Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tim Scott (R-SC), with the support of Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen, in announcing their intent to re-introduce the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act in the 117th Congress.  

The FEED Act allows the Federal government to pay 100 percent of the cost to states and localities so that they can partner with restaurants and nonprofits to prepare nutritious meals for vulnerable populations, such as seniors and underprivileged children. These partnerships will support businesses and small farmers as the coronavirus pandemic continues. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hunger crisis in America, resulting in millions more Americans becoming food insecure. To address the skyrocketing food insecurity in our communities, we must look for innovative ways to ensure families in Virginia have dependable access to nutritious meals,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why we introduced this bipartisan legislation that would provide maximum flexibility to states and localities to help address this crisis while also supporting producers, restaurants, and local food systems in the process.” 

“COVID-19 has made millions of Americans food insecure and pushed restaurants to the brink of bankruptcy through no fault of their own,” said Sen. Murphy. “It’s up to Congress and President Biden to get them the assistance they need to get out of this hell. That’s why I’m teaming up with my colleague Senator Scott to introduce the FEED Act, which provides funding for restaurants and nonprofits to feed Americans struggling as a result of the pandemic. No one should be food insecure in this country and helping families get back on their feet should be a top priority in the coming months.”

“The FEED Act is an all-encompassing win for our most vulnerable populations, workers, restaurants, and small farms doing their best to stay afloat during the pandemic,” said Sen. Scott.“ By opening up a pathway for food producers, restaurants, and non-profits to easily partner with their state and local governments, the FEED Act is proof that good work happens when the private and public sector work together. Many thanks to Chef José Andrés and our bipartisan coalition for coming together to work on commonsense life-changing legislation.”

“Today, we have in front of us a major opportunity to meet head-on two crises that have been going on throughout the pandemic, mostly out of sight: a serious increase in the number of hungry Americans, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of restaurants and millions of restaurant jobs,” said Chef José Andrés with the World Central Kitchen. “With the FEED Act we have a win-win solution: the federal government will start working hand-in-hand with cities and states to keep restaurants working and communities fed. We know that this model works – we’ve seen it work in Charleston, in New Haven, and hundreds of other cities around the country – and can take it nationwide with the support of Senators Scott, Murphy, and their colleagues in the Senate.”

Specifically, the bill waives section 403(b) and 503(a) of the Stafford Act, which allows for FEMA to cover the cost of emergency and disaster related expenses. Under this legislation, the federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of disaster-related expenses, instead of the typical 75 percent. This would eliminate any state costs during the COVID-19 crisis and allow more states to take a proactive approach to distributing meals and providing more financial relief to restaurants. A copy of the bill text can be found here

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. He has put pressure on the USDA to formally authorize Virginia’s request to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot Program, successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that made it more difficult for families to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, and secured a USDA designation that allows food banks to distribute food directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. In August, Sen. Warner also successfully pushed for USDA to extend critical food waivers to help make sure students have access to nutritious meals while school districts participate in distance learning. The COVID-19 relief package signed into law last month provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits.

The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Boozman (R-AR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Earlier this month, companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) , Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Rodney Davis (R-IL).

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined their Senate colleagues in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding the Trump Administration take immediate action to fix the significant failures of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution as coronavirus cases continue to climb. In the letter, the senators call out the Administration’s failure to develop and implement a comprehensive national vaccine plan despite having months to do so. 

“Despite months to plan, the Trump Administration has failed to meet these needs or deliver promised doses to jurisdictions, and as a result of this lack of planning, only 36 percent of distributed vaccines have been administered,” wrote the Senators. “Federal responsibility does not end with delivery of vaccines to states, as you have suggested. Vaccine administration must be a close partnership between the federal government and state, Tribal, and local governments, with the federal government stepping up to ensure that all needs are met. A vaccine allocated on a spreadsheet, or even a vaccine distributed and sitting on a shelf, is not enough to protect anyone.”

For months, Senate Democrats have been imploring the Trump Administration to work and communicate with state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, vaccine and PPE manufacturers, public health experts, and health care providers to develop a plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration. These groups have been pleading for clear guidance and financial resources.

In the letter, the Senators call for a plan that includes guidance and best practices on taking the vaccine from distribution to administration, provide all necessary resources to state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and other jurisdictions, account for the significant challenges jurisdictions face in scaling up their workforces, and act to ensure vaccine distribution efforts also combat health inequities. The Administration must also launch a massive public facing campaign to promote vaccine confidence and help people understand where, when and how to get vaccinated. In the coming weeks, the senators emphasize that the Trump Administration must engage with states to proactively identify and address challenges to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are quickly and equitably distributed and administered across the country. 

In December, Warner & Kaine successfully pushed to pass COVID relief legislation, which allocated over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics, and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic and take a step towards successful COVID-19 management. 

The letter was led by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Patty Murray (D-WA), and was also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Full text of the letter here and below. 

  

Dear Secretary Azar:

We write to you with concerns about significant challenges in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration across the country and to outline key actions the Trump Administration should have taken—and must now take—to address these challenges. With our health system and economy in crisis, and millions of lives at stake, we cannot afford for this vaccination campaign to continue to be hindered by the lack of planning, communication, and leadership we have seen so far. 

President Trump tweeted on January 3rd that “the vaccines are being delivered to the states by the Federal Government far faster than they can be administered!”  That should have been an indicator of a failed vaccine roll out, not a point of pride.  It is the federal government’s role to ensure states, Tribes, localities, and the public are receiving the resources and support they need, rather than requiring every jurisdiction to manage on their own without the benefit of the national resources and perspective that only the federal government can provide.

Since July, we have been calling on the Trump Administration to work with states, Tribes, and localities, vaccine and PPE manufacturers, public health experts, congregate care settings, and other health care providers to develop a comprehensive, national plan for vaccines. Since September, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Operation Warp Speed (OWS) first published their playbook and strategy for vaccine distribution, state, Tribal, and local health departments have said that they need clear communication, transparent decision-making, evidence-based guidance, and financial resources to effectively implement vaccine administration plans. Despite months to plan, the Trump Administration has failed to meet these needs or deliver promised doses to jurisdictions, and as a result of this lack of planning, only 36 percent of distributed vaccines have been administered. We hope the recently announced efforts to scale up vaccinations in pharmacies will help to turn this tide but it is clear much more is needed. States, Tribes, and localities, providers, and the public are being left without federal support or clear, complete information about what to expect in the future as nearly 300,000 Americans fall ill daily from this virus. 

In order to avoid these failures, the Trump Administration should have issued and implemented a comprehensive national vaccines plan, including detailed guidance and an infusion of resources to support states. Federal responsibility does not end with delivery of vaccines to states, as you have suggested. Vaccine administration must be a close partnership between the federal government and state, Tribal, and local governments, with the federal government stepping up to ensure that all needs are met. A vaccine allocated on a spreadsheet, or even a vaccine distributed and sitting on a shelf, is not enough to protect anyone. The metric that matters, and where we are clearly moving too slowly, is vaccines in arms. A comprehensive national plan should:

  • include robust guidance for states, Tribes, localities and health care providers including on personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, vaccine administration prioritization, and best practices for taking the vaccine from distribution to administration;
  • specify how the Federal government will support these entities with funding, supplies, information, and personnel—which thus far the Trump Administration has failed to do; and
  • account for the significant challenges jurisdictions face in scaling up their workforces while continuing other lifesaving public health work, which may include providing increased support for mass vaccination clinics and mobile testing units, as well as supplementing the vaccination workforce including vaccinators, logistical support, and more.  

In the absence of this long-overdue national plan, it is all the more important that the Trump Administration actively engage with state planning efforts in the coming days, identify challenges across distribution and administration, and proactively address problems that arise in partnership with jurisdictions. 

In order to support the efforts outlined in a comprehensive, national plan, the Trump Administration must also quickly provide robust vaccine distribution funding to States, Tribes, and localities. In advance of vaccine distribution efforts commencing, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had provided just $617 million in funding to states for vaccine efforts—this amount was woefully inadequate. In fact, the Trump Administration falsely stated as recently as November that States did not need funding for vaccine distribution.  Ultimately, Congress provided $8.75 billion for vaccine distribution efforts in the recently enacted COVID relief bill which will meaningfully help states execute their vaccine administration plans. The bill requires a portion of this funding to be sent to states within 21 days, and President Trump’s delay in signing this legislation should not further delay the distribution of these funds. We recognize that the CDC announced the availability of $3 billion for states for vaccination activities, but we cannot afford a repeat performance of this Administration’s decision to sit on billions of dollars in testing funds when states urgently needed them. The Trump Administration must ensure strong support reaches jurisdictions as soon as possible to support their critical work. The challenges we are seeing in vaccine distribution also underscore the need for robust and permanent investments in public health infrastructure to get us out of this cycle of crisis and response.

