Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the statement below after a government watchdog report revealed that the Trump Administration has been publishing “flawed estimates” of the number of unemployed individuals receiving benefits each week throughout the pandemic. The report also found that the majority of states have struggled to calculate and pay Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants the full amount they are legally entitled to and have instead continued relying on a minimum allowable benefit—equal to only $158 per week in Virginia. 

“Back in April, I urged the Department of Labor to take the lead on national technological solutions to relieve the burden on overwhelmed state unemployment agencies. Today, nearly eight months later, we are learning that states inundated with claims have been unable to consistently report accurate information on the number of people receiving unemployment benefits. We also continue to see states paying PUA claimants based on a paltry minimum benefit rather than the full amount they deserve.

“These shortcomings have real-world implications: less money in the pockets of struggling people and less reliable information for policymakers seeking to make informed decisions about how best to help them. What remains clear is that millions and millions of people are relying on the federal government to get this right. The Department of Labor needs to step up to the plate and better support states. And Congress must act to extend these life-sustaining programs.”

In July, Sen. Warner introduced the Emergency Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Act, legislation to establish a $500 million emergency portable benefits fund to assist states with setting up a portable benefits program for independent workers. He is also the author of the Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, legislation to help ensure Americans who earn a living through a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income (1099) can fully access the financial relief made available under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program. Earlier today, Sen. Warner led 30 Senate colleagues in a letter urging Senate leaders to include an extension of PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PUEC) program, in the next COVID-19 relief package.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, led 30 of their colleagues in urging Senate leaders to include in the next COVID-19 relief package an extension of two critical financial lifelines for Americans affected by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Currently, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program – which provides unemployment assistance to domestic workers, freelance workers, contractors, and other workers in alternative work arrangements – and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program – which temporarily provides a 13-week extension of benefits for those whose regular unemployment benefits have expired but are still struggling to find employment during the pandemic – are set to expire on December 26th, just one day after Christmas. Unfortunately, these programs are as vital as ever right now, with the nation facing more than five times the number of COVID-19 cases as in the spring, and with more than twice the number of Americans participating in these programs as in the regular state unemployment system.

“As the virus surges going into the winter months, the loss of benefits at this time is particularly cruel. A recent report from The Century Foundation suggests that nearly 12 million workers could lose coverage once these programs expire over the holiday. In other words, roughly 12 million American workers will lose benefits this season for a job they lost through no fault of their own,” wrote the Senators in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “For many, the knowledge of this benefits cliff will hang over them while they celebrate Christmas morning, share a meal for Christmas dinner, or observe other holidays with their families in the middle of what has already been a difficult and tragic year. Those who are socially distancing from their families for their safety as well as the nation’s overall public health will likely experience this loss of federal financial assistance entirely alone.” 

“What’s more, the loss of emergency benefits compounds the hardships many families are already facing in this economy. Since May, researchers have found that roughly 8 million Americans have slipped into poverty. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Virginia or Washington (as well as the combined populations of Kentucky and Oregon) falling into poverty over the span of a few months,” they continued. “Right now, one in six adults with children report that their household did not have enough to eat in the last seven days. For Black and Latino households, that figure is roughly one in five. Still worse, nearly 30% of households with children are not caught up with their rent payments. In other words, going into this holiday season, millions of additional American families are living below the poverty line, unable to provide sufficient food for their households and likely facing evictions from their home.”

In the letter, the Senators urged for these programs to be extended with additional weeks of eligibility for workers, noting that approximately 4.4 million workers will have already run out of benefits by the end of the year, with millions more exhausting their benefits next year. This includes workers in the service and arts sectors, among other industries who continue to struggle nearly nine months into the pandemic.

They also stressed the importance of significantly reforming the nation’s unemployment system in the near future so that every American can count on a social safety net during times of need.

Sens. Warner and Wyden were joined on this letter by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky  Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Angus King (I-ME).

From the start of this crisis, Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur and longtime leader on labor issues affecting contractors and the contingent workforce, has pushed to expand benefits for Americans who have found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own. In March, Sen. Warner voted in favor of $2 trillion bipartisan legislation that, among other things, expanded access to unemployment benefits for gig workers, contractors and the self-employed. In the months following the signing of the legislation, Sen. Warner urged states to quickly implement federal provisions easing restrictions on emergency unemployment benefits, and called on the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue and clarify state guidance in order to ensure that workers were able to receive benefits. He also introduced legislation to help guarantee that Americans who earn a living through a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income (1099) were able to fully access the financial relief made available under the PUA program. Sen. Warner is also the author of bipartisan legislation to establish a $500 million emergency portable benefits fund, which would assist states with setting up a portable benefits program for independent workers.

A copy of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

As the Senate considers the next coronavirus relief package, we urge you to include extensions of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. We also urge you to include additional weeks of benefits for both programs. Right now, there are more than twice the number of Americans participating in these two programs combined as there are in the regular state unemployment system.[1] These workers are all facing job loss that has nothing to do with their skills, abilities, or performance.

Congress created these programs to patch up the holes in our social safety net during a global pandemic. Congress stood up the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to disburse benefits to workers who would normally not be eligible for unemployment assistance for a variety of reasons. These workers include employees with insufficient earnings or work history to qualify, domestic workers, freelance workers, contractors, and other workers in alternative work arrangements. Similarly, recognizing that most regular state unemployment programs provide only 26 weeks of coverage for workers (with some states providing as few as 12 weeks), Congress also created the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to provide an extension of unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed who exhaust their regular unemployment benefits. Both of these programs are set to expire on December 26th, the day after Christmas.

As the virus surges going into the winter months, the loss of benefits at this time is particularly cruel. A recent report from The Century Foundation suggests that nearly 12 million workers could lose coverage once these programs expire over the holiday.[2] In other words, roughly 12 million American workers will lose benefits this season for a job they lost through no fault of their own. For many, the knowledge of this benefits cliff will hang over them while they celebrate Christmas morning, share a meal for Christmas dinner, or observe other holidays with their families in the middle of what has already been a difficult and tragic year. Those who are socially distancing from their families for their safety as well as the nation’s overall public health will likely experience this loss of federal financial assistance entirely alone.

What’s more, the loss of emergency benefits compounds the hardships many families are already facing in this economy. Since May, researchers have found that roughly 8 million Americans have slipped into poverty.[3] That is the equivalent of the entire population of Virginia or Washington (as well as the combined populations of Kentucky and Oregon) falling into poverty over the span of a few months. Right now, one in six adults with children report that their household did not have enough to eat in the last seven days.[4] For Black and Latino households, that figure is roughly one in five.[5] Still worse, nearly 30% of households with children are not caught up with their rent payments.[6] In other words, going into this holiday season, millions of additional American families are living below the poverty line, unable to provide sufficient food for their households and likely facing evictions from their home.

To address the economic hardships workers are facing during this time, these programs should be extended with additional weeks of eligibility for workers. Around 4.4 million workers will have already run out of benefits by the end of the year, regardless of their surrounding economic situation, and millions more will exhaust them next year if Congress does not add additional weeks of eligibility to both programs. We know that this virus has hit certain industries and sectors harder than others, particularly in the service sector and in the arts. Many workers need additional weeks of eligibility in these programs because demand for their services or industry has cratered during the pandemic.

