Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today urged the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on companies’ increased use of subcontracted and contingent workers for work that used to be performed by direct employees. This leads to the creation of ‘fissured workplaces’ – environments where primary employers outsource “non-core” business functions to subcontracted firms but still maintain tight control over the outcomes of those subcontractors. This has primarily affected occupations in payroll, accounting, janitorial services, facilities maintenance, security, food preparation, among others.

In a letter, the Senators pressed Comptroller General Gene Dodaro for more information to better understand how companies’ efforts to cut costs are affecting the long term resiliency and stability of workers, and how this trend is affecting the U.S. workforce and its paths for upward mobility. 

“We suspect that fissured workplaces could be leading to an erosion of the American social contract. Employers’ use of contract and contingent workers, including subcontracted workers, independent contractors, and temporary workers, has likely contributed to the decline in employer-sponsored training,  and led to ambiguity in terms of who is responsible for providing workplace protections and who must be at the bargaining table when workers form a union,” wrote the Senators. “The implications for fewer benefits for contract workers are far reaching: for example, studies in multiple states find that temp workers experienced twice the rate of injury as permanent workers perhaps due to the fact that they are nearly twice as likely as permanent workers to have never received safety training.”

“The rise of the fissured workplace may also partially explain the significant decline in the large firm wage premium,” they continued. “Researchers find that this change is largely a consequence of large firms with over 1000 employees no longer paying above market salaries to their workers.  What’s more, others note that this decline has occurred exclusively for those at the lower and middle of the wage distribution, with no change in the wage premium for higher income earners.”

Currently, public companies are only required to report the number of full-time workers to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but are not required to report the number of contract or contingent workers, making it difficult for lawmakers to understand the extent to which public companies are now relying on these workers in order to save costs. 

This lack of public knowledge is concerning, given the benefit and wage disparities that exist between contingent workers and company employees.

“We know that fissured workplaces can lead to compensation penalties for workers in certain subcontracted occupations. For example, by the year 2000, 45% of janitors and over 70% of security guards worked as subcontractors instead of in-house employees.  While studying this phenomenon, researchers found that contracted janitors earned about 15% less than in-house janitors and, similarly, contracted security guards earned 17% less than in-house guards.  This trend is troubling and all the more important following the onset of the COVID-19 crisis – clean and safe places of work are essential and all workers are worthy of fair and competitive compensation,” the Senators noted. “Current research suggests that workers in standard work arrangements are 10% more likely to have access to health insurance than independent contractors.  That same research suggests that over 46% of full-time employees have access to a retirement plan, while only 2.3% of independent contractors and 38.3% of workers provided by a contract firm do. “

In their letter, the Senators also expressed concern about the rise in hiring of contract and contingent workers for particularly vulnerable occupations and tasks. They specifically highlighted social media companies’ high rates of reliance on these workers for work that could have significant long-term mental health consequences such as content moderation – the process of reviewing user content for adherence to company policy, a process that entails viewing disturbing online content like graphic violence, sexual predation and assault, child pornography, or other traumatic content. 

In order to understand the prevalence and address the impacts of fissured workplaces in the economy, the Senators posed the following questions for Comptroller General Dodaro:

  1. Since 1980, to what extent have companies increased their use of temporary workers, subcontracted workers, independent contractors, and franchises for work that was typically done by direct employees? Is this use of alternative work arrangements typically permanent or long-term?  

  2. What are the demographic characteristics of contract and contingent workers by sector? Are there any sectors in which these employment shifts have been the most pronounced? If so, what are the most common business justifications given for the use of these alternative work arrangements in those sectors and how do those justifications compare across sectors?  

  3. How do the pay, benefits, schedules, access to workforce training opportunities, and job security of employees in these different work arrangements compare to the pay, benefits, schedules, access to workforce training opportunities, and job security of employees that are direct employees of the companies? How have these differences changed over time and to what extent have they contributed to reduced paths to upward mobility in the American economy?

  4. For contingent workers at large employers, how long do typical contingent workers work in each “gig” and how long does it typically take workers to find another “gig”? Are there typically pathways for workers who are temporary staff, subcontracted, or independent contractors to become full-time, direct employees of the companies? 

  5. What are the estimated business savings to a company who uses temporary workers, subcontracted workers, and independent contractors?
  1. What are the long-term effects of contingent work in areas such as content moderation on workers’ future employment, psychological well-being, and physical health and does this work create costs or externalities borne by state, local, or federal governments? What are some potential long-term consequences for economic security for workers in contract and contingent work arrangements?

  2. Are there comprehensive federally available data to track companies’ use of alternative work arrangements? If so, what are the data sets, how often are the data collected, how comprehensive are the data sets, and what gaps remain?  Does GAO have any policy recommendations for improving data collection on these employment trends?

  3. What private data are available to track these trends?

  4. In the technology sector, please use any private data, including private data provided by companies in that sector, to provide additional analysis of the use of these alternative work arrangements and assessment on the impact to employees’ pay, benefits, schedules, and job security. Additionally, to what extent do workers take on contract-based work with a hiring preference for full-time direct employment and an expectation that contract-based work will turn into a direct employee opportunity? 

  5. Have these types of workers faced any additional economic hurdles brought about by COVID-19, such as greater likelihood of being laid off, furloughed, or reduced access to benefits, including employer-provided health insurance?

Sen. Warner has been an outspoken advocate of investing in workers and ensuring they are adequately equipped to participate in the 21st century labor force. Earlier this year, he called on the SEC to establish an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Task Force following a GAO report that revealed investors pursue reporting of non-financial indicators covering a company’s environmental, social, and governance practices. The report was a direct result of Sen. Warner’s efforts to get more details on the extent to which firms currently report on ESG issues, and whether Congress and the SEC should act to require such disclosures. 

Last year, the SEC announced a proposed Regulation S-K rule following advocacy by Sen. Warner, who previously urged the Commission to heed the calls of investors and utilize its rulemaking authority to require companies across the board to provide further details relating to human capital management. Sen. Warner has also sent a letter requesting that the SEC require companies to disclose specific metrics in addition to human capital resources, measures, and objectives. In May, Sen. Warner along with U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) urged the SEC to require that human capital management information is made publicly available in a timely and accurate manner to help determine whether a company will be successfully able to weather risks following the COVID-19 crisis – a critical issue for investors and the overall economy.  

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

 

Dear Mr. Dodaro:            

In the past several decades, large companies have faced increased pressure from short-term oriented shareholders and executives to cut costs and increase efficiency. As the onset of the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated, this focus on hyper efficiency has come at the cost of long term resiliency for many. David Weil at Brandeis University notes that companies have – in many cases – responded to short-term pressures by increasingly focusing on “core business” functions, outsourcing competencies perceived as less essential or valuable to subcontractors.[i] In practice, this meant that certain tasks and occupations in payroll, accounting, janitorial services, facilities maintenance, security, food preparation, and others, would no longer be done or performed by in-house employees of the company. Instead, these tasks might still be completed by workers in the same building as core company employees, but – in reality – their compensation and benefits would be provided by a subcontractor. This type of arrangement is known as a “fissured workplace” – an environment where a primary employer outsources non-core business functions to subcontracted firms but still maintains tight control over the outcomes of those subcontractors.[ii] It has been the subject of many articles over the years, most notably Neil Irwin’s in the New York Times titled, “To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now,” outlining the stark differences in paths for upward mobility between a janitor at Kodak in the 1980s and a janitor at Apple today.[iii] 

We know that fissured workplaces can lead to compensation penalties for workers in certain subcontracted occupations. For example, by the year 2000, 45% of janitors and over 70% of security guards worked as subcontractors instead of in-house employees.[iv] While studying this phenomenon, researchers found that contracted janitors earned about 15% less than in-house janitors and, similarly, contracted security guards earned 17% less than in-house guards.[v] This trend is troubling and all the more important following the onset of the COVID-19 crisis – clean and safe places of work are essential and all workers are worthy of fair and competitive compensation. We should know more about the extent to which this disparity in compensation is prevalent in other subcontracted occupations and across sectors.  

 We suspect that fissured workplaces could be leading to an erosion of the American social contract. Employers’ use of contract and contingent workers, including subcontracted workers, independent contractors, and temporary workers, has likely contributed to the decline in employer-sponsored training,[vi] and led to ambiguity in terms of who is responsible for providing workplace protections and who must be at the bargaining table when workers form a union. Current research suggests that workers in standard work arrangements are 10% more likely to have access to health insurance than independent contractors.[vii] That same research suggests that over 46% of full-time employees have access to a retirement plan, while only 2.3% of independent contractors and 38.3% of workers provided by a contract firm do.[viii][ix] Additional reports from the National Employment Law Project suggest that the differences are stark for certain types of contract and contingent workers: potentially only 12.8% of temporary help agency workers, 28.2% of on-call workers, and 41.3% of workers provided by contract firms have access to employer-provided health insurance compared to a majority of direct employees.[x] The implications for fewer benefits for contract workers are far reaching: for example, studies in multiple states find that temp workers experienced twice the rate of injury as permanent workers perhaps due to the fact that they are nearly twice as likely as permanent workers to have never received safety training.[xi]

The rise of the fissured workplace may also partially explain the significant decline in the large firm wage premium. For most of the 20th century, large firms paid higher wages than smaller firms, even after controlling for the quality of the worker, across many countries.[xii] In fact, they were an important way to mitigate labor market wage inequality – less-educated workers received a higher wage premium from working for large firms than more-educated workers.[xiii] In the past few decades, however, the average worker earnings premium for a large firm has fallen from 47% in 1980 to 20% in 2013.[xiv] Researchers find that this change is largely a consequence of large firms with over 1000 employees no longer paying above market salaries to their workers.[xv] What’s more, others note that this decline has occurred exclusively for those at the lower and middle of the wage distribution, with no change in the wage premium for higher income earners.[xvi] We don’t know why this is occurring, but researchers suggest this may be a result of changing norms[xvii] around acceptable compensation for workers at the lower end of the wage distribution and fissured workplaces.[xviii] Since large firms are not required to disclose information about workers that are not considered employees, it is possible that the large firm wage premium is even lower than what scholars have found.

Increasingly, essential functions routinely completed by full-time employees are being relegated to contract and contingent work. Companies such as Google rely on lower-paid contractors even for software development.[xix]According to investigative reports and accounts from those with access to internal company databases, the total number of contractors at Google outnumbered direct employees in 2018.[xx] Those same reports suggest that, in some cases, those lower-paid contractors were performing work often indistinguishable from functions completed by direct employees[xxi] without access to the same benefits and compensation. Contractors are also reportedly prevalent at other tech giants, such as Apple, Facebook, and YouTube, similarly without access to the same worker benefits as traditional employees.

