Press Releases

WASHINGTON – With the COVID-19 delta variant on the rise, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced legislation today to promote federal worker safety and ensure that employees and their families are well informed about COVID-19 protective measures in the workplace. The Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act – named after a Virginia federal worker who passed away from COVID-19 complications – would require federal agencies to publish and communicate their COVID-19 safety plans, setting a precedent for increased agency transparency around critical safeguards. 

Joining Sen. Warner in introducing this legislation are U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). This bicameral legislation was also introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and passed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on May 13, 2021. It now awaits a vote on the House floor.  

“Civil servants should not have to sacrifice their lives to serve their country, as was the tragic case for Chai Suthammanont, a kitchen worker at Marine Corps Base Quantico who passed from COVID-19 complications,” said Sen. Warner. “The Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act will help ensure that federal agencies have workplace safety plans in place to protect public servants as they continue to provide essential government services and assistance. This bill will also set an important precedent for increased transparency so that agencies are better prepared to publish and disseminate safety plans in a future emergency.”

“No one should have to fear for their life or safety while working, especially during this pandemic,” said Sen. Kaine. “We must ensure that every federal workplace implements comprehensive plans to protect federal workers. I’m proud to introduce this legislation to keep employees and their families informed and safe during these unprecedented times.” 

“Federal workers continue to be on the front lines of this pandemic and deserve a safe workplace,” said Sen. Cardin. “As the nation’s single largest employer, the federal government should set the standard for making the workplace safe for everyone so that workers can continue to meet their missions for the American people.” 

“No one should have to pick between their life and livelihood. Our federal employees work tirelessly to provide vital services to the American people. This legislation will help ensure that their safety is a priority, so these dedicated civil servants can continue to assist Americans day in and day out,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

“The frontline federal employees that have reported to work throughout this ongoing pandemic deserve gratitude, protection, and support. With the emergence of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, we must recognize and act on the risks these workers face during this health emergency. There’s no reason why civil servants should have to worry about whether their work environment is safe enough for them to carry out their duties. This legislation is a step in the right direction to ensuring that federal employees are not left in the dark with regard to workplace safety,” said Sen. Brown.

Chai Suthammanont – a kitchen staff worker at a childcare facility on Marine Corps Base Quantico – died from coronavirus-related complications in May of 2020 after being exposed to COVID-19, likely in the tight kitchen space he shared with additional staff. Confusion and uncertainty regarding best practices and agency policies, as well as a general lack of communication with federal workforce staff, likely contributed to his death. 

Nearly fourteen months after Chai’s death, the delta variant – a highly contagious strain of COVID-19 – has continued to spread at an alarming rate among unvaccinated individuals, putting the Commonwealth at risk for another deadly COVID-19 surge. The legislation introduced by the senators today would require federal agencies to develop the kind of workplace safety plan that could have reduced Chai’s potential exposure to COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is still with us. While infection and death rates have thankfully dropped dramatically from the devastating numbers we had earlier this year, we cannot be complacent. New variants and slowing vaccination rates mean workers are still at risk. We thank Senator Warner for his leadership in ensuring our federal workers and their families are safe,” said Juley Fulcher, Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen.

“As federal agencies prepare to reopen buildings to full capacity and phase out the incredibly successful policy of maximum telework, Sen. Warner's effort to ensure federal employees feel safe at work is well-timed. The Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act sends a strong message to agency leaders that employee safety is paramount and that civil servants deserve a work environment that incorporates the lessons learned from the pandemic and protects federal workers as they continue to serve the American people,” said Tony Reardon, National President, National Treasury Employees Union.

“The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers applauds and thanks Senator Warner for reintroducing this much needed legislation, as it will help to ensure that federal workers returning to work will have the information necessary to feel that they are entering a safe workplace.  We are hopeful that Congress will approve this legislation and send to President Biden for his signature,” said Matt Biggs, Secretary-Treasurer/Legislative Director, IFPTE.

“The National Federation of Federal Employees is proud to support the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act in honor of Mr. Suthammanont, who passed away due to COVID-19 after exposure to the virus in his workplace. This bill is necessary to ensure the safety of all federal employees who answer the call to serve their country during this pandemic and any future crises,” said Randy Erwin, National President, NFFE.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed serious shortcomings in federal agencies’ development and dissemination of protocols for ensuring the health and safety of employees and visitors to federal facilities. This legislation would require all federal agencies to establish plans to protect employees and visitors from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure the continuity of operations in the event of a surge in cases – and ensure these plans are posted online and communicated to employees. I applaud Senator Warner for reintroducing this legislation as a companion to the House bill introduced by Congressman Connolly. Having clear and easily accessible safeguards in place at the start of this pandemic would have saved many lives and failing to do so now continues to put workers and the public in danger,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley.

According to this legislation, any workplace safety plan disseminated by a federal agency must include:   

  • Procedures for testing, contact-tracing, and vaccine administration for federal employees, along with other mitigation efforts, including cleaning protocols, implementation of occupancy limits, and efforts to ensure proper mask-wearing, social distancing, and individual hygiene at worksites.
  • Efforts to protect employees who travel for their official duties or who work outside of federal office buildings.
  • Safety and health requirements for visitors to federal facilities.
  • Contingency options and workplace flexibilities for those at high-risk of contracting the coronavirus, or who live in a household with individuals at high-risk.
  • Protocols for vaccination, including leave policies for individuals who experience severe side-effects as a result of vaccination.
  • Efforts to ensure continuity of agency operations, including contingency plans should there be a surge in coronavirus cases.
  • Applicable Inspector General Hotline information that employees can use to report instances when agencies do not follow the plan.

Text of this legislation is available here

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WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) in sending a bipartisan letter calling on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts for the nine million Americans living abroad. 

The senators urged the administration to donate supplemental doses to U.S. embassies and consulates in coordination with the Department of Defense, prioritizing the vaccination of Americans living in countries where they are considered ineligible or in those that are not distributing vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also signed the letter to Secretary Blinken. 

“While the country is quickly approaching its target of vaccinating 70 percent of adults based in the U.S., vaccination rates around the world vary significantly. Around 85 percent of shots administered so far have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while only 0.3 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries. While Americans abroad are eligible to receive vaccines in some countries, in others, Americans are ineligible as non-citizens,” the senators wrote.

The senators continued, “Should Americans living abroad wish to travel to the U.S. to receive the vaccine, the financial burden of travel as well as lengthy quarantine requirements upon return to their host country may be prohibitive. As a result of these complicating factors, millions of Americans abroad worry they may not have access to a vaccine for months or even years.”

“The administration has made remarkable progress in vaccinating Americans at home and U.S. officials overseas. As the attention shifts to global vaccination efforts, we urge you to explore all viable options to support vaccination of the millions of Americans living abroad,” the senators concluded.

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

 

Dear Secretary Blinken,

We commend the administration’s ongoing efforts to tackle the COVID-19 global pandemic in coordination with our partners and allies. In particular, the United States is leading the world by announcing the donation of more than 500 million vaccines overseas. In addition to this important effort, we urge you to take concrete steps toward vaccinating the nine million Americans living abroad. 

While the country is quickly approaching its target of vaccinating 70 percent of adults based in the U.S., vaccination rates around the world vary significantly. Around 85 percent of shots administered so far have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while only 0.3 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries. While Americans abroad are eligible to receive vaccines in some countries, in others, Americans are ineligible as non-citizens. Should Americans living abroad wish to travel to the U.S. to receive the vaccine, the financial burden of travel as well as lengthy quarantine requirements upon return to their host country may be prohibitive. As a result of these complicating factors, millions of Americans abroad worry they may not have access to a vaccine for months or even years.

We welcome the administration’s sharing of 500 million vaccines with 92 low- and lower middle-income countries. In addition, we urge you to donate supplemental doses to U.S embassies and consulates to support vaccinating American citizens living in those countries as well. To optimize distribution of those additional doses, we urge you to prioritize countries where Americans are deemed ineligible or low priority in national vaccination deployment plans as well as countries that presently are not distributing a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-authorized vaccine or vaccine authorized by the World Health Organization.

The State Department’s success in vaccinating tens of thousands of Foreign Service personnel and their families was a heroic undertaking by medical units at posts around the world. The Defense Department has also succeeded in administering more than one million doses across more than 80 international facilities around the world. In recognition of the challenge of vaccinating up to nine million private citizens overseas, we urge you to explore coordination with the Defense Department to maximize U.S. government capacity.

The administration has made remarkable progress in vaccinating Americans at home and U.S. officials overseas. As the attention shifts to global vaccination efforts, we urge you to explore all viable options to support vaccination of the millions of Americans living abroad.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are stepping up to the plate today by introducing the Minor League Baseball Relief Act to help the nine Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams in Virginia who are hurting economically after the COVID-19 crisis threw a curveball into their 2020 season. The Minor League Baseball Relief Act would provide up to $550 million in federal relief funding for MiLB teams, which serve as important economic engines in communities across the Commonwealth as baseball fans come to attend games and end up patronizing local businesses like restaurants, hotels, and other attractions. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by heavy hitters Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and David McKinley (R-WV).

“For many working families, catching a weekend Minor League Baseball game at stadiums across the Commonwealth is an affordable and fun family outing,” said Sen. Warner.“Baseball isn’t just America’s pastime, it also represents an economic lifeline for many communities. However, like many small businesses throughout the COVID-19 crisis, our Minor League Baseball teams in Virginia and across the country have struggled mightily to keep the lights on. Since there was no Minor League Baseball season in 2020 due to the pandemic, many of these teams have sustained heavy financial losses that have not been substantially mitigated by existing small business economic relief programs. I’m pleased to work with my colleagues on this bill that would allow these local treasures access to economic relief.”

“Baseball is not only America’s favorite pastime, bringing friends and families together; it’s also a critical economic engine for the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Kaine. “Teams in communities across Virginia support our local economy and create jobs. The pandemic has taken a toll on this beloved sport, and I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to help MiLB teams through this economic crisis.”

The bases are loaded in Virginia, with nine MiLB teams in the Commonwealth eligible for financial relief under the Minor League Baseball Relief Act, which include the:

·         Fredericksburg Nationals (formerly Potomac)

·         Norfolk Tides 

·         Richmond Flying Squirrels

·         Lynchburg Hillcats 

·         Danville Otterbots (formerly Braves)

·         Pulaski River Turtles (formerly Yankees)

·         Salem Red Sox 

·         Bluefield Ridge Runners (formerly Blue Jays)

·         Bristol State Liners (formerly Pirates) 

The Minor League Baseball Relief Act would be modeled after the successful Shuttered Venue Operator Grants (SVOG) program, which has provided needed assistance to venues like theatres, museums, or concert halls that were forced to shut due to necessary COVID-19 safety measures. 