We know that it was the bipartisan intention of these emergency unemployment programs to provide all workers access to a safety net during this crisis, regardless of their worker classification status. Even the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Eugene Scalia, acknowledged in a Senate Finance Committee hearing on June 9th that these are important programs. On PUA, he noted that workers were “given financial support through the unemployment insurance benefit they received, which was a very good benefit for a closing economy.”[7] Today, with more than 20 million Americans claiming unemployment insurance benefits in all of the programs offered,[8] we are still in the middle of an unemployment crisis. In fact, the pandemic was the main impetus for the creation of these programs in March and, right now, we are averaging over five times the number of COVID-19 cases we had in the spring. It is clear that these programs are important lifelines for workers during this crisis and need to be extended with additional weeks of eligibility.

Moving forward beyond this crisis, we will need to prioritize a dramatic update and reform to our unemployment system. Congress created the PUA and PEUC programs with the knowledge that our regular unemployment program is part of a patchwork system of worker benefits, inadequate for covering a nation facing an emergency public health crisis. The patchwork nature of American benefits does not disappear at the end of this crisis. With more than twice the number of workers presently participating in programs that did not exist before the passage of the CARES Act compared to regular programs, we will need to prioritize reforming our social safety net so that every American can gain access to a support system during times of need. Our social safety net should not require an Act of Congress to serve the American public well in the face of a disaster.

We appreciate your past support for the provisions in the CARES Act that created these programs to begin with and which intended for all workers to access a basic safety net. We owe the American public the peace of mind this holiday season that Congress will continue to support them during this crisis.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are now accepting applications for the position of U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia to succeed U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, who took senior status on May 1, 2020. An independent panel of lawyers assembled by the Senators will review applications and interview qualified individuals. The Senators will then use those recommendations, as well as input from bar associations and experts, as they consider potential nominees to recommend to the President. The White House will then nominate an individual to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the full Senate. 

Interested applicants should visit Senator Warner’s website for application instructions. The application period will close December 18, 2020.

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter urging General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy to immediately recognize former Vice President Joe Biden as President-elect and Senator Kamala Harris as Vice President-elect. In his letter, the Vice Chairman warned that continued delay of a smooth transfer of power will put national security at risk. 

In his letter, Vice Chairman Warner noted, “As the 9/11 Commission report highlighted, avoiding disruption in national security policymaking between administrations is critical to prepare for an uncertain threat environment. President-elect Biden and his transition team should already be receiving classified briefings that will prepare them to protect our country immediately upon taking office. Their ability to respond appropriately to any threats early in his term depends on the knowledge and perspective that these briefings provide.”

“Additionally, President-elect Biden’s transition team must immediately have access to the career professionals in all federal agencies to understand the current challenges they face. This access is especially important in the Intelligence Community, where public information about the current activities of the agencies is not available,” Warner added.

“Finally, the delay in ascertaining President-elect Biden as the apparent winner of the presidential election impedes conducting background investigations to vet personnel for high-level positions in the new administration. This may unnecessarily slow confirmation of officials like the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vital positions in the effort to protect our country from foreign threats,” continued Warner. “There is no plausible reason for you to continue to delay in making this ascertainment. Further delay will damage our national security, and I urge you to proceed with this common sense step immediately.”

Text of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Administrator Murphy,

As Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am acutely aware of the threats facing our nation and the critical importance of an effective and smooth transfer of power in addressing them. Therefore, I urge you again to immediately ascertain President-elect Joe Biden as the apparent winner of the presidential election so that he can most effectively protect our nation once he takes office on January 20th. 

As I have indicated to you before, your continued delay in making this ascertainment will do real harm to our national security. As the 9/11 Commission report highlighted, avoiding disruption in national security policymaking between administrations is critical to prepare for an uncertain threat environment. President-elect Biden and his transition team should already be receiving classified briefings that will prepare them to protect our country immediately upon taking office. Their ability to respond appropriately to any threats early in his term depends on the knowledge and perspective that these briefings provide. 

Additionally, President-elect Biden’s transition team must immediately have access to the career professionals in all federal agencies to understand the current challenges they face. This access is especially important in the Intelligence Community, where public information about the current activities of the agencies is not available.

Finally, the delay in ascertaining President-elect Biden as the apparent winner of the presidential election impedes conducting background investigations to vet personnel for high-level positions in the new administration. This may unnecessarily slow confirmation of officials like the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vital positions in the effort to protect our country from foreign threats.

There is no plausible reason for you to continue to delay in making this ascertainment. Further delay will damage our national security, and I urge you to proceed with this common sense step immediately.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma urging them to ensure that families aren’t denied critical financial assistance needed in order to purchase quality health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The letter comes after Sen. Warner’s office heard from Virginia families, including the Burger family, who discovered that they were wrongfully denied tax credits due to delays in processing 2019 tax filings that are required to purchase affordable health insurance through the ACA marketplace exchanges. The deadline to enroll for the ACA is December 15. 

“I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that could cause a significant number of individuals to be denied affordable health insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. It is my understanding that due to delayed processing of 2019 tax returns, numerous Americans have been deemed in violation of the Marketplace’s ‘failure to file and reconcile’ requirement (FTR), and will be ineligible for advanced premium tax credits (APTCs) to ensure affordable health coverage starting January 1, 2021,” wrote Sen. Warner to IRSCommissioner Rettig and Administrator Verma.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) established advanced premium tax credits (APTC) to help working families purchase affordable health insurance through the exchanges. In order to receive the tax credit during this year’s enrollment period, individuals have to complete their 2019 tax return. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has not been able to process these returns in a timely manner due to reduced staff hours at the agency. As a result, individuals who would normally be eligible for the credit cannot receive it because the IRS has not yet processed their returns. 

“Put simply, a number of Americans will be denied an APTC in the Marketplace through no fault of their own, because their tax returns were delayed. I have already heard from several Virginians who – as a direct result of delayed tax returns – have been unable to or confused about their ability to enroll in health care coverage during this years’ open enrollment period,” continued Sen. Warner. “Financial assistance is essential to millions of working class Americans and their families to ensure affordable health coverage on the Marketplace. I am concerned that individuals will be wrongfully denied coverage and that a failure to address this issue could result in these families going without health care coverage during the peak of an unprecedented global pandemic.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner also pressed the Administration to suspend termination of the 2021 APTC, inform affected enrollees of this change, and extend the deadline to apply for 2021 ACA coverage through a special open enrollment period for individuals and families wrongfully denied financial assistance.  

Text of the letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Commissioner Rettig and Administrator Verma:

I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that could cause a significant number of individuals to be denied affordable health insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. It is my understanding that due to delayed processing of 2019 tax returns, numerous Americans have been deemed in violation of the Marketplace’s “failure to file and reconcile” requirement (FTR), and will be ineligible for advanced premium tax credits (APTCs) to ensure affordable health coverage starting January 1, 2021. 

Under existing Marketplace regulations, an enrollee becomes ineligible for an APTC if they did not file an income tax return for a prior year during which an APTC was received. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Treasury delayed the tax filing deadline for all Americans from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has cut staff hours as result of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to experience significant tax return processing delays. 

Put simply, a number of Americans will be denied an APTC in the Marketplace through no fault of their own, because their tax returns were delayed. I have already heard from several Virginians who – as a direct result of delayed tax returns – have been unable to or confused about their ability to enroll in health care coverage during this years’ open enrollment period. 

Financial assistance is essential to millions of working class Americans and their families to ensure affordable health coverage on the Marketplace. I am concerned that individuals will be wrongfully denied coverage and that a failure to address this issue could result in these families going without health care coverage during the peak of an unprecedented global pandemic.