While reports indicate that tasks typically associated with skilled labor, such as programming, are increasingly going to contractors, technology companies frequently seem to hire contract and contingent workers for particularly vulnerable occupations and tasks. At social media companies, reports find that contract workers are used at high rates for content moderation – the process of reviewing user content for adherence to company policy, which entails viewing disturbing online content that can include graphic violence, sexual predation and assault, child pornography, or other traumatic content.[xxii] These positions frequently involve repetitive tasks, queue- and rate-based decision-making, and daily quotas.[xxiii] While this type of work could have significant long-term mental health consequences, there are reports that moderators are often required to sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevents them from seeking outside counseling.[xxiv] Similar to other types of subcontracted workers in other industries, reports find that content moderators suffer a wage penalty and lack the employment benefits of their in-house counterparts.[xxv] At Facebook, for example, starting salary for a content moderator is only 14% of the median full-time employee salary.[xxvi]

Understanding the full extent of the fissured workplace is a difficult task. Though public companies are required to report the number of full-time workers to the Securities and Exchange Commission, they are not currently required to report the number of contract or contingent workers. Often in household surveys, workers will incorrectly classify themselves as employees of the primary firm when, in reality, they work for a subcontractor or as independent contractors.[xxvii] This misunderstanding may help partially explain why scholars note an increase in self-employment through tax filings data while standard measures of self-identification in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ surveys have not seen an increase in contract or contingent work.[xxviii]

For policymakers to address the impacts of fissured workplaces in the economy, we need to understand how prevalent the situation is for American workers. For example, research suggests that Black and Hispanic workers are overrepresented in contract-based work, [xxix] which could have economic ramifications for upward mobility and financial security. To more thoroughly study the fissured workplace, scholars call for marrying business transaction data with worker data.[xxx] Current conservative estimates suggest around 19% of the private sector workforce operates in industries with fissured workplaces.[xxxi]Estimates that include industries with mixed use of practices could double this figure, which would suggest that working in fissured workplaces is more common today than being a member of a union was at its peak of 34% in 1956.[xxxii]

In light of these issues, we would like GAO to report on the following:

  1. Since 1980, to what extent have companies increased their use of temporary workers, subcontracted workers, independent contractors, and franchises for work that was typically done by direct employees? Is this use of alternative work arrangements typically permanent or long-term?  
  2. What are the demographic characteristics of contract and contingent workers by sector? Are there any sectors in which these employment shifts have been the most pronounced? If so, what are the most common business justifications given for the use of these alternative work arrangements in those sectors and how do those justifications compare across sectors?  
  3. How do the pay, benefits, schedules, access to workforce training opportunities, and job security of employees in these different work arrangements compare to the pay, benefits, schedules, access to workforce training opportunities, and job security of employees that are direct employees of the companies? How have these differences changed over time and to what extent have they contributed to reduced paths to upward mobility in the American economy?
  4. For contingent workers at large employers, how long do typical contingent workers work in each “gig” and how long does it typically take workers to find another “gig”? Are there typically pathways for workers who are temporary staff, subcontracted, or independent contractors to become full-time, direct employees of the companies? 
  5. What are the estimated business savings to a company who uses temporary workers, subcontracted workers, and independent contractors? 
  1. What are the long-term effects of contingent work in areas such as content moderation on workers’ future employment, psychological well-being, and physical health and does this work create costs or externalities borne by state, local, or federal governments? What are some potential long-term consequences for economic security for workers in contract and contingent work arrangements?
  2. Are there comprehensive federally available data to track companies’ use of alternative work arrangements? If so, what are the data sets, how often are the data collected, how comprehensive are the data sets, and what gaps remain?  Does GAO have any policy recommendations for improving data collection on these employment trends?
  3. What private data are available to track these trends?
  4. In the technology sector, please use any private data, including private data provided by companies in that sector, to provide additional analysis of the use of these alternative work arrangements and assessment on the impact to employees’ pay, benefits, schedules, and job security. Additionally, to what extent do workers take on contract-based work with a hiring preference for full-time direct employment and an expectation that contract-based work will turn into a direct employee opportunity? 
  5. Have these types of workers faced any additional economic hurdles brought about by COVID-19, such as greater likelihood of being laid off, furloughed, or reduced access to benefits, including employer-provided health insurance?

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Virginia Fire Departments will receive $9,571,649.04 in federal funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program. The AFG program supports local fire departments by providing funds for new equipment and training.

“Our firefighters put themselves in harm’s way every day. It’s critical that the federal government provides them with the tools necessary to carry out their duties safely and effectively,” the Senators said. “These grants will strengthen Virginia fire departments’ abilities to protect communities across the Commonwealth from fire and other hazards.”

The funding was awarded as follows: 

  • Warren County Fire and Rescue will receive $1,216,724.04;
  • Albemarle County Fire Rescue will receive $1,939,680.00;
  • Roanoke County Fire & Rescue will receive $2,916,945.00;
  • City of Charlottesville Fire Department will receive $3,498,300.00.

The primary goal of FEMA’s AFG program is to enhance the safety of the public and firefighters with respect to fire-related hazards by providing direct financial assistance to eligible fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations and State Fire Training Academies for critically-needed resources to equip and train emergency personnel, recognize standards, enhance operations efficiencies, foster interoperability, and support community resilience. 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $2,271,091.11 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to repair damages to Ringgold Rail Trail and Sandy Creek Bridge from overland and waterway flooding in Pittsylvania County

“The damage to Ringgold Rail Trail and Sandy Creek Bridge caused by tropical storm Michael in Pittsylvania County in 2018 has had lasting impacts for residents, travelers, and commuters in the region. The federal funds will help shoulder the cost of repairs,” said the Senators. “Investing in repairs to these historic sites will ease the burden on Virginia residents and strengthen our Commonwealth.”

The funding was awarded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and authorized under Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Act. 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner, Tim Kaine, and Patty Murray wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) requesting an investigation into the June 2020 transfer of immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention to Farmville, Virginia. The transfer, which was reportedly part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to send more federal agents to Washington, D.C., to end racial justice protests, led to a dramatic spike in COVID-19 infections at the Farmville facility, managed by the private contractor Immigration Centers of America (ICA). The Senators write that ICE, ICA, and DHS’s mishandling of the situation fits the pattern of abuse behind ICE detention.

“While ICE said they transferred ‘larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees’ to ‘promote social distancing,’ according to recently released information, ICE’s own statistics showed the facilities from where the detainees came on June 1 were not near capacity when the transfers were arranged,” the Senators wrote. “ICE and ICA’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville raises the alarm about people’s safety and the nature of ICE detention. And ICE and DHS’s disregard of Senate inquiry in the face of clear mishandling of the situation and people’s lives is unacceptable. It is critical for the OIG to investigate the transfer of individuals in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the pattern and practice of abuse and the lack of accountability within ICE facilities.”

The Senators noted that, while the Farmville facility was 57 percent full the day of the transfer, the Arizona facility from which the migrants were transferred was only 35 percent full. “The statistics indicate that ICE has misled Congress about the reasons for transferring individuals during the pandemic,” wrote the Senators.

Senators Warner and Kaine have repeatedly pushed the Administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia detention facilities. After the June transfer resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at Farmville, the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the health of detainees and workers by stopping the transfer of people in ICE custody and increasing COVID-19 testing at the facilities. Nearly a month later, with approximately 80 percent of the Farmville population testing positive for COVID-19, the Senators once again pressed ICE and DHS to stop transfers between facilities. They also posed a series of questions regarding the measures in place to safeguard the health of people in custody, staff members, and the community. In July, the Senators also insisted that the Trump Administration work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the facility after nearly every detained person in the Farmville facility contracted COVID-19. At the Senators’ urging, the CDC deployed its teams to the Farmville facility in August to conduct an assessment of the rate of infection among workers and detainees, risk factors for infection among workers and detainees, infection control and prevention practices in the facility, and transmission dynamics among workers, detainees, and the surrounding community. Additionally, following reports that two detained individuals tested positive for COVID-19 at the Caroline County Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility, the Senators sent a letter today pressing for answers on what ICE is doing to protect the health of individuals in custody, staff members, and the Bowling Green community.

You can read the full letter here and below:

Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari
Office of Inspector General
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, DC 20528-0305

Dear Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari,

We write to request that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigate the transfer of individuals in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Virginia via ICE Air in June 2020 as part of the administration’s efforts to send more federal agents to end racial justice protests in Washington, D.C.[1] The transfer led to the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the ICE detention center in Farmville, Virginia, run by the private contractor Immigration Centers of America (ICA) and fits into the pattern of abuse behind ICE detention during the pandemic. We ask that your office incorporate an investigation into the June 2020 transfer to Virginia into the ongoing investigation into “ICE’s Efforts to Prevent and Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in its Facilities.”[2]

On June 2, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to ICA-Farmville from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. According to testimony at a Farmville town council meeting in August, ICE officials in the Washington field office objected to the transfer of detainees. The transfer, compounded by the inability to appropriately socially distance within the facility, led to a dramatic spike in infections. Within two weeks of the June 2020 transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. At least six people inside have been hospitalized with severe symptoms. In August, the Farmville facility had at times a nearly 90% infection rate among detainees, including James Thomas Hill, a Canadian national who tragically died on August 5.

While ICE said they transferred “larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees” to “promote social distancing,” according to recently released information, ICE’s own statistics showed the facilities from where the detainees came on June 1 were not near capacity when the transfers were arranged. The detention facility in Arizona from where detainees were transferred, CCA Florence, has space for approximately 550 detainees but was only about 35 percent full that day, while Farmville was 57 percent full. The statistics indicate that ICE has misled Congress about the reasons for transferring individuals during the pandemic, in violation of the CDC guidelines indicating that people should not be transferred between facilities “unless necessary for medical evaluation, medical isolation/quarantine, clinical care, extenuating security concerns, release, or to prevent overcrowding.”[3]

We have consistently raised alarm with DHS about the surging number of COVID-19 cases at the Farmville detention facility as a result of ICE’s decision to continue transferring detainees.[4] Yet both DHS and ICE have refused to respond to our questions concerning how ICE is protecting the health of individuals in their custody, staff members, and the Farmville community. We request that you investigate the following:

?      Whether ICE and DHS shared information with Farmville officials (including local elected officials like the mayor and members of the town council) about the June transfer and the subsequent outbreaks at Farmville-ICA in an effort to protect against community spread;

?      The objection to the transfer by the Washington field office and any other objections made prior to the transfer of detainees to Farmville;

?      The role of the company in charge of the facility, ICA, in the June 2020 transfer;

?      Whether the ICE agents aboard the ICE Air flight in question were tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding and ICE’s general policies around testing prior to boarding flights with detainees;

?      All information pertaining to the planned flight, including whether the flight was postponed or altered to accommodate agents;

?      The capacity at each ICE facility on June 2, 2020;

?      Whether any detainees transferred to Farmville on June 2, 2020, were subject to the Title 42 expulsions conducted by the Administration;

?      The I-216 of each detainee transferred to Farmville on June 2, 2020;

?      The number of ICE transfers during the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic, the justifications behind the transfers, the capacity at the facilities individuals were transferred from and to, and the result of any COVID-19 spread at the facilities to which detainees were transferred;

?      The decision-making process that went into making the June 2 transfer and all other transfers during the pandemic, including communication between ICE headquarters, field offices, private contractors, and local officials involved in the management of the facilities where transfers have taken place as well as agency and administration guidance, memos, and any other information guiding ICE’s decision process to embark on transfers during the pandemic;

?      Whether any assessments or inquiries were made of the local hospital and medical capacity to handle possibly infected detainees prior to transfer;

?      ICE’s use of “ICE Air” charter flights to transfer detainees during the pandemic.

ICE and ICA’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville raises the alarm about people’s safety and the nature of ICE detention. And ICE and DHS’s disregard of Senate inquiry in the face of clear mishandling of the situation and people’s lives is unacceptable. It is critical for the OIG to investigate the transfer of individuals in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the pattern and practice of abuse and the lack of accountability within ICE facilities.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine have requested information from the Departments of State and Homeland Security about their efforts to protect unwitting older Americans tricked into trafficking drugs internationally. In two letters—one to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the other to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official Tony Pham, and Acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Mark Morgan—the senators inquired about 77-year-old Centreville, Virginia resident Victor Stemberger.

According to reports, in March 2018, Mr. Stemberger received an email inviting him to a business opportunity that entailed making international deliveries. In July 2019, Mr. Stemberger followed his contacts’ instructions to receive gifts in Brazil; he was arrested the next day in Spain after he was found with cocaine sewn into his luggage, and a Spanish court subsequently sentenced him to seven years in prison for drug smuggling. Mr. Stemberger and his family insist he knew nothing about the drugs, and a retired DEA agent working on the case says 161 pages of emails demonstrate that “he’s completely unwitting.”