Specifically, the Minor League Baseball Relief Act would:

·         Repurpose up to $550 million in COVID-19 relief funding for an emergency grant program to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) that would otherwise be returned to the U.S. Treasury.

·         Provide eligible clubs grants up to a maximum of $10 million. Allowable expenses include payroll costs, regular business expenses (e.g., rent, utilities), worker protection expenditures, and payments made to independent contractors.

·         Provide an opportunity for a second grant at 50 percent of the first if a club’s revenue does not recover and does not significantly exceed its 2019 total.

·         Require strict oversight from SBA through documentation, review of use, and an audit on grant funding, and applies to any minor league baseball team previously part of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues but not to any club that is majority-owned by Major League Baseball.

Play ball and read a copy of the bill text here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) today slammed Facebook for failing to remove vaccine misinformation from its platforms. The rapid spread of dangerous misinformation across social media could hamper the efforts of public health officials as they work to vaccinate hard-to-reach communities and hesitant individuals, representing a serious concern for public safety. Studies show that roughly 275,000 Facebook users belong to anti-vaccine groups on the platform. 

“As public health experts struggle to reach individuals who are vaccine hesitant, epidemiologists warn that low rates of vaccine rates coupled with the relaxing of mask mandates could result in new COVID-19 outbreaks,” the senators wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “Moreover, most public health officials agree that because herd immunity in the U.S. is now unlikely, ‘continued immunizations, especially for people at highest risk because of age, exposure or health status, will be crucial to limiting the severity of outbreaks, if not their frequency’. In short, ‘vaccinations remain the key to transforming the virus into a controllable threat’.” 

A recent report from Markup.org’s “Citizen Browser project” found that there are 117 active anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. Combined, the groups had roughly 275,000 members. The study also found that Facebook was recommending health groups to its users, including anti-vaccine groups and pages that spread COVID-19 misinformation and propaganda.

The lawmakers asked Zuckerberg a series of questions, including why users were recommended vaccine misinformation; how long anti-vaccine groups and pages remained on the platform before being taken down; and what specific steps the company is taking to ensure its platforms do not recommend vaccine misinformation to its users.

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

 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

We write to express our concern over recent reporting alleging that Facebook failed to remove vaccine misinformation from its platforms. As the U.S. struggles to reach vaccine hesitant individuals and the world grapples with new variants, it is more important than ever that social media companies such as Facebook ensure that its platforms are free from disinformation.

In a February 2021 blog post, Facebook promised to expand “the list of false claims [it] will remove to include additional debunked claims about the coronavirus and vaccines. This includes claims such as: COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured; Vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against; It’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine; [and] Vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism.” According to data from the Markup.org’s “Citizen Browser project,” misinformation regarding COVID-19 and vaccines are readily available on Facebook. According to Madelyn Webb, a senior researcher at Media Matters, as late as April 2021, she found 117 active anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. Combined, those groups had roughly 275,000 members. Even more troubling is the finding that Facebook “continued to recommend health groups to its users, including blatantly anti-vaccine groups and pages explicitly founded to propagate lies about the pandemic.” As public health experts struggle to reach individuals who are vaccine hesitant, epidemiologists warn that low rates of vaccine rates coupled with the relaxing of mask mandates could result in new COVID-19 outbreaks. Moreover, most public health officials agree that because herd immunity in the U.S. is now unlikely, “[c]ontinued immunizations, especially for people at highest risk because of age, exposure or health status, will be crucial to limiting the severity of outbreaks, if not their frequency.” In short, “vaccinations remain the key to transforming the virus into a controllable threat.”

In March 2021, Senator Warner wrote to you expressing these same concerns. Your April 2021 response failed to directly answer the questions posed in his letter. Specifically, you failed to respond to a question as to why posts with content warnings about health misinformation were promoted into Instagram feeds. Given Facebook’s continued failure to remove vaccine misinformation from its platforms, we seek answers to the following questions no later than July 5, 2021.

1.    In calendar year 2021, how many users viewed vaccine-related misinformation? 

2.    In calendar year 2021, how many users were recommended anti-vaccine information or vaccine-related misinformation? 

a.    Why were these users recommended such information?

3.    In calendar year 2021, how many vaccine-related posts has Facebook removed due to violations of its vaccine misinformation policy? How many pages were removed? How many accounts were removed? How many groups were removed?

a.    On average, how long did these pages or posts remain on the platform before Facebook removed them?  

4.    What steps is Facebook taking to ensure that its platforms do not recommend vaccine-related misinformation to its users? Please be specific. 

5.    What steps is Facebook taking to ensure that individuals who search out anti-vaccine content are not subsequently shown additional misinformation?

6.    In March 2019, Facebook said it would stop recommending groups that contained vaccine-related misinformation content. It wasn’t until February 2021 that the company announced it would remove such content across the platform. Why did it take Facebook nearly a year to make this decision? 

Thank you in advance or your prompt response to the above questions. 

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Loudoun County will receive a reimbursement of $1,882,828.45 in federal funding in response to COVID-19 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The funding will cover costs associated with the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for first responders, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, fire and rescue, health services including nursing and healthcare, and mental health, substance abuse and development services.

“We’re glad to see these federal dollars go towards protecting our first responders from the COVID-19 virus,” said the Senators. “We remain committed to ensuring that our first responders have the necessary equipment to protect themselves from COVID-19.”

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $8,899,215.83 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)'s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“We are glad to announce this funding to support Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s vaccination efforts,” said the Senators. “With half of the U.S. adult population now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, now is not the time to slow down. We remain committed to expanding Virginia’s vaccination capacity so that all eligible workers and residents can get their shots as soon as possible.” 

Sens. Warner and Kaine strongly supported the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan, which included $7.5 billion in funding for the CDC and public health departments to expand vaccine distribution and administration. 

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that two emergency projects across Northern Virginia will receive a combined reimbursement of $20,902,666.81 in federal funding in response to COVID-19 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The funding will cover costs associated with the communication of COVID-19 warnings and guidance to Virginians, as well as medical supplies and equipment to combat the virus.

“We’re pleased to see these federal dollars go towards managing, controlling, and reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Northern Virginia,” said the Senators. “It’s important for folks to have the necessary tools and procedures to tackle this health crisis.”

The funding was awarded as follows:

  • Valley Health will receive $3,786,140.24.
  • Fairfax County will receive $17,116,526.57.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a group of 12 colleagues in urging the Biden administration to work with states, tribes, and territories to prioritize young people in the foster care system, who have been particularly afflicted by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. In a letter to the Administration for Children and Families at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the senators stressed the disparate outcomes faced by young people in foster care in the areas of educational attainment, employment rates, and earnings, and urged the administration to ensure that states take full advantage of existing flexibilities to mitigate these outcomes.

Joining Sen. Warner in the letter to the Associate Commissioner of the Administration for Children and Families were Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

“As efforts to curtail the pandemic prove successful, it is clear that the long-term impacts of the pandemic will be significant. As you continue to work through year-one priorities, we ask that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ensure that youth currently in and transitioning out of the foster care system receive the support and resources they need to thrive,” wrote the Senators in a letter to HHS Associate Commissioner Aysha Schomburg. “We also ask that you prioritize implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 to ensure that children, youth, and their families can access a range of services to keep them safely together and prevent unnecessary entry into foster care whenever possible. For circumstances when foster care placement is needed, we request that you work with states, tribes, and territories to ensure that children and youth in foster care have high-quality placements and trauma-informed care.”

“The past year has been a difficult time for many. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the overwhelming obstacles youth in the foster care system face, particularly the challenges associated with transitioning into adulthood after leaving the system,” they continued. “We believe that if changes are made to strengthen support and the resources for foster youth, they will be better able to realize their goals and become active members of our nation’s workforce.”

Throughout the past year, young people in the foster care system have felt the educational and economic toll of the pandemic at much higher rates than their peers. In fact, a University of Pennsylvania study found that foster youth have lost their jobs during COVID-19 at a rate three times that of the general population. The senators also cited the findings of a longitudinal study, which revealed that by age 23 and 24, one-quarter of youth with experience in foster care did not have a high school diploma or a GED. Additionally, although nearly one third had completed at least one year of college, only 6 percent had completed a 2- or 4-year post-secondary degree. 

In the letter, the senators requested that the administration take action to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on foster youth. Specifically, they asked the administration to:

·         Allow title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable foster youth and families in order to ensure that foster youth do not continue to fall behind in meeting their work and study obligations because they do not have necessary technological tools available to them. 

·         Work with states to address the impact of the digital divide on foster youth by considering long-term solutions to technology-access challenges that have been exacerbated during the public health emergency, and working with child welfare agencies on context-specific plans to ensure foster youth have resources necessary to participate in online instruction or work virtually.  

·         Implement a plan to ensure that agencies proactively reach out to foster youth to inform them about benefits related to stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, and other COVID-19-related assistance. 

·         Help ensure that foster youth and other at-risk youth are aware of and have the resources to take advantage of the extension of the earned income tax credit (EITC) to working youth under age 26 and work toward making the child tax credit (CTC) as accessible as possible. They asked that the Administration make the EITC and the CTC as accessible as possible by working with youth and their families to ensure they are aware of these opportunities. They also asked that the Administration provide flexibility for caregivers of children in the welfare system to claim a dependent. 

·         Create and implement a plan to ensure that foster youth have access to and are aware of mental health supports. Given the high rates of trauma experienced by foster youth and the increase in reports of mental illness during the pandemic, the senators asked that the administration work to ensure foster youth are provided the necessary mental health resources to support their resilience during this difficult time. 

·         Commit to working with Congress and states, tribes, and territories to address inequalities in the child welfare system in the U.S. and outline steps to make child welfare programs more equitable by working ensuring better opportunities for foster youth and combat the racial disparities we have known to persist within the system for too long. 

A PDF of the letter is available here. Text is available below.

 

Associate Commissioner Aysha Schomburg

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 

The Administration for Children and Families

Children’s Bureau

330 C Street, SW

Washington, D.C. 20201

 

Dear Associate Commissioner Aysha Schomburg, 

We write today in support of children and youth in the foster care system as they continue to face a number of unique challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the steady progress of nationwide vaccine distribution, like many Americans, we feel a sense of reassurance that our nation will soon transition into a more manageable period of the health and economic crises that the nation has endured for over a year now. As efforts to curtail the pandemic prove successful, it is clear that the long-term impacts of the pandemic will be significant. As you continue to work through year-one priorities, we ask that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ensure that youth currently in and transitioning out of the foster care system receive the support and resources they need to thrive. We also ask that you prioritize implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 to ensure that children, youth, and their families can access a range of services to keep them safely together and prevent unnecessary entry into foster care whenever possible. For circumstances when foster care placement is needed, we request that you work with states, tribes, and territories to ensure that children and youth in foster care have high quality placements and trauma-informed care. 