I urge you to address this problem by suspending the termination of 2021 APTC. In addition, I ask that you inform affected enrollees of this change and extend the deadline to apply for 2021 coverage through a special open enrollment period for individuals who were deterred from enrolling due to the previous notices they received threatening to end their financial assistance.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) pushed the Treasury Department to extend a critical deadline in order to ensure that localities across Virginia don’t lose out on essential funds needed to provide critical services to Americans, including making broadband more accessible during this public health crisis. The funding, which is set to expire on December 30, 2020, was authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Sen. Warner.

“Households across the country continue to struggle to make it through this public health emergency without access to broadband. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband in accessing essential services, with an unprecedented number of Americans now reliant on internet connectivity to access public benefits, search for employment, learn and work from home, and access telehealth services,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Lack of broadband access has prevented Americans in underserved communities from meaningfully participating in the digital economy even before the pandemic, and under current circumstances, this lack of access threatens to have a significant and potentially long-lasting impact on existing economic, health, and educational disparities.”

Through the CARES Act, Congress appropriated $150 billion in funding for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which awarded federal dollars to states and localities to help to cover pandemic-related expenses for which local governments did not originally budget. However, unclear guidance by the Treasury Department has stalled localities in their efforts to distribute some of these funds by the allocation deadline, which requires localities to obligate all their funds by December 30th. 

“While localities are working hard to obligate their CRF allocations before the December 30, 2020 deadline, I  have heard directly from local leaders across Virginia that unclear guidance on the allowed uses of the funding has delayed the obligation of funds to broadband projects. As a result, localities need more time to obligate this vital funding to communities that still lack reliable access to broadband,” Sen. Warner continued. “To expand the reach of CARES funding and enable more households to get connected through these projects, I respectfully request the Department of the Treasury to extend the December 30, 2020 deadline by which states and localities must obligate CARES funding.” 

In the letter, Sen. Warner also requested that the Treasury Department publish updated guidance making clear that states and localities can use this funding for broadband projects as long as project plans are finalized by the CARES Act deadline, making clear that states and localities can commence and continue projects if their plans have been finalized prior to the deadline.

Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth during his tenure as Governor and now 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.

Text of the letter can be found below and a copy is available here.

 

The Honorable Steven T. Mnuchin

Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, D.C. 20220 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin,  

Households across the country continue to struggle to make it through this public health emergency without access to broadband. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband in accessing essential services, with an unprecedented number of Americans now reliant on internet connectivity to access public benefits, search for employment, learn and work from home, and access telehealth services. Lack of broadband access has prevented Americans in underserved communities from meaningfully participating in the digital economy even before the pandemic, and under current circumstances, this lack of access threatens to have a significant and potentially long-lasting impact on existing economic, health, and educational disparities. 

The CARES Act provided $150 billion in funding for the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which serves as a critical lifeline for states and localities that are navigating the challenges of COVID-19. Many CRF recipients are using this funding to expand access to telehealth services, distance learning, and telework by deploying broadband in underserved areas. While localities are working hard to obligate their CRF allocations before the December 30, 2020 deadline, I have heard directly from local leaders across Virginia that unclear guidance on the allowed uses of the funding has delayed the obligation of funds to broadband projects. As a result, localities need more time to obligate this vital funding to communities that still lack reliable access to broadband.

To expand the reach of CARES funding and enable more households to get connected through these projects, I respectfully request the Department of the Treasury to extend the December 30, 2020 deadline by which states and localities must obligate CARES funding. I also request that you publish updated guidance that clarifies that states and localities are able to use CARES funding for broadband projects, even where the projects won’t be completed by, or even begun building by, the CARES Act deadline so long as they’ve finalized a project plan by that time.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after it was announced that President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Avril Haines as the Director of National Intelligence:

“Avril is smart and capable, with a background that will serve her well as Director of National Intelligence. While I expect that she will face rigorous questioning from Senators on both sides of the aisle, the sooner we can get a confirmed DNI in place to start fixing the damage the last four years have done to our intelligence agencies, the better.”

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WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Tim Kaine (D-VA) urged the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) to take immediate action to protect miners from excess silica exposure after the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report on the inadequate measures currently in place to protect miners from the harmful carcinogen linked to deadly respiratory diseases such as black lung, silicosis, and progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). 

The Senators said in part, “We urge you to take immediate action on the recommendations included in the recently published U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit report on the inadequate measures being taken by the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) to protect coal miners from exposure to crystalline silica. Our nation’s coal miners have done their jobs, working tirelessly to help win wars, power the nation, and keep the lights on. It’s time for MSHA to do its job and update its regulations to ensure our coal miners have a safe working environment.” 

Read the full letter below or click here.

 

Dear Mr. Zatezalo:

We urge you to take immediate action on the recommendations included in the recently published U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit report on the inadequate measures being taken by the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) to protect coal miners from exposure to crystalline silica. Our nation’s coal miners have done their jobs, working tirelessly to help win wars, power the nation, and keep the lights on. It’s time for MSHA to do its job and update its regulations to ensure our coal miners have a safe working environment. 

The OIG report found that MSHA needs to update its regulations to: 1) lower the legal exposure limit for silica, 2) improve the ability of the agency to issue citations and fines for excess exposure to silica, and 3) increase sampling protocols which it found to be too infrequent to protect miners adequately. These findings are extremely troubling--especially now as our nation continues to grapple with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and your agency has repeatedly refused to issue emergency standards for these essential workers. 

As stated in the audit report, the extraction, refining, and transport of coal produces large quantities of coal dust, of which silica is a component. Although coal dust alone can adversely affect miners' health, silica is classified as a carcinogen and is significantly more harmful. Excess silica exposure has been linked to debilitating lung diseases such as coal workers' pneumoconiosis (most commonly known as black lung disease), silicosis and the most advanced and deadly form of black lung, progressive massive fibrosis (PMF).

This audit report further illustrates the need for urgent action and it illuminates concerns that have been raised relating to the health risks caused by exposure to silica dust for decades. Research from the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) has indicated that the prevalence of black lung in the Appalachian coal fields is worse than previously thought, and the black lung clinics are reporting that younger coal miners are being diagnosed with the disease at increasing rates. The time to tackle this issue is long overdue.

Therefore, because we are committed to MSHA's mission to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and promoting safe and healthful workplaces for U.S. miners, we are asking that you take immediate action to implement the recommendations contained in the OIG report. We further ask that you provide us with a thorough description of the measures currently being conducted by the agency to ensure that our brave and patriotic coal miners are shielded from excess exposure to silica dust on the job site. We look forward to receiving your detailed response.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, released a statement regarding Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s request to not extend municipal and Main Street lending programs established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Without an extension, the federal lending programs will expire at the end of the year:

“I’m deeply disappointed in the request from the Treasury Department to prematurely defund these important CARES Act 13(3) programs.  As I pointed out in my letter to the Secretary and Fed Chair last week, with cases rising throughout the country, we need every tool at our disposal to support the economic recovery in the months ahead. Now is precisely the wrong time to reverse course and limit our capacity to provide liquidity to a struggling economy.”

Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, has long worked to provide financial relief to the American economy amid the COVID-19 crisis. During a September Banking Hearing with Secretary Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Sen. Warner stressed the need for another COVID-19 relief package that properly supports Main Street and stimulates local economies by making significant investments targeted towards affected communities. To help with economic recovery efforts, Sen. Warner introduced the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, legislation that would provide eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) with capital, liquidity, and operational capacity to serve minority and historically disadvantaged communities. A comprehensive list of his COVID-19-related work is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, issued a statement today on the inclusion of his Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bipartisan ILLICIT CASH Act seeks to improve corporate transparency, strengthen national security, and help law enforcement combat illicit financial activity being carried out by terrorists, drug and human traffickers, and other criminals.

“It is past time to put an end to the secrecy that allows drug cartels, human traffickers, arms dealers, terrorists and kleptocrats to exploit the United States’ banking system in order to carry out anti-American activities. That’s why I’m pleased to know that this year’s defense funding bill will include the ILLICIT CASH Act – legislation I introduced to combat money laundering and terrorist financing,” said Sen. Warner. “As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know that the current holes in our financial system pose a serious threat to national security. The ILLICIT CASH Act will seek to patch those holes by increasing corporate transparency requirements and handing our federal agencies the 21st century tools they need to combat these 21st century threats.”

Sen. Warner introduced the ILLICIT CASH Act in September of 2019 and has been championing it ever since. The legislation will, for the first time, require that shell companies – often used as fronts for criminal activity – disclose their true owners to the U.S. Department of Treasury. It will also update decades-old anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) policies by giving Treasury and law enforcement the tools they need to fight criminal networks. This includes improving overall communication between law enforcement, financial institutions, and regulators, and facilitating the adoption of critical 21st century technologies.

Joining Sen. Warner in introducing this legislation were Senate Banking Committee members Tom Cotton (R-AR), Doug Jones (D-AL), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), John Kennedy (R-LA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized its Stark and anti-kickback rules. The updated rules allow more health organizations to enter into value-based arrangements that will lead to better patient health outcomes and help reduce health care costs. Specifically, the change will create new exceptions and safe harbors in existing physician self-referral law to allow for the increased coordination between physicians and other health care entities while still ensuring safeguards are in place to protect against fraud and inappropriate use.

“Reducing long-term health care costs requires a health care system that encourages coordinated care, value-based healthcare, and outcomes-based payment. That is why I have worked with Sen. Cassidy in calling for commonsense changes to our federal health programs that enable more health care organizations to innovate and work together.

“Today’s reforms by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to the Anti-Kickback Statute and Physician Self-Referral (Stark) Law are a significant step in the right direction for improving patient care. Our nation’s physicians, health systems and other stakeholders have long called for this modernization and that is why I have previously pressed CMS to make these important changes. I applaud CMS for their responsiveness and I look forward to working with them and Virginia providers to properly implement these changes.”

In Congress, Sen. Warner has long pushed for policy changes to help lower health care costs for Virginia seniors and families. In October, Sen. Warner led a letter with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) asking HHS to finalize its proposed rule updating existing Stark and anti-kickback Laws to allow for the increased use of value based arrangements. Last year, Sen. Warner teamed up with Sen. Cassidy to unveil a discussion draft of the Patient Affordability, Value and Efficiency Act, bipartisan legislation to facilitate new and innovative payment models for pharmaceuticals and other medical services so that patients have better access to treatment and ensure that the health care market is more efficient.  

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in calling on General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy to end her unprecedented delay, immediately ascertain Vice President Joe Biden as President-elect and Senator Kamala Harris as Vice President-elect, and make available the transition resources that are provided by law. This delay creates unacceptable risks to national security and Coronavirus pandemic response efforts as the United States passed more than 250,000 deaths.  

“The United States is in the midst of a pandemic that has now claimed over 250,000 lives, with the number of new cases rising daily. Our country also faces a number of ongoing threats, including physical and cyber attacks from foreign actors, violence from domestic extremists, and natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes,” wrote the Senators.

“The GSA Administrator’s ascertainment of a President-elect is also critical for agencies’ willingness to share information with the transition team, including classified information, as well as for the expeditious processing of security clearances for candidates for high-level national security positions. Your delay in acknowledging Vice President Biden’s status as President-elect could undermine efforts by the incoming Administration to meet the needs of the American people in a time of national emergency,” continued the Senators.

Under the Presidential Transition Act, GSA is charged with providing resources and support to the President-elect and Vice President-elect so they can be ready to govern from Day One. Administrator Murphy must complete the ascertainment process to allow the President-elect’s transition team to receive needed information from agency officials at public health and national security agencies, ensure incoming national security officials can receive background checks and access to classified information and provide federal funding and resources to support the transition process.

A smooth and efficient transition is one of the hallmarks of American democracy. With the exception of the Presidential election in 2000 and the resulting recount, ascertainment by GSA normally happens within a day after a winner is declared, including in 2008 and 2016. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission found that the shortened transition following the 2000 recount created serious vulnerabilities, including delays related to key national security appointments.

Joining Sens. Warner and Peters in sending the letter were U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-RI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

Text of the letter is copied below and available here.

November 19, 2020

The Honorable Emily W. Murphy

Administrator

U.S. General Services Administration

1800 F St., NW

Washington, DC 20405

Dear Administrator Murphy,

We are writing to express deep concern regarding reports that the General Services Administration (GSA) has delayed providing President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with the resources they need to ensure a timely and efficient presidential transition. We urge you to immediately ascertain Vice President Biden as President-elect and Senator Harris as Vice President-elect and allow the transition team to receive the resources required under the law. We also request an urgent briefing on steps GSA is taking to ensure an orderly transition.

The United States is in the midst of a pandemic that has now claimed over 250,000 lives, with the number of new cases rising daily. Our country also faces a number of ongoing threats, including physical and cyber attacks from foreign actors, violence from domestic extremists, and natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes.[1] The independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission cited the shortened transition timeline for then President-elect George W. Bush as a factor in delaying key national security personnel appointments, potentially hampering the new Administration.[2] A timely transition is critical to ensure coordination between the current and incoming Administrations, provide the incoming Administration with the resources they need to immediately address these challenges, and safeguard the public health and our national security.

Under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended, GSA is charged with providing resources and support to the President-elect and Vice President-elect. Specifically, GSA must provide office space, communication services, funding for transition staff compensation, and other support. In response to a request from the Administration, Congress has appropriated $9.9 million to GSA for transition related activities.[3] The GSA Administrator’s ascertainment of a President-elect is also critical for agencies’ willingness to share information with the transition team, including classified information, as well as for the expeditious processing of security clearances for candidates for high-level national security positions. Your delay in acknowledging Vice President Biden’s status as President-elect could undermine efforts by the incoming Administration to meet the needs of the American people in a time of national emergency.

This delay is also unprecedented. In both 2008 and 2016, President-elect Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, respectively, were recognized by the GSA Administrator as President-elect within a day of the general election.[4] In 2000, this decision was delayed due to an ongoing court case regarding less than 1,000 votes in a single state—a far closer election than this one. The results of this election are clear. Vice President Biden will be the next President of the United States, and Senator Harris will be the next Vice President. It is past time to recognize the will of the American people so that the work of government can continue.

The orderly transition of power from one President to another is a bedrock principle of our democracy and one of GSA’s most important duties. We urge you to fulfill your responsibilities, ascertain Vice President Biden as President-elect and Senator Harris as Vice President-elect, and provide their transition team with the resources the law requires. We also request that, no later than November 23, 2020, GSA provide a briefing to staff of the Committees on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Appropriations, and Environment and Public Works regarding the presidential transition process and the support that GSA has provided to date.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

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[1] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Threat Assessment (October 2020).