 In their letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, Warner and Kaine asked about efforts to protect unknowing senior citizens during Operation COCOON, DHS’s program to target narco-traffickers who manipulate older Americans into carrying drugs.

“We would like to understand what, if anything, your agencies did during Operation COCOON to prevent these targeted individuals’ arrest and prosecution in a foreign country once they were in transit as couriers and your efforts to have them returned to the United States,” the senators wrote to Wolf, Pham, and Morgan. “We are concerned that in an attempt to interdict illicit contraband being moved by unsuspecting senior citizens, Operation COCOON may have led DHS to provide information about these unwitting Americans to foreign law enforcement partners who then arrested, prosecuted, and jailed them abroad.” 

In their letter to Secretary Pompeo, Warner and Kaine requested assistance in bringing Mr. Stemberger home and asked about the State Department’s knowledge of Operation COCOON and whether it has been working with DHS to prevent the foreign prosecution of older Americans exploited by drug traffickers.

“Sadly, Mr. Stemberger is not the only older adult a transnational criminal organization has tricked into becoming an unwitting drug mule,” the senators wrote to Pompeo. “Given these unique circumstances, we are requesting your personal involvement to encourage the Government of Spain to immediately release Mr. Stemberger on humanitarian grounds so he can return to his family in the United States. We are especially worried for Mr. Stemberger’s health after learning that two prisoners held in the same section have recently contracted COVID-19 and ask that the State Department push for safer facilities to hold Mr. Stemberger while efforts to secure his release are ongoing.”

The full text of the senators’ letters can be found here and below:

Acting Secretary Wolf, Mr. Pham, and Acting Commissioner Morgan, 

We write to express concern about the case of Victor Stemberger and request information on your work to investigate and combat scams targeting older Americans to become unwitting drug mules. On July 30, a Spanish court found Mr. Stemberger, our constituent, guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced him to seven years in prison, rejecting his defense that he was duped into acting as a drug mule for a West Africa criminal network. Mr. Stemberger, 77, is a Vietnam veteran who served 24 years in the U.S. Army. To our knowledge, he has never been in trouble with the law. The circumstances of his arrest — as well as his advanced age — give us pause and concern. 

According to news reports, the case began in March 2018 with an email from someone purporting to be a financial consultant with Nigeria’s foreign ministry and inviting Mr. Stemberger into a business opportunity that carried the prospect of a lucrative payout. The job allegedly entailed traveling abroad to deliver gifts and documents to officials, with a goal of recovering funds that were misallocated. In July 2019, he traveled to Brazil on a trip that was to take him to Spain and on to Asia. Sources claim his contacts told him officials would be visiting his Sao Paolo hotel room to help transfer the gifts into luggage but that Mr. Stemberger continued to believe the work was legitimate. The following day, Mr. Stemberger was arrested in Madrid after he was found with cocaine sewn into bubble jackets in a bag. 

Mr. Stemberger and his family say he knew nothing about the drugs, and a retired DEA agent Robert Zachariasiewicz, whose investigative firm has worked with the family on the case, said the 161 pages of emails he’s reviewed make clear that “he’s completely unwitting.”[1] His family also explains that Mr. Stemberger suffered a brain aneurysm in 2005 that greatly diminished his logic and decision-making abilities, which a medical expert testified to at his trial. And, in a memorandum regarding Mr. Stemberger’s case dated October 28, 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that he was “fraudulently deceived by members of a narcotics trafficking network into unwittingly transporting concealed controlled substances.”

For years, federal officials have warned about scams that target and lure older Americans or those with diminished mental capacity to become unwitting drug mules. In fact, in February 2016, A. Scott Brown, former Acting Assistant Director of Investigative Programs for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging about “international drug smuggling scams targeting seniors.” Mr. Brown noted that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was tracking 144 cases of older adults being duped into acting as unwitting drug mules. He cited statistics of Operation COCOON (DHS’s program to target narco-traffickers who manipulate older Americans into carrying drugs): “To date, HSI and CBP have worked with our foreign counterparts to interdict a total of 272 kilograms of methamphetamine, 209 kilograms of cocaine, 4 kilograms of ecstasy, and 11 kilograms of heroin. They have arrested 15 facilitators affiliated with TCOs — one in Hong Kong, two in China, three in Argentina and nine in Spain.”[2] 

We would like to understand what, if anything, your agencies did during Operation COCOON to prevent these targeted individuals’ arrest and prosecution in a foreign country once they were in transit as couriers and your efforts to have them returned to the United States. We are concerned that in an attempt to interdict illicit contraband being moved by unsuspecting senior citizens, Operation COCOON may have led DHS to provide information about these unwitting Americans to foreign law enforcement partners who then arrested, prosecuted, and jailed them abroad. As such, we would like to request more information on Operation COCOON and any other similar ongoing operation to combat criminal organizations from preying on older adult Americans.

We would appreciate your responses to the following questions about Operation COCOON and other requested documentation no later than September 28, 2020:

  1. Please provide all records and information related to Mr. Stemberger.
  2. Please provide the Concept of Operation for Operation COCOON and any related guidance, reports, metrics, and documentation. Please include any documentation pertaining to the collaborative arrangement between DHS and foreign law enforcement.
  3. Please provide the Concept of Operation for any ongoing operations pertaining to the targeting of older adult Americans to become unwitting drug mules and any related guidance, reports, metrics, and documentation.
  4. Please explain how you tracked success of the Operation COCOON and any similar ongoing operation.
  5. As DHS was aware that older adult Americans were tricked into being unwitting drug mules, did DHS alert these individuals or their family members or otherwise intervene to stop them from leaving the United States?
  6. Did Operation COCOON identify these “unsuspecting elderly citizens” to foreign law enforcement?
  7. Subsequent to identification by U.S. officials, were these Americans then arrested by the foreign law enforcement to whom they had been identified?
  8. Did DHS or any other agency or component of the U.S. federal government communicate to foreign law enforcement the judgment of the U.S. Government that these American citizens were unaware of drugs placed in their luggage?
  9. Did the information-sharing or collaborative arrangement between DHS and foreign law enforcement include a commitment by the foreign government to not prosecute unwitting older adult Americans and, instead, only prosecute members of the transnational criminal organization facilitating the fraud on the Americans?
  10. How many unwitting older American citizens have served time in foreign incarceration as a result of Operation COCOON? How many are still detained in foreign jails (in addition to Mr. Stemberger)? How many Americans died while in foreign custody as a result of Operation COCOON?
  11. If there were 144 cases in 2016, how many cases is DHS aware of cumulatively throughout the period of Operation COCOON?
  12. If there were nine cases involving Spain in 2016, how many is DHS aware of involving Spain cumulatively throughout the period of Operation COCOON?
  13. Did DHS or any entity involved in Operation COCOON notify Spanish officials of their suspicions relating to, or knowledge of, Victor Stemberger being an unwitting drug mule prior to his July 5, 2019 arrest? If so, did the notifying entity make clear to the Spanish officials that it was the position of the U.S. Government that Mr. Stemberger was unaware drugs were planted on him?
  14. What steps, if any, has DHS taken to secure Mr. Stemberger’s release from Spanish prison? Is DHS coordinating with the State Department on the release of Mr. Stemberger or any other senior American imprisoned via Operation COCOON?

Cc:

Derek N. Benner

Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Director 

 

 

 

The Honorable Michael Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write to request your assistance to seek the return of Victor Stemberger to the United States on humanitarian grounds and request information about the Department’s knowledge of a DHS program called Operation COCOON. On July 30, a Spanish court found Mr. Stemberger, our constituent, guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced him to seven years in prison, rejecting his defense that he was duped into acting as a drug mule for a West Africa criminal network. Mr. Stemberger, 77, is a Vietnam veteran who served 24 years in the U.S. Army. To our knowledge, he has never been in trouble with the law. The circumstances of his arrest — as well as his advanced age — give us pause and concern. 

According to news reports, the case began in March 2018 with an email from someone purporting to be a financial consultant with Nigeria’s foreign ministry and inviting Mr. Stemberger into a business opportunity that carried the prospect of a lucrative payout. The job allegedly entailed traveling abroad to deliver gifts and documents to officials, with a goal of recovering funds that were misallocated. In July 2019, he traveled to Brazil on a trip that was to take him to Spain and on to Asia. Sources claim his contacts told him officials would be visiting his Sao Paolo hotel room to help transfer the gifts into luggage but that Mr. Stemberger continued to believe the work was legitimate. The following day Mr. Stemberger was arrested in Madrid after he was found with cocaine sewn into bubble jackets in a bag.

Mr. Stemberger and his family say he knew nothing about the drugs, and a retired DEA agent Robert Zachariasiewicz, whose investigative firm has worked with the family on the case, said the 161 pages of emails he’s reviewed make clear that “he’s completely unwitting.”[1] His family also explains that Mr. Stemberger suffered a brain aneurysm in 2005 that greatly diminished his logic and decision-making abilities, which a medical expert testified to at his trial. And, in a memorandum regarding Mr. Stemberger’s case dated October 28, 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that he was “fraudulently deceived by members of a narcotics trafficking network into unwittingly transporting concealed controlled substances.” 

Given these unique circumstances, we are requesting your personal involvement to encourage the Government of Spain to immediately release Mr. Stemberger on humanitarian grounds so he can return to his family in the United States. We are especially worried for Mr. Stemberger’s health after learning that two prisoners held in the same section have recently contracted COVID-19 and ask that the State Department push for safer facilities to hold Mr. Stemberger while efforts to secure his release are ongoing. 

We are confident that you and your team are closely engaged on this case, and we would appreciate the following updates:

  • Have officials of the Department of State met with Mr. Stemberger and his Spanish defense counsel?

 

  • Is there anything that the Embassy in Madrid can do to improve the conditions in which Mr. Stemberger is being held?

 

  • Have State Department officials communicated at a senior level to appropriate officials of the Government of Spain that it is the position of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice that Mr. Stemberger was unaware of the drugs in his luggage and that sophisticated transnational criminal organization tricked him into becoming an unwitting drug mule?

 

  • Has Ambassador Buchan or officials working at the Embassy in Madrid met with Mr. Stemberger’s defense counsel and offered support in his pending appeal of his conviction to ensure that the Spanish courts have documentary evidence of the U.S. Government’s determination that Mr. Stemberger was unwitting of any illicit activities?

Sadly, Mr. Stemberger is not the only older adult a transnational criminal organization has tricked into becoming an unwitting drug mule. We understand that there are numerous additional cases of older Americans falling victim to similar schemes. As such, we have written separately to the Department of Homeland Security to ask for information about their activities under a program called Operation COCOON — a joint effort by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — to target international drug traffickers who manipulate older Americans into carrying drugs. We are troubled that in an attempt to interdict illicit contraband being moved by unsuspecting senior citizens, Operation COCOON may have led DHS to provide information about these unwitting Americans to foreign law enforcement partners who then arrested, prosecuted, and jailed them abroad. To that end:

  • Have State Department officials inquired with their colleagues in the Spanish Government about how they selected Mr. Stemberger for screening and whether they received advanced notification of him by any U.S. officials? 

Is the Department aware of Operation COCOON? Has DHS coordinated with the Department on the protection of these older unwitting Americans to ensure that, once they entered a foreign country, they were not arrested, prosecuted, and jailed but instead sent safely home to the United States?   

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and 29 senators today in calling on the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to expeditiously investigate a whistleblower complaint alleging forced hysterectomies at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Ga.

“Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy,” the senators wrote. “To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies.”

 In addition to Senators Feinstein, Leahy, Murray, Casey and Booker, the letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Full text of the letter follows:

 

September 17, 2020

Hon. Joseph V. Cuffari

Inspector General

Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane SW

Washington, DC 20528-0305

Dear Mr. Cuffari:

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General should expeditiously conduct a thorough investigation into a whistleblower complaint alleging forced hysterectomies and other egregious abuses at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia. LaSalle Corrections operates that facility for the federal government, including for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The alleged abuses detailed in the complaint and in related reports must be thoroughly and swiftly investigated to protect the rights and safety of women and patients in our nation’s care.