It is well-documented that current and former foster youth face disparate outcomes compared to their peers in various areas, including educational attainment and employment rates and earnings.[1] A longitudinal study in Iowa, better known as “The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth,” found that by age 23 and 24, one-quarter of youth with experience in foster care did not have a high school diploma or a GED, and although nearly one third had completed at least one year of college, only 6% had completed a 2- or 4-year post-secondary degree.[2] Foster youth aging out of the system are also more likely to become homeless and struggle with job insecurity.[3]

The past year has been a difficult time for many. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the overwhelming obstacles youth in the foster care system face, particularly the challenges associated with transitioning into adulthood after leaving the system. 

In fact, former foster youth are some of the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.[4] According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, former foster youth have lost their jobs during the pandemic at a rate three times that of the general population. Additionally, two-thirds of study participants reported that COVID-19 had a major negative impact on their educational progress or attainment.[5] These outcomes can be partially explained by inconsistent access to the internet, with only 5% of rural foster youth and 21% of urban foster youth having consistent access to computers in their homes.[6]

These statistics are heartbreaking and unacceptable. We believe that if changes are made to strengthen support and the resources for foster youth, they will be better able to realize their goals and become active members of our nation’s workforce. 

We greatly appreciate the Biden Administration’s leadership in working with state, tribal and territorial child welfare agencies to slow the spread of the virus and “build back better.” We respectfully ask that you continue to encourage states to take full advantage of existing flexibilities and make additional changes to best support foster youth. Specifically, we request that you: 

·         Allow title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable foster youth and families. The virtual working and learning environments we have experienced during the pandemic are likely to last long after the spread of the virus is slowed.[7] Therefore, we must ensure that foster youth do not continue to fall behind in meeting their work and study obligations because they do not have necessary technological tools available to them. We ask that allowable expenses be expanded to include laptop computers, tablets, and internet access for children and families in the child welfare system.  

·         Work with states to address the impact of the digital divide on foster youth. We were proud to vote in support of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which increased support for John H. Chafee Foster Care Programs for Successful Transition to Adulthood, mandated that a state operating a program under Title IV-E cannot require that a child who is in foster care leave solely because of the child’s age until October 1, 2021, and suspended certain training and postsecondary educational requirements that could be barriers to youth accessing Chafee supports during the public health emergency. In addition to working with states, territories, tribes and tribal organizations to ensure this law is implemented effectively, we ask that you consider long-term solutions to technology-access challenges that have been exacerbated during the public health emergency. We ask that you work with child welfare agencies on context-specific plans to ensure foster youth have resources necessary to participate in online instruction or work virtually. 

·         Implement a plan to ensure that agencies proactively reach out to foster youth to inform them about benefits related to stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, and other COVID-19-related assistance. We ask that you work to ensure foster youth are aware of all resources available to them during this difficult time. 

·         Help ensure that foster youth and other at-risk youth are aware of and have the resources to take advantage of the extension of the earned income tax credit (EITC) to working youth under age 26 and work toward making the child tax credit (CTC) as accessible as possible. We were pleased to see that the American Rescue Plan included an extension of the EITC to working youth under age 26. We believe this change has significant potential to equip former foster youth to become productive members of the workforce. We ask that the Administration help make foster youth and other vulnerable youth aware of this expansion, as well as help ensure they have the resources to take advantage of this opportunity. In addition, we are proud that the American Rescue Plan temporarily expands the CTC and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) for 2021. We ask that the Administration make the CTC as accessible as possible by working with families to ensure they know how the monthly payments work and allow non-filers to establish eligibility. We also ask that the Administration provide flexibility for caregivers of children in the welfare system to claim a dependent. 

·         Create and implement a plan to ensure that foster youth have access to and are aware of mental health supports. Foster youth who have aged out of the system are like other populations experiencing isolation due to the pandemic, but many lack substantive social supports. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses. Given the high rates of trauma experienced by foster youth and the increase in reports of mental illness during the pandemic, we ask that you work to ensure foster youth are provided the necessary mental health resources to support their resilience during this difficult time. The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 allows Title IV-E funds to cover evidence-based mental health services and programs for children, youth, and their families. We encourage you to support states, tribes, and territories in development and implementation of robust Title IV-E Prevention Program plans that include a range of mental health services.

·         Commit to working with Congress and states, tribes, and territories to address inequalities in the child welfare system in the U.S. and outline steps to make child welfare programs more equitable. Youth of color frequently experience negative outcomes, such as homelessness, unemployment, economic hardship, and involvement with the criminal justice system, at higher rates than their white peers after transitioning out of the foster care system.[8] We ask that the Biden Administration work with youth, parents, kinship caregivers with lived expertise, as well as child welfare agencies and Congress to play a leading role in ensuring better opportunities for foster youth and combat the racial disparities we have known to persist within the system for too long. 

Thank you for your diligent, impactful work on behalf of our nation’s foster youth. We appreciate your time and attention to this urgent matter. We are grateful for your partnership as we continue to work on behalf of youth in need. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Over the last 24 hours, here’s just some of what Virginians have been reading about the $7.2 billion in relief funds that are headed to the state and local governments thanks to the American Rescue Plan:

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia cities to get double boost from American Rescue Plan as money starts to flow

Virginia will receive $4.3 billion, or $500 million more than previously expected, under the American Rescue Plan Act, while Richmond and other cities will get a double financial benefit because of their status as independent cities under guidance released by the U.S. Treasury Department on Monday.

Richmond, for example, will receive $110 million as a city and almost $45 million as a county under the act, which President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11 as the first signature legislative achievement of his presidency to jump-start an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

[…]

Many localities lost substantial amounts of revenue from taxes on meals, lodging and admissions during the pandemic and state restrictions imposed on businesses, especially in areas dependent on tourism, such as Williamsburg and the rest of the Historic Triangle.

“They’re slowly coming back as the economy slowly reopens,” said Neal Menkes, a fiscal consultant to the Virginia Municipal League.

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, D-Va., drove the needs home in a letter with the state’s seven Democratic congressional representatives to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in mid-April that argued for funding as both city and county: “The treatment of independent cities under the Treasury Department guidance for allocating local relief funds will have a profound impact on our constituents,” they wrote.

Virginia cities would have lost almost $500 million in funding if counted only as cities or towns, and almost $800 million if designated only as counties, the Democrats said.

Daily Press: Over $790M in rescue-plan funds heading to cities, counties and colleges in Hampton Roads

The American Rescue Plan will pump more than $790 million of pandemic relief funds into the Hampton Roads economy through funding to local governments and area colleges and universities.

The plan, enacted earlier this year, is giving $618 million to Hampton Roads cities and counties, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced. The state government will get nearly $4.3 billion — the combined total of funds for the state and its cities and counties comes to $7.2 billion, the senators said.

They said they were pleased the Biden administration listened to their calls to give state and local governments flexibility in using the money. It should help the state and its cities and counties recover from the impact of lost revenue, as well as boosting public health efforts and broadband expansion, the senators said.

Colleges and universities in Hampton Roads will receive more than $162 million in emergency funding under the American Rescue Plan, Reps. Robert C. “Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, and Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, reported.

The funding will help the schools cope with the financial impact of the pandemic, said Scott, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. 

At least half the funding each institution is getting will be distributed as emergency cash assistance grants to students who are facing hunger, homelessness or other hardships, he said.

WVTF: How much is your community getting from ARPA?

The Treasury Department released much-awaited figures regarding aid from the American Rescue Plan Act Monday evening. In total Virginia’s set to receive $7.2 billion. $4.3 billion will go to the state, and $2.9 billion directly to localities.

Virginia’s cities organize themselves in a way that’s unlike almost all other states. That created worries that cities would miss out on their share of funds from the America Rescue Plan Act. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, along with Virginia’s House Democrats, wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking her to give independent cities money for both cities and counties.

County allocations are generally based on population, where as metro city allocations were based on a set of variables from the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, wrote Rob Bullington of the Virginia Municipal League in an email. Independent cities don't fall into either of these categories. 

“I think the Virginia delegation did a great job in making the case that this was the legislative intent of ARPA that these funds be provided as was shown in the first traunch,” said Bob Lazaro, the Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.   

NBC29: Virginia to receive $7.2 billion from Treasury Department’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds

The Winchester Star: Warner, Kaine praise Treasury's launch of state, local COVID relief funds

Bristol Herald Courier: Local cities, counties divide $70M in coronavirus relief funds

Culpeper Star-Exponent: Culpeper area counties to receive more than $35 million from American Rescue Plan

The Northern Virginia Daily: Warner, Kaine praise Treasury's launch of state, local COVID relief funds 

Chatham Star-Tribune: Over $40 million in COVID relief coming to Pittsylvania County, Danville

WHSVVirginia to receive $7.2 billion from Treasury Department’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds

The Southwest Times: County to get $6.6M in relief funds

Henrico Citizen: Henrico to receive $64.2M in American Rescue Plan funds

Local leaders across Virginia have praised the passage of the American Rescue Plan, noting that state and local governments have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response since last year.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded the Treasury Department’s launch of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, established by the American Rescue Plan Act.

“We welcome the $7.2 billion in relief for Virginia and are pleased the Biden Administration has listened to our calls to give states, localities, and tribes significant flexibility in determining how best to use these emergency funds,” said the Senators. “These funds will allow the Commonwealth and localities to recover from the economic harm of COVID, promote public health, invest in broadband, make up for lost revenue, and address many of the other impacts of the pandemic. We will keep working with the Commonwealth and local governments to ensure Virginians receive this much-needed relief.”