[2] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report (July 2004), p. 198.

[3] U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2021—Appendix (2020), pp. 1162-1163; Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act, Pub. L. No. 116–159, Sec. 134. 

[4] A little-known Trump appointee is in charge of handing transition resources to Biden - and she isn’t budging, Washington Post (Nov. 8, 2020) (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-gsa-letter-biden-transition/2020/11/08/07093acc-21e9-11eb-8672-c281c7a2c96e_story.html); Trump Transition Team Opens DC Office as Preparations for Inauguration Begin, NBC Washington (Nov. 9, 2016) (https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/trump-transition-team-opens-dc-office-as-preparations-for-inauguration-begin/56785/).

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner, Tim Kaine, and Gary Peters, introduced legislation that would block the implementation of an October 21 Executive Order by President Trump that would make it easier for the Administration to fire non-partisan civil servants with policy expertise.

“We cannot allow the President to deny federal employees crucial workplace protections,” said Senators Warner and Kaine. “Our federal workforce has been under unprecedented attacks by this administration, and this harmful decision only benefits the President’s loyalists instead of serving the interests of the American people.”

On October 21, President Trump signed an executive order that would allow agency heads to convert certain policy-centric positions to a new classification, Schedule F, where there is greater flexibility to fire those employees. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director Michael Rigas issued preliminary guidance on October 23 that suggests a broad interpretation of the types of positions that would be eligible for conversion. This has created concern that the Administration could fire civil servants and create uncertainty in federal agencies that are critical to protecting the nation’s national security and addressing the ongoing pandemic. OPM has still not answered basic questions regarding the development, implementation, and potential consequences of this hastily issued executive order.

The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Doug Jones (D-AL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kyrsten Simena (D-AZ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Chris Murphy (D-CT).

Senators Warner and Kaine have been fierce advocates for Virginia’s federal employees. In February, the Senators sent a letter to President Trump urging him to reverse his decision that would negatively impact the collective bargaining rights of Department of Defense (DOD) employees. In March, the Senators also became cosponsors of the Protecting Collective Bargaining and Official Time for Federal Workers Act, a bill that would rescind four executive actions that restrict the effectiveness of unions for federal workers. During the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back pay for contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a statement today following the President’s firing of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher C. Krebs:

“Chris Krebs is an extraordinary public servant and exactly the person Americans want protecting the security of our elections.

“It speaks volumes that the president chose to fire him simply for telling the truth.”

Sen. Warner, co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, has previously cautioned about the dangers of destabilizing the government by ousting key officials amid a transition of Presidential power. Just last week, he reacted to reports that Director Krebs expected to be fired by the President, noting that there is “no possible justification to remove him from office.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) applauded congressional passage of their bipartisan legislation to require minimum security requirements for Internet of Things (IoT) devices purchased by the U.S. government. Leveraging the purchasing power of the federal government, the bill will ultimately help move the wider market for IoT devices towards greater cybersecurity. The Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act passed through the U.S. House of Representatives in September and was approved in the Senate today by unanimous consent. It now heads to the President’s desk for signature.

“While more and more products and even household appliances today have software functionality and internet connectivity, too few incorporate even basic safeguards and protections, posing a real risk to individual and national security,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m proud that Congress was able to come together today to pass this legislation, which will harness the purchasing power of the federal government and incentivize companies to finally secure the devices they create and sell. I urge the President to sign this bill into law without delay.” 

“I applaud the Senate for passing our bipartisan and bicameral legislation to ensure the federal government leads by example and purchases devices that meet basic requirements to prevent hackers from accessing government systems,” said Sen. Gardner. “Most experts expect tens of billions of devices operating on our networks within the next several years as the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape continues to expand. We need to make sure these devices are secure from malicious cyber-attacks as they continue to transform our society and add countless new entry points into our networks, particularly when they are integrated into the federal government’s networks.” 

Sens. Warner and Gardner originally authored and introduced this legislation in the Senate back in August 2017. They reintroduced the bill in the 116th Congress and saw its passage through the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in June 2019. 

Specifically, the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act 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, including making any necessary revisions to the Federal Acquisition Regulation to implement new security standards and guidelines.
  • Require any IoT 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 guidelines on vulnerability disclosure and remediation for federal information systems. 
  • 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.

Sens. Warner and Gardner are co-chairs of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus. Sen. Warner – a former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – is also leader in Congress on security issues related to the Internet of Things. 

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WILMINGTON, Del. – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today led 14 colleagues on a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on the company to fully address the problem of anti-Muslim bigotry on its platform, which has enabled offline violence against Muslims in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

Senator Coons is joined on the letter by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate.  Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world,” the Senators wrote.

Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform. In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a “call to arms” policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to a location. However, the Senators note that Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this policy, which should have barred an event page in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier this year, as well as a 2019 event page used to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country.

“We recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas,” the Senators wrote. “Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today.”

“As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more.”

An independent civil rights audit of Facebook from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre…” These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes.

 

In their letter, the Senators urge Facebook to take a number of actions to address these issues including collecting and publishing the data needed to understand the scope of the problem, publishing readily available information to help the public evaluate its response, and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy.

“We thank Sen. Coons and his colleagues for holding Facebook accountable for anti-Muslim hate and violence on its platform,” said Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera. “Since 2015, Muslim Advocates has warned Facebook that the platform’s event pages were being used by violent militias and white nationalists to organize armed rallies at mosques. With their letter, these senators are raising needed attention to this critical issue. We need to know what Facebook plans to do to end the anti-Muslim hate and violence enabled by their platform—and end it now.”

Groups supporting the letter include Muslim Advocates, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for American Progress, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Campaign, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Free Press, the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, the Interfaith Alliance, the Japanese American Citizens League, MediaJustice, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Shoulder to Shoulder, The Sikh Coalition, and UltraViolet.

A copy of the letter is below.

 

November 16, 2020

Mark Zuckerberg

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Facebook, Inc.

1601 Willow Road

Menlo Park, CA 94025

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

We write to express our deep concern regarding anti-Muslim bigotry on Facebook.  An independent civil rights audit of the company from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre . . . .”   These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes.   As members of Congress who are committed to protecting the Muslim community, we urge you to take immediate action to combat this bigotry on Facebook’s platforms.

 

Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate.  Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world.  The enabling of hate speech and violence against any group is not acceptable.  We appreciate that Facebook has taken certain steps to combat these problems.  For instance, you recently reversed a prior decision that had allowed content denying the Holocaust, and you have altered your policies to ban blackface and certain anti-Jewish stereotypes.  But much more must be done to protect these vulnerable communities.  With regard to the Muslim community in particular, the civil rights audit noted advocates’ “alarm that Muslims feel under siege on Facebook” and explained how attacks on Muslims present unique considerations that require separate analysis and response compared to other kinds of attacks.   Yet, the auditors noted, “Facebook has not yet publicly studied or acknowledged the particular ways anti-Muslim bigotry manifests on its platform.”  

Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform.  In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a “call to arms” policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to locations.   Yet, in August 2019, when advocates reported to Facebook that a militia group was using an event page to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country for the second year in a row, it took Facebook more than a full day to remove the content, a delay that Facebook acknowledged was too long and an “enforcement misstep.”  