 The whistleblower expressed alarm about the “rate at which the hysterectomies have occurred” at the facility. Specifically, the complaint alleges that between October and December 2019 at least five women detained at the ICDC received hysterectomies. When asked about the procedures, however, the women “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” The complaint also describes how a gynecologist once removed the wrong ovary on a young woman, causing her “to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy,” leaving her unable to bear children.

Another detained woman who received a hysterectomy recounted that medical personnel “did not properly explain to her what procedure she was going to have done.” Although she asked for more information about why she was receiving a hysterectomy, she was “given three different responses by three different individuals.” When the woman told a nurse that the procedure “isn’t for me,” the nurse “responded by getting angry and agitated.”

Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy. To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other ICE facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies.

 In addition to thoroughly investigating the recent alleged abuses at the ICDC, we urge you to immediately conduct a national review of reproductive health policies and practices at ICE facilities to ensure that the human rights of women in federal immigration custody are assured.

Sincerely,

###

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Chris Coons and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn to introduce legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The bill would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., -- including the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville – by designating them as National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Tom Carper (D-DE).

“On April 23, 1951, a 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a walkout of students at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, to protest school segregation and poor education conditions. The student-led strike in Virginia and the subsequent lawsuit became one of the five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education.  As our country continues to grapple with the need to reckon with our past and present, it is more important than ever to highlight those Americans who time and time again have stood up and pulled our nation towards progress,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan bill to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and recognize the vital role played by the Moton School in Farmville in ending school segregation.”

“I am proud to join this bipartisan bill to honor and protect historic sites connected to Brown v. Board of Education—a watershed case in our nation’s progress toward equality for all,” said Senator Kaine. “One of the sites that will benefit is the Moton Museum, former home of the Moton School, where Barbara Johns led a protest over the intolerable conditions for Black students. It’s so important that we preserve these sites for all to reflect on the sacrifice and patriotism of leaders like Johns, Spottswood Robinson, and Oliver Hill.” 

“The Robert R. Moton Museum is excited to join with communities involved in the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. In seeking to become an affiliated area of the National Park Service, we know this affiliation will allow us the opportunity to better collaborate with other communities involved in the historic Brown decision as we work to ensure that countless individuals have the opportunity to know of the courage and sacrifice that citizens made towards equality in education,” said Cameron D. Patterson, Executive Director of the Robert R. Moton Museum. “The Moton Museum Board of Trustees, Moton Museum Community Council, and our partner institution Longwood University in offering their support towards this effort, recognize that the resources and benefits offered from this affiliation with the National Park Service will only strengthen our ability to fulfill our mission as a museum.”

The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was described by constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak as “probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Brown decision transformed the United States, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896The Plessy decision was the linchpin that condoned and entrenched legalized segregation across the South despite liberty and equality protections clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution and underscored by the 14th and 15th Amendments.   

These laws stayed in placed for nearly 100 years after Reconstruction, but pioneering civil rights lawyers Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, William Hastie, Constance Baker Motley, Louis Lorenzo Redding, and others challenged the constitutionality of segregation and won. The Brown decision ended the practice of legalized segregation in educational facilities and was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.  

The history of Brown v. Board of Education is represented in our national consciousness by a single building, Monroe School, which is a National Historic Site located in Topeka, Kansas. This limited geographic scope condenses public memory of these events and inadvertently fails to recognize the contributions of the other communities in Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia that were also important to the fight for equality and that saw their cases consolidated with the Brown case. The geographic dispersion of these locations demonstrates that Brown v. Board of Education is truly a story of a national struggle with national significance.

The creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education case and an expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include the related sites in South Carolina provides an opportunity for these sites to tell their own uplifting, under-recognized stories of students, parents, and their allies who helped shape American society. 

Enactment of this legislation has the potential to appropriately recognize the sites associated with the other four court cases and help them to combine current uses with preservation and public education.  In collaboration with local partners and other stakeholders, the National Trust will continue their collective work to bring recognition to communities that fought for school integration, helping these sites to tell their own history of the Brown v. Board of Education case and make connections to other communities engaged in the fight for educational equity, past and present.  

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, joined Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Democrats today in introducing the America Labor, Economic competitiveness, Alliances, Democracy and Security (America LEADS) Act, Senate Democrats’ proposal for a new U.S.-China policy. 

The most comprehensive China legislation to date, the America LEADS Act seeks to recognize that only when we have a vibrant economy here at home can we truly compete with China abroad.  The legislation provides significant new investments to rebuild the U.S. economy and provide our workers, entrepreneurs, researchers, and manufacturers with the skills and support needed to out-compete China and succeed in the twenty-first century. The proposal includes over $350 billion in new funding to synchronize and mobilize all aspects of U.S. national power. This approach is grounded in getting the broader Indo-Pacific strategy “right,” centered on our alliances and partnerships, animated by America’s longstanding values, and driven by the need for a course correction, after almost four years of destruction under President Trump.

Sponsored by 11 leading Democrats, the legislation is guided by four pillars: (1) invest in American competitiveness; (2) support American alliances and partners; (3) restore and advance a values-centered foreign policy; and (4) ensure China pays a price for its predatory actions. 

“This bill takes a comprehensive look at the way Beijing has sought to challenge American national security and economic interests in the 21st century by reaffirming the things that make us strong: our values, our alliances, our competitiveness, and our innovation. America LEADS invests in American workers, restores investments in research and development, and shores up our competitiveness in science and technology – all while keeping a commitment to human rights, multilateralism, and the rules-based international order. Importantly, America LEADS addresses China’s predatory international economic behavior, and includes measures to strengthen trade enforcement across a wide range of areas, including intellectual property, supply chains, currency manipulation, and counterfeit goods. This bill ensures China plays by the rules. I am proud to support this bill,” said Vice Chairman Warner.

“China challenges us across every dimension of power—political, diplomatic, military, economic, even cultural—offering an alternative and deeply disturbing model for global governance. Rather than tackling these challenges, President Trump’s policies have rolled out the red carpet for Beijing to reshape international institutions and establish global rules and norms that spread the influence of their authoritarian system,” said Ranking Member Menendez. “Given the shortcomings of Trump’s ‘all bluster and tactics, no strategy’ approach to China, I am proud to be joined by my colleagues in introducing this important legislation to provide an alternative path forward. The America LEADS Act will serve as a launching pad to help our nation emerge from this dark chapter of our history, truly confront the challenges China poses to our national and economic security, and once again lead from a place of strength and reverence for our highest values.”

“Bold, aggressive action is required to confront the clear and present threat China poses to our economic prosperity and national security. America cannot continue to underinvest in our workers, manufacturing communities, science, technological research, and trade enforcement or cede our leadership in the international community and expect to confront this threat,” said Leader Schumer. “The America LEADS Act counteracts the Chinese Communist Party’s predatory trade practices and aggressive military behavior, reinvigorates our alliances, and turns the tables by making essential investments in our workers, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers to ensure 'Made in America', not 'Made in China,' defines our future.”

Joining Warner, Menendez and Schumer in introducing the America LEADS Act were Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.),  Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.)Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

“Whether pursuing erratic, poorly thought out trade policies that hurt our farmers, cozying up to yet another dictator, ignoring the threat of COVID-19, or denying climate change, the Trump Administration has demonstrated an utter lack of strategic vision when it comes to China,” said Democratic Whip Durbin.  “In four short years, our farmers and manufacturers have lost markets for their goods.  China has rolled back democracy in Hong Kong and run internment camps for Uyghurs.  And China has made diplomatic and economic inroads around the world and on our doorstep.  This bill lays out a coherent approach to China — working together where possible, standing up for human rights and democracy, and looking out for the American worker.” 

“Making sure the playing field with our global trading partners is level and fair couldn't be more important to people in Washington state, and today we’ve laid out a strong path forward to ensure that our nation’s policy towards China reflects the best interests of American workers, families, and businesses--as well as the interests of our allies worldwide and within the Indo-Pacific region. The America LEADS Act would bolster our competitiveness and innovation, support local economies and jobs, strengthen trade enforcement against China, and take needed steps in support of human rights and freedoms. We need clear-eyed, thoughtful, and strong leadership in dealing with China and that’s exactly what these policies demonstrate,” said Ranking Member Murray. 

“Taking on China’s decades of cheating on trade takes more than bluster and empty promises – it requires a strategy to confront every aspect of the Chinese government’s malicious behavior. America LEADS would make sure the U.S. government has the plan and the tools to stand up to China’s economic aggression and ensure a level playing field for American workers, families and communities,” said Ranking Member Wyden. 

“The Trump Administration’s feckless and haphazard response to China has allowed China’s diplomatic, military, economic, and political power to grow in ways that are undermining American national interests and those of our allies,” said Ranking Member Brown. “We need a comprehensive, long-term strategy on China. But there are also steps we must take in the urgent short term- The America LEADS Act is a good first step by allowing us to respond directly to aggressive Chinese behavior with a full range of political, diplomatic, and economic tools.”  

“America needs a better strategy when it comes to China.  President Trump’s chaotic efforts have made that task even more challenging, but with this bill we’re starting the process of highlighting an effective strategy based on smart investments in U.S. workers and companies, building our competitive advantages over China, and increasing alliances to address China rather than thrashing alliances as Trump has,” said Ranking Member Reed. 

“China is our most complex bilateral relationship and our greatest geopolitical challenge. But instead of strategically competing with China, President Trump has stumbled between praising Chinese President Xi’s brutality and imposing haphazard penalties. To protect our interests, we need a comprehensive plan that invests in key American industries, cracks down on the theft of our cutting-edge technologies, and bolsters our security footprint abroad. This proposal does just that. I was proud to author a number of provisions in this sweeping package – including the Protecting American Intellectual Property Act and the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act – and I urge my Senate colleagues to take action on this proposal immediately,” said Senator Van Hollen. 

“When it comes to countering China, the U.S. must level the playing field by leading with our like-minded allies abroad and providing our businesses and innovators with the tools they need to compete,” said Senator Shaheen. “The Trump administration’s ‘America Alone’ approach is failing. This legislation recognizes the critical importance of our alliances with other democracies and recommits to our values of freedom and human rights. It also strengthens the United States and empowers the American worker by investing in American ingenuity. This legislation creates American jobs, supports domestic manufacturing, and will help prevent China from stealing our intellectual property. Mitch McConnell should bring this legislation to the floor as soon as possible to send a message to China and the world that the United States is ready to stand up to China’s predatory behavior.” 

The America LEADS Act also includes provisions that strengthen America’s diplomatic, economic, military and soft power posture in the Indo-Pacific and around the globe; promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; and safeguard our nation’s innovation and creativity from China’s predatory trade and economic practices.  Most importantly, the America LEADS Act takes significant steps to replenish the sources of our competitiveness at home, with big investments in American workers, education, scientific research and our nation’s industrial base.

A Summary of the America LEADS proposal can be found HERE and below.

  

"This legislation shows that Democrats know how to lead on the thorny issues presented by China's actions in the economic and security spheres," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "The Trump administration has failed miserably, and it is time for an approach based on cooperation with our allies and investing in our economy to promote job creation."

“Workers need Congress to prioritize the creation of domestic jobs, Sens. Schumer and Menendez took a strong step forward to reshoring, rebuilding, and securing our domestic supply chains with the America LEADS Act,” said United Steelworkers President Tom Conway.