The Virginia state government will receive nearly $4.3 billion from these funds. An additional amount of approximately $2.9 billion will be allocated to municipalities the following way:

  • Accomack County: $6,277,004
  • Albemarle County: $21,236,071
  • Alexandria: $59,633,833
  • Alleghany County: $2,886,381
  • Amelia County: $2,553,262
  • Amherst County: $6,138,901
  • Appomattox County: $3,090,525
  • Arlington County: $46,003,782
  • Augusta County: $14,676,256
  • Bath County: $805,506
  • Bedford County: $15,344,241
  • Blacksburg: $13,364,987
  • Bland County: $1,219,816
  • Botetourt County: $6,491,249
  • Bristol: $10,027,374
  • Brunswick County: $3,152,681
  • Buchanan County: $4,079,781
  • Buckingham County: $3,330,798
  • Buena Vista: $1,258,276
  • Campbell County: $10,660,768
  • Caroline County: $5,967,971
  • Carroll County: $5,786,553
  • Charles City County: $1,352,481
  • Charlotte County: $2,307,551
  • Charlottesville: $19,609,709
  • Chesapeake: $76,025,897
  • Chesterfield County: $68,527,653
  • Christiansburg: $3,115,411
  • Clarke County: $2,839,569
  • Colonial Heights: $6,010,090
  • Covington: $1,075,692
  • Craig County: $996,637
  • Culpeper County: $10,217,905
  • Cumberland County: $1,929,175
  • Danville: $29,142,851
  • Dickenson County: $2,781,104
  • Dinwiddie County: $5,544,337
  • Emporia: $1,038,398
  • Essex County: $2,127,492
  • Fairfax County: $222,894,638
  • Fairfax City: $4,665,409
  • Falls Church: $2,839,181
  • Fauquier County: $13,834,039
  • Floyd County: $3,059,059
  • Fluvanna County: $5,296,878
  • Franklin County: $10,885,502
  • Franklin City: $1,547,496
  • Frederick County: $17,348,003
  • Fredericksburg: $10,782,747
  • Galax: $1,232,830
  • Giles County: $3,247,664
  • Gloucester County: $7,254,411
  • Goochland County: $4,613,742
  • Grayson County: $3,020,405
  • Greene County: $3,849,608
  • Greensville County: $2,201,885
  • Halifax County: $6,586,814
  • Hampton: $48,660,418
  • Hanover County: $20,932,282
  • Harrisonburg: $23,834,094
  • Henrico County: $64,257,518
  • Henry County: $9,820,105
  • Highland County: $425,382
  • Hopewell: $9,998,813
  • Isle of Wight County: $7,207,988
  • James City County: $14,863,696
  • King George County: $5,212,578
  • King William County: $3,330,798
  • King and Queen County: $1,364,524
  • Lancaster County: $2,059,508
  • Lee County: $4,549,643
  • Leesburg: $5,927,673
  • Lexington: $1,446,298
  • Loudoun County: $80,324,909
  • Louisa County: $7,301,611
  • Lunenburg County: $2,368,930
  • Lynchburg: $33,328,529
  • Madison County: $2,575,794
  • Manassas Park: $3,394,897
  • Manassas: $7,980,280
  • Martinsville: $2,438,467
  • Mathews County: $1,715,901
  • Mecklenburg County: $5,941,166
  • Middlesex County: $2,055,429
  • Montgomery County: $19,139,269
  • Nelson County: $2,899,977
  • New Kent County: $4,485,156
  • Newport News: $66,794,246
  • Norfolk: $154,141,050
  • Northampton County: $2,274,530
  • Northumberland County: $2,349,312
  • Norton: $773,263
  • Nottoway County: $2,958,637
  • Orange County: $7,196,722
  • Page County: $4,642,683
  • Patrick County: $3,420,148
  • Petersburg: $20,961,839
  • Pittsylvania County: $11,723,057
  • Poquoson: $2,383,498
  • Portsmouth: $56,842,564
  • Powhatan County: $5,759,553
  • Prince Edward County: $4,429,021
  • Prince George County: $7,449,621
  • Prince William County: $91,357,060
  • Pulaski County: $6,609,346
  • Radford: $8,228,392
  • Rappahannock County: $1,431,536
  • Richmond County: $1,752,612
  • Richmond City: $154,879,828
  • Roanoke County: $18,294,526
  • Roanoke City: $64,576,671
  • Rockbridge County: $4,384,541
  • Rockingham County: $15,917,438
  • Russell County: $5,164,019
  • Salem: $4,914,423
  • Scott County: $4,188,943
  • Shenandoah County: $8,471,897
  • Smyth County: $5,847,349
  • Southampton County: $3,424,615
  • Spotsylvania County: $26,458,167
  • Stafford County: $29,695,536
  • Staunton: $12,955,826
  • Suffolk: $30,065,296
  • Surry County: $1,247,398
  • Sussex County: $2,167,505
  • Tazewell County: $7,885,103
  • Virginia Beach: $136,429,703
  • Warren County: $7,801,386
  • Washington County: $10,438,365
  • Waynesboro: $9,046,603
  • Westmoreland County: $3,499,203
  • Williamsburg: $2,904,639
  • Winchester: $12,337,682
  • Wise County: $7,261,210
  • Wythe County: $5,571,531
  • York County: $13,262,590
  • Non-entitlement funds: approximately $633,000,000 

Allocations for non-entitlement local governments will soon be released and will provide an additional $633 million in relief to Virginia cities and towns. Tribal governments will receive their allocation amounts after submitting their requests for funding to the Treasury

Eligible state, metropolitan city, and county governments may now request their allocation through the Treasury Submission Portal.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), and John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing their concerns in regards to the ongoing coronavirus surge in India and asking the administration to take further steps to combat the crisis. The country is currently averaging more than 300,000 new infections every day and its health care system and infrastructure are struggling to keep up with the surge. 

In their letter the senators commended the administration for recent actions to help India address the crisis, including transferring to India lifesaving equipment and raw materials for the production of vaccinesThey also urged the Biden administration to take further steps to help India by continuing its robust contribution to the World Health Organization’s COVAX plan and preparing a detailed strategy on how the U.S. can distribute its surplus of vaccines. Finally, they also warned of disinformation campaigns surrounding the vaccines by countries such as China and Russia and urged the administration to do everything it can to combat these campaigns.

“As you know, India’s healthcare system and infrastructure are struggling to meet the challenges posed by the current and largely unchecked surge, with the country averaging more than 300,000 new infections every day,” said the senators. “We urge you to work with the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies, as well as with our international partners and private sector partners to transfer more lifesaving equipment, vaccines and other support to India as quickly as possible. The United States must work with the Indian government on their response, as well as continue to lead the international efforts to stop the spread of variants and to deliver the assistance needed to the Indian people.”

For ways that others can get involved, visit https://www.usaid.gov/.

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

Dear Secretary Blinken:

We are writing to express our deep concern with the ongoing coronavirus surge and human toll in India and to encourage the Administration to continue to take actions to address the crisis. We commend the recent transfer of lifesaving equipment, including N95 masks and other personal protective equipment, oxygen cylinders, rapid diagnostic tests, and raw materials for the production of vaccines. These deliveries will save lives and demonstrates our commitment to our ally India, the world’s largest democracy. However, we also believe there is more we can do, both to mitigate the tragedy unfolding in India and to ensure that the explosion of cases in India does not undercut global progress to combat this virus. 

As you know, India’s healthcare system and infrastructure are struggling to meet the challenges posed by the current and largely unchecked surge, with the country averaging more than 300,000 new infections every day. We urge you to work with the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies, as well as with our international partners and private sector partners to transfer more lifesaving equipment, vaccines and other support to India as quickly as possible. The United States must work with the Indian government on their response, as well as continue to lead the international efforts to stop the spread of variants and to deliver the assistance needed to the Indian people

The United States should also continue its robust contribution to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX)’s plan for the global acquisition and distribution of vaccines to low and medium-income countries. In addition, in the coming months, the United States will have a surplus of vaccines that can be made available for distribution around the world. A detailed public strategy on how the Department of State plans to distribute these excess vaccines would clarify the ambiguity surrounding future US policy and provide needed certainty to India.

Lastly, we urge the Global Engagement Center to combat the numerous disinformation messages from Russia, China and others regarding the coronavirus pandemic, including the US global health response. Specifically in India, disinformation has undermined the public health response, heightened already-tense religious tensions, and muddied the waters surrounding our support as they face an unprecedented surge in coronavirus infections.  As entities continue to manipulate narratives at the expense of US national security, regional security, and global health security, we urge you to place a greater emphasis on combatting these disinformation and misinformation campaigns integrating that effort into America's global health response to this pandemic.  

We look forward to working with you and the Administration to continue our work to ensure that we stand with our ally and partner, India, as it battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senators and Co-Chairs of the Senate India Caucus Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter to President Biden urging him to ramp up efforts to support hard-hit countries like India by providing them with medical supplies and surplus vaccinations as they manage the recent surge in coronavirus infections 

They wrote, “We write to urge you to accelerate U.S. efforts to support other countries as they work to combat the COVID-19 virus.  As the United States strengthens its capacity to fight this virus, with vastly expanded testing and widespread vaccinations for Americans, we must ramp up our support to countries that are being particularly hard hit, such as India, through the provision of medical supplies and surplus vaccinations. 

“As co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, we are watching with growing alarm the unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, which has overwhelmed hospitals and the overall health system in India.”

“This pandemic has devastated populations and nations across the globe, making very clear that the virus knows no borders. In order to control its spread globally, saving lives abroad and here at home, we must do our part to attack the virus where it is most devastating and active.”

The full text of the letter is here and below.

Dear President Biden:

We write to urge you to accelerate U.S. efforts to support other countries as they work to combat the COVID-19 virus.  As the United States strengthens its capacity to fight this virus, with vastly expanded testing and widespread vaccinations for Americans, we must ramp up our support to countries that are being particularly hard hit, such as India, through the provision of medical supplies and surplus vaccinations. U.S. government agencies – both civilian and military – should be mobilized to lead an international response to the pandemic that both protects the American people from the virus and supports other countries’ efforts. 

Numerous countries are facing record-breaking surges and a devastating number of deaths daily.  India is a case in point. As co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, we are watching with growing alarm the unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, which has overwhelmed hospitals and the overall health system in India. India is the now the epicenter of this crisis and faces a severe shortage of testing kits, vaccines, oxygen equipment, personal protective equipment, and medical facilities. India is also in great need of treatments and medicines, including oxygen, monoclonal antibodies, Remdesivir, and high quality dexamethasone to combat the virus.  

As is the case in this global crisis, this unmitigated surge in COVID-19 not only threatens India and its people, but it threatens the entire world as variants emerge, and nations continue to struggle to limit the virus’ spread. We urge you to find ways to increase support to the most impacted countries, including India, with surplus vaccines, supplies, and field hospitals, as they battle to reduce the number of deaths and new cases. 

The United States has demonstrated real ingenuity and a capacity to scale up its COVID-19 testing and vaccination regimes during the pandemic. We have conducted more than 300 million tests. Now, as the United States averages 2.82 million vaccine doses per day, new cases and deaths have dropped significantly. Even accounting for current and anticipated need domestically, there is now a surplus supply of testing kits that can have the greatest impact abroad, along with personal protective equipment that so many countries desperately need. In addition, with millions of unused AstraZeneca vaccine doses on hand, the U.S. has the ability to send many abroad without a detrimental impact to our own vaccination efforts at this crucial time. We applaud and encourage your efforts to share AstraZeneca doses with India and other countries in need as they come available.