Other recent events have demonstrated how Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this call to arms policy.  In August 2020, a group called the Kenosha Guard posted an event page titled “Armed Citizens to Protect Our Lives and Property,” calling for armed individuals to gather in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the shooting of Jacob Blake.  Notwithstanding multiple reports by users that this page violated Facebook policies, Facebook did not take the page down.  An armed 17-year-old traveled from out of state to join this gathering, fatally shot two protestors that night, and is charged with their murder.  You stated that the failure to take down the event page and the Kenosha Guard’s group page was “largely an operational mistake” because contract content moderators without specialized training failed to detect that the pages violated a new militia policy Facebook had established in August 2020.   Your statement was misleading as to the event page, however, because it did not mention that the event page also violated the call to arms policy that had been in place for over a year.  Importantly, we understand that the contractors who review user-reported content are not instructed to enforce a core component of the call to arms policy.  It is not apparent that Facebook ensures meaningful enforcement of this policy, and that is not acceptable.  As the Change the Terms Coalition has explained, that “isn’t an operational mistake – that’s a design defect.”  

We have similar concerns about Facebook’s efforts to ensure that the platform is not used to enable systematic violence and discrimination against Muslims around the world.  A United Nations report concluded that the company played a “determining”  role in violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Facebook has similarly acknowledged that the platform was used to “foment division and incite offline violence”  against the Rohingya.  Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.  According to a New York Times report published a month after anti-Muslim violence erupted in Sri Lanka in March 2018, “Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing,”  despite numerous attempts by Sri Lankan activists and government officials to warn Facebook about potential outbreaks of violence.  In an especially horrific episode of anti-Muslim activity on Facebook, in March 2019, a white nationalist gunman broadcasted his 17-minute slaughter of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, for the entire world to see using Facebook Live.  Reports indicate that the platform has also been used to support the internment of the Uyghurs in China and other human rights violations against this population, that Facebook and WhatsApp have been used to incite violence against Muslims in India, and that Facebook has been used to promote hate and violence in other areas around the world.

The civil rights audit and other reports have documented the shortcomings of Facebook that have led to these results over the years.  The United Nations explained in 2018 that Facebook launched its Myanmar-specific services without content moderators who spoke the necessary languages, without adequate technology, and without sufficient transparency and coordination with local organizations.  It also documented how speech in clear violation of Facebook’s policies remained on the platform notwithstanding multiple reports, and how even after the speech was taken down, re-posts continued to circulate months later.  Furthermore, the civil rights audit found that Facebook is not sufficiently attuned to how its algorithms “fuel extreme and polarizing content,” and thereby may “driv[e] people toward self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism,” as seen in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.   Advocacy groups similarly detailed the extent and persistence of anti-Muslim hate content on Facebook India in multiple reports last year, concerns that have been amplified by recent allegations that some high-ranking employees at Facebook India have enabled hate speech against Muslims and others by applying the platform’s content moderation policies in a selective manner. 

We recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas.  These include, for instance, adding country-specific staff and content moderators proficient in certain local languages, investing in proactive detection technologies, strengthening local fact-checking partnerships, and limiting the ability to reshare certain kinds of messages. 

Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today.  In part, this is because Facebook still does not collect the information needed to evaluate the effectiveness of its responses.  For instance, Facebook reported that it took action on 22 million pieces of hate speech content in the second quarter of 2020, up from over 9 million in the first quarter.   It is not apparent, however, whether this is a sign of an improving or worsening problem, because this data lacks crucial context:  Facebook does not calculate or report on the overall prevalence of hate speech on the platform.  It is thus unclear how significant this increase is as a proportion of total hate speech or whether takedowns are increasing only because hate content on the platform is increasing.  Facebook recognizes that the statistic it reports “only tells part of the story,” and Facebook does estimate prevalence in other contexts.  Its failure to do so as to hate speech is concerning.  

In addition, the civil rights audit pointed out that for content that Facebook does remove, the company does not collect data about which protected groups were the target of the removed post.  This prevents Facebook and the public from understanding the volume of hate against a particular group, whether attacks against certain groups are consistently not removed, and whether there are gaps in Facebook’s policies that result in perpetuating or increasing hate speech and attacks against particular groups.  It is difficult to understand how Facebook can effectively combat hate speech without this information. 

There is also basic information that Facebook has or could readily make available, but which it has inexplicably declined to make public.  For instance, while pointing to its increases in country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators in certain areas, Facebook has declined repeated requests from advocates to provide detailed information about its country-specific staff or language-specific content moderators across the world.  Such information is necessary to evaluate Facebook’s suggestion that its additions are adequate and to determine whether there are gaps in coverage in other regions that should be addressed proactively before the next violent event.  Facebook similarly does not provide information about how the hate speech it has taken down is disaggregated by language or country of origin, information that would help identify volatile areas in need of further attention from content moderators or others at Facebook.  That is so even though Facebook has conceded that “[t]hese breakdowns are feasible for these count-based metrics” and that it “recognize[s] the value in having different subpopulations of the various metrics.”   The United Nations 2018 Myanmar report expressed “regret[]” that Facebook did not provide country-specific data about hate speech and deemed it “essential” that such information be disclosed.    

Though these concerns have been raised for years, Facebook thus far has not taken the steps required to effectively address hate and violence targeting Muslims.  In 2018, Facebook acknowledged that it “can and should do better” after its platform fueled violence in Myanmar and outlined steps it would take.   In 2020, Facebook “apologize[d] for” the human rights impacts that resulted from misuse of its platform in Sri Lanka and outlined more steps.   Despite these experiences, recent reporting suggests that today, Facebook is contributing to the spread of hate speech and violence against ethnic and religious groups in Ethiopia, where Facebook “dominates” the internet.   Meanwhile, it announced a call to arms policy to assuage concerns but has failed to adequately enforce it.  As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more.  We believe Facebook must frankly and openly detail the scope of the problem and take concerted and sustained actions to address this problem fully.  We respectfully request that you respond to the questions below by December 16, 2020.  As to each question, insofar as Facebook will commit to taking action, please provide details of its plan and expected timing. 

1.         Will Facebook commit to developing and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy, including through proactive review of event pages, content moderator review of user reports, and prioritization of highly reported events?  If not, why not?

2.         Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing data about the overall amount and prevalence of hate content on the platform and whether hate content is increasing on its platform?  If so, please specify whether Facebook will break down this data by country and language.  If not, why not?

3.         Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing data about which groups were the subject of the hate speech it removes and enforcement rates across groups?  If so, please specify the groups for which Facebook will provide this information.  If not, why not?

4.         Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing country-specific or language-specific data on hate speech that is on or removed from the platform?  If not, why not?

5.         Will Facebook publish detailed information about the number of country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators it employs?  If not, why not?

6.         Will Facebook commit to studying regularly its civil rights and human rights impacts and making future human rights impact assessments or rights audits public in their entirety?  If not, why not?

7.         Will Facebook commit to establishing and publishing criteria that must be met for Facebook to expand or maintain usage of its services in markets at risk of hate content fueling religious and/or ethnic violence to ensure Facebook does not enable human rights violations?  If so, please specify the outside input that Facebook will solicit in developing these criteria.  If not, why not?

8.         Will Facebook conduct an analysis of how it can better design its systems and algorithms to not just identify and take down hate speech, but limit the reach of this content and its ability to cause offline violence?  If not, why not?