“Global competition, especially from China, for leadership in the advanced-technology industries critical to powering American economic prosperity intensifies daily. The America LEADS Act represents a comprehensive geostrategic response, bolstering all elements of America’s national power, to meet this challenge,” said President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Rob Atkinson. “This vital legislation significantly boosts federal R&D funding; expands science, technology, and innovation programs; bolsters manufacturing-support programs like Manufacturing USA and MEP; restores the defense industrial base; significantly increases federal investment in STEM and workforce training programs; and calls for expanding alliances with like-minded nations in the Indo-Pacific region. America LEADS is the legislation America urgently needs right now if it’s to remain competitive into the future, and it merits full bipartisan support and timely passage.”

The America LEADS Act

·       Invests in American workers and restores United States’ competitiveness in science and technology, manufacturing, global infrastructure, digital technologies, and global clean energy development, by increasing federal funding for research and development, including investment to lead in the development and production of new and emerging technologies like 5G, quantum, and artificial intelligence that will define the twenty-first century, taking action to strengthen domestic supply chains, and providing support for domestic manufacturing industries like seminconductors. 

·       Confronts China’s education and influence campaigns by requiring new reporting requirements and invests in registered apprenticeships, training, and STEM education programs with a focus on building a diverse and inclusive innovation and manufacturing workforce for the 21st Century.

·       Renews and reorients the United States’ diplomatic strategy towards China centered on America’s commitment to its allies around the world and in the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan, and calls for the United States to reassert its leadership within regional and international organizations, like the World Health Organization and the G7.

·       Reaffirms America’s strong security commitment in the Indo-Pacific and a forward-deployed posture in the region to ensure that all nations can exercise their rights in the region’s international waters and airspace, and directs the United States to provide additional assistance and training to countries under the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative. The bill also provides regional strategies to confront malign PRC influence in the Western Hemisphere, South and Central Asia, Africa, the Arctic region, and the Middle East and North Africa.

·       Invests in our values, authorizing a broad range of efforts to support human rights and civil society measures, especially as they relate to Tibet, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and Hong Kong, including allowing certain Hong Kong citizens and residents of Xinjiang to apply for admission to the United States.  The bill also directs the President to report foreign persons identified for engaging in and facilitating forced labor in China and to apply sanctions to Chinese officials complicit in human rights violations. 

·       Focuses on countering and confronting China’s predatory international economic behavior, and includes measures to strengthen trade enforcement across a wide range of areas, including intellectual property, supply chains, currency manipulation, and counterfeit goods.

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC)’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) had awarded $1,282,917 in federal funding to promote entrepreneurship, startup creation, innovation, and commercialization in Martinsville and Blacksburg. 

“This funding is another step in the right direction, helping to boost startups through investments in technology, health, and life sciences,” said the Senators. "By supporting these programs and giving them the tools they need to be successful, we can help spur entrepreneurialism and job creation across the Commonwealth.”

The funding was awarded as follows:

  • $300,474 for the Patrick Henry Community College’s IDEA: Innovate, Design, Engineer, Accelerate (IDEA) to Support Entrepreneurial Growth and accelerate company growth in its rural service region through building the resources and capabilities of the IDEA Center in Martinsville, VA.
  • $982,443 for the Growing our Innovation Ecosystem: Sealing the Success of the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP) to support scalable startups in technology and health and life sciences in Blacksburg, VA.

EDA grants are awarded through a competitive process based upon the application’s merit, the applicant’s eligibility, and the availability of funds. 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today raised alarm regarding the need to protect education infrastructure from cyber-attacks following a ransomware incident at Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school system in Virginia.

In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Sen. Warner urged the U.S. Department of Education to develop guidance and disseminate best practices for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education and to work with school districts to develop a comprehensive, risk-based funding request from Congress. 

“A ransomware attack on a school system in normal times can be disruptive and costly; in the context of a global public health emergency, with unprecedented reliance on remote learning, it is debilitating,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Sophisticated cyber-attacks and more opportunistic forms of malware, like ransomware, are widespread today and require sustained vigilance. Defending against these persistent attacks requires a consistent and holistic approach. The public sector is particularly at risk given constrained state and local budgets.” 

“I recommend providing schools with guidance that includes awareness campaigns, risk management, threat mitigation, cybersecurity posture reviews, and resiliency. Awareness campaigns for both educators and students can focus on the importance of recognizing threats, such as phishing attacks, ransomware, malware, and social engineering methods. Regular evaluations can determine the effectiveness of awareness campaigns to address any gaps. Threat mitigation includes developing sufficient safeguards to ensure data security and access control,” he continued. “Detection capabilities are also needed to continuously monitor for anomalies and cybersecurity events. Schools should review these capabilities, plus their readiness to respond and recover from attacks. For example, tabletop exercises can validate processes and test procedures used before, during, and after an attack. Cyber resiliency ensures systems have an ability to continue operating in case of attack, while full restoration takes place. Many of these objectives will require new funding from Congress, particularly in the wake of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on school system budgets.”

Fairfax County Public Schools, which serves nearly 200,000 students and employs over 24,000 employees, was recently the target of a ransomware attack that involved the theft of protected information.

In his letter, Sen. Warner pressed Sec. DeVos to work to adapt available cybersecurity guidance from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to school systems. Stressing the need for robust cybersecurity education, Sen. Warner also pushed Sec. DeVos to disseminate best practices to states and localities seeking to teach cybersecurity in the K-12 setting.

Additionally, Sen. Warner urged the Department of Education to work with educators, industry, and CISA to encourage a consortium or Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) for K-12 schools to exchange cybersecurity threat information and best practices for defense that are tailored to account for capabilities and constraints of K-12 schools. 

Sen. Warner, a former technology executive, is the co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, he has fought for increased cybersecurity measures as Americans have increasingly relied on internet connectivity for remote work, health, and education purposes. Among other measures, Sen. Warner has recently advocated for increased funding to modernize federal information technology, urged internet networking device vendors to ensure the security of their products, and pressed cybersecurity officials to take bolster defenses against cybersecurity attacks. He has also introduced legislation to set strong and enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information as tech companies and public health agencies deploy contact tracing apps and digital monitoring tools to fight the spread of COVID-19.

The letter is available here and text can be found below.

 

Dear Secretary DeVos: 

I write to you about the need for effective cybersecurity in the context of our nation’s K-12 education system. As COVID-19 has placed a strong emphasis on remote learning throughout the United States, this new normal also highlights the heightened need to protect education infrastructure from cyber-attacks, provide measurable standards, and ensure educators are equipped to manage cybersecurity risk. 

Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, a local school division with nearly 200,000 students and over 24,000 employees, was recently the target of a cyber and ransom attack that included theft of protected information. While an investigation proceeds, the incident in Fairfax County demonstrates the need for schools to be prepared with cybersecurity defenses and resilience. A ransomware attack on a school system in normal times can be disruptive and costly; in the context of a global public health emergency, with unprecedented reliance on remote learning, it is debilitating.

Sophisticated cyber-attacks and more opportunistic forms of malware, like ransomware, are widespread today and require sustained vigilance. Defending against these persistent attacks requires a consistent and holistic approach. The public sector is particularly at risk given constrained state and local budgets. It is too late to wait for a cyber-attack before taking action to ensure school systems and personal data is secure and available. 

I urge the U.S. Department of Education to develop baseline cybersecurity standards for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education and to work with school districts to develop a risk-based and comprehensive appropriations request for FY2022. Many school districts do not currently have sufficient guidance to implement an effective cybersecurity program. Fortunately, there is cybersecurity guidance available that could be tailored for education. Existing cybersecurity frameworks, such as National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidance, can be adapted and applied for our school systems. We have seen a range of sectors develop customized Framework Profiles that tailor the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to the particular risks, resources, and circumstances of a particular sector.

I recommend providing schools with guidance that includes awareness campaigns, risk management, threat mitigation, cybersecurity posture reviews, and resiliency. Awareness campaigns for both educators and students can focus on the importance of recognizing threats, such as phishing attacks, ransomware, malware, and social engineering methods. Regular evaluations can determine the effectiveness of awareness campaigns to address any gaps. Threat mitigation includes developing sufficient safeguards to ensure data security and access control. Detection capabilities are also needed to continuously monitor for anomalies and cybersecurity events. Schools should review these capabilities, plus their readiness to respond and recover from attacks. For example, tabletop exercises can validate processes and test procedures used before, during, and after an attack. Cyber resiliency ensures systems have an ability to continue operating in case of attack, while full restoration takes place. Many of these objectives will require new funding from Congress, particularly in the wake of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on school system budgets.

In addition to protecting school infrastructure, I urge you to develop guidance and disseminate best practices to states and localities seeking to teach cybersecurity in the K-12 setting. For example, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission recommends that the U.S. Government promote professional development programs to model safe, secure, and privacy-aware internet practices in classrooms. The Commission also recommends incorporating effective digital literacy curricula in American classrooms at the K-12 level and beyond, including critical thinking and problem solving skills.  

Finally, I urge the Department of Education to work with educators, industry, and CISA to encourage a consortium or Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) for K-12 schools to exchange cybersecurity threat information and best practices for defense. Such an organization could be a counterpart to the existing Research and Education Networks ISAC that focuses on higher education. Because K-12 schools have very different missions and resources than higher education institutions, I would encourage particular attention to ensuring such efforts meet K-12 educators where they are – with information sharing, best practices, and action items tailored to account for capabilities and constraints of K-12 schools.

Our nation faces increasing cybersecurity threats on our infrastructure. As the recent Fairfax County Public Schools incident demonstrates, our schools need vigilant defenses from these threats, similar to private industries and government. Adversaries have shown a willingness to attack our education facilities, and schools must be proactive, attentive, and proficient at cybersecurity. While the nation confronts the COVID-19 public health emergency, an increased reliance on remote learning makes the need for effective threat defense paramount.  

Schools have a unique strategic role in our nation’s cybersecurity posture through educating students and tomorrow’s leaders of essential cybersecurity practices. I urge you to take necessary steps to ensure schools have adequate guidance to defend attacks and provide a cybersecurity education. Thank you for your consideration of these issues and your timely response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and a bipartisan group of  colleagues in calling for enforcement action to address practices of pharmaceutical companies that threaten to undermine the 340B Drug Pricing Program during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

The 340B program requires drug companies to sell discounted prescription drugs to safety net hospitals, rural health facilities, and other entities that provide care in underserved communities. Savings from the 340B program ensure that these “covered entities” are able to continue to serve their patients. However, drug manufacturers have recently announced new burdensome requirements on covered entities beyond the scope of the 340B program, or they have announced that they will no longer provide discounts for medications shipped to pharmacies that dispense drugs to patients on behalf of covered entities.

In their letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the bipartisan group of Senators urge the administration to take immediate enforcement action to halt these tactics and ensure safety-net providers are able to continue providing life-saving medications to patients across the country.

The Senators write, “In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where providers have seen drops in revenue and available resources, it is critically important that 340B covered entities, including federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), FQHC Look-Alikes, children’s hospitals, Ryan White HIV/AIDS clinics, and other safety-net hospitals and providers are able to continue to serve the individuals who seek out their care. As these threats to the Program progress, we fear the potential exacerbation of these shortfalls in resources for providers at a time when they are needed most.”

The bipartisan letter was also signed by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), John Thune (R-SD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Doug Jones (D-AL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Gary Peters (D-MI), John Boozman (R-AR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Angus King (I-ME), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). 

This bipartisan effort is supported by the American Hospital Association (AHA), America’s Essential Hospitals, American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), 340B Health, Ascension Wisconsin, Children’s Wisconsin, Marshfield Health System, Gunderson Health System, Advocate Aurora, Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, and Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers in Milwaukee.

“The AHA thanks this bipartisan group of senators for their important effort to protect the 340B program, and the vulnerable communities it benefits, from big drug companies’ efforts to harm the program,” said Tom Nickels, AHA Executive Vice President. “The AHA continues to call on the Department of Health and Human Services to take action against drug companies and to protect the patients and communities the 340B program helps serve.”