Finally, we congratulate you for taking specific actions to remove obstacles that would get in the way of sending excess vaccines to India. While India has significant capacity to vaccinate, its per capita vaccination rates are insufficient to cover such a large population. Further, we urge you to remove the export embargo on raw materials to India used in vaccine production, which would allow The Serum Institute of India to ramp up production of vaccines that it already produces domestically. We ask that you also assess similar barriers that prohibit the sharing of excess vaccines with other nations. 

As you design your strategy to provide assistance to India and other nations, we ask that you consider the needs outlined above. This pandemic has devastated populations and nations across the globe, making very clear that the virus knows no borders. In order to control its spread globally, saving lives abroad and here at home, we must do our part to attack the virus where it is most devastating and active. We appreciate your commitment to helping our global partners in our shared efforts to combat this disease, and we thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) will receive $6,505,200 in federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deliver individuals that have transportation needs to state run Community Vaccination Centers. 

“We’re glad to see these federal dollars go towards helping Virginians who have transportation needs get vaccinated,” said the Senators. “As Virginians 16 and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, we remain committed to expanding opportunities so that all eligible students, workers, and residents can get their shots as soon as possible.”  

Sens. Warner and Kaine strongly supported the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan, which included $7.5 billion in funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and public health departments to expand vaccine distribution and administration, and several billion dollars in additional funding for local community health centers and medical personnel to assist in administering vaccines.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $19,155,185 in federal funding to provide economic relief to 11 airports across Virginia. The funding, awarded through the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), was authorized by the December 2020 emergency COVID-19 relief bill supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine.

“We are happy to announce that these funds will go towards supporting 11 airports in Virginia,” said the Senators. “While we work to get folks vaccinated and the economy back on track, these dollars will help ensure that our regional airports have what they need to continue combating COVID-19 and serving travelers.” 

The funding will be distributed as follows:

Airport:

Location:

Amount:

Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport 

Albemarle County

$2,928,978

Culpeper Regional Airport

Culpeper County

$23,000

Louisa County/Freeman Field Airport

Louisa County

$13,000

Lynchburg Regional Airport

Campbell County

$1,261,006

Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport

Newport News

$1,951,578

Norfolk International Airport

Norfolk

$5,768,825

Richmond International Airport

Henrico County

$6,143,825

Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport

Augusta County

$ 1,005,973

Stafford Regional Airport 

Stafford County

$13,000

Warrenton-Fauquier Airport

Fauquier County

$23,000

Winchester Regional Airport

Frederick County

$23,000

Specifically, this funding will go towards helping airports cover costs related to operations, personnel, cleaning, sanitization, janitorial services, debt service payments, and efforts to combat the spread of pathogens.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long fought for increased investments to infrastructure, including for Virginia’s airports. Most recently, they supported the passage and signing of the American Rescue Plan, which provides robust transportation funding for airports and other transit systems throughout Virginia.

###

WASHINGTON – Across Virginia, relief funds are headed to schools, localities and bank accounts, as a result of the American Rescue Plan that was signed into law earlier this month.

An overview of resources going to Virginia as a result of the American Rescue Plan can be found here. A list of direct aid amounts for local governments in Virginia are available here.

Here’s what some local leaders around Virginia are saying:

“Since day one, local governments have been on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. Across the country, municipal employees have been dogged in working to defeat the virus and carry out vital functions despite immense budgetary uncertainty. I am thankful to Senator Warner for making sure Fairfax County has the funding critical to continuing to fight the virus and vaccinate our residents while maintaining essential services and promoting the economic recovery.” – Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay

“Prince William County has weathered immense challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding in this relief bill will help us emerge from this crisis stronger than ever as it will address the needs of all families and address local inequities which have become more visible during this crisis. I am grateful for Senator Warner and his tireless leadership during this current health and economic crisis.”  – Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler

“The Town of Dumfries is extremely grateful to be a direct recipient of funding from the ARP.  We will continue to use the funding to help our community defeat this virus and rebuild our economy.  We appreciate Senator Warner for making sure that localities like the Town of Dumfries and our residents have much-needed resources to weather the season of this pandemic.” – Dumfries Mayor Derrick Wood

“On behalf of all Alexandrians, I want to share my heartfelt gratitude to Senator Warner, Senator Kaine and Representative Beyer for their assistance in achieving this legislation. The assistance from the American Rescue Plan will help our residents and business community in many ways over the coming years and will certainly expedite our recovery after the devastating economic and personal impacts of the last year. We will continue to persevere together, and this aid will help to see us through to the other side of this global pandemic.” – Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson

“Cities like Richmond have been on the front lines of this pandemic for a year now, and we all know that communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the public health threat and economic devastation wrought by COVID-19. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, the American Rescue Plan will give us the economic shot in the arm we need to continue to fight the battle against COVID and help us recover the right way. I’m grateful to President Biden and leaders like Senator Warner for coming to the rescue of Virginia – and the City of Richmond.” – Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney

“It’s an opening to transform our town. It’s a historic chance to make a lasting difference, to turn a painful time into a promising one.” – Scottsville Vice Mayor Laura Mellusi

“The American Rescue Plan will allow the City to disburse the money more quickly and efficiently than previous funding, which is incredibly important because it includes critical financial support for municipal services as well as direct relief for citizens and businesses. The ARP Act took a holistic and thoughtful approach by recognizing that several funding sources should work together on behalf of businesses. For example, the mechanism by which entities can take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program can also apply for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) administered by the Small Business Administration. This is a great example of how local governments can help our federal partners get funding directly where it is needed most.” – Virginia Beach Mayor Robert M. “Bobby” Dyer

“Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the city of Hampton will receive millions in direct fiscal relief to help deal with the effects of COVID-19. Our residents have been hard-hit by the health and economic effects of the virus. This relief funding – along with other aid to this region for schools, transit, and more – will go a long way to helping us respond and set Hampton on a path to a strong recovery from the pandemic.” – Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck

“Chesapeake has been extremely hard-hit by the effects of COVID-19. The direct funding for Chesapeake that the American Rescue Plan provides will help us continue our efforts to defeat the virus and build back our economy. I am thankful to Senator Warner for making sure the Chesapeake and our residents have the tools we need to deal with the effects of the pandemic.” – Chesapeake City Council Member Dr. Ella D. Ward 

“The passage of the American Rescue Plan provides direct aid to localities which have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. These resources will allow Bristol, VA and localities across the nation to continue to provide services to citizens even when localities have seen substantial negative impacts to their revenue. Local government employees have continued to serve their communities during the pandemic with minimal interruptions from COVID-19, and this funding will allow us purchase items to fight the virus in order to keep our schools, children and citizens safe.” – Bristol City Manager Randall Eads

“Local governments have been on the frontline since the beginning of the pandemic providing critical public health and essential services, and ensuring the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens. For more than a year, we have continued this important work despite the immense challenges and fiscal uncertainty we have faced due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic fallout. This critical funding will help us to continue fighting the virus and expedite the vaccinating of our residents while maintaining the delivery of core services and promoting the economic recovery.” – Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan D. Sweet

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $1,169,961 in federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for three organizations across Southwest and Southside Virginia that are supporting individuals suffering from substance use disorder. 

“Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen an increased demand for substance abuse treatment,” said the Senators. “We are glad to announce that this funding will provide increased support to those struggling with addiction in Southwest and Southside Virginia.”

The following organizations will receive funding as listed below: 

  • Piedmont Regional Community Services Board in Martinsville, Virginia will receive a grant of $498,961 to increase the number of recovering individuals in Martinsville and Henry County and expand the program that currently serves Patrick County.
  • LENOWISCO in Duffield, Virginia will receive a grant of $371,000 to develop a substance abuse recovery ecosystem and remove barriers to obtaining employment.
  • Western Virginia Workforce Development Board in Roanoke, Virginia will receive a grant of $300,000 to develop and enhance the recovery ecosystem in Alleghany, Craig, and the City of Covington.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded the Biden administration for increasing the amount of federal dollars that Virginia will receive for five emergency projects across the Commonwealth. By adjusting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s federal cost share from 75 percent to 100 percent, the Biden administration will help deliver an additional $22,915,050 in federal funding to cover the cost of communicating COVID-19 warnings and guidance to Virginians and procuring and utilizing medical supplies and equipment to combat the virus.

“COVID-19 created an immediate threat to the health and safety of our country requiring emergency response and protective measures. We thank the Biden administration for recently adjusting the federal cost share to help the Commonwealth manage, control, and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said the Senators. “As Virginians continue to wear a mask, social distance, and get tested and vaccinated, we remain committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth has the necessary tools and procedures to continue to tackle this health crisis.”

The following projects will receive funding as listed below:

Recipient

Location

FEMA Share Previously 

 

Cost Share Adjustment

Fairfax County

Fairfax

$5,147,564.33

$1,715,854.77

City of Alexandria

Alexandria

$3,675,732.45

$1,225,244.15

Virginia Department of Emergency Management

Richmond

$50,773,516.83

$16,924,505.61

Centra Health

Lynchburg

$4,285,914.02

$1,428,638.00

Virginia Department of Emergency Management

Richmond

$4,862,422.42

$1,620,807.47

Total: 

 

$68,745,150.05

$22,915,050

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that two emergency projects across the Commonwealth will receive $2,624,138.82 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The federal funds will be used to communicate COVID-19 warnings and guidance to Virginians, and procure and utilize medical supplies and equipment to combat the virus. 

“We’re glad to see these federal dollars go towards managing, controlling, and reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said the Senators. “As Virginians continue to wear a mask, social distance, and get tested and vaccinated, we remain committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth has the necessary tools and procedures to continue to combat this health crisis.”

The following projects will receive funding as listed below:

Recipient

Amount

Virginia Port Authority

$1,599,519.03

Virginia Beach   

$1,024,619.79

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Virginia will receive $79,907,625 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support 26 community health centers across the Commonwealth. The funding – which was made possible through the American Rescue Plan – will be awarded beginning in April by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

“For the past year, our community health centers have been on the front lines of providing care to our most vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis,” said the Senators. “Thanks to the congressional passage and eventual signing of the American Rescue Plan, we are now able to provide these critical federal dollars so that our community health centers can continue to provide lifesaving care to the folks who need it the most.”

The funding for the 26 community health centers will be awarded as follows:

Recipient

City/Town

Award Amount

Neighborhood Health

Alexandria

$7,893,875

Blue Ridge Medical Center Inc.

Arrington

$1,861,750

Bland County Medical Clinic Inc. 