9.         Will Facebook commit to creating a working group led by a senior employee with expertise in anti-Muslim bigotry specifically tasked with monitoring, reviewing, and coordinating efforts to proactively remove anti-Muslim content on the platform?  If not, why not?

Thank you for your consideration of our views.  We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Prince William County will be awarded $94,489,915 in federal funding for public transit. The funding was authorized by the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine, and will support operating, administrative, capital, and preventive maintenance costs for Virginia Railway Express (VRE), Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC), and Fredericksburg Regional Transit (FRED).

“We’re pleased to announce this funding to ensure Virginians can continue to rely on safe and reliable public transportation during this ongoing health and economic crisis,” said the Senators. “And as we’ve seen COVID-19 cases gradually increase across the country and in the Commonwealth, these funds will help ensure that our essential workers can continue to get to and from work as safely as possible.”

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

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily W. Murphy calling on the GSA to begin the official post-election transition process so that the incoming Biden Administration may utilize all available resources and funding to ensure a smooth transition into the President-elect and Vice President-elect’s new official capacities. The letter follows a recent report stating that GSA Administrator Murphy is refusing to sign a letter allowing President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team to formally start its work this week. By not signing the letter, Administrator Murphy is preventing the incoming administration’s staff from utilizing office space, accessing federal computer systems, and receiving other key services critical to an orderly transition.

“The General Services Administration Administrator is authorized to provide the President-elect and the Vice President-elect with a variety of services supporting the transition into their new official capacities,” the Senators wrote. “Moreover, an orderly and peaceful transition process is critical as the country continues to grapple with the loss and far-reaching impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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

 

Dear Administrator Murphy:

We write today to express concern regarding your decision to withhold proper ascertainment of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the President-elect and Vice President-elect and request your immediate action to begin the official post-election transition process so that the incoming administration may utilize all available resources and funding.

In accordance with the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (3 U.S.C. § 102), as amended, the General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator is authorized to provide the President-elect and the Vice President-elect with a variety of services supporting the transition into their new official capacities. In addition, the GSA Administrator is responsible for ascertaining the winner of the general election to make those post-election services available to the non-incumbent President-elect and Vice President-elect and their incoming staff. As such, GSA requested a budget allocation of $9,900,000 for transition-related activities in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget request, of which $6,300,000 is for an incoming administration. Without a determination by the GSA Administrator, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris and their staff are unable to maintain official office space within federal agencies, acquire government computer systems, or receive additional administrative services and funding to support the post-election transition into their new official capacities.

In previous election years, GSA has provided ascertainment almost immediately after the general election has been independently called. Any delay or inaction by your office may lead to the first transition delay in modern history save for when the Supreme Court settled the 2000 election recount dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Moreover, an orderly and peaceful transition process is critical as the country continues to grapple with the loss and far-reaching impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We therefore urge the Administration to immediately ascertain and begin the post-election transition process, ensuring there is no disruption of government services that impede the incoming administration from immediately executing a comprehensive strategy to address the COVID-19 pandemic on January 20, 2020.

We appreciate your full attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today issued a statement:

 “I’m deeply troubled by President Trump’s firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper just 72 days before a new president will be inaugurated and during a growing global pandemic. There is no doubt that our adversaries are already seeking vulnerabilities they can exploit in order to undermine American global leadership and national security during this transition period. The transfer of power should be peaceful and fulsome in accordance with the principles that have animated our republic since its founding and the last thing that our country needs is additional upheaval in the institutions designed to protect our national security. President Trump must not invite further volatility by removing any Senate-confirmed intelligence or national security officials during his time left in office.” 

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $1,526,115 in federal funding to help Virginians access affordable housing across the Commonwealth. The funding was awarded through the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program, and authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“As housing insecurity continues to rise for many Virginians due to the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, now more than ever, Congress needs to offer critical assistance to those in need,” the Senators said. “We’re pleased to announce these federal funds that will go toward supporting affordable housing, and we will continue fighting to ensure people across the Commonwealth get the federal assistance they need.”

The HCV program is a collaborative effort between U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and local housing authorities that assists low-income families, seniors, and disabled Americans with finding affordable, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.

The funding will be awarded as below.

Recipient

Amount

 

Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

 

$412,080

Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority

 

$305,021

Harrisonburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

 

$209,026

Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

 

$197,490

Wytheville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

 

$13,068

Wise County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

 

$132,242

Lee County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

 

$62,672

County of Albemarle/Office of Housing

 

$80,274

James City County Office of Housing

 

$47,643

Buckingham Housing Development Corp. Inc.

 

$66,599

Total:

$1,526,115

 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) announced the formation of a working group to develop legislative proposals and conduct oversight focused on fundamentally reforming corporate governance. This comes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to underscore the urgency of reforming corporate practices that leave corporations with little to no savings, workers living paycheck-to-paycheck, and supply chains outsourced to the lowest bidder. 

"For far too long, many companies have disregarded broad-based growth and put short-term profits ahead of workers, fueling inequality and restricting opportunities for the poor, for young people, and for people of color. Short-term financial pressure often pushes corporations to forgo necessary long-term investments, ignore the threat of climate change, and concentrate opportunity in ways that exclude too many of our communities," said the senators. "We will work together on ways we can fundamentally reform corporate governance in America."  

The senators have each worked on proposals to hold American corporations accountable and create an economy that provides prosperity for all Americans.

  • Sen. Warner has introduced the Workforce Investment Disclosure Act to require companies to disclose investments in workers, urged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require disclosure of companies' human capital management policies, and has pushed for better reporting of non-financial indicators covering a company's environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices.
  • Sen. Warren has introduced legislation to transform corporate America, hold corporate executives personally accountable when their companies commit crimes, and empower workers and other stakeholders, not just shareholders. Her Stop Wall Street Looting Act would reform the private equity industry and she has been a leading voice in pressing corporations to address their role in fueling the climate crisis.
  • Sen. Baldwin has introduced legislation to: give workers a seat on corporate boards and restrict buybacks through her Reward Work Act and address abuses by activist hedge funds in her Brokaw Act.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released a statement regarding the Senate Commerce Committee’s hearing on Section 230 with tech CEOs today:

It saddens me that some of my colleagues have joined in the Trump Administration’s cynical and concerted effort to bully platforms into allowing dark money groups, right-wing militias and even the President himself to continue to exploit social media platforms to sow disinformation, engage in targeted harassment, and suppress voter participation. We can and should have a conversation about Section 230 – and the ways in which it has enabled platforms to turn a blind eye as their platforms are used to facilitate discrimination and civil rights violations, enable domestic terrorist groups to organize violence in plain sight, assist in stalking and networked harassment campaigns, and enable online frauds targeted at vulnerable users. But that conversation should be thoughtful and not serve as a cudgel to cow the platforms into continued inaction regarding efforts to manipulate their services 6 days ahead of the election.”

Sen. Warner has written and introduced a series of bipartisan bills designed to protect consumers and reduce the power of giant social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Among these are the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act – bipartisan legislation to require data harvesting companies to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit; the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act – bipartisan legislation to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces to trick consumers into handing over their personal data; and the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act – bipartisan legislation to encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings, if they so choose.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will receive $14,420,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grant Program. This funding will go towards replacing an existing double-track rail bridge with two new double-track rail bridges, expanding passenger rail capacity in the Washington, D.C. to Richmond, VA corridor.