The Trump Administration must act to correct the lack of transparency and communication from the federal government around COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration. Over the first two weeks of vaccine distribution, more than a dozen states found their actual vaccine allocations fell significantly below initial OWS allocation forecasts.[1] For several days, OWS denied these discrepancies, before ultimately admitting officials had provided states with flawed numbers.[2] Even now, states are given just one week of advanced notice about the number of doses they will receive and have been given no information about distribution projections after February.[3] Local health departments are largely excluded from planning calls with OWS and CDC, even though they often ultimately receive and administer vaccines. There is no federal plan to publicly release sufficient data on vaccinations in long-term care settings, where more than 133,350 residents have died, accounting for 37 percent of all deaths from COVID-19.[4] The federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, which states expected to rely on to support vaccination of these particularly vulnerable populations, has administered only 17 percent of the vaccines distributed to these facilities to date.[5] 

Jurisdictions and health care providers are not the only ones in the dark; members of the public do not know when, where, or how they will be able to be vaccinated.[6] CDC already supports a national portal to provide information to the public on where they can receive flu vaccines and other vaccines; the public needs this and more information when it comes COVID-19 vaccines, which should be broadly publicized.[7]  Furthermore, while some states are taking steps to educate providers and the public to improve communication and build trust, the Trump Administration has failed to meaningfully address vaccine confidence, after spending months directly undermining such confidence by casting doubt on our nation’s world-class scientists and scientific agencies. The Trump Administration should launch a long-overdue, large-scale public awareness campaign and work with leaders in communities across the country to provide science-based information to promote high vaccination rates. The federal government must play a proactive role in improving transparency and communication with public health departments and the American people.

Finally, the Trump Administration must also act to ensure vaccine distribution efforts combat rather than exacerbate the health inequities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. A failure to plan strategically and proactively for vaccine distribution means communities of color, residents of congregate care facilities, rural communities, and other populations disproportionately at-risk will remain neglected in our pandemic response. This is especially true for the millions of health care workers of color who provide the daily care and support for residents of congregate care settings and who provide home health care. We have seen the toll this pandemic has taken on vulnerable communities, and the egregious health disparities that have resulted from this pandemic, and we must act to combat these inequities.  

Since FDA granted the first emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine, only 2 percent of Americans have been vaccinated. In that same time, the United States passed 20 million cumulative cases of COVID-19 and saw a new record in daily deaths from COVID-19 when over 4,085 Americans died on January 7. Of the 20 million doses promised by the end of 2020, only 4 million doses were administered before the end of the year. In light of this failed vaccine rollout amidst a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, we urge you to finally take the steps necessary to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are quickly and equitably distributed and administered across the country. 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after President Trump vetoed the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) over a provision requiring the military to rename bases named for Confederate military leaders and over the lack of language repealing Section 230.

“It’s unconscionable that the President would choose to throw a wrench into the passage of a bill as critical as our nation’s annual defense bill. 

“The President’s decision to veto this bipartisan legislation on his way out the door poses a serious threat to U.S. national security. It jeopardizes mission readiness and the well-being of our U.S. servicemembers and their families, as well as military construction projects, investments in innovation and technology, and other critical defense priorities. It also threatens the economy in Virginia, which houses the Pentagon, major headquarters for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as Naval Station Norfolk – the largest naval base in the world.

“I look forward to overriding the President’s fruitless and ridiculous attempt to undermine our national security over his shifting rationale for his decision to veto, including a provision to rename bases honoring Confederate military leaders – a provision that many in the President’s own party have supported.” 

The FY21 NDAA, which passed through the Senate earlier this month, contains a number of Warner-led provisions, including ones to combat illicit finance, prioritize U.S. innovation and technology development in 5G and semiconductors, protect military families, create a more diverse pentagon workforce, enable greater SCIF flexibility, fund the procurement of a second Virginia-class submarine, and expand the list of service-connected presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure. 

Sen. Warner is a cosponsor of the Confederate Monument Removal Act, which would remove statues of individuals who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from display in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. He has also spoken publicly about the need to remove public symbols—including military post names—honoring the Confederacy as part of broader efforts to advance racial justice. He has spoken out about the need to have a thoughtful conversation about Section 230 and the ways in which it has enabled platforms to turn a blind eye to misuse.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded Senate passage of the bipartisan, bicameral spending bill to fund federal programs crucial to Virginia and keep the federal government open through 2021. The legislation also includes comprehensive measures to help Americans amid the ongoing economic and public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following today’s Senate passage, the bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature. 

“For nine long months, folks waited for Congress to deliver critical relief as they watched COVID-19 further devastate their communities. Today, despite that unacceptable delay, relief is officially on its way,” said Warner. “I’m proud to have worked with a bipartisan group of colleagues to help get this legislation into shape and in the hands of House and Senate leaders. And while I know that this bill is not perfect, I’m glad to know that it will help American families weather this winter and get through the holidays.”

“While this relief should have been passed much earlier, I’m pleased to see families, small businesses, hospitals, schools, and more get the assistance they need,” Kaine said. “This legislation makes critical investments in unemployment assistance, food aid, housing assistance, and other areas to directly help those struggling amid the pandemic. Though we still have more work to do to help Americans get back on their feet, I’m relieved Congress was able to come to this bipartisan compromise and fund these priorities before the holidays.” 

The following list includes some of the priorities Warner and Kaine advocated:

  • Assistance for out of work Virginians: Extends federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, preventing hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Virginians from losing benefits over the holidays. The senators were cosponsors of the legislation that provided the model for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), through which more than 9 million Americans are currently receiving benefits. More recently, the Senators called on leadership to extend and add additional weeks of federal employment benefits to both PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs. Additionally, it gives states the option to offer additional weekly financial relief for Americans with a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income who are not able to claim their full benefit, modeled after Senator Warner’s legislation.
  • Stimulus checks: Includes a stimulus payment for low- and middle-income Americans; with $600 for individual filers and $1,200 for joint filers, with an additional $600 for each qualifying child in the household. Early in the crisis, Senator Kaine called for stimulus efforts to include direct payments to households. 
  • Vaccines: Includes over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic and take a step towards a future where COVID-19 is managed.
  • Emergency housing aid and protections: Creates a new $25 billion emergency rental assistance fund to prevent evictions during the pandemic, which will be delivered through state and local governments. Earlier this year, the Senators joined their colleagues in introducing legislation to provide emergency housing assistance for those facing potential evictions. The bill will also extend the CDC eviction moratorium to allow time for implementing the emergency housing aid.
  • Relief for hard-hit small businesses and nonprofits: Provides targeted relief for small businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic. This includes a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans for small businesses and nonprofits that experienced a substantial revenue decline in 2020, as well as other funds for small business relief. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is directed to provide guidance to ensure priority access for underserved communities, such as minority-owned businesses. The bill also includes grants for small businesses and nonprofits in sectors likely to continue to see substantial drops in revenue in 2021, particularly in the live entertainment sector. This aid will ensure that Virginia’s small businesses are able to stay afloat during the pandemic, keep workers on payroll, and return to job creation as COVID-19 is controlled. The Senators have been strong supporters of providing relief to small businesses, cosponsoring the Heroes Small Business Lifeline Act, which included many of the provisions in the final bill, and the Save our Stages Act, on which the live entertainment grants are modeled. 
  • Targeted relief for underserved communities: Provides the largest single investment in our country's history for minority-owned and community-based lending institutions. Largely drawn from Senator Warner’s Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, the provision provides $12 billion to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to build capital and unlock affordable access to credit for underserved and minority neighborhoods, which have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
  • Education Stabilization Fund: Provides $82 billion to provide emergency support to K-12 schools and higher education institutions. The legislation includes provisions of Kaine’s Coronavirus Relief Flexibility for Students and Institutions Act that allow colleges to use emergency stabilization funds to cover lost revenue and better target funds designated for colleges hardest hit by COVID-19 by requiring an application to demonstrate need. 
  • Broadband: Includes $7 billion towards broadband, including $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit to help low-income families maintain their internet connections, $285 million to support broadband access in minority communities, and $300 million in broadband grants modeled on provisions Senator Warner drafted with bipartisan Senators. Additionally, the bill includes an extension of the deadline to use Coronavirus Relief Funds so that state and localities interested in using the money for broadband expansion have more time, as Senator Warner called for.
  • Support for child care providers and families: Includes $10 billion in flexible funding for the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to help support child care providers and ensure that working parents have access to child care during the pandemic. The bill also includes $250 million for Head Start programs.
  • Public health data modernization: Includes Senator Kaine’s Saving Lives Through Better Data Act, which will improve the nation’s public health data systems at CDC and through grants to state and local health departments to expand and modernize their systems, promoting more seamless communication, which can save lives when we’re faced with public health threats such as COVID-19. The omnibus authorizes $100 million for each of fiscal years 2021 through 2025.
  • Telehealth: Includes Senator Kaine and Senator Schatz’s Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act of 2019, which creates a grant program to evaluate, develop, and expand the use of distance health education models such as ECHO to increase access to specialty care in rural and medically underserved populations. The omnibus authorizes $10 million for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026. The funding bill also permanently expands coverage of and payment for telehealth to treat mental health care, which is in line with Senator Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act, which Senator Kaine is a cosponsor.
  • Ends surprise billing: Includes a provision to end surprise billing, something Senators Warner and Kaine have long advocated for. 
  • U.S. Postal Service: Converts the CARES Act $10 billion loan into direct funding for USPS without requiring repayment. These funds will be used for operational costs and other expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Warner is a cosponsor of the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, which would provide USPS with significant direct funding. 
  • Veterans: Provides $104.4 billion in funding for the VA, an increase of $12.5 billion over FY20 levels. This funding increase provides $2.7 billion more than the previous fiscal year for health care delivered at VA facilities nationwide. The bill provides robust funding in several areas important for Virginia veterans, including $815 million for critical VA Medical and Prosthetic research, an increase of $1.18 billion over FY20 levels for electronic health record modernization, nearly $2 billon in support of programs to prevent veteran homelessness and $312.6 million for suicide prevention.
  • Infrastructure: Includes funding for key projects that were championed by Warner and Kaine to benefit Virginia’s infrastructure:
    • Includes a provision pushed for by Senators Warner and Kaine to allow for the construction of a new Long Bridge on the Potomac River, which will double the capacity of the rail crossing between Virginia and D.C. The current two-track Long Bridge is the only rail bridge connecting Virginia to Washington, D.C., and it is at 98 percent capacity during peak hours, which means it is one of the most significant rail chokepoints along the East Coast. The new Long Bridge program will double the capacity of the Potomac River rail crossing by adding a second two-track bridge adjacent to the existing bridge and including a new bike-pedestrian shared use path spanning the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Potomac River. Senators Warner and Kaine introduced the Long Bridge Act of 2020 in August to allow for this construction.
    • Includes the full federal funding of $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to fund critical capital investment and safety projects. In addition, the bill provides $14 billion in emergency relief for public transit agencies to continue operations during the pandemic, ensuring access to transportation for frontline workers and civil servants.
    • Includes a one year extension of Community Development Block Grant funds to the City of Norfolk and other localities to build climate resilient infrastructure projects. Senators Kaine and Warner joined Senator John Hoeven in introducing S.4017 in June, which would also have provided an extension for the NDRC program.
    • Includes $87.5 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program—an increase of $2.5 million from FY 2020. The Chesapeake Bay Program coordinates Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration and protection efforts, and the majority of its funds are passed through to the states and local communities for on-the-ground restoration.
    • Authorizes federal funds to cover 65% of the costs associated with construction projects to address close to $1.5 billion of flood control needs in the City of Norfolk.
    • Grants a critical cost adjustment to allow work to continue on the Deep Creek Bridge inChesapeake to address traffic concerns.
    • Authorizes over $102.7 million in federal funds for construction of the North Landing BridgeReplacement project.
    • Provides up to $9 million for the Federal Aviation Administration to continue its remote tower system pilot program at smaller airports, including the Remote Air Traffic Control Tower at Leesburg Executive Airport.
  • Great American Outdoors Act: With Senator Warner’s Great American Outdoors Act now law, the FY21 omnibus affirms funding for several deferred maintenance projects in Virginia:
    • George Washington Memorial Parkway – A $207 million project to restore 7.6 miles of northern section of the GW Parkway and implement critical safety measures. The Senators have long advocated for federal funding for this project for several years as seen here and here.
    • Shenandoah National Park – A $27 million project to pave and restore nearly 50 miles of Skyline Drive and various overlooks. Shenandoah will also receive nearly $3.5 million to remove unnecessary buildings and restore greenspace within the park.
    • Colonial National Historical Park – A $16.5 million project to restore nearly 5 miles of shoreline along the York River.
  • FBI Headquarters: Provides no funding for a new FBI headquarters and includes language that encourages General Services Administration (GSA) to provide a new prospectus, particularly after the Trump Administration abruptly abandoned plans to develop a new campus headquarters for the FBI. Earlier this year, Senators Warner and Kaine opposed an attempt in an earlier Republican COVID-19 relief package that would have provided $1.75 billion for construction of a new FBI HQ in its current downtown D.C. location.  
  • Miners’ Benefits: Extends the funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund until the end of 2021 by extending the tax on mining companies that helps fund the program. Both Kaine and Warner introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act calling on Congress to extend the excise tax through the end of 2030.
  • Shipbuilding & MILCON funding: Provides $23.27 billion for shipbuilding for 10 battle force ships including full funding for a second Virginia-class submarine, which Senators Warner and Kaine personally advocated for. The bill also appropriates $237 million for 6 MILCON projects in Virginia, including:
    • Humphreys Engineer Center, Training Support Facility (Army) - $51m
    • Norfolk, E-2D Training Facility (Navy) - $30.4m
    • Norfolk, Corrosion Control and Paint Facility (Navy) - $17.671m
    • Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Access Control Point Main Gate with Land Acquisition (Air Force) - $19.5m
    • Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Story, Operations Facility and Command Center (Def-Wide) - $54.5m
    • JEB Little Creek-Story, NSWG Facilities (Def-Wide) - $58m
  • Federal contractors: Senators Warner and Kaine also pushed to extend a provision from CARES (3610), which allows contractual adjustments for a paid leave program, allowing contractors to keep employees on the payroll if federal facilities close due to the pandemic – an important provision for our defense industrial base and cleared national security workforce. 
  • Foster care and homeless youth: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Murray and Senator Portman, the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act, to remove barriers to financial aid for students experiencing homelessness or students formerly in foster care by easing the application and determination for becoming eligible for aid. The bill also includes language allowing foster youth to remain in the system until October 1, 2021, regardless of their age—a move that Senators Warner and Kaine called for in a recent letter to the administration.
  • Funds Childhood Disease ResearchProvides $12.6 million for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program to conduct pediatric cancer and disease research. The Senators worked to enact the legislation authorizing this program, named for 10-year-old Gabriella Miller of Loudoun County, who passed away from cancer in October of 2013.
  • Supporting working students and families: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Baldwin, the Working Students Actto reduce the “work penalty” that many students who work while attending school face. Currently, students who work while attending school often are eligible for less financial aid due to their work income. The appropriations bill enacts a 35% increase for working students and 20% increase for families to the income protection allowance (IPA), shielding more of their income from reducing their financial aid.
  • Student Loan Repayment: Extends an important change to existing tax policy allowing employers to use pre-tax dollars to help pay down employees’ student debt until 2025 – a provision modeled after Senator Warner’s bipartisan Employer Participation in Repayment Act to help more than 44 million Americans with student loan debt.
  • Ashanti Alert: Includes $1 million in federal funding to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. Following the abduction of 19-year old Ashanti Billie, who did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert, Senator Warner secured unanimous passage of this national alert system through the Senate on December 6, 2018, and has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide ever since.
  • Nutrition: Provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through June 30, 2021 for all SNAP participants. Excludes unemployment compensation from being counted as income for the purposes of calculating SNAP benefits and eligibility. Provides $400 million for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  • Farmers: Provides $13 billion for direct payments, purchases, and loans to producers who have suffered losses due to the pandemic, including funds to support the food supply chain through food purchases, donations to food banks, and support for local food systems. Additionally, it includes $5 billion for supplemental payments to row crop producers; $3 billion for supplemental payments to cattle producers and contract growers of livestock and poultry, dairy farmers, and producers who were forced to euthanize livestock or poultry; $225 million for producers of specialty crops; and $1.5 billion to purchase food for distribution to those in need.
  • Timber Harvesting/Hauling: Provides up to $200 million to support timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses impacted by COVID-19. 
  • Dairy: Provides up to $400 million for a Dairy Product Donation Program, modeled after the 2018 Farm Bill pilot program to facilitate the donation of dairy products and minimize food waste. 
  • Textiles: Allows USDA to make payments to users of upland cotton and extra-long staple cotton.
  • Fisheries: Provides $300 million in assistance to help fisheries mitigate COVID-19 related impacts. 
  • Water Utility Bill Assistance: Provides $638 million for a new program to help low-income families cover the costs of drinking water and wastewater utility bills by making funds available to states and Tribes. These localities will provide dollars to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages and rates for low-income households.
  • Appalachian Regional Commission: Includes a record $180 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an increase of $5 million from FY20.

 

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Washington, D.C. — Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Acting Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) applauded the upcoming passage of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (IAA) as part of the bipartisan, targeted COVID-19 relief package. The bill, which was approved by the Committee on a bipartisan 14 - 1 vote on June 8, 2020 and passed the Senate on July 23, 2020 as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, authorizes funding, provides legal authorities, and enhances Congressional oversight for the U.S. Intelligence Community.

“Recent events make it all too clear that our nation continues to face ever-expanding threats from hostile foreign actors, including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea,” Rubio said. “It is vital that our Intelligence Community has the necessary resources, authorities, and personnel to protect America’s national security, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s strong, bipartisan legislation does just that. Our bill also increases government efficiency and represents comprehensive Congressional oversight to ensure that these tools are executed responsibly and cost-effectively.” 

“I am happy to say that the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Year 2021 was included in the compromise legislation. The IAA ensures that the women and men of America’s Intelligence Community have the tools and resources they need to keep our country safe, and to ensure that decision makers are presented with the best intelligence, regardless of fear or favor. Passage of the IAA also ensures that Congress fulfills its mission of providing robust oversight of the nation’s intelligence agencies. This bipartisan bill includes key measures to improve our national security and America’s technological edge,” Warner said.

Background: 

The IAA for Fiscal Year 2021 ensures that the Intelligence Community can continue its critical work for our country while Congress continues its oversight, including in the following key areas:

  • Deterring and uncovering core threats from China and Russia, by identifying their corruption, influence operations, and information suppression; 
  • Countering our adversaries’ attempts to compromise telecommunications and cybersecurity technology, and requiring complex, extensive assessments of our current critical technologies and their supply chains; 
  • Strengthening open source intelligence capabilities for improved collection and analysis across the entire Intelligence Community;
  • Enhancing recruitment and hiring for our Intelligence Community, by giving the agencies the resources and tools they need to advance their talented workforce that protects our nation day in and day out; and
  • Ensuring accountability and integrity from our Intelligence Community agencies, which undertake our most sensitive intelligence programs and activities. 