Bastian

$1,595,375

Free Clinic of the New River Valley, Inc. 

Christiansburg

$1,492,000

Piedmont Access to Health Services Inc. 

Danville

$3,666,625

Clinch River Health Services Inc. 

Dungannon

$950,375

Harrisonburg Community Health Center, Inc. 

Harrisonburg 

$3,441,625

St. Charles Health Council Inc. 

Jonesville

$3,021,125

Tri-Area Community Health 

Laurel Fork

$1,990,750

Loudoun Community Health Center

Leesburg

$3,976,500

Rockbridge Area Free Clinic 

Lexington

$1,629,000

Johnson Health Center 

Lynchburg

$4,305,625

Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness 

Martinsville

$1,435,875

Highland Medical Center 

Monterey

$822,750

Central Virginia Health Services, Inc. 

New Canton

$8,864,625

Peninsula Institute for Community Health, Inc. 

Newport News

$4,659,500

Eastern Shore Rural Health System, Incorporated 

Onancock

$5,704,750

Portsmouth Community Health Center, Inc. 

Portsmouth

$2,767,125

Daily Planet Inc. 

Richmond

$2,259,375

Richmond, City of 

Richmond

$2,991,625

Kuumba Community Health & Wellness Center, Inc. 

Roanoke

$2,461,625

Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems, Inc. 

Saltville

$3,039,750

Stony Creek Community Health Center 

Stony Creek

$889,500

Southern Dominion Health Systems, Inc.

Victoria

$2,379,875

Horizon Health Services, Inc. 

Waverly

$1,159,250

Greater Prince William Area Community Health Center, Inc. 

Woodbridge

$4,647,375

Health centers will be able to use these funds to support and expand COVID-19 vaccination, testing, and treatment for vulnerable populations; deliver needed preventive and primary health care services to those at higher risk for COVID-19; and expand health centers’ operational capacity during the pandemic and beyond, including modifying and improving physical infrastructure and adding mobile units. 

###

WASHINGTON – The day after Mark Zuckerberg testified before a congressional committee exploring the proliferation of misinformation on social media,  U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) pressed the Facebook CEO about the continued proliferation of anti-vaccine content on the company’s platforms, particularly Instagram.  

In a letter, Sen. Warner wrote, “Anti-vaccination groups and other health conspiracy groups have long utilized – and been enabled by – Facebook’s platforms to disseminate misinformation. Studies show a rapid increase in the spread of health misinformation online since the start of the pandemic. Yet on the very day that Facebook introduced its updated standards touted to address health misinformation media organizations noted that several of the top-ranked search results for ‘covid vaccine’ on Instagram were anti-vaccine accounts. I am deeply concerned that Facebook’s new policies will continue to lack the adequate enforcement needed to reduce the spread of harmful misinformation on its platforms.” 

In the correspondence, Warner noted the importance of promoting accurate information about vaccine safety, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently finding that nearly a third of U.S. adults surveyed reported they did not intend to get vaccinated, despite the proven safety and effectiveness of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. Experts estimate that 70 to 90 percent of Americans will need to be vaccinated before herd immunity can be achieved. 

“Facebook has previously committed to reducing the spread of misinformation on its platforms, implementing a ban on false claims about vaccines in groups, pages, and ads in April 2020  and promising to remove COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation from the platform in an effort to promote authoritative health information in February 2021,” Warner explained. “However, despite these promises, Facebook’s enforcement of its own policies is consistently and demonstrably insufficient, a trend we have seen in other areas where Facebook has pledged to address misuse of its products or instances of its products amplifying harmful content.”

A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Instagram’s algorithm promoted unsolicited content that featured anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation to users across several features of the platform, including in the “Suggested Posts” section, which was introduced in August 2020 and directs users to recommended posts from accounts they do not follow based on users’ engagement with related posts. 

“The events of January 6th prove that there are real-world consequences when harmful misinformation is allowed to run rampant online, and I am concerned that Instagram – a platform which has generally escaped the level of scrutiny directed at Facebook, itself – is similarly enabling the spread of harmful misinformation that could hinder COVID-19 mitigation efforts and, ultimately, result in lives lost,” Warner wrote.

In the letter, Warner pressed Zuckerberg to respond to a series of questions about the platform’s policies and procedures for dealing with health misinformation, and requested that the CEO produce the company’s internal research into Instagram’s amplification of anti-vaccine content, groups, pages, and verified figures by April 23, 2021. 

Warner has long pressed social media platforms to crack down on the rapid proliferation of extremist content and harmful misinformation. In June 2020, Warner pressed Facebook regarding its failure to prevent the propagation of white supremacist groups online and its role providing these extremist groups with a platform to organize and radicalize other users. In October, Warner urged Facebook, Twitter and Google to implement robust transparency and accountability standards before the November election to minimize the spread of political misinformation.

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.

Last month, Sen. Warner introduced the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act to reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination on their platforms.  

A copy of today’s letter is available here, and the text appears in full below. 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I write to you today to express my concern for your companies’ continued amplification of harmful misinformation, particularly the spread of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation promoted by the Instagram algorithm.

As the pandemic endures, the importance of promoting reliable health information only grows. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly a third of U.S. adults surveyed reported they did not intend to get vaccinated.  With experts estimating 70 percent to 90 percent of Americans will need to be immunized before achieving herd immunity,  it is critical that individuals who are experiencing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy are exposed to accurate information that will help them make informed decisions about the vaccine. 

Facebook has previously committed to reducing the spread of misinformation on its platforms, implementing a ban on false claims about vaccines in groups, pages, and ads in April 2020  and promising to remove COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation from the platform in an effort to promote authoritative health information in February 2021.  However, despite these promises, Facebook’s enforcement of its own policies is consistently and demonstrably insufficient, a trend we have seen in other areas where Facebook has pledged to address misuse of its products or instances of its products amplifying harmful content. Indeed, a coalition of State Attorneys General, including the Attorney General of Virginia, just last week wrote to you and the CEO of Twitter, accusing your companies of not taking “sufficient action to identify violations and enforce [existing] guidelines.” 

Anti-vaccination groups and other health conspiracy groups have long utilized – and been enabled by – Facebook’s platforms to disseminate misinformation. Studies show a rapid increase in the spread of health misinformation online since the start of the pandemic.  Yet on the very day that Facebook introduced its updated standards touted to address health misinformation media organizations noted that several of the top-ranked search results for “covid vaccine” on Instagram were anti-vaccine accounts.  I am deeply concerned that Facebook’s new policies will continue to lack the adequate enforcement needed to reduce the spread of harmful misinformation on its platforms. 

Further, a recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Instagram’s algorithm promoted unsolicited content that featured anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation to users across several features of the platform, including in the “Suggested Posts” section, which was only introduced in August 2020 and directs users to recommended posts from accounts they do not follow based on users’ engagement with related posts. If Facebook is truly committed to “[removing] false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general during the pandemic,”  as the company has stated, its own algorithms should not be amplifying misinformation and promoting harmful content to users. 

For several years now, I have raised concerns that your content recommendation algorithms have disproportionately surfaced disinformation, misinformation, violent extremist content, and other harmful content. In June 2020, I wrote to you with concern that white supremacist and violent right-wing extremist groups were radicalizing users on your platforms and that Facebook’s algorithms – including its group recommendation feature – aided in that radicalization. In October of the same year, I wrote again to urge Facebook and other social media companies to implement robust transparency and accountability standards before the November election to minimize the spread of political misinformation. The events of January 6th prove that there are real-world consequences when harmful misinformation is allowed to run rampant online, and I am concerned that Instagram – a platform which has generally escaped the level of scrutiny directed at Facebook, itself – is similarly enabling the spread of harmful misinformation that could hinder COVID-19 mitigation efforts and, ultimately, result in lives lost. 

These examples demonstrate Facebook’s continued unwillingness or inability to enforce its own Community Standards and take action to reduce the spread of misinformation on its platforms. More concerningly, a recent report suggests that Facebook has failed to address the ways in which its products directly contribute towards radicalization, misinformation proliferation, and hate speech – deprioritizing or dismissing a range of proposed product reforms and interventions because of their tendency to depress user engagement with your products.  

Eliminating misinformation on your platforms is a valuable and necessary undertaking as online health misinformation can have a substantive impact on users’ intent to get vaccinated, with people exposed to COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation shown to be more likely to express vaccine hesitancy than those who were not.  Further, public health authorities shoulder an even greater burden – at a time of profound resource and budget strain – to combat misinformation amplified by platforms like Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Given that over half of Americans rely on social media to get their news, with Facebook in particular serving as a “regular source of news” for about a third of Americans,  it is critical that Facebook take seriously its influence on users’ health decisions.  

To address these concerns, I request that you provide responses to the following questions by April 23, 2021: 

1.      What procedures does Facebook have to exclude misinformation from its recommendation algorithm, specifically on Instagram? 

2.      Please provide my office with Facebook internal research of the platform’s amplification of anti-vaccine content, groups, pages, and verified figures.

3.      Why were posts with content warnings about health misinformation promoted into Instagram feeds? 

4.      When developing the new Suggested Posts function, what efforts did Facebook make to ensure that the new tool was only recommending reliable information? 

5.      What is the process for the removal of prominent anti-vaccine accounts, and what is the rationale for disabling such users’ accounts from one of Facebook’s platforms but not others?

6.      How often are you briefed on the COVID-19 misinformation on Instagram and across Facebook platforms?

7.      Did Facebook perform safety checks to prevent the algorithmic amplification of COVID-19 misinformation? What did those safety protocols entail? 

8.      Will anti-vaccine content continue to be monitored and removed after the COVID-19 pandemic? 

9.      Please provide my office with Facebook’s policies for informing users that they were exposed to misinformation and how Facebook plans to remedy those harms. 

10.  Combatting health misinformation amplified by large social media platforms puts an additional strain on the time, resources, and budgets of public health agencies – often requiring them to spend on online ads on the very platforms amplifying and propelling misinformation they must counter. Will you commit to provide free advertising for state and local public health authorities working to combat health misinformation?

Health misinformation on social media platforms like Facebook is a serious threat to COVID-19 mitigation efforts and could ultimately prolong this public health emergency. Given the urgency and severity of these consequences, I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,           

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a former Governor of Virginia, wrote a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam urging him to do everything he can to accelerate Virginia Employment Commission’s (VEC) process of disbursing benefits to unemployment insurance claimants now that the American Rescue Plan has been signed into law.

“I am writing this letter today to urge you to use every lever at your disposal to speed up the process by which unemployment insurance claimants can receive their benefits. As of this writing, President Biden has signed the American Rescue Plan into law,” wrote Sen. Warner in his letter to Governor Northam. “The new law extends the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program for the long-term unemployed, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for self-employed and gig workers, and the newly created Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) benefit that I championed for workers with mixed sources of income.” 

