other federal agencies. Along with fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, this bill would ensure preservation of some of our nation’s most iconic historic places. We thank Senator Warner, along with Senators Portman, Alexander, King, Manchin, Gardner, Daines, Cantwell and others for their leadership on this once-in-a-generation legislative accomplishment for our public lands,” said Tom Cassidy, Vice President for Government Relations and Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

“The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act is an outstanding accomplishment for the Commonwealth of Virginia, providing critical funding for desperately needed repairs and maintenance at our treasured national park sites,” said Rita McClenny, President and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation. “Virginia is home to national icons including Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and offers some of the most beautiful places in the world for travelers to get outside, slow down, and connect with nature and each other. The funding from the Great American Outdoors Act will greatly benefit our natural wonders, from the shores of Coastal Virginia to the mountainous cliffs of Southwest Virginia. We owe a deep gratitude to Senator Warner for his leadership and for pushing forward such significant legislation, providing vital resources to preserve the beauty and abundance of our natural resources in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“The Blue Ridge Parkway is more than just a scenic road and a connector to the region’s landscape. It is an economic driver for adjacent communities creating a $1.4 billion impact in economic benefits,” said Landon Howard, President of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “Thanks to Senator Warner’s leadership to restore our national parks, Roanoke, one of the largest communities along the Blue Ridge Parkway, will benefit greatly from the restoration contributing to jobs and the economy in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.”

A full list of deferred maintenance needs at Virginia’s national parks can be found here

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and 19 Senate Democrats in requesting that Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz open an investigation into the conduct of Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force against peaceful protestors around Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. 

The Senators also called on the Inspector General to probe the deployment of federal law enforcement to suppress protests and intimidate protestors across the country and the temporary expansion of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s authority to “conduct covert surveillance” on Americans participating in protests.

“We write to request an immediate investigation into Attorney General William Barr’s and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) roles in directing the use of force – including the use of tear gas or a similar gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and batons – to suppress peaceful protesters around Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020,” the Senators wrote. “This misuse of force is all the more alarming given that the Attorney General appears to have issued this order to allow President Trump to walk across the street from the White House for a political photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Notably, Attorney General Barr was not only on the scene less than an hour before the use of force to clear peaceful protesters, but he also participated in President Trump’s photo op, posing for pictures in front of the church.” 

The Senators continued: “We believe that the concerning actions we have identified warrant immediate investigation by your office, as they raise serious questions about misconduct, abuse of power, and waste by the Justice Department. Moreover, there appears to be no question about your office’s jurisdiction in this matter.

“Therefore, as detailed above, we urge your office to investigate the roles of Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020; deploying federal agents to suppress protests and intimidate peaceful protesters; and expanding the authority of DEA to conduct covert surveillance of protesters.”

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), also signed the letter. 

The full letter can be downloaded here or viewed below:

 

Dear Inspector General Horowitz, 

We write to request an immediate investigation into Attorney General William Barr’s and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) roles in directing the use of force – including the use of tear gas or a similar gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and batons – to suppress peaceful protesters around Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020. This misuse of force is all the more alarming given that the Attorney General appears to have issued this order to allow President Trump to walk across the street from the White House for a political photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Notably, Attorney General Barr was not only on the scene less than an hour before the use of force to clear peaceful protesters, but he also participated in President Trump’s photo op, posing for pictures in front of the church.

We further ask that you investigate Attorney General Barr’s and DOJ’s role in deploying federal law enforcement and security agencies to seemingly suppress protests and intimidate protesters throughout the country who are peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. In the wake of the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Americans all across our country are calling for an end to police brutality and a transformation of systems that perpetuate injustice and inequality. In response, President Trump has vowed to “dominate” the protesters.

The Attorney General and his Justice Department appear to be following through on the President’s vow by mobilizing agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP); the U.S. Marshals; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and possibly other agencies, against peaceful protests. Some of these federal agents appear to have participated in using force to remove protesters from the area around Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. According to eyewitness accounts and video footage, federal agents from these agencies, and other agencies, advanced on peaceful protesters with smoke canisters, pepper balls, riot shields, batons, and officers on horseback, with little warning before the 7 p.m. curfew. They fired rubber bullets at protesters, even as the protesters were retreating. They dropped canisters of gas to explode within several feet of a hundred people or more. They pushed protestors over and even struck a news camera crew with batons. These actions warrant an immediate investigation. 