“We’re pleased to announce these federal funds to make much-needed improvements on rails and bridges that will increase efficiency and reliability for this rail system,” said the Senators. “These improvements will also help local industries transport freight and bolster economic development opportunities in the region.”

The Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grant Program provides funding for capital projects within the United States to repair, replace, or rehabilitate qualified railroad assets to reduce the state of good repair backlog and improve intercity passenger rail performance. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced legislation to increase cooperation between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and veterans legal clinics, such as the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinichoused at the College of William and Mary, or the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) at George Mason University. The Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020 would allow the VA to provide funding to law school legal clinics that provide pro bono legal services to veterans. 

Some law schools and their student volunteers are making significant progress in reducing disability claims backlogs and veterans homelessness in communities across the country. Under attorney supervision, students provide a range of pro bono legal services, including assistance with disability claims, foreclosures, bankruptcies, divorce, child custody and some minor criminal cases.  By assisting veterans with complicated benefits claims, legal clinics are turning the VA’s most time consuming cases into organized applications that are significantly easier to process. In addition, preventative services like expedited claims assistance and legal counsel offer veterans an opportunity to address challenges before they worsen, often resulting in significant long-term savings to the government.

“Veterans legal clinics do the crucial work of providing quality and essential legal services to vulnerable vets who otherwise may not be able to afford it. These clinics also provide important practical training for law students as they help veterans receive benefits that they frequently cannot access,” said Sen. Warner. “Given the enormous sacrifices that these brave individuals have made for our nation, we owe it to them to explore innovative solutions that allow them to get the assistance they need and the benefits they’ve earned in a more timely manner.  That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020 – a bill to enable the VA to provide funding to legal clinics dedicated to serving our nation’s veterans.”

“The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic of the William & Mary Law School has been at the forefront of efforts to assist veterans while educating future lawyers who are imbued with a deeply held public service ethos.  Since its establishment in 2008, the efforts of William & Mary Veterans Benefits Clinic students and staff have resulted in the awarding of over $53 million in projected lifetime benefits to veterans. The Veterans Legal Support Act  of 2020 would help the Puller Clinic expand efforts to meet the pressing unmet needs of veterans in Virginia and would greatly assist in establishing a more stable foundation for the Clinic’s continued operation,” said Michael Dick, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) and Co-Director, the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic.  

“The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) strongly supports the Veterans Legal Support Act of 2020, which would provide critical funding for law school veterans clinics across the country in their pursuit of securing vital benefits and free legal assistance for our nation’s veterans. Established in 2004 as the first clinic of its kind at any law school in the United States of America, M-VETS provides free legal assistance to the veteran and military community in a variety of matters, including Virginia civil litigation matters, family law, consumer protection issues, wills and powers of attorney, as well as assisting with matters before the Department of Veterans Affairs (“DVA”) and various administrative boards, including discharge upgrades, record corrections, military pay and entitlement matters, and DVA disability benefit appeals. The funding from this bill would enable M-VETS to grow its staff, expand its scope of services, and subsidize filing and administrative fees for indigent veterans to ensure their access to justice,” said Timothy M. MacArthur, Director & Clinical Professor, Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS). 

“Too many veterans are stuck in the VA’s claims backlog, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and hindered their access to the benefits and services they’ve earned. We have an obligation to use every tool available to assist the brave men and women who’ve served and sacrificed for our nation, which is precisely what our bill would help do,” said Sen. Shaheen. “Some of our nation’s law schools are greatly reducing processing times for challenging VA benefits claims and expanding access to legal services and I commend these students and faculty for their outstanding efforts. Our legislation would authorize the VA to work more closely with these programs and help other schools establish their own courses, ramping up efforts to cut down the VA backlog and expediting help for veterans seeking assistance. Leader McConnell should hold a vote on this common-sense legislation as soon as possible so together Congress can take a meaningful step forward to improve services for our veterans and their families.” 

“When our servicemembers made a commitment to defend our nation, our country also made a commitment to make sure they have the resources and support they deserve when they come home,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “While we can never repay the debt we owe to our troops and veterans who have risked their lives for this country, this legislation will help ensure our veterans have access to the basic legal assistance they may need to get the benefits they’ve earned.”

Sen. Warner has been a longtime supporter of legal clinics dedicated to serving our nation’s veterans. In April 2013, he sent letters to then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and President Obamaurging them to partner with the Puller Clinic to help veterans cut through red tape and reduce the VA claims backlog. Sen. Warner also sent a letter to each of his Senate colleagues promoting the Puller Clinic model, and met with Secretary Shinseki to advocate for the Puller Clinic program as a national model to help the VA solve its backlog challenges. He also worked to secure the Puller Clinic’s certification as a national “best practice” program, making it the first law school clinic in the nation to receive the VA designation. 

The text of the bill is available for download here

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with oversight over federal elections, and 11 members of the Rules and Judiciary Committees in sending a letter to Corey R. Amundson, Chief of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section, requesting an immediate explanation of the Department’s recent decision to weaken its longstanding policy of non-interference with elections, which ensures that election fraud investigations do not affect an upcoming election. The Department has long recognized that public investigations of alleged election fraud can “interject[] the investigation itself as an issue” in an ongoing election, creating “the obvious risk of chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities.” 

This policy change coincides with repeated false claims by the President and Attorney General Barr that voting by mail will lead to rampant fraud, while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is warning that Russia is amplifying these claims to undermine trust in the electoral process.

Klobuchar was joined on the letter by the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senators: Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

“It is deeply troubling that the Department has chosen to weaken its non-interference policy weeks before Election Day and while millions of Americans have already voted, many of them by mail.” the senators said. 

“This policy change coincides with repeated false claims by the President and Attorney General Barr that voting by mail will lead to rampant fraud. The Department of Homeland Security has warned that Russia is amplifying these claims in an effort to undermine public trust in the electoral process.”

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below.

October 20, 2020

Dear Mr. Amundson:

We request an immediate explanation of the Department’s recent decision to weaken its longstanding policy of non-interference with elections, which ensures that election fraud investigations do not affect an upcoming election.  

The Department has long recognized that public investigations of alleged election fraud can “interject[] the investigation itself as an issue” in an ongoing election, creating “the obvious risk of chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities.” Department policy thus prohibits overt investigative steps in such cases “until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.” [Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses, p. 84]

The Department has reportedly announced an exception to this policy that would allow election fraud allegations to be publicly announced before the 2020 election if “the integrity of any component of the federal government is implicated by election offenses.”  The exception appears to encompass allegations of mail voting fraud, which the Department could now publicly announce while voting is underway.

This policy change coincides with repeated false claims by the President and Attorney General Barr that voting by mail will lead to rampant fraud.  The Department of Homeland Security has warned that Russia is amplifying these claims in an effort to undermine public trust in the electoral process.  

It is deeply troubling that the Department has chosen to weaken its non-interference policy weeks before Election Day and while millions of Americans have already voted, many of them by mail. We therefore ask that you provide the following information no later than October 23:

  1. What is the complete text of the new exception to the Department’s non-interference with elections policy?
  2. Why did the Department create this exception at this time?
  3. Who participated in the creation of the exception, including the decision to create it and the drafting process?
  4. How will the Department ensure that actions taken pursuant to the exception do not “chill[] legitimate voting and campaign activities” or jeopardize “the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality, and non-partisanship”? 
  5. How will the Department ensure that actions taken pursuant to the exception will not interfere with or disturb the delivery and counting of mail-in ballots? 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

 

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