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Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Sen.s Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-5) and Tom Reed (R-NY-23) called on Congress to deliver immediate COVID-19 relief to the American people. Earlier this week, the Senators and the Problem Solvers Caucus shared two bills, one of which, the bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020, is serving as the framework for the final COVID-19 relief package. 

“Today we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 310,000 Americans, and hours away from a government shutdown that threatens to delay urgent aid to people in need throughout the nation. We must set our differences aside. The American people elected us to govern on their behalf, and at a time when they need us more than ever we must end the partisan games and meet this moment together for the good of the country. On Monday, our bipartisan, bicameral group presented a bill that helps provide for the emergency needs of the millions of families struggling to make ends meet. Once again, we encourage the leaders to finish what we started and deliver immediate assistance to the workers, families and businesses that need it most.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Angus King (I-ME), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide relief for young people in the foster care system as they continue to face a number of unique challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. In a letter to Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, the Senators asked that HHS work with states to extend relief to foster families and implement temporary and long-term changes to help foster youth weather this crisis and secure a better future. 

“Almost all families in the United States have had to make significant adjustments in their daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the children and young adults in our nation’s foster care system, periods of change and adjustment are not new,” wrote the Senators. “Foster youth have survived a lifetime of uncertainty before and after entering foster care. The serious health challenges and economic downturn brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have merely exacerbated existing challenges faced by the approximately 424,000 children in the foster care system and the more than 20,400 young adults who ‘age out’ of foster care each year.”

“As of December 10, 2020, over 70 million applications for unemployment benefits had been filed since March 21, 2020. Given this high unemployment rate—the highest we have seen in the U.S. in recent memory—we are increasingly concerned about the potentially dire consequences foster youth may face during the economic recession brought on by the pandemic,” they continued. “Even before the public health emergency, only about half of youth aging out of the foster care system each year were anticipated to have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24. We believe that if temporary changes are made to strengthen support and resources for foster youth, they will be better equipped to pursue their goals and become active members of our nation’s workforce.”

In their letter, the Senators expressed particular concern about the impact of the digital divide on foster youth, who often lack the proper equipment and internet services needed to participate in virtual learning. Specifically, the Senators noted findings from a report indicating that only 21 percent of foster youth have regular access to a computer, with that number dipping as low as five percent for foster youth in rural settings.

 Specifically, the Senators asked HHS to:

  • Continue to encourage states that have not previously exercised the title IV-E program option to extend foster care programs and extend Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood Program (Chafee Program) services until age 23
  • Direct guidance to states regarding additional payments to foster care families and providers as part of states’ response to COVID-19
  • Provide a temporary moratorium on work and study requirements for foster youth during the pandemic
  • Allow title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable foster youth and families
  • Work with states to address the impact of the digital divide on foster youth

As Governor and during his time in the Senate, Sen. Warner has been a longtime champion for increased access to broadband and measures to help address the digital divide. In March, he led 17 of his colleagues in urging major internet service providers to take steps to accommodate the incoming unprecedented reliance on telepresence services. After this effort, a number of major internet service providers announced the adoption of practices to better accommodate the use of remote technologies. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner also introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during COVID-19. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services. Most recently, he called on the seven largest internet service providers (ISPs) to do their part to limit the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and help ensure that children are able to meaningfully participate in their education. 

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

 

Dear Assistant Secretary Johnson:

We write today in support of children and youth in the foster care system across the country as they face additional challenges due to the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the unprecedented and long-term economic and public health consequences of the pandemic, we ask that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide relief for those currently in the foster care system and those transitioning out of foster care to maximize future opportunities for these young people.

Almost all families in the United States have had to make significant adjustments in their daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the children and young adults in our nation’s foster care system, periods of change and adjustment are not new. Foster youth have survived a lifetime of uncertainty before and after entering foster care. The serious health challenges and economic downturn brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have merely exacerbated existing challenges faced by the approximately 424,000 children in the foster care system and the more than 20,400 young adults who “age out” of foster care each year.[1] For this reason, we ask that you make both temporary and long-term changes to act in the best interest of the future of our nation’s foster youth.

As of December 10, 2020, over 70 million applications for unemployment benefits had been filed since March 21, 2020.[2] Given this high unemployment rate—the highest we have seen in the U.S. in recent memory—we are increasingly concerned about the potentially dire consequences foster youth may face during the economic recession brought on by the pandemic. Even before the public health emergency, only about half of youth aging out of the foster care system each year were anticipated to have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.[3] We believe that if temporary changes are made to strengthen support and resources for foster youth, they will be better equipped to pursue their goals and become active members of our nation’s workforce.

We are also concerned that foster youth are especially harmed by the growing digital divide caused by the pandemic. According to a report conducted by iFoster, only about 5% of youth in foster care in rural settings and 21% of youth in foster care in urban settings have regular access to a computer.[4] For many young people in the foster care system, working and learning virtually is near impossible without access to the proper equipment and internet services.

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:

  • Continue to encourage states that have not previously exercised the title IV-E program option to extend foster care programs and extend Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood Program (Chafee Program) services until age 23. We appreciate that you have encouraged Child Welfare Directors in states that have not exercised the title IV-E program option to serve youth up to age 21 to do so during the pandemic. Extended foster care payments are essential for ensuring the financial stability of our nation’s foster youth as they transition out of the system. During these unprecedented times, we also encourage the Administration to continue to encourage states to extend Chafee Program assistance until age 23 to achieve consistency of support after the public health declaration.
  • Direct guidance to states regarding additional payments to foster care families and providers as part of states’ response to COVID-19. In order to ensure stability for foster youth, we need to ensure that foster parents have the resources to weather the economic effects of the crisis and confront the day-to-day challenges of caring for children during the pandemic. In this effort, certain states have already provided one-time payments to foster care families. We ask that the Administration direct guidance to states on their existing authority to issue relief payments to foster families and providers to ease the burden of the pandemic.
  • Provide a temporary moratorium on work and study requirements for foster youth during the pandemic. Public health guidelines during the pandemic have made physically going to work or school impossible for many.[5] COVID-19 has highlighted the inequities of access to reliable high-speed internet and devices. In fact, foster youth face multiple barriers trying to work or study remotely. They may lack a laptop or desktop computer, have slow speeds, or no internet altogether. We encourage the Administration to lift work and study requirements now until at least 180 days after the public health crisis ends, so foster youth are not punished for circumstances outside their control. Additionally, if you determine you do not have the authority to make this change, we ask you to promptly inform the Committees of jurisdiction in Congress, the Committee on Finance in the Senate and the Committee on Ways and Means in the House.
  • Allow title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable foster youth and families. We appreciate the Children’s Bureau letter permitting the purchase of cell phones as an allowable expense under title IV-B and/or the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood.[6] To ensure that foster youth do not continue to fall behind in meeting their work and education obligations, 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. Beyond waiving work and study requirements for foster youth during the pandemic, we ask that you consider long-term solutions to help foster youth facing significant technology-access challenges—the consequences of which have been intensified by the pandemic. We ask that you work with states on state-specific plans to ensure foster youth have the resources necessary to participate in online instruction or work virtually.

We appreciate your attention to this critical matter. We look forward to working together on behalf of our nation’s foster youth moving forward.

Sincerely,

 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, after almost two weeks of bipartisan framework negotiations, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and a group of Democratic and Republican colleagues unveiled bipartisan and bicameral emergency COVID-19 relief legislation to provide urgent relief to struggling American students, families, businesses, workers and health care providers. The release of bipartisan legislative text offers a path forward for congressional action on bipartisan COVID-19 relief after nine months of stalled negotiations between Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate and White House.  

The Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020 released today is the result of weeks of negotiations spearheaded by Sen. Warner along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

“A dozen Senators usually can’t agree on a lunch order, let alone almost a trillion dollars in federal spending – so the fact that we’re standing here today with a bipartisan bill is evidence of the urgency,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA). “I will be the first to admit that this deal is imperfect. But these challenges are simply too urgent to allow politics to interfere. With unemployment and other benefits scheduled to run out just before Christmas, the American people cannot afford for us to wait. After several weeks of work, I hope that this bipartisan bill moves us closer to providing real relief to the American people without further delay.” 

The Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020 would provide $748 billion in emergency assistance for the next four months, including:

·         Extension of all unemployment assistance for 16 weeks, with supplemental $300 per week

·         $300B for another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans and other small business assistance

·         $13B for emergency food assistance, including SNAP benefits and funding for food banks

·         $13B to provide funding to address COVID-related impacts on farmers, ranchers, growers, and fisheries

·         $25B for emergency rental assistance and extension of nationwide eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021

·         Extension of student loan forbearance through April 1, 2021

·         $35B for healthcare providers

·         $16B for testing, tracing and vaccine development and distribution

·         $12B in support for community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to help low-income and minority communities withstand the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and respond to this unprecedented economic downturn

·         $5B in emergency funding for substance abuse prevention and treatment and mental health

·         $82B in education funding, including $54 billion for K-12 schools, $20 billion for higher education, and $7.5 billion for the Governor's Fund

·         $10B to support child care providers struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic

·         $10B for broadband, including $6B for state broadband connectivity and deployment and $3B for educational connectivity and distance learning

·         $45B in emergency funding for airlines, airports, buses, Amtrak, and public transit

In addition to the $748 billion contained in the Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act, lawmakers today unveiled a discussion draft of separate legislation providing $160 billion to help states and localities facing record revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic. In order to allow that legislation to reach the floor, Republicans have demanded that any state and local funding be paired with some sort of liability shield to protect businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19 protections. In today’s press conference, Sen. Warner encouraged his colleagues to continue working on a compromise that would provide funding to state and local governments to prevent mass layoffs of teachers, first responders and sanitation workers during a pandemic. 