“Drug manufacturers are flouting their statutory obligations by restricting access to safe, affordable medications for low-income Americans who also are among those most affected by COVID-19,” said Bruce Siegel MD, MPH, President and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals. “We applaud the bipartisan Senate signatories, led by Sens. Baldwin, Thune, Stabenow, Portman, Cardin, and Capito, for their swift action to urge the administration to stop big pharma’s ill-timed and illegal efforts to narrow the 340B program.”

“The AAMC appreciates Senators from both sides of the aisle working together to protect the 340B program and patients,” said Karen Fisher, JD, Chief Public Policy Officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “Particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unwarranted that several major drug companies are attempting to undermine this important program that allows safety net hospitals, including many teaching hospitals, to provide critical health care services to vulnerable patients in communities across the country.”

“340B has a long history of bipartisan support in Congress. Drug companies must stop denying discounts on expensive outpatient drugs in violation of the 340B statute. We appreciate the efforts of these Senate leaders in making that message crystal clear,” said Maureen Testoni, President and CEO of 340B Health. 

“Wisconsin rural hospitals and communities need a strong 340B Program, now more than ever. The current program saves Medicare money and achieves the Congressional purpose to reach more eligible patients and providing more comprehensive services,” Tim Size, Executive Director of Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative. 

“Coordinated efforts by drug manufacturers to place arbitrary limits on the number of contract pharmacies they will serve or to eliminate discounted 340B pricing will significantly impact the health of our most vulnerable patients. Some medications will not be available for uninsured patients through the sliding fee scale. And without the savings accrued from 340B pricing, health centers will no longer be able to offer affordable pharmaceuticals to low-income patients --- thereby directly jeopardizing the health of the uninsured or underinsured. We need immediate support from Congress and HRSA to stop recent actions from drug manufacturers and prevent others from following suit,” said Dr. Julie Schuller, President and CEO of Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers.

“We appreciate the Senator's continued support of safety net providers. From our Medical Mission events, providing free care in our communities, to supporting new moms through Blanket of Love in Milwaukee - the 340B Program helps us care for our communities. Ascension continues to experience substantial increases in the costs to acquire needed medication, and we applaud the bipartisan effort to urge HRSA to take enforcement action to protect the 340B Program,” said Bernie Sherry, Ministry Market Executive at Ascension Wisconsin.

 The full letter is available here and below.

 

 

Dear Secretary Azar:

We write to express our concerns regarding recent actions from pharmaceutical manufacturers that threaten to undermine the role of contract pharmacies in the 340B Drug Pricing Program. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where providers have seen drops in revenue and available resources, it is critically important that 340B covered entities, including federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), FQHC Look-Alikes, children’s hospitals, Ryan White HIV/AIDS clinics, and other safety-net hospitals and providers are able to continue to serve the individuals who seek out their care. As these threats to the Program progress, we fear the potential exacerbation of these shortfalls in resources for providers at a time when they are needed most. While we understand that the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is further investigating these actions, we urge HRSA to take immediate and appropriate enforcement action to halt these tactics and ensure safety-net providers are able to continue providing life-saving medications to patients across the country.

As you are aware, on September 1, 2020, Eli Lilly announced that the company would no longer allow 340B covered entities to receive discounts for products that are shipped to a contract pharmacy, with an exception for insulin. This follows similar actions from AstraZeneca, which announced in August that it would refuse 340B pricing to hospitals with on-site pharmacies for any drugs dispensed through contract pharmacies. Similarly, other companies have imposed additional and burdensome reporting requirements on all contract pharmacy claims.  For covered entities, and in particular rural hospitals and other rural covered entities that rely disproportionately on contract pharmacies, these changes could have long-lasting repercussions that will challenge a covered entity’s ability to support its community now during this pandemic and in the future. 

The Public Health Service Act requires that manufacturers wishing to participate in Medicaid and Medicare Part B enter into agreements with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that “require that the manufacturer offer each covered entity covered outpatient drugs for purchase at or below the applicable ceiling price if such drug is made available to any other purchaser at any price.” Further, HRSA has recognized the importance of contract pharmacies by acknowledging such arrangements in current guidance. We believe these recent actions by pharmaceutical manufacturers run counter to the statute and create a dangerous and negative precedent for the 340B Program and the providers and patients it serves. 

To ensure pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to comply with the 340B statute and provide discounts to safety-net providers, we call on HRSA to take appropriate, prompt enforcement action to address violations of the Public Health Service Act. We appreciate your attention to this important issue and look forward to partnering with you and stakeholders to ensure the 340B program continues to support access to quality health services with proper oversight and transparency.  

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON - Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Acting Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released the following joint statement regarding future briefings to the Committee from the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI):

“The Senate Intelligence Committee plays a critical role in conducting oversight of the Intelligence Community, and intelligence agencies have a legal obligation to keep Congress informed of their activities. Last month, Director Ratcliffe reaffirmed that the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue receiving briefings, including in-person, on all oversight topics – including election matters. As we have in the past, the Committee will continue to expect timely and complete information from our intelligence agencies.” 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy calling on him to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in delays of critical medications to Americans.  

“The Postal Service is an essential public institution that must uphold its duty to serve every community. Your recently implemented changes pose an unacceptable threat and continue to have a devastating effect on communities that rely on consistent access to medication through the mail. We have received numerous reports from seniors about delays in receiving their prescriptions through the mail, leaving some without life-sustaining medication for days. Others have been forced to obtain emergency prescriptions from their doctors and pay out-of-pocket for medication because their original prescriptions covered by insurance never arrived,” wrote the Senators to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

“We call on you to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in life-threatening delays of critical medications to Americans. As you noted, ‘it is imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively, while continuing to provide service that meets the needs of [its] customers.’ Right now, the Postal Service is failing to meet the needs of many Americans and adhere to its mission of ‘prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas.’ As we continue to fight this pandemic, the Postal Service is integral to keeping millions of Americans safe, especially seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities,” continued the Senators.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH),  Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Last month, Sen. Warner fired off a letter to Postmaster General sharing concerns he’s heard directly from Virginians regarding delayed mail service following those structural and operational changes at the Postal Service. Sen. Warner also recently called on DeJoy to testify before Congress regarding service delays in Virginia. Additionally, he joined a number of Senate Democrats in raising concerns over the heightened impact of these changes to servicemembers and their families, and in pushing DeJoy and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to correct the changes that are needlessly delaying veterans’ access to life-saving prescriptions.

In June, Sen. Warner sounded the alarm about the Administration’s efforts to undermine state work to expand mail-in voting. Following the USPS policy changes, Sen. Warner joined other Senate Democrats in an effort to urge the Postmaster General to provide answers regarding reports of recent changes to long-standing practices at USPS that would result in increased delivery times and costs for election mail, and urged him not take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots. He has since called on DeJoy to answer for service delays and urged him not to take any further action that makes it harder for states to mail ballots. In addition, Sen. Warner asked Virginia’s election registrars to ensure that all Virginians can access their right to vote.

 

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

Dear Mr. DeJoy:

In your three months as U.S. Postmaster General, you have made detrimental operational and structural changes to the U.S. Postal Service. After facing criticism from members of Congress, states, and the public as well as lawsuits from multiple state attorneys general you announced the reversal of some—but not all—of these policies.  Damage from your decisions has already been done as Americans continue to experience potentially life-threatening delays in the delivery of prescription medications. These delays will continue to disproportionately harm the same individuals who are most at risk during the COVID-19 crisis, including seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities. 

While we hope that your recent policy reversals will curtail some of the harmful effects and delays we have seen, we continue to have grave concerns regarding widespread delays in the delivery of critical medications that millions of Americans rely upon every day. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now more important than ever for Americans to have safe and timely access to their medications from their homes. For years, Americans have entrusted the Postal Service to deliver essential goods—yet during this public health crisis, a number of Americans continue to await needed medications that are lost or delayed in the mail. 

The Postal Service is an essential public institution that must uphold its duty to serve every community. Your recently implemented changes pose an unacceptable threat and continue to have a devastating effect on communities that rely on consistent access to medication through the mail. We have received numerous reports from seniors about delays in receiving their prescriptions through the mail, leaving some without life-sustaining medication for days. Others have been forced to obtain emergency prescriptions from their doctors and pay out-of-pocket for medication because their original prescriptions covered by insurance never arrived. 

The National Association of Letter Carriers reported that the Postal Service delivers 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments each year – amounting to four million shipments every day, six days a week.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Mail Order Pharmacy provides prescriptions to approximately 80 percent of all veterans via mail, processing 470,000 prescriptions daily.  Despite these figures, “prescription medication can only be as effective as a patient’s ability to access it.” 

The Postal Service’s role in delivering medications to Americans has only grown during the COVID-19 crisis. When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders began in March, mail-order prescriptions reportedly increased by 21 percent from the year prior.  What was previously a routine visit to the pharmacy now places millions of Americans at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to “limit in-person visits to the pharmacy” and, if possible, to use drive-thru windows, mail-order, or other delivery services to pick up medications.   As Postal Service delays cause Americans to worry when, if at all, they will receive their next supply of medication in the mail, patients across the country may be forced to seek their prescriptions in person at a pharmacy—increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 at a time when staying home is vital to their health and well-being.

We call on you to immediately reverse all operational and organizational changes that have resulted in life-threatening delays of critical medications to Americans. As you noted, “it is imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively, while continuing to provide service that meets the needs of [its] customers.”  Right now, the Postal Service is failing to meet the needs of many Americans and adhere to its mission of “prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas.”  As we continue to fight this pandemic, the Postal Service is integral to keeping millions of Americans safe, especially seniors, people with chronic conditions, and people with disabilities.

To that end, please provide the following information by September 21, 2020:

  1. What considerations did you give to mail-order medications before implementing the recent operational and structural changes throughout the Postal Service?
  1. What, if any, actions did you take to prevent potential delays in the delivery of mail-order medications? If you made no specific adjustments or considerations, please explain why.
  1. What steps, if any, does the Postal Service intend to take to address existing delays in the delivery of mail-ordered prescriptions that have occurred as a result of the operational and structural changes you implemented? 
  1. Please identify the operational and structural changes implemented during your tenure that you plan to reverse.
    1. Please explain how you decided which changes to reverse, as well as your rationale for each reversal.
    2. Do you plan to re-implement any of these changes after the November 2020 election? If so, what safeguards will you put in place to avoid significant mail delays and keep Americans safe?
  1. Please identify the operational and structural changes implemented during your tenure that you chose not to reverse.
    1. Please explain your justification for each decision.
    2. Please explain the consequences these changes could have for the ability of Americans to receive their medications in a timely and consistent manner through the mail, and whether the Postal Service has adopted safeguards to address these issues.  

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $5,115,615 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault in Charlottesville, Norfolk, Marion, and Richmond.  

“Community-based intervention programs are an invaluable tool in the fight against violence against women,” said the Senators. "We are pleased to announce these critical funds to support communities across the Commonwealth in their effort to end domestic violence.”

The funding was awarded as follows:

·       $340,313 for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency’s Engaging Men Program in Charlottesville, VA.

·       $369,340 for the Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Program to YWCA South Hampton Roads in Norfolk, VA.

·       $744,326 for the Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Program to Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society in Marion, VA.

·       $3,661,636 for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services STOP (Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors) Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program in Richmond, VA. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have worked to secure funding that better supports victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In April, the senators wrote a letter to Congressional leadership requesting that any future legislation to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) provides funding to support victims and survivors, including programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In December, the Senators also joined their colleagues in introducing companion legislation to the House-passed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act that would reauthorize VAWA through 2024.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today pushed to protect thousands of essential workers in the National Capital Region including those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), whose eligibility is in question due to ongoing legal efforts by the Trump Administration to terminate the program. In a letter, the Senators urged Senate leaders to include an automatic extension of work authorizations for TPS recipients, such as those from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras, in the next COVID-19 legislation, citing TPS recipients’ critical work to help combat COVID-19. This letter comes on the heels of yesterday’s Ninth Circuit decision in Ramos v. Nielsen, which ruled that the Trump Administration can move forward with ending TPS for El Salvadorans. 