Moreover, we are concerned by the deployment of federal agents who are trained to deal with prison riots, hostage situations, or other similar circumstances, but not adequately trained in protecting the constitutional rights of Americans engaged in peaceful protests. These concerns are amplified by the fact that some of federal officers were deployed in generic riot gear without displaying any identifying insignia and refused to identify themselves when asked. The lack of identifying information undermines accountability and furthers the distrust of law enforcement.

We are also deeply troubled by reports that the Justice Department has temporarily expanded the authority of DEA to “conduct covert surveillance” and collect intelligence on Americans exercising their constitutional rights to protest the murder of George Floyd. According to Buzzfeed News, the Justice Department also authorized DEA to share intelligence with local and state law enforcement authorities and intervene in a law enforcement role at protests. This expansion of DEA authority appears to be a misuse of DOJ’s powers that warrants further investigation.

We believe that the concerning actions we have identified warrant immediate investigation by your office, as they raise serious questions about misconduct, abuse of power, and waste by the Justice Department. Moreover, there appears to be no question about your office’s jurisdiction in this matter.

Therefore, as detailed above, we urge your office to investigate the roles of Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020; deploying federal agents to suppress protests and intimidate peaceful protesters; and expanding the authority of DEA to conduct covert surveillance of protesters. 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) in calling for the expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic to be made permanent. Provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, legislation cosponsored by Senators Warner and Kaine, that have allowed Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country to utilize telehealth services from home, as well as more types of health care providers to provide telehealth, were included in previous COVID-19 legislation. However, without urgent congressional action to make these measures permanent, these telehealth services are at risk of expiring when the pandemic ends.  

“Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of telehealth and have come to rely on its availability,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “Congress should expand access to telehealth services on a permanent basis so that telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic. Doing so would assure patients that their care will not be interrupted when the pandemic ends. It would also provide certainty to health care providers that the costs to prepare for and use telehealth would be a sound long-term investment.” 

In their letter, the Senators highlight the growing use and benefits of telehealth during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as patients seek to avoid traveling to hospitals and other providers and instead receive care at home. New data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by 11,718 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.

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

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

As you continue your work on critical legislation to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we write to ask that you make permanent the provisions from our bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act that were included in previous COVID-19 legislation.  These provisions have resulted in an important expansion of access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic. 

We have long advocated for increasing access to telehealth because of its potential to expand access to health care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes.  Telehealth has proven to be pivotal for many patients during the current pandemic, ensuring they receive the care they need while reducing the risk of infection and the further spread of COVID-19.  We have all heard from our constituents about how effective and convenient it is.  Expanded Medicare coverage of telehealth services on a permanent basis—where clinically appropriate and with appropriate guardrails and beneficiary protections in place—would ensure that telehealth continues to be an option for all Medicare beneficiaries after the pandemic ends.

As you know, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 and the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act included provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, these laws provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to waive telehealth requirements under Section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act, allow Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) to provide distant site telehealth services, and allow for the use of telehealth to conduct the face-to-face visit required to recertify a patient’s eligibility for hospice care. 

Because of these new authorities provided by Congress, Medicare has expanded coverage of telehealth services for the duration of the pandemic to include all areas of the country—as well as allowing a patient’s home to serve as an originating site for telehealth.  In addition, more types of health care providers—including FQHCs and RHCs that provide primary care in rural and underserved areas—are able to furnish and bill Medicare for telehealth services.  These changes have already contributed to a dramatic increase in the use of telehealth services in Medicare.  Available data show that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services during the pandemic increased 11,718 percent in just a month and a half.

Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of telehealth and have come to rely on its availability.  Congress should expand access to telehealth services on a permanent basis so that telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic.  Doing so would assure patients that their care will not be interrupted when the pandemic ends.  It would also provide certainty to health care providers that the costs to prepare for and use telehealth would be a sound long-term investment. 

In addition, given the recent flexibilities provided by both Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the increased use of telehealth during the pandemic, we believe now is an important time to measure the impact of telehealth on Medicare.  Specifically, the federal government should collect and analyze data on the impact of telehealth on utilization, quality, health outcomes, and spending during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There is currently a scarcity of data available regarding the impact of telehealth on the Medicare program.  This data would assist Congress in crafting additional policies to improve health outcomes and use resources more effectively.

Thank you for your continued leadership during the present crisis.  We look forward to continuing to work together to increase access to telehealth.

Sincerely, 

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