It will be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls the Senate floor schedule, to determine if and when the bipartisan relief package might see a vote in the Senate.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement following an announcement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine candidate to control the spread of COVID-19:

“Today’s announcement by the FDA is much-needed good news for the families and communities who’ve lost a loved one to the virus and for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 response efforts – especially as the U.S. reached a devastating COVID-19 milestone just this week, with cases only surging by the day.

“Earlier this year, Congress provided emergency funding to accelerate the development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to the American public. I want to commend the scientific community for accomplishing this task in an unprecedented amount of time. Now, we must build upon this achievement to ensure the vaccine is quickly and fairly distributed to our nation’s health care and essential workers, high-risk Americans, and communities disproportionately hit by the virus.

“Despite this momentous breakthrough, we must not let our guards down. As health officials boost vaccine production for public distribution, we must continue to follow public health guidance on frequent handwashing, mask wearing, and social distancing. While I welcome this good news, the best way to keep our communities safe and slow the spread is by following these necessary steps.”

Throughout this health crisis, Sen. Warner has pushed to make sure that we have the resources and data needed to understand the scope of the crisis and its effect on diverse communities. In March, Sen. Warner supported the CARES Act which directed more than $10 billion in funding to help accelerate, develop, and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine under Operation Warp Speed. Then, in April, Sen. Warner joined his colleagues in urging pharmaceutical companies engaged in COVID-19-related work to prioritize diversity in any coronavirus vaccine or trial to ensure that new treatments work for all Americans. Earlier this week, Sen. Warner led his Senate colleagues in a letter to the Trump Administration urging HHS and the CDC to ensure a fair and equitable vaccine distribution.

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WASHINGTONToday, five lawmakers in leadership roles of House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over misinformation sent President-elect Biden a letter recommending that his COVID-19 response include a focus on misinformation.

The lawmakers are Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA); House Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA); House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA).

“We write to recommend that you incorporate a focus on misinformation within your broader COVID-19 response, including by adding a leading misinformation studies expert to the Task Force,” wrote the lawmakers. “The COVID-19 infodemic is about to dangerously intersect with a misinformation-laden anti-vaccine movement that has led to tragic consequences in our country.”

“While we’re optimistic a vaccine will aid our country in short order, we worry that misinformation threatens the success of a national vaccine program. A decade of misinformation on the safety and efficacy of vaccines, propelled in recent years by social media platforms, has laid the foundation for skepticism and opposition towards the COVID-19 vaccines. In November, four in ten Americans said they would not agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if an FDA-approved vaccine was available at no cost,” the law makers continued.

“These concerns motivate us to urge you to add a member to the Task Force who has a deep understanding of misinformation, including its causes, exacerbating factors, and ways to combat it. Professor Joan Donovan is ideally situated for the role. She is one of the world’s leading scholars of misinformation,” the lawmakers wrote. “Professor Donovan also has a background in health and life sciences and has recently been studying COVID-19 misinformation.”

You can read the full text of the letter HERE.

# # #

WASHINGTON – As the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) independent vaccine review panel meets tomorrow to consider the emergency use authorization of an initial COVID-19 vaccine, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led nine of his colleagues in urging Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield to ensure a fair and equitable vaccine distribution. The letter follows HHS Secretary Azar’s comments that states should decide who gets the first round of the federally approved COVID-19 vaccine, which could lead to a patchwork of varying distribution plans and affect vaccine access for minority and high-risk populations disproportionately impacted by the virus. Sen. Warner’s letter calls on federal health officials to provide more support to states so that they fully understand and appropriately implement expert guidelines ensuring equity. 

“We are writing to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine by working closely with states to understand and appropriately implement COVID-19 vaccine distribution recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). As we approach potential emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for one or more COVID-19 vaccines, it is essential that we do everything we can to ensure access to the vaccine for communities and populations hit hardest by the pandemic,” wrote the Senators to HHS Secretary Azar and CDC Director Redfield.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is a 15-member panel comprised of leading medical and public health experts with a focus on the fields of immunization practices and public health. The Advisory Committee reports to the CDC Director and is responsible for developing evidence-based public health recommendations for the safe and ethical use of vaccines. In the case of COVID-19, where initial supplies of a vaccine will be limited, ACIP will make recommendations to ensure the vaccine is equitably distributed. Historically, states and localities – in coordination with federal health authorities – use ACIP recommendations to develop their vaccination strategies. 

In their letter, the Senators also underscore how the COVID-19 crisis has continued to disproportionately affect older Americans, communities of color, and essential workers. Overrepresentation in front-line jobs, higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, and longstanding bias within the health care system itself have all contributed to these disparities.

“As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on millions of families and claimed the lives of more than 280,000 Americans to date. Older adults, essential workers and communities of color have been particularly hard hit by this virus. Individuals 85 and older are 630 times more likely to die from COVID-19, while Black and Latino Americans are more than twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19 and at a significantly higher risk of hospitalization and death compared to white Americans. Essential workers who cannot work from home also face high potential exposure to COVID-19 - particularly Americans living and working in long-term care facilities, prisons and other congregate care facilities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times as likely to die of COVID-19 compared with others,” they continued.

In their letter, the Senators urge that HHS and CDC work closely with state and local officials to ensure they fully understand and implement ACIP’s recommendations in a manner that prioritizes public health, equity, and the wellbeing of vulnerable communities.

Sen. Warner was also joined on the letter by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Throughout this health crisis, Sen. Warner has pushed to make sure that we have the data needed to understand the scope of the crisis and its effect on diverse communities. He has previously introduced legislation to require HHS to collect and report racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 testing, treatment, and fatality rates, and provide a summary of the final statistics and a report to Congress within 60 days after the end of the public health emergency. In addition, Sen. Warner has joined his colleagues in urging pharmaceutical companies engaged in COVID-19-related work to prioritize diversity in any coronavirus vaccine or trial to ensure that new treatments work for all Americans.

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

 

Dear Secretary Azar and Director Redfield:

We are writing to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine by working closely with states to understand and appropriately implement COVID-19 vaccine distribution recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). As we approach potential emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for one or more COVID-19 vaccines, it is essential that we do everything we can to ensure access to the vaccine for communities and populations hit hardest by the pandemic.

As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on millions of families and claimed the lives of more than 280,000 Americans to date. Older adults, essential workers and communities of color have been particularly hard hit by this virus. Individuals 85 and older are 630 times more likely to die from COVID-19, while Black and Latino Americans are more than twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19 and at a significantly higher risk of hospitalization and death compared to white Americans. Essential workers who cannot work from home also face high potential exposure to COVID-19 - particularly Americans living and working in long-term care facilities, prisons and other congregate care facilities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times as likely to die of COVID-19 compared with others.

The CDC’s ACIP is comprised of leading medical and public health experts. The Advisory Committee is responsible for developing evidence-based public health recommendations for the safe and ethical use of vaccines. Additionally, in the case of COVID-19 – where initial supplies of a vaccine will be limited – ACIP will serve the critical role of making recommendations to ensure the vaccine is equitably distributed. ACIP’s recommendations will provide critical guidance to both the federal government and states regarding effectively targeting a COVID-19 vaccine, including to the most at-risk and in need populations. 

We ask that you work in coordination with federal, state and local partners to ensure they fully understand and implement ACIP’s recommendations in a manner that prioritizes public health, equity, and the most vulnerable communities. Should you have any additional questions regarding this request, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Brian Schatz and their congressional colleagues in calling for the expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic to be made permanent. Provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, legislation introduced by Warner and cosponsored by Kaine, have allowed Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country, and in their homes, to utilize telehealth services, as well as more types of health care providers to provide telehealth, were included in previous COVID-19 legislation but will expire following the pandemic unless congressional leaders act to make those measures permanent.

“Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth. Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.”

In their letter, the lawmakers highlight the growing use and benefits of telehealth during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as patients seek to avoid traveling to hospitals and other providers and instead receive care at home. New data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by nearly 13,000 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.

Senators Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates for increased access to health care through telehealth. In June, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to Senate leadership calling for the permanent expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Kaine also introduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

The bipartisan and bicameral Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, was first introduced in 2016.

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

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

As we near the end of the year and the 116th Congress, we urge you to include provisions in end of the year legislation to make permanent expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services. Specifically, immediate action to permanently waive geographic restrictions for originating sites, authorize health centers in rural and underserved areas to provide telehealth, and allow beneficiaries to use telehealth in their homes would be key steps to ensure much-needed certainty about Medicare telehealth coverage for health care providers and to improve access to care for patients.

Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe.  Telehealth is also important in increasing capacity at health care facilities and reducing health care providers’ use of scarce personal protective equipment.  For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance at the beginning of the pandemic advising individuals and health care providers to optimize the use of telehealth services.

The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act included provisions from our bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a result, waivers of statutory geographic and originating site restrictions have allowed Medicare beneficiaries to use telehealth services in all areas of the country, as well as in their homes.  In addition, more types of health care providers including health centers in rural and underserved areas, are authorized to provide distant site telehealth services, among other important flexibilities.  