“As the nation and region continue to grapple with the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, TPS holders are on the front lines, serving our communities,” wrote the Senators. “In Virginia alone, an estimated 6,700 TPS holders work in industries deemed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as “essential critical infrastructure” including health care, agriculture, and manufacturing. Automatically extending work authorization for TPS holders is not only the morally correct thing to do, but also in the best interest of the National Capital Region’s, and the United States’ public health.”

“While DHS has automatically extended status and associated EADs for TPS holders from these nations through at least March 6, 2021, such assurances should be built upon as we quickly near DHS’s expiration deadline. In a moment where their essential services are needed most, we would be unwise to turn our back on TPS holders,” they continued. “The quickest means to retain the critical talent and work of TPS holders in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is to automatically extend all work authorizations.  This would mitigate any processing backlogs at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and help TPS holders and their families weather this uncertain time.”

Virginia is home to more than 27,500 recipients of TPS – a temporary legal status granted to foreign citizens fleeing violence or disaster in their home countries. Many TPS residents, whose home countries remain too dangerous to return, have lived in the United States for decades, developing strong ties and making countless contributions to their local communities.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been long-time supporters of TPS protections and comprehensive immigration legislation. In June, they joined their Democratic colleagues in a letter calling on the Senate Majority Leader to bring the House-passed American Dream and Promise Act to the Senate floor. In April, they joined their colleagues in urging the President to automatically extend work authorizations for TPS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

A copy of the letter can be downloaded here and text is available below. 

 

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we write to urge you to protect thousands of members of Virginia’s essential workforce, including those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).  Temporary Protected Status is a temporary, legal status granted to foreign citizens fleeing violence or disaster in their home countries.  Many TPS residents have lived in the United States for decades because their home countries remain too dangerous to return. During their time in the United States, these American residents have made countless contributions to our communities.  Our House colleagues have taken steps to protect TPS residents by including an automatic extension for TPS holders’ Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. 

We are proud to represent over 27,500 TPS holders in Virginia.[1] As the nation and region continue to grapple with the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, TPS holders are on the front lines, serving our communities.  In Virginia alone, an estimated 6,700 TPS holders work in industries deemed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as “essential critical infrastructure” including health care, agriculture, and manufacturing.[2]Automatically extending work authorization for TPS holders is not only the morally correct thing to do, but also in the best interest of the National Capitol Region’s, and the United States’ public health.

In Virginia, the vast majority of TPS holders come from El Salvador and Honduras, nations for whom TPS eligibility is in question due to ongoing litigation in Ramos v. Nielsen and Bhattarai v. Nielsen.[3]  Yesterday’s Ninth Circuit decision in Ramos v. Nielsen, which allows the Trump administration to move forward with ending TPS for El Salvadorans, further intensifies the need to provide stability for TPS recipients.  While DHS has automatically extended status and associated EADs for TPS holders from these nations through at least March 6, 2021, such assurances should be built upon as we quickly near DHS’s expiration deadline.  In a moment where their essential services are needed most, we would be unwise to turn our back on TPS holders.  The quickest means to retain the critical talent and work of TPS holders in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is to automatically extend all work authorizations.  This would mitigate any processing backlogs at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and help TPS holders and their families weather this uncertain time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the reality that our nation relies on immigrant communities to disproportionately serve in critical industries, something we see in Virginia daily.  We urge you to prioritize the nation’s health and safety by including an automatic extension of work authorizations for TPS recipients in the next COVID-19 legislation.  We must take the necessary steps, including this one, to strengthen our essential workforce, not weaken it. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, applauded the house passage of the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act – legislation to require minimum security requirements for Internet of Things (IoT) devices purchased by the U.S. government. Sen. Warner authored and introduced this legislation in the Senate back in August 2017. He reintroduced the bill in the 116th Congress with a House companion led by U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly and Will Hurd. That legislation passed through the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in June 2019 and now awaits consideration in the Senate. 

“The House passage of this legislation is a major accomplishment in combatting the threats that insecure IoT devices pose to our individual and national security. Frankly, manufacturers today just don’t have the appropriate market incentives to properly secure the devices they make and sell – that’s why this legislation is so important,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner. “I commend Congresswoman Kelly and Congressman Hurd for their efforts to push this legislation forward over the past two years. I look forward to continuing to work to get this bipartisan, bicameral bill across the finish line in the Senate.”

Specifically, the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act introduced by Sen. Warner would:

  • Require the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to issue recommendations addressing, at a minimum, secure development, identity management, patching, and configuration management for IoT devices.
  • Direct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue guidelines for each agency that are consistent with the NIST recommendations, and charge OMB with reviewing these policies at least every five years.
  • Require any Internet-connected devices purchased by the federal government to comply with those recommendations.
  • Direct NIST to work with cybersecurity researchers, industry experts, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to publish guidance on coordinated vulnerability disclosure to ensure that vulnerabilities related to agency devices are addressed.
  • Require contractors and vendors providing information systems to the U.S. government to adopt coordinated vulnerability disclosure policies, so that if a vulnerability is uncovered, that can be effectively shared with a vendor for remediation.


Sen. Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former technology executive, is the co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus and a leader in Congress on security issues related to the Internet of Things.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) celebrated that the bill to rename a Hopewell, Va. post office as the “Reverend Curtis West Harris Post Office Building” passed in the U.S. House of Representatives today. The bill, introduced by U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), honors the life and legacy of Reverend Curtis West Harris, who long fought for racial justice and equity. Reverend Harris served as pastor of Hopewell’s Union Baptist Church for nearly fifty years, was the first African-American Mayor of Hopewell, and was also elected to serve in the Hopewell City Council from 1986 to 2012. He passed away in 2017 and was buried in Appomattox Cemetery, a site he first fought to integrate in 1960.

“Reverend Curtis West Harris is a Virginian who was a fierce champion for civil rights. He not only served Union Baptist Church faithfully, but he was also devoted to the fight against racial discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement,” said the Senators. “From participating in the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery to leading sit-ins against segregated Hopewell lunch counters, Reverend Harris helped pursue change against racial inequities. With today’s House passage, we are one step closer to paying tribute to a man who inspired all to do their part in the fight for social justice.”

The United States Postal Service (USPS) facility is located at 117 West Poythress Street in Hopewell, Virginia. In July, the Senators wrote to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Senate Committee that oversees USPS, voicing their support for renaming the post office.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement following a report that the Trump Administration transferred detainees from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona in order to access additional federal agents to end peaceful protests in Washington, D.C.:

“We are outraged by the recent news report. The transfers callously put federal employees, the Farmville community, and detainees at risk, in what appears to be an effort to add more federal agents to forcibly disperse peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C. this summer. For months, we have sounded the alarm about the dangers of transferring detained people between facilities during the pandemic, and we’re horrified by the administration’s actions. We will be demanding more answers from DHS and ICE today and will also request an investigation from the Office of the Inspector General in light of this incident.” 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have repeatedly pushed this Administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia detention facilities. In June, after a transfer that resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at Farmville, the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the health of detainees and workers by stopping the transfer of individuals in ICE custody and increasing COVID-19 testing at the facilities. Nearly a month later, with approximately 80 percent of the Farmville population testing positive for COVID-19, the Senators once again pressed ICE and DHS to stop transfers between facilities. They also posed a series of questions regarding the measures in place to safeguard the health of people in custody, staff members, and the community. In July, the Senators also insisted that the Trump Administration work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the facility after nearly every detained person in the Farmville facility contracted COVID-19. At the Senators urging, the CDC deployed their teams to the Farmville facility in August to conduct an assessment of the rate of infection among workers and detainees, risk factors for infection among workers and detainees, infection control and prevention practices in the facility, and transmission dynamics among workers, detainees, and the surrounding community.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $14,400,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to address traffic and connectivity issues in Norfolk, VA. The funding follows aggressive advocacy by Sens. Warner and Kainewho personally sent letters to Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in support of the City of Norfolk’s application for DOT’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program.
“We’re proud to announce that these federal dollars will help fund crucial upgrades in St. Paul’s area, improving city mobility and quality of life for the thousands of Virginians that commute through these streets every day,” said the Senators.
We are grateful for the continued and significant support for the transformation of the St. Paul’s area. This $14.4 million BUILD grant brings the total investment, to date, for this initiative above $50 million and helps us leverage additional funding for the generational project. It will fund new gridded, elevated roadways that will mitigate flooding. This transformed and resilient infrastructure will feature pedestrian friendly streets and corridors, enhanced access to transit, and improved connections to broadband. The resilient, mix-use community that will rise from this new foundation will be home to more than 700 units of new replacement, affordable and market rate housing. This significant award was the result of a tireless and coordinated effort. We appreciate the incredible work and commitment of our residents, stakeholders, federal partners including Secretary Chao, Congressional delegation including Senators Warner and Kaine, and City of Norfolk staff,” said City of Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander.
This project will upgrade approximately 1.33 miles of road in the St. Paul’s area to reestablish a connected street grid in a new, mix-use housing and commercial development. Specifically, it will upgrade corridors and intersections along Freemason, Church, Tidewater, Chapel, Reilly, Mariner, and Holt Streets and Resilience Drive as complete streets with expanded sidewalks, streetscape improvements, dedicated bicycle facilities, wayfinding signage, transit connectivity, and stormwater management and flood mitigation.
St. Paul’s area has faced significant challenges due to extensive tidal and stormwater flooding, aging infrastructure, and housing, as well as social and physical isolation from a lack of connectivity to the rest of the city. 
The funding was awarded through the BUILD Transportation Discretionary Grants program, which seeks to invest in road, rail, transit, and port projects that have a significant local or regional impact and promise to achieve national objectives.
 
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $35,719,247 in federal funding to support access to safe and affordable housing throughout Virginia, particularly in communities whose households face a higher rate of eviction. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded the funding through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. The funding is part of the $5 billion in supplemental CDBG funding authorized by the CARES Act in March.

 “Too many Virginians are in danger of losing their homes due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus,” said the Senators. “We’re pleased to see significant funding go directly towards supporting affordable housing, and we will continue fighting to ensure people across the Commonwealth get the federal assistance they need.”

 The CDBG program offers annual grants on a formula basis to states, cities, and counties to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment and expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.

 The following localities will receive funding through the CDBG program:

 

Recipient                      Amount

Alexandria

$943,356

Blacksburg

$210,594

Bristol

$116,003

Charlottesville

$335,024

Chesapeake

$876,358

Christiansburg

$111,118

Colonial Heights

$104,710

Danville

$228,845

Fredericksburg

$205,866

Hampton

$688,562

Harrisonburg

$326,630

Hopewell

$125,506

Lynchburg

$389,143

Newport News

$971,659

Norfolk

$1,250,901

Petersburg

$189,765

Portsmouth

$426,191

Radford

$74,893

City of Richmond

$1,362,346

Roanoke

$546,786

Staunton

$125,136

Suffolk

$323,149

Virginia Beach

$2,069,846

Waynesboro City

$117,476

Winchester

$182,191

Arlington County

$1,348,826

Chesterfield County

$1,216,799

Fairfax County

$4,850,209

Henrico County

$1,417,098

Loudoun County

$1,448,141

Prince William County

$2,145,011

Virginia Nonentitlement

$10,991,109

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in calling on the seven largest internet service providers (ISPs) to do their part to limit the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and help ensure that children are able to meaningfully participate in their education. These letters come as unprecedented numbers of students rely on remote learning to kick off the fall semester due to the ongoing public health crisis. 