The American Rescue Plan provided billions in federal relief for struggling Virginians who are out of work through no fault of their own by extending the historic unemployment insurance reforms established in the CARES Act through September 6, 2021. The bill extended the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for the self-employed, gig workers, freelancers and others in non-traditional employment; the $300 in weekly federal enhancement to state benefits; and the additional weeks of federal unemployment insurance for workers who exhaust their regular state benefits.

Warner noted, “It is my understanding that, following earlier passage of congressional legislation to extend these programs in December, constituents in Virginia faced many delays and communication problems with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). With the knowledge that these benefit systems were originally set to expire on December 26th, I worked with a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers in the U.S. Congress to pass a relief package shortly before Christmas because it was understood that loss of benefits at this time of the year would be particularly cruel. Now, several months later, I hope you can agree that for constituents still experiencing delays the lack of pandemic unemployment insurance is unconscionable.”

In his letter to Gov. Northam, Sen. Warner referenced three items he would like the VEC to report back on:

  1. What changes are being administered to ensure seamless disbursement of current PEUC/PUA funds and a seamless transition into this new PEUC/PUA extension into September 6th? 
  2. What are the current plans to improve the communications between VEC and Virginians? 
  3. What are the current plans to improve communications between VEC and employers to quickly determine worker eligibility for UI benefits and approve claims?

Sen. Warner also urged the VEC to implement six key solutions to address communication issues and provide clarity for Virginians seeking benefits by:

  1. Providing detailed status updates on CARES Act related unemployment insurance benefits via vec.virginia.gov and getgov2go.com and through press releases.
  2. Establishing a more robust phone system and customer service protocol. 
  3. Providing updates across all VEC websites as well as web.getgov2go.com
  4. If individuals must file a new claim, allowing the new claimant to use the previous PIN in order to prevent a further lag in weekly benefits due to postal service delays. 
  5. Working with the Virginia Commission on Unemployment Compensation to collaborate on ways that the Virginia General Assembly can improve benefits delivery to constituents. 
  6. Partnering with a nonprofit, non-partisan entity such as the U.S. Digital Response (USDR) or 18F, an office within the U.S. General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), to address practical, low-cost ways to modernize technology and streamline the payment process. 

Concluded Warner, “I recognize that some of the issues experienced at the state level have been a direct result of the burden inherited from a patchwork unemployment insurance system that has not been updated since its inception. For that reason, I recently co-sponsored the Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act to make sure that the U.S. Department of Labor has the resources to develop a robust technology system that states can opt into using. This new system would address many of the issues that have caused delays for claimants and I will continue to work to pass this bill into law. In the meantime, I plan to also ask the DOL to more proactively communicate with state agencies, consider issuing guidance on automatic renewal of claims, evaluate the funding formula to make sure it does not disadvantage large diverse states like the Commonwealth, and address fraud issues that have led to complications in implementation.” 

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 during the pandemic. In the months following passage of the CARES Act, 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.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Governor Northam: 

I am writing this letter today to urge you to use every lever at your disposal to speed up the process by which unemployment insurance claimants can receive their benefits. As of this writing, President Biden has signed the American Rescue Plan into law. The new law extends the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program for the long-term unemployed, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for self-employed and gig workers, and the newly created Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) benefit that I championed for workers with mixed sources of income. The new expiration date for these programs is September 6th, 2021.

Congress created these pandemic unemployment programs to disburse benefits to workers who would normally not be eligible for unemployment assistance for a variety of reasons. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 171,364 continuing PUA claims and 29,425 PEUC claims in Virginia as of the week of February 27th. These workers include employees with insufficient earnings or work history to qualify for the regular state unemployment program, the long-term unemployed who have exhausted state benefits, domestic workers, freelance workers, contractors, and workers with mixed sources of income. Without these new programs and with limited opportunities for employment in this pandemic economy, these workers have no alternative safety net.

It is my understanding that, following earlier passage of congressional legislation to extend these programs in December, constituents in Virginia faced many delays and communication problems with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). With the knowledge that these benefit systems were originally set to expire on December 26th, I worked with a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers in the U.S. Congress to pass a relief package shortly before Christmas because it was understood that loss of benefits at this time of the year would be particularly cruel. Now, several months later, I hope you can agree that for constituents still experiencing delays the lack of pandemic unemployment insurance is unconscionable.

I am hearing about this issue from constituents all across the Commonwealth. A constituent in Warrenton let us know that she applied to the PUA program weeks ago. She tried calling the VEC’s customer service line every day, all day for weeks. She then received a letter instructing her to provide more information and a phone number to call. When she called, VEC had no record of her application. The situation for this constituent is severe, she is now homeless. Another constituent in Centreville indicated he has not received benefits since December 26th. This constituent has a family with two children and cannot pay rent for February, insurance bills, or phone bills.

From Newport News to Henrico to Alexandria, constituents are contacting my office from every corner of the Commonwealth with desperate requests for relief. Some of them have waited 3 months, others have waited 11 months, and many are struggling to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads.

Now that President Biden has signed the American Rescue Plan into law and provided months of additional relief, it is imperative that the VEC work diligently to speed up the process of disbursing benefits to constituents and proactively communicate with claimants. I understand that earlier delays in delivering benefits were partly a result of time-intensive deliberations between the VEC and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that could have been streamlined. In light of these issues, I would like the VEC to report on the following: 

  1. What changes are being administered to ensure seamless disbursement of current PEUC/PUA funds and a seamless transition into this new PEUC/PUA extension into September 6th?

  1. What are the current plans to improve the communications between VEC and Virginians?

  1. What are the current plans to improve communications between VEC and employers to quickly determine worker eligibility for UI benefits and approve claims?

To address these communication issues going forward and provide clarity for the citizens Commonwealth, I recommend that the VEC implement the following solutions:

  1. Provide detailed status updates on CARES Act related unemployment insurance benefits via vec.virginia.gov and getgov2go.com and through press releases, in order to reassure individuals that they will receive back-pay for the weeks they have certified. Official and concrete communications will allow Virginians to better communicate with landlords, utility companies, and others.

  1. Establish a more robust phone system and customer service protocol. VEC should allow individuals who do not connect immediately with a representative to register on a “waitlist” or receive an approximation of when a representative will call them back. In addition, such an automated system would provide information such as the phone number that will call them and what materials should be readily available to ensure a more efficient conversation. The phone system should have two simple options for those who call in regarding claims and benefit questions versus technical, web-based questions regarding web.getgov2go.com. These measures would also help VEC prioritize phone tasks more efficiently.

  1. Provide updates across all VEC websites as well as web.getgov2go.com. Automatically sign up those with getgov2go.com profiles to receive update emails. Create a visible notice specifically on the getgov2go website, reminding individuals to check their email spam settings and their getgov2go messages in order to mitigate constituents missing out on important information.

  1. If individuals must file a new claim, allow the new claimant to use the previous PIN in order to prevent a further lag in weekly benefits due to an unreliable USPS. Recommend that VEC establish an online functionality to retrieve one’s PIN if lost or forgotten using corroborating information such as a recent utility bill or picture of an identification card before establishing the sole recourse of requesting one’s PIN via mail. Prepare the web.getgov2go.com website for the new extension of PUA, PEUC, and MEUC into September 6th, 2021.

  1. Work with the Virginia Commission on Unemployment Compensation to collaborate on ways that the Virginia General Assembly can improve benefits delivery to constituents.

  1. Partner with a nonprofit, non-partisan entity such as the U.S. Digital Response (USDR) or 18F, an office within the U.S. General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS) to address practical, low-cost ways to modernize technology and streamline the payment process. We know other states, such as Wisconsin, have gone this route with immediate success.

I recognize that some of the issues experienced at the state level have been a direct result of the burden inherited from a patchwork unemployment insurance system that has not been updated since its inception. For that reason, I recently co-sponsored the Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act to make sure that the U.S. Department of Labor has the resources to develop a robust technology system that states can opt into using. This new system would address many of the issues that have caused delays for claimants and I will continue to work to pass this bill into law. In the meantime, I plan to also ask the DOL to more proactively communicate with state agencies, consider issuing guidance on automatic renewal of claims, evaluate the funding formula to make sure it does not disadvantage large diverse states like the Commonwealth, and address fraud issues that have led to complications in implementation.

Thank you for your timely attention to this request.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will receive $14,052,640.77 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)'s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support the operation of the Virginia COVID Information Center (VCIC) in scheduling vaccinations and providing timely and accurate COVID-19 general information in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Agency (CDC) guidelines. 

“We are pleased to announce this funding to help Virginians pre-register for and schedule vaccinations,” said the Senators. “As vaccine production ramps up, we remain committed to expanding Virginia’s vaccination capacity so that all eligible workers and residents can get their shots as soon as possible.” 

Sens. Warner and Kaine strongly supported the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan, which included $7.5 billion in funding for the CDC and public health departments to expand vaccine distribution and administration. 

###

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., joined Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Representative Steven Horsford, D-Nev., in sending a bicameral letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh outlining priorities for $2 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to overhaul unemployment insurance administration and technology.

The 30 senators and members of Congress are requesting the administration use their legislation, the Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act, as a guide for a technology overhaul. The bill would establish one set of technology and security capabilities for state unemployment offices, and pave the way for one website to apply for unemployment benefits, not 53.  

The letter was signed by Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., 

The letter was also signed by Representatives Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Don Beyer, D-Va., Dwight Evans, D-Pa., Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., Sharice L. Davids, D-Kans., Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Ga., Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J, Susie Lee, D-Nev., Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., Hank Johnson, Jr., D-Ga., and Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala.

In the letter to Secretary Walsh, the senators and members of Congress wrote, “We strongly urge the Department to use the Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act as a guide for any modernization efforts. The past year has proven that individual states attempting to modernize their system in isolation hasn’t yielded results, and that failure has contributed to unconscionable delays for millions of workers. A cohesive federal approach would not only ensure that every state has access to modern, efficient technology to meet their needs, but would also be far more cost effective than investing in 53 separate systems.”

Full text of the letter follows: 

Dear Secretary Walsh:

We are writing to request that as the Department of Labor (the Department) considers how to use the $2 billion appropriated for fraud prevention, equitable access, and timely payment in the American Rescue Plan, the Department should focus any technology and infrastructure modernization efforts on developing federal technology capabilities for unemployment insurance administration. The Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act (S.490/H.R.1458), recently introduced by Senator Wyden in the Senate and Representative Horsford in the House of Representatives with 47 cosponsors between the Senate and House bills, can be used as a guide for this kind of robust modernization effort.

The Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act calls for the Department to work with technology experts to develop, operate, and maintain a modular set of technology capabilities to modernize unemployment compensation technology. This type of system would allow the federal government to take on a role in ensuring smooth administration of unemployment programs while still allowing states to adapt the technology to meet their unique programmatic needs. The bill would require the Department to establish a Department of Labor Digital Services Team to assist states in implementation and to support federal technology needs. The updated system would help states ensure timely and accurate delivery of payments, make the program more accessible, and better identify fraudulent claims. 

Importantly, the Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act prioritizes user experience by requiring consultation and testing with claimants, employers, state workforce agency staff, and other users. It also requires the use of best practices in cybersecurity, procurement, and transparency, and includes several requirements for online claim filing systems to ensure that technology does not impede the ability of workers to access benefits. Finally, the legislation includes several provisions to ensure that automated decision systems or algorithms used as part of the technology do not result in systemic bias.

We strongly urge the Department to use the Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act as a guide for any modernization efforts. The past year has proven that individual states attempting to modernize their system in isolation hasn’t yielded results, and that failure has contributed to unconscionable delays for millions of workers. A cohesive federal approach would not only ensure that every state has access to modern, efficient technology to meet their needs, but would also be far more cost effective than investing in 53 separate systems.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We request that you keep us updated on any technology modernization efforts that the Department undertakes.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced legislation today to prevent further financial instability for rural health clinics and safeguard the care they provide to underserved communities. The bipartisan Strengthening Rural Health Clinics Act of 2021 would make a technical fix to protect existing rural health clinics from a sudden and unexpected Medicare payment rate change that was erroneously brought on by the December 2020 COVID-19 relief bill

“In the past year, rural health clinics have played an essential role in bringing urgent and lifesaving care to some of our most vulnerable communities. Unfortunately, this crisis has served to further throw these facilities into financial distress,” said Sen. Warner. “By fixing a legislative error, our bill will help avoid further financial volatility and allow rural health clinics in Virginia and across the country to continue serving the communities that need it the most.”

“Many Missourians rely on rural health clinics for affordable, quality care close to home,” said Sen. Blunt. “This bill will fix a technical error to protect these clinics from added financial strain on top of the challenges they’ve faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. I urge our colleagues to join us in supporting the vital role these clinics play in improving health care - and the quality of life - in rural communities.”

The emergency COVID-19 relief bill that was signed into law in December included a provision to reform Medicare payment rates for future rural health clinics. While this provision intended to “grandfather” existing rural health clinics at their current payment rates in order to ensure their financial stability, a technical error ultimately excluded clinics that were established after December 2019. As a result, hundreds of rural health clinics nationwide, and even more clinics that were in the “mid-build” phase, now face serious financial uncertainty. Among these are nearly 30 clinics in Virginia:

Shenandoah Medical Associates

Front Royal, VA

Valley Health Family Practice

Rutherford Crossing, VA

New Warren Memorial Hospital Campus

Front Royal, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Clifton Forge, VA

Carilion Clinic Internal Medicine

Hardy, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Buena Vista, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Rocky Mount, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Buchanan, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Floyd, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Rocky Mount, VA

Carilion Clinic Family & Internal Medicine

Galax, VA

Carilion Clinic Family & Internal Medicine

Martinsville, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Tazewell, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Wytheville, VA

Carilion Clinic Family & Internal Medicine

Boones Mill, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Bedford, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Hillsville, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Bluefield, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Raphine, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine

Lexington, VA

Carilion Clinic Family Medicine – Westlake

Hardy, VA

Volens Family Medicine

Nathalie, VA

Clarksville Family Medicine

Clarksville, VA

Sentara Obstetrics & Gynecology

South Boston, VA

Halifax Pediatrics

South Boston, VA

Chase City Family Medicine

Chase City, VA

Halifax Family Medicine

South Boston, VA

In order to protect these clinics from the chaos associated with a sudden payment rate change, this legislation would amend existing law to grandfather at the 2020 or first-year payment rate any qualified rural health clinic that was in existence, in “mid-build”, or that had either submitted an application or had a binding written agreement with an outside unrelated party for the construction, purchase, lease, or other establishment of such a rural health clinic prior to December 31, 2020.  

This legislation has the support of a number of organizations including the National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC), National Rural Health Association (NRHA), Virginia Rural Health Association (VRHA), Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association, Missouri Hospital Association, Missouri Rural Health Association, West Virginia Hospital Association, Carilion Clinic, Valley Health System, Sentara Healthcare, Forrest General Hospital, Highland Community Hospital, Marion General Hospital, Walthall General Hospital, Jefferson Davis Community Hospital, Pearl River County Hospital, Braden Health, Braden Patient Safety Organization, Mississippi Hospital Association, and McLaren Health Care.

“In December, Congress passed significant and positive payment reforms for rural health clinics,” said Nathan Baugh, Director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Rural Health Clinics. “This legislation will ensure that all rural health clinics in existence at the time the law was changed, as well as those who were in the process of becoming a rural health clinic, are fairly grandfathered into the program.”  

“On behalf of Valley Health which serves communities in VA and WVA,  I would like to thank Senators Warner and Blunt for introducing this important legislation. Rural health clinics are the life blood of healthcare delivery in these rural underserved areas. Ensuring that Rural Health Clinics receive proper reimbursement is critical to their continued sustainability. This legislation addresses the concerns of many across the country that were developing rural clinics in previous years and will go a long way in protecting access to care in these communities which is especially important during the pandemic,” said Mark Nantz, President & CEO of Valley Health System.

“The past year has again reminded us of the critical importance of protecting and strengthening access to health care for all people, including those in rural communities,” said Sean T. Connaughton, President and CEO of Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. “This legislation aims to correct an oversight in existing law to ensure the adequacy of Medicare reimbursements for designated health care providers treating patients in underserved rural communities. We appreciate the work of Senator Warner and Senator Blunt in sponsoring the Strengthening Rural Health Clinics Act of 2021 and we are proud to support it.”

“Thank you to Senator Warner for his ongoing efforts to assist citizens in rural areas of the Commonwealth with sustainable and expanded access to affordable, high quality health care,” said Nancy Howell Agee, President and CEO of Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic. “Much of Carilion's service area is rural with an aging population. Our community needs assessments consistently reflect concerns about access to primary and specialty care. Our Rural Health Clinics and expanded digital solutions, including telehealth, help us better serve the health care needs in the region and provide more sustainable access to care. Senator Warner has consistently worked to ensure that health care services are available for our rural citizens to the greatest degree possible. His efforts to help stabilize access to these services through our Rural Health Clinics is important and appreciated.”

A copy of the bill is available here. A one-page summary can be found here

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WASHINGTON – With more than 7 million Virginians slated to get over $9 billion in relief as a direct result of the American Rescue Plan, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) urging the agency to ensure that families receive their promised COVID-19 stimulus payments by quickly and proactively addressing three common issues that Virginians experienced with the last round of economic impact payments (EIPs) earlier this year.

“I write today following the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to raise specific issues my constituents had in accessing their second economic impact payments (EIP) in hopes those problems can be resolved and taken into consideration as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) administers the third round of economic impact payments,”wrote Sen. Warner in his letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

In his letter to the IRS, Sen. Warner identified the three most prevalent issues Virginia families ran into when attempting to access their second round of COVID-19 stimulus payments. The issues commonly heard from Virginians were: 

  1. Couples who filed a 2019 tax return as married filing jointly who reported that only one spouse received a second EIP even though they received a joint EIP in the first round. 

  1. Social Security recipients who received the first EIP via direct deposit or direct express card but did not receive the second EIP.

  1. Virginians who reported that the IRS’s Get My Payment application showed that they would either receive their payment via direct deposit or check but never received it. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for Virginians, working to ensure that they get the funds to which they are entitled. Last April, he pressed the Treasury Department to ensure that families who are not normally required to file taxes do not need to wait until the following year to receive the additional $500 payment per dependent child that they were promised. He also successfully pushed the Treasury Department to allow Social Security recipients to automatically receive CARES Act direct cash assistance without needing to file a tax return.

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

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

I write today following the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to raise specific issues my constituents had in accessing their second economic impact payments (EIP) in hopes those problems can be resolved and taken into consideration as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) administers the third round of economic impact payments.

The Administration is well aware of the millions of Americans facing economic hardship, and should be applauded for its tireless work to deliver more relief as part of the ARPA. Further, I am appreciative of the IRS’s hard work throughout the pandemic. IRS employees have worked diligently to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in EIPs to Americans while managing the risks associated with COVID-19.

Virginians continue to reach out with specific problems they are having, particularly those trying to access their second EIP. Below, I lay out the three most prevalent issues my staff has identified. To help me respond adequately to my constituents, please review the three issues and answer the following related questions.

  1. Couples that filed a 2019 tax return as married filing jointly are reporting that only one spouse received a second EIP even though they received a joint EIP in the first round. When the spouse not receiving the payment checked the IRS’s Get My Payment App, there was no information. Is the couple’s only recourse to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit (RRC)? Is there a reason why the second EIP was treated differently in this situation? Can the IRS take steps to ensure the same problem does not occur with the third EIP? 

  1. A number of my constituents who are Social Security recipients received the first EIP via direct deposit or direct express card but did not receive the second EIP. The IRS has said those constituents can file a tax return and claim a RRC but I am concerned for those Social Security recipients who are non-filers and are less equipped to file a tax return to claim their RRC. I am also concerned that these same constituents will not receive their third EIP. Please explain why the IRS did not send the second (December) round of EIPs automatically to Social Security recipients. Will the IRS commit to sending past due checks to Social Security recipients who should have received them? For the third round of EIPs, can the IRS commit to automatically sending checks to Social Security recipients? If not, why not? 

Last year, the IRS created a Non-Filers tool to allow non-filers to gain access to the first round of EIPs to address this problem and make it easier for non-filers to access their EIP. Why did the IRS not reopen the Non-Filers tool to help Americans access their second EIP? Will the IRS commit to reopening the Non-Filers tool for the third round of EIP to ensure non-filers can easily access their third EIP? And will they be allowed to use this tool to claim checks owed to them from the first two rounds?

  1. A number of constituents reported that the IRS’s Get May Payment application showed that they would either receive their payment via direct deposit or check but they never received it. Although the payment was issued to them and they qualified based on their 2019 tax return, the RRC is based on their 2020 tax filing. In some situations this has eliminated constituents’ eligibility for the second EIP. Will the IRS offer any flexibility or recourse for constituents in these circumstances? 

I know the IRS is working diligently to serve the American people, and I welcome our continued collaboration to help Americans across the country. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

Sincerely,

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