This new authority resulted in a rapid increase in telehealth utilization.  An early analysis of the expansion of Medicare telehealth coverage during the pandemic shows that before the public health emergency, about 13,000 beneficiaries in fee-for-service Medicare received telehealth services in a week, but by the last week of April, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also found that beneficiaries are getting care through telehealth at similar rates across demographics.  In response to these findings, CMS stated that, “The rapid adoption of telemedicine among providers and patients has shown that telehealth is here to stay.”

However, the authority for this expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services is temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments.  We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth—even now during the pandemic.  Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs—including the purchase of equipment such as tablets and webcams, telehealth platforms, additional staff, provider training, and changes to electronic health records, billing, and patient engagement processes.  Without more certainty about the future of Medicare coverage, many organizations are not investing in all of these areas to optimize the use and availability of telehealth.

Therefore, Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.  We understand that further data analysis is underway to assess the impact of the telehealth changes that have been available during the public health emergency.  However, to fully benefit from telehealth during the pandemic, there are steps Congress should take before the end of the year to expand access to telehealth with appropriate guardrails and beneficiary protections.

In particular, Congress should immediately provide permanent authority to waive or remove the geographic restrictions on originating sites in section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act so that a beneficiary’s ability to receive telehealth services is no longer based on where he or she lives.  Services that CMS has determined to be clinically appropriate to be delivered through telehealth should be available to all beneficiaries, not just some.  CMS concurs, stating that “The data have shown that telehealth can be an important source of care across the country, not just for those living in rural areas.”

We also urge action to permanently authorize Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics to provide distant site telehealth services and to allow patients to receive clinically appropriate telehealth services in their homes.  These actions would address the restrictions on originating sites that CMS has stated are the greatest barriers to the expansion of Medicare telehealth services as well as ensure that health centers can continue their pivotal role in providing health care in rural and underserved areas.   

Telehealth is an area of strong bipartisan support, and Congress can, and should, act now to lead the way in ensuring expanded access to telehealth.  We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.

Sincerely,

 

###

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Brian Schatz and their congressional colleagues in calling for the expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic to be made permanent. Provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, legislation introduced by Warner and cosponsored by Kaine, have allowed Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country, and in their homes, to utilize telehealth services, as well as more types of health care providers to provide telehealth, were included in previous COVID-19 legislation but will expire following the pandemic unless congressional leaders act to make those measures permanent.

“Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth. Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.”

In their letter, the lawmakers highlight the growing use and benefits of telehealth during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as patients seek to avoid traveling to hospitals and other providers and instead receive care at home. New data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by nearly 13,000 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.

Senators Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates for increased access to health care through telehealth. In June, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to Senate leadership calling for the permanent expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Kaine also introduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

 

The bipartisan and bicameral Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, was first introduced in 2016.

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

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

As we near the end of the year and the 116th Congress, we urge you to include provisions in end of the year legislation to make permanent expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services. Specifically, immediate action to permanently waive geographic restrictions for originating sites, authorize health centers in rural and underserved areas to provide telehealth, and allow beneficiaries to use telehealth in their homes would be key steps to ensure much-needed certainty about Medicare telehealth coverage for health care providers and to improve access to care for patients.

Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe.  Telehealth is also important in increasing capacity at health care facilities and reducing health care providers’ use of scarce personal protective equipment.  For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance at the beginning of the pandemic advising individuals and health care providers to optimize the use of telehealth services.

The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act included provisions from our bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a result, waivers of statutory geographic and originating site restrictions have allowed Medicare beneficiaries to use telehealth services in all areas of the country, as well as in their homes.  In addition, more types of health care providers including health centers in rural and underserved areas, are authorized to provide distant site telehealth services, among other important flexibilities.  

 

This new authority resulted in a rapid increase in telehealth utilization.  An early analysis of the expansion of Medicare telehealth coverage during the pandemic shows that before the public health emergency, about 13,000 beneficiaries in fee-for-service Medicare received telehealth services in a week, but by the last week of April, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also found that beneficiaries are getting care through telehealth at similar rates across demographics.  In response to these findings, CMS stated that, “The rapid adoption of telemedicine among providers and patients has shown that telehealth is here to stay.”

 

However, the authority for this expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services is temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments.  We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth—even now during the pandemic.  Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs—including the purchase of equipment such as tablets and webcams, telehealth platforms, additional staff, provider training, and changes to electronic health records, billing, and patient engagement processes.  Without more certainty about the future of Medicare coverage, many organizations are not investing in all of these areas to optimize the use and availability of telehealth.

 

Therefore, Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.  We understand that further data analysis is underway to assess the impact of the telehealth changes that have been available during the public health emergency.  However, to fully benefit from telehealth during the pandemic, there are steps Congress should take before the end of the year to expand access to telehealth with appropriate guardrails and beneficiary protections.

 

In particular, Congress should immediately provide permanent authority to waive or remove the geographic restrictions on originating sites in section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act so that a beneficiary’s ability to receive telehealth services is no longer based on where he or she lives.  Services that CMS has determined to be clinically appropriate to be delivered through telehealth should be available to all beneficiaries, not just some.  CMS concurs, stating that “The data have shown that telehealth can be an important source of care across the country, not just for those living in rural areas.”

 

We also urge action to permanently authorize Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics to provide distant site telehealth services and to allow patients to receive clinically appropriate telehealth services in their homes.  These actions would address the restrictions on originating sites that CMS has stated are the greatest barriers to the expansion of Medicare telehealth services as well as ensure that health centers can continue their pivotal role in providing health care in rural and underserved areas.   

 

Telehealth is an area of strong bipartisan support, and Congress can, and should, act now to lead the way in ensuring expanded access to telehealth.  We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.

 

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and a group of Democratic and Republican colleagues announced a bipartisan framework to provide emergency COVID-19 relief to American students, families, businesses, workers and health care providers during this crisis. The plan provides a path forward for bipartisan COVID-19 relief, which has been stalled since March over disputes between Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate and White House, and is the result of weeks of negotiations spearheaded by Sen. Warner along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), and Mitt Romney (R-UT).

“The framework we’re presenting today is the product of many hours of difficult discussions and bipartisan negotiations. As with any compromise, neither side got everything they wanted, but after months of stalled negotiations in Congress and hardship endured by the American people, this deal is nothing short of an achievement and a step in the right direction towards providing much-needed relief for families who are still struggling nearly nine months into this pandemic,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today. “While not a full solution to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, the bipartisan agreement we’ve reached today will help Americans weather this winter and get through the holiday season, while providing urgent relief for small businesses, local governments, health care providers, and low-income and minority communities, among others. Frankly, it would be cruel for Congress to adjourn until the New Year while families across the nation spend the holiday unable to put food on the table. That’s why today, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do the right thing and support this bipartisan effort.”

The framework provides $908 billion in funding intended to provide immediate relief for the next four months. The deal includes:

  • $160 billion for state, local and tribal governments drowning in red ink;
  • $180 billion for unemployment insurance programs, including those set to expire at the end of the month;
  • $288 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses, including restaurants and performing arts venues
  • $12 billion in support for community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) to help low-income and minority communities especially hard-hit by COVID-19, based on Sen. Warner’s Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act
  • $45 billion for transportation, including mass transit, airlines, airports, buses and Amtrak
  • $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution & COVID-19 testing and tracing
  • $35 billion in relief for healthcare providers
  • $82 billion for K-12 schools and colleges/universities
  • $4 billion in emergency student loan relief
  • $25 billion in emergency rental assistance
  • $26 billion for supplemental nutrition assistance and relief for farmers and agricultural producers
  • $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service
  • $10 billion for child care
  • $10 billion for broadband
  • $5 billion for opioid treatment

At today’s press conference, Sen. Warner noted that the package sets aside $15 billion for mass transit, including Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which announced yesterday it is projecting a $494.5 million funding gap, and without further aid from Congress will be forced to make drastic service and staffing cuts.

“For all of us who live in the DC-Metro Area, we saw in the Washington Post today, that short of some relief Metro will have to lay off close to 4,000 workers over the next coming months. In addition, Metro will also end service after 9:00 pm and end service on the weekends. That will have a dramatic effect on the functions of the federal government as well as for constituents across the tristate area. So we made, I think, the right kind of investment in public transit,” Warner said in his remarks on the framework at today’s press conference, which are available for download at the links above.

###

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

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

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

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

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

Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth during his tenure as Governor and now in the Senate. In March, Sen. Warner led 17 of his colleagues in urging major internet service providers to take steps to accommodate the incoming unprecedented reliance on telepresence services. After this effort, a number of major internet service providers announced the adoption of practices to better accommodate the use of remote technologies. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner also introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during COVID-19. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services.

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

 

The Honorable Steven T. Mnuchin

Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, D.C. 20220 

Dear Secretary Mnuchin,  

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

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

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

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

###

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

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

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

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

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

Text of the letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Commissioner Rettig and Administrator Verma:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

 

 

###

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

###

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and 13 of their Senate colleagues in requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of the Treasury conduct an analysis of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s repeal in California v. Texas would affect health care coverage in the United States, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Passed in 2010, the ACA drastically expanded the number of Americans with health insurance. Before the ACA, over 45 million Americans were uninsured and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage,” the Senators wrote. “After the ACA’s passage, over 20 million people gained health care coverage—including roughly 12 million people who were newly enrolled due to the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program. People with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied coverage health insurers were required to expand coverage for mental health and substance use treatment; and young adults could stay on their parents’ health coverage until age 26—making it easier for millions of Americans to access care.”