In a letter sent to the CEOs of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, T-Mobile, and Verizon, the Senators called on companies to take concrete measures to suspend limits and fees associated with increased broadband use, which is needed to participate in online courses or remote work. They also called for the companies to expand coverage areas, as the public health emergency has highlighted the devastating impact of the nation’s lingering broadband gaps.

“As a new school year commences, the need to accommodate an unprecedented reliance on data services to provide education continues. We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households,” the Senators wrote. “In many situations, online learning activities require additional data allowances beyond plans readily available for students. We kindly request that you again take immediate action to help students connect to the online resources they need to learn, including expanding coverage areas and rolling out new service plans that better meet the needs of these families.” 

“With many schools closed and students now relying on the internet to connect with their teachers, instruction materials, and assignments, sufficient data allowances are even more essential for students’ success now and throughout their future. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, increasing their monthly broadband usage,” they continued. “For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home. These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories. Working with school administrations to facilitate qualification for discounts based on the schools’ personal knowledge may be especially helpful. For example, students qualifying for free/discounted lunches may also prequalify for free/discounted broadband services as well.”

According to findings from a Pew Research study, the “homework gap” of students lacking reliable access to internet connectivity or a computer at home is more pronounced among Black, Hispanic and lower-income households. In addition to the toll it takes on individual students and their families, the economic cost of this gap has been identified by McKinsey and Company as having deprived the economy of at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019.

In their letter, the Senators noted numerous complaints that have come in to their offices from parents and educators who are grappling with usage caps and limited bandwidth, which prevent daily video calls needed to learn and work from home. The Senators also stated they’ve heard of families being deemed ineligible for the new services offered for low-income families due to previous missed payments. 

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. In March, Sen. Warner led 17 of his colleagues in urging major internet service providers to take steps to accommodate the incoming unprecedented reliance on telepresence services. After this effort, a number of major internet service providers announced the adoption of practices to better accommodate the use of remote technologies. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner also introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during COVID-19. 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. 

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

 

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic requires returning students across the United States to rely on remote learning and online courses, we write to ask for your assistance to help ensure students can take full advantage of essential education opportunities this fall. In March, we were thankful that your company answered our request to make a range of accommodations and service changes to help Americans shifting to unprecedented levels of online education and telework, including suspending some broadband data limits on a temporary basis. Your decisive and timely actions helped cushion the impacts to families across the nation during the spring months. 

As a new school year commences, the need to accommodate an unprecedented reliance on data services to provide education continues. We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households. In many situations, online learning activities require additional data allowances beyond plans readily available for students. We kindly request that you again take immediate action to help students connect to the online resources they need to learn, including expanding coverage areas and rolling out new service plans that better meet the needs of these families. Unprecedented numbers of students now rely on remote access for education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remote education is only as effective as available internet service. 

Effective remote learning requires capable devices and adequate broadband internet access. The Pew Research Center found in March the “homework gap” of students lacking reliable access to a computer at home is a significant challenge for many students, and even more pronounced for Black, Hispanic and lower income households. With many schools closed and students now relying on the internet to connect with their teachers, instruction materials, and assignments, sufficient data allowances are even more essential for students’ success now and throughout their future. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, increasing their monthly broadband usage.

Our offices have fielded numerous complaints from parents and educators frustrated by usage caps and limited bandwidth, which prevent daily video calls needed to learn and work from home. And those who have no other option find themselves buried in overage fees. In some cases, we’ve learned that eligibility for new services announced for low-income households is barred if that household has missed monthly payments in the past. These predicaments shine a light on our growing digital divide and threaten the education and subsequent futures of our students. In June, McKinsey and Co. reported that this education achievement gap limited the growth of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019. The necessary closing of schools during the public health crisis and transition to remote education has exacerbated these gaps.

For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home. These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories. Working with school administrations to facilitate qualification for discounts based on the schools’ personal knowledge may be especially helpful. For example, students qualifying for free/discounted lunches may also prequalify for free/discounted broadband services as well. 

We look forward to promptly hearing from you about what steps you will take to help limit the economic and social disruption that COVID-19 is posing at this challenging time. We recognize that many broadband providers have experienced significant business growth since the onset of this crisis. We ask that you identify ways to give back to the communities you serve through deployment of expanded service and additional service plans and policies that respond to the concerns we’ve heard from constituents about access, affordability, and data rates.

Containing the health impact of COVID-19 will depend on observance of social distancing measures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health authorities. But containing the economic and social impact of COVID-19 requires a whole-of-society effort. At this time of great strain on our economic and education systems, we encourage you to do everything you can to cushion the impacts on American families and students. Our offices would be happy to connect you with local education officials and administrators to facilitate this effort.

We appreciate your time and consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement today before voting against moving forward on Senator McConnell’s latest attempt to pass a “skinny” COVID-19 relief bill:

“We’re not going to vote for a half-baked relief bill, pat ourselves on the back, and call it a day while families are left out in the lurch. The two of us are ready to vote for meaningful relief for small businesses and struggling families but not for something that deprives Americans of much-needed relief while nullifying Virginia protections to keep workers safe from COVID-19. It’s time for the Senate to take up a bill that offers what this one does not: paid sick leave, emergency rental assistance, adequate public school and child care support, funding for states and localities to continue critical services while so many are out of work, and other measures to help our troubled nation.”

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) spoke on the Senate floor in support of Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) resolution honoring the sacrifice of military servicemembers, veterans, and Gold Star families following reports that President Trump has repeatedly disparaged their service to our country.

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said, I rise today to express my support for Senator Duckworth’s resolution, honoring the service and sacrifice of members of the US Armed Forces and our veterans. The resolution rightly criticizes President Trump for a series of statements and actions, which have denigrated our men and women in uniform, our veterans and our institutions. Service and sacrifice run deep among my constituents in the Commonwealth of Virginia. With 130,000 active duty members living in Virginia, the Commonwealth has one of the highest populations of military personnel in the nation. And Virginia is home to more than 700,000 veterans – men and women who have displayed the highest level of selfless service while defending this country, who have endured hardship, and who have put country above self.”

He continued: “Remember how President Trump ridiculed the Gold Star parents of Army Captain Humayun Kahn, who died in June 2004 from an IED in Iraq. Or his comments, questioning whether Senator John McCain should be called a hero. And his recent comments that our top officials at DoD want to continue fighting wars to make defense contractors happy. Whether it’s pardoning and excusing those in uniform who commit war crimes, or not standing up to President Putin in defense of our troops when reports emerge that bounties have been offered for killing members of the Armed Forces. Whether it’s deploying our military in response to peaceful protests, threatening to politicize and divide our military from civilian society, the President is on the wrong side of honoring our servicemembers. These actions and statements are an affront to everyone who serves or has served. They are unacceptable and unpresidential.”

In 2018, Sen. Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine successfully pushed a bill into law that renamed a Charlottesville post office as the “Captain Humayun Khan Post Office.” U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, a graduate of the University of Virginia, was born on September 9, 1976, and died on June 8, 2004, while in service to his country during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was killed by an improvised explosive device outside of his base in Baqubah, Iraq. His efforts that morning saved the lives of more than one hundred soldiers.

 

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

I rise today to express my support for Senator Duckworth’s resolution, honoring the service and sacrifice of members of the US Armed Forces and our veterans. 

The resolution rightly criticizes President Trump for a series of statements and actions, which have denigrated our men and women in uniform, our veterans and our institutions.    

Service and sacrifice run deep among my constituents in the Commonwealth of Virginia. With 130,000 active duty members living in Virginia, the Commonwealth has one of the highest populations of military personnel in the nation.     

And Virginia is home to more than 700,000 veterans – men and women who have displayed the highest level of selfless service while defending this country, who have endured hardship, and who have put country above self.  

I am proud to call these American heroes my constituents, as well as my neighbors.  And I am humbled to represent and serve them in Congress. I am thankful to them for protecting this great country.  

President Trump, again and again, has made disrespectful remarks about servicemembers, veterans and military leaders despite being Commander in Chief.   His name-calling and disdain for the value of service is divisive, dangerous and frankly, appalling. 

Remember how President Trump ridiculed the Gold Star parents of Army Captain Humayun Kahn, who died in June 2004 from an IED in Iraq.  Or his comments, questioning whether Senator John McCain should be called a hero. And his recent comments that our top officials at DoD want to continue fighting wars to make defense contractors happy.

Whether it’s pardoning and excusing those in uniform who commit war crimes, or not standing up to President Putin in defense of our troops when reports emerge that bounties have been offered for killing members of the Armed Forces.  

Whether it’s deploying our military in response to peaceful protests, threatening to politicize and divide our military from civilian society… 

The President is on the wrong side of honoring our servicemembers.

These actions and statements are an affront to everyone who serves or has served.  They are unacceptable and unpresidential.

Let us stay focused on what matters in this country. Let’s stay united. We need to ensure we are expressing, each and every day, how thankful we are to those who serve for protecting the freedoms we hold dear.

I thank Senator Duckworth for the introduction of this resolution, and more so, I thank her for her dedicated and exemplary military service to our country.

It is my hope that my colleagues in the Senate will recognize the mistakes made by our Commander in Chief when addressing the heroes of our military and our nation’s veterans. 

Thank you. I yield back. 

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced legislation to honor the late Senator Kay Hagan by designating the air traffic control tower at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C., as the “Senator Kay Hagan Airport Traffic Control Tower.”

“Kay Hagan was essential in securing federal funding for a much-needed new air traffic control tower here at her home airport,” said Senator Burr. “Last year, Kay attended the tower’s groundbreaking, demonstrating how committed she was to seeing this project through even after leaving public office. I can think of no better way to honor her tireless service than by designating this tower in her name.” 

“Kay Hagan was a dedicated and distinguished public servant for the people of North Carolina,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud to work with my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to rename the airport traffic control tower at the Piedmont Triad International Airport as the Senator Kay Hagan Airport Traffic Control Tower to honor her legacy in her hometown of Greensboro.”

“Senator Kay Hagan was an honorable public servant who served the people of North Carolina with integrity,” said Senator Warner. “During her time in the Senate, I was lucky to have worked closely with her on an ambitious set of amendments to encourage innovation and drive down costs in health care. Today, I’m proud to introduce this legislation honoring the memory and legacy of my former colleague and friend.”

“When I think of my friend Kay Hagan, I will always think of joy,” said Senator Klobuchar. “No matter how hard things got in the Senate, her wonderful spirit would make it all seem better. You could always count on Kay to look out for people, whether it was restoring a program for active duty servicemembers, or her work to improve transportation infrastructure. This bill to name the Senator Kay Hagan Airport Traffic Control Tower will be a reminder of her legacy in her beloved state of North Carolina for generations to come.”

Background:

On October 15, 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a $61 million investment to build a new air traffic control facility at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C. This investment includes $40.9 million in infrastructure to build a new, 180-foot-tall air traffic control tower and $20 million for equipment and installation, cabling, telecommunications, and construction of new communications transmitter and receiver. The new facility will replace the existing 90-foot-tall tower that has been operating since 1974.

During her time in public office, the late Senator Kay Hagan witnessed firsthand the limitations of the aging tower and played a pivotal role in procuring federal funding to rebuild the tower.

On June 5, 2019, in one of her last public appearances, Senator Hagan attended the FAA’s groundbreaking of the new air traffic control tower.

This legislation will honor Senator Hagan’s advocacy for the project by designating the new tower at the Piedmont Triad International Airport as the “Senator Kay Hagan Airport Traffic Control Tower.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement today upon the Senate voting to confirm Thomas Cullen as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia:

“We’re pleased to see the Senate confirm Thomas Cullen to this judgeship. We’re impressed with his record of prosecuting white supremacists in Charlottesville, and we believe he will serve the Western District well.”

Mr. Cullen has served as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia since 2018.

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