“In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed roughly 220,000 people in the U.S. and infected over 8 million others, the President of the United States is actively asking the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA’s critical health protections,” they continued. “Republicans in the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to pass legislation barring the President from advocating against the ACA in court, but they refused—choosing instead to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination and place the health care law at even greater risk.”

Despite the ACA’s success in expanding access to health care and reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Republican lawmakers have spent years working to overturn and undermine our nation’s health care law. These efforts have culminated in California v. Texas, a case led by 18 attorneys general and President Trump’s Department of Justice that calls for the courts to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional. The President is also currently working to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat with his nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in time to hear arguments in the case on November 10, 2020. Barrett’s nomination is a key component of the President’s self-stated goal to “terminate health care under Obamacare [the ACA].” If the ACA is repealed, experts estimate that over 20 million Americans and 740,000 Virginians will lose health coverage – a number that is likely higher now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to better understand how a Supreme Court decision to overturn ACA would affect health care coverage in the U.S. the Senators requested answers to the following questions:

  1. How many individuals would lose health coverage? Of those individuals:
    1. How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA?
    2. How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in health insurance through the ACA marketplaces?
    3. How many adult children under the age of 26 who are currently covered through their parents’ plans would lose coverage?
    4. How many individuals would lose coverage that acquired coverage through the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
    5. How many individuals would lose coverage that have pre-existing conditions?
    6. To the extent practicable, please provide the number of individuals, by state, that would lose health coverage disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
    7. By how much would consumers’ health care costs, including out-of-pocket costs and premiums, increase? To the extent practicable, please provide this information disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
    8. How many individuals currently covered through marketplace plans would lose ACA subsidies for their plans, and what would be the average amount lost per person in subsidies?
    9. How many individuals currently enrolled in Medicare Part D would likely hit the program’s prescription drug coverage gap, or the “doughnut hole,” in the first year following the ACA’s repeal? Assuming a complete reopening of the coverage gap (i.e.,100% beneficiary coinsurance, with 0% plan contribution and no manufacturer coverage gap discount program), what would be the average increase in out-of-pocket drug costs for enrollees who reach the coverage gap phase? What would be the estimated 10-yearsavings that would accumulate to drug manufacturers under a scenario where there is no coverage gap discount program?
    10. How many Medicare beneficiaries would be affected if preventive services were no longer exempt from cost-sharing requirements, what would be the effect on out-of-pocket spending if preventive services were not “free”, and how would the drop in preventive service use affect Medicare spending?
    11. What impact would the repeal have on the solvency of the hospital insurance trust fund?
    12. What is the average tax cut that households earning over $200,000 a year, over $1 million a year, and over $3 million a year, respectively, would receive?
    13. Please provide copies of any internal analyses conducted at HHS or Treasury that assess the impact of a California v. Texas decision that overturns the ACA on health care coverage. What analysis, if any, have your agencies conducted? What plans, if any, have your agencies developed to address the predicted loss of health care coverage that would accompany such a decision?

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Dr. Secretary Azar and Secretary Mnuchin: 

We write to request that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) provide Congress with its analysis of the impact a Supreme Court decision striking down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California v. Texas would have on health insurance coverage in the United States. We ask that particular attention be paid to the impact such coverage losses would have on Americans in the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Passed in 2010, the ACA drastically expanded the number of Americans with health insurance. Before the ACA, over 45 million Americans were uninsured and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage. After the ACA’s passage, over 20 million people gained health care coverage—including roughly 12 million people who were newly enrolled due to the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program. People with pre-existing

conditions could no longer be denied coverage health insurers were required to expand coverage for mental health and substance use treatment; and young adults could stay on their  parents’ health coverage until age 26—making it easier for millions of Americans to access care.

Despite the ACA’s unequivocal success in reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Republican lawmakers have spent years working to overturn the law. These years of sabotage have culminated in California v. Texas, a case—led by 18 attorneys general and President Trump’s Department of Justice—that calls for the courts to declare the entire ACA unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on November 10, 2020. The President is currently working to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader’s Supreme Court seat with his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, in time for the November 10th arguments. Barrett’s nomination is a key component of the President’s self-stated goal to “terminate health care under Obamacare [the ACA].”

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts predicted that over 20 million Americans would lose health coverage if the ACA was overturned. That number is now likely far higher. In the first three months of the pandemic, unemployment rates rapidly outstripped those of the Great Recession, leaving roughly 30 million people unemployed by July. Today, around 28 million workers are receiving or seeking unemployment benefits, and estimates suggest that 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as a result of the pandemic—swelling the ranks of Americans purchasing health insurance on the ACA marketplaces or getting coverage through Medicaid. Meanwhile, wealthy Americans would likely get a tax cut should the ACA be repealed: if the revenue measures included in the law, including taxes on the wealthiest households in the country, were to disappear, “the highest-income 0.1 percent…households would receive tax cuts averaging about $198,000 per year.”

In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed roughly 220,000 people in the U.S. and infected over 8 million others, the President of the United States is actively asking the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA’s critical health protections. Republicans in the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to pass legislation barring the President from advocating against the ACA in court, but they refused—choosing instead to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination and place the health care law at even greater risk.

It is essential that policymakers understand the implications of a California v. Texas decision overturning the ACA. We therefore ask that HHS and Treasury provide us with information on how such a decision would impact health care coverage in the U.S. including any pre-existing internal analyses of such a decision. Specifically, should the Supreme Court overturn the ACA in its entirety:

1.      How many individuals would lose health coverage? Of those individuals:a.      How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA?
b.      How many people would lose coverage that are currently enrolled in health insurance through the ACA marketplaces?
c.       How many adult children under the age of 26 who are currently covered through their parents’ plans would lose coverage?
d.      How many individuals would lose coverage that acquired coverage through the ACA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
e.      How many individuals would lose coverage that have pre-existing conditions?
2.      To the extent practicable, please provide the number of individuals, by state, that would lose health coverage disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
3.      By how much would consumers’ health care costs, including out-of-pocket costs and premiums, increase? To the extent practicable, please provide this information disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and income level.
4.      How many individuals currently covered through marketplace plans would lose ACA subsidies for their plans, and what would be the average amount lost per person in subsidies?
5.      How many individuals currently enrolled in Medicare Part D would likely hit the program’s prescription drug coverage gap, or the “doughnut hole,” in the first year following the ACA’s repeal? Assuming a complete reopening of the coverage gap (i.e.,100% beneficiary coinsurance, with 0% plan contribution and no manufacturer coverage gap discount program), what would be the average increase in out-of-pocket drug costs for enrollees who reach the coverage gap phase? What would be the estimated 10-yearsavings that would accumulate to drug manufacturers under a scenario where there is no coverage gap discount program?
6.      How many Medicare beneficiaries would be affected if preventive services were no longer exempt from cost-sharing requirements, what would be the effect on out-of-pocket pending if preventive services were not “free”, and how would the drop in preventive service use affect Medicare spending?
7.      What impact would the repeal have on the solvency of the hospital insurance trust fund?
8.      What is the average tax cut that households earning over $200,000 a year, over $1 million a year, and over $3 million a year, respectively, would receive?
9.      Please provide copies of any internal analyses conducted at HHS or Treasury that assess the impact of a California v. Texas decision that overturns the ACA on health care coverage. What analysis, if any, have your agencies conducted? What plans, if any, have your agencies developed to address the predicted loss of health care coverage that would accompany such a decision?

Given the grave implications of this lawsuit and the pending nature of a Supreme Court decision, we ask for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) in introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation to make the payroll tax deferral outlined by President Trump optional for any worker whose employer chooses to participate, including federal employees and service members. The text of the Preventing Employees from Surprise Taxes Act can be found here.  

“Day in and day out our military members and federal employees work to help the American people, but instead of supporting these public servants, President Trump is using them as pawns in his political payroll tax scheme. This cannot stand. Our men and women in uniform and federal employees should be able to make the financial decisions that work best for them rather than be forced to participate in Trump’s PR stunt against their will. That’s why I’m glad to lead this bipartisan push and will continue fighting to get this done,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“I have heard from countless federal employees and service members concerned that they are going to be hit with a massive tax bill due to the Trump administration’s election year gimmick,” said Chairman Connolly.  “Our legislation will protect these public servants and give them a choice in participating in this program.”

In addition to Sens. Warner and Van Hollen, this legislation was cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

In the House the legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Don Beyer(D-Va.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), and Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

The legislation is supported by a number of organizations, including: the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the National Federation of Federal Employees, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, the Senior Executives Association, the Federal Managers Association, the Professional Managers Association, National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, United Power Trades Organization, Antilles Consolidated Education Association, National Weather Service Employees Organization, Patent Office Professional Association, National Association of Government Employees, National Education Association, Social Security Works, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Americans for Tax Fairness, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Statements of support from many of these organizations can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former technology entrepreneur and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today expressed grave concerns regarding the cybersecurity measures in place at one of the nation’s largest medical facility operators, which recently fell victim to an apparent ransomware attack. In a letter to United Health Services (UHS), Sen. Warner posed a series of questions for Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan B. Miller regarding the ransomware attack and stressed the need for UHS and other clinical providers to ensure that all information, medical, and critical systems are sufficiently protected.

“As UHS has expanded over four decades to encompass 250 medical facilities across the U.S., including twelve facilities in Virginia, effective clinical environment cybersecurity cannot be a casualty to value-based care cost savings and economies of scale. Indeed, hospital systems have frequently suggested to competition authorities that greater consolidation will allow for greater operational efficiencies; yet this does not appear to be the case when it pertains to something as vital as information security,” wrote Sen. Warner. “An increasing number of medical facilities sharing connected information systems and computer networks requires adequate protection for a significantly larger attack surface. Any failure to protect this considerable attack surface with appropriately segmented networks and data provides opportunities for lateral movement across disparate systems. An unmitigated breach in one facility can cripple systems at hundreds of medical facilities, risking patient care throughout a large provider network while healthcare delivery remains strained by a pandemic.”

“With the full resources of a Fortune 500 company receiving over $11 billion in annual revenue, UHS’s patients expect and deserve that their provider’s cybersecurity posture to be sufficiently mature and robust to prevent major interruptions to health care operations,” he continued. “While UHS’s latest annual report acknowledges that a cyber-attack that causes a security breach or loss of HIPAA protected health information could have a material impact on business, there is more than just business at stake when clinical operations are disrupted.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner noted that authorities in both countries where UHS operates – including the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – have continued to raise alarm regarding the danger posed by advanced persistent threat groups who exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, waging attacks against healthcare providers that include password “spraying” campaigns, scanning for vulnerabilities in unpatched software, and targeting supply chains. 

Sen. Warner also posed the following series of questions in order to gain a better understanding of the situation facing UHS:

  1. Please describe the UHS vulnerability management process, including your current practices relating to patch management across your health infrastructure.
  2. How are various UHS facilities’ networks and IT systems isolated from each other to prevent a cybersecurity breach at one facility from affecting multiple facilities?
  3. Does UHS have effective segmentation measures in place within its healthcare facilities to prevent any type of malware from spreading?
  4. What policies does UHS maintain relating to third-party risk management?
  5. What are your cybersecurity and risk assessment requirements?
  6. How are clinical medical devices isolated from administrative systems and networks to ensure a breach of the administrative network does not interrupt medical devices?
  7. Who is the senior-most executive responsible for day-to-day oversight of information security and who does that executive report to?
  8. Has UHS paid any ransom or does UHS plan to any ransom?
  9. Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been affected or suffered a denial of access?
  10. Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been exfiltrated from UHS owned or operated systems without authorization? 

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

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

 

Mr. Alan B. Miller

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Universal Health Services, Inc.

367 S. Gulph Road

King of Prussia, PA  19406

Dear Mr. Miller: 

I write you with grave concerns about United Health Services’ digital medical records and clinical healthcare operations succumbing to an apparent ransomware attack. As one of the nation’s largest medical facility operators with 3.5 million patient visits a year, it is imperative that medical care is provided to all patients without any interruption or disturbance created by inadequate cybersecurity. While initial reports suggest that the attackers did not access patient or employee data, an incident such as this sharply highlights the need to ensure adequate cybersecurity hygiene in a healthcare setting. The national health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates the consequences of insufficient cybersecurity. 

The need for health care providers to address cybersecurity threats has been obvious for several years now. Clinical providers including UHS must ensure all information, medical, and critical systems are sufficiently protected. Ransomware continues to impact organizations that have not demonstrated sufficient risk management maturity. The threat of ransomware to hospital systems – and the impact it has on clinical healthcare operations, patient care, and life safety – has been clear since 2016, when a series of major incidents occurred.[1] 

Although the threats are not new, authorities have continued to sound the alarm about the cyber threats to healthcare – including the heightened impact during our current public health emergency. For example, in both countries where UHS operates, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a joint alert on May 5, 2020[2]. This alert announced that advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic as part of cyber operations against healthcare and essential services. Attacks observed against healthcare providers include password “spraying” attacks that automate attempts to use commonly used passwords, scanning for vulnerabilities in unpatched software, such as virtual private networks, and targeting supply chains. 

As UHS has expanded over four decades to encompass 250 medical facilities across the U.S., including twelve facilities in Virginia, effective clinical environment cybersecurity cannot be a casualty to value-based care cost savings and economies of scale. Indeed, hospital systems have frequently suggested to competition authorities that greater consolidation will allow for greater operational efficiencies; yet this does not appear to be the case when it pertains to something as vital as information security. An increasing number of medical facilities sharing connected information systems and computer networks requires adequate protection for a significantly larger attack surface. Any failure to protect this considerable attack surface with appropriately segmented networks and data provides opportunities for lateral movement across disparate systems. An unmitigated breach in one facility can cripple systems at hundreds of medical facilities, risking patient care throughout a large provider network while healthcare delivery remains strained by a pandemic.

With the full resources of a Fortune 500 company receiving over $11 billion in annual revenue, UHS’s patients expect and deserve that their provider’s cybersecurity posture to be sufficiently mature and robust to prevent major interruptions to health care operations. While UHS’s latest annual report acknowledges that a cyber-attack that causes a security breach or loss of HIPAA protected health information could have a material impact on business, there is more than just business at stake when clinical operations are disrupted. 

To gain a better understanding of this situation, I would appreciate answers to the following questions:

1.         Please describe the UHS vulnerability management process, including your current practices relating to patch management across your health infrastructure.

2.         How are various UHS facilities’ networks and IT systems isolated from each other to prevent a cybersecurity breach at one facility from affecting multiple facilities?

3.         Does UHS have effective segmentation measures in place within its healthcare facilities to prevent any type of malware from spreading?

4.         What policies does UHS maintain relating to third-party risk management?

5.         What are your cybersecurity and risk assessment requirements?

6.         How are clinical medical devices isolated from administrative systems and networks to ensure a breach of the administrative network does not interrupt medical devices?

7.         Who is the senior-most executive responsible for day-to-day oversight of information security and who does that executive report to?

8.         Has UHS paid any ransom or does UHS plan to any ransom?

9.         Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been affected or suffered a denial of access?

10.       Have any patient medical records, HIPAA protected data, or healthcare information been exfiltrated from UHS owned or operated systems without authorization?

Patients deserve to know that healthcare systems are secure, particularly as the nation faces a pandemic straining resources nationwide. When a cybersecurity failure occurs, patients need reassurance that their healthcare provider is committed to learning from and responding to this truly concerning incident, and that it is taking all appropriate steps to help ensure it cannot happen again.

Your response will be critical to this process, and I look forward to receiving that within the next two weeks. If you should have any questions or concerns, please contact my office.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue. I look forward to your response in the next two weeks.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $2,901,726 in rural development funding to further distance learning and telemedicine at Ballad Health, Carilion Medical Center, Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C., and the Lee County School District in Jonesville, VA. This funding was awarded through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development.

“Staying connected has never been as important as it is during the COVID-19 pandemic when Virginians are increasingly reliant on broadband internet to safely access medical care and keep up with their education,” said the Senators. “That is why we are thrilled to see these grants go to boosting distance learning and telehealth services at the Mountain States Health Alliance, Carilion Medical Center, Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C. in Norfolk, and the Lee County School District.” 

The funding will be awarded as below:

  • $313,361 for Ballad Health to support a "School-Based Telemedicine Virtual Health Clinic" program to improve healthcare availability to underserved children in Lee and Smyth counties. The program improves access to acute sick care for school children and faculty and removes transportation as an obstacle to care. This rural investment will benefit approximately 46,765 residents across both Virginia and Tennessee.  
  • $752,857 for Lee County School District to implement Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) courses and facilitate meetups with in-the-field STEM professionals. This will also give students in alternative education programs the opportunity to attend their classes in real-time, enable teachers to access quality professional development synchronously without incurring travel and time costs, and provide students and the community access to telecounseling services such as preventative substance-abuse education. This rural investment will benefit approximately 4,590 residents.
  • $947,983 for Carilion Medical Center located in Roanoke, VA, to enable patient access to high-quality primary and specialty care services in 14 counties and six independent cities located in Southwest Virginia, Southside, Roanoke, and the Shenandoah Valley, by expanding and optimizing an existing telemedicine network. Project equipment will include telemedicine carts (for the provision of teleneurology), peripherals to facilitate patients’ physical examinations by transmitting audiovisual information to remote physicians (for use in the proposed virtual care centers), and portable examination and vital sign devices. This rural investment will benefit approximately 200,000 residents.
  • $887,525 for Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C. in Norfolk, VA, to purchase telehealth equipment required to provide diagnostic and treatment services to patients with diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, eye tumors, and ocular oncology, among other specialties. The system in each clinic will include live interactive videoconferencing hardware and software, a digital stethoscope, a specialized hand-held exam and diagnostics camera, and a variety of lens options. This rural investment will benefit approximately 3,762 residents. 

The USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for rural communities and health care access in the Commonwealth. In 2018, the Senators saw through the passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which included a provision by Sen. Warner to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment. Earlier this year, the Senators introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students. In response to the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Warner has also introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans, as well as legislation to promote broadband in underserved areas. Last year, Sen. Warner  introduced legislation – cosponsored by Sen. Kaine – to expand telehealth services through Medicare, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers. Sen. Kaine also introduced legislation in 2019 to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after President Trump announced he is calling off negotiations for COVID-19 relief until after the November general election and insisted the Senate focus its efforts on rushing through a Supreme Court nominee:

“The American public is telling us they need COVID relief now and we should wait until after the election to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. Instead, the President and Senate GOP are rushing their court nominee and ignoring Americans who are suffering in this health and economic crisis. We should be prioritizing COVID relief and we are discouraged that the President has decided to end the negotiations to do that.”

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