Warner, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Help First-Time, First-Generation Homebuyers Narrow the Wealth Gap
Jul 13 2023
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) introduced bicameral legislation to help first-time, first-generation homebuyers – predominately Americans of color – build wealth much more rapidly. By offering new homeowners a 20-year mortgage for roughly the same monthly payment as a traditional 30-year loan, LIFT will allow individuals traditionally underrepresented in the housing market to grow equity twice as fast.
“Homeownership is one of the key ways Americans build capital and wealth. Unfortunately, racism and systemic discrimination in our housing laws have put this opportunity out of reach for far too many families of color,” said Sen. Warner. “The LIFT Act will help narrow the racial wealth gap by allowing qualified home buyers to build equity – and wealth – at twice the rate of a conventional 30-year mortgage.”
“It’s about time Congress took bold steps to support the American dream of homeownership for working class families that for too long have been left behind, which will not only allow more hardworking Americans to build generational wealth but also help close the racial wealth gap,” said Rep. Cleaver. “The LIFT Act builds upon President Biden’s economic agenda that focuses on building our economy from the bottom up and middle out, allowing more families to qualify for homeownership and build equity and stability in their home at an accelerated rate. As the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Warner and his colleagues in the Senate, as we seek to ensure every American has an opportunity to share in the prosperity of this great nation.”
“Homeownership is a key tool for Americans to grow their wealth and build economic stability, but for far too many people, this goal remains out of reach. This is especially true for people of color – which is why we need to address the legacy of discrimination in our housing policy. This bill will help level the playing field for first-time, first-generation buyers and empower them to build more wealth,” said Sen. Van Hollen.
“Housing is dignity and security for hardworking families in Georgia and across the nation, and owning a home is a long-held pathway to building generational wealth. But too many families have been left out of the American dream of buying a home, and Congress should act to make it a reality for more people,” said Sen. Reverend Warnock. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing the LIFT Act to help put the dream of homeownership in reach for working families in Georgia and nationwide, boosting our economy and helping provide families safety and security. Let’s get this done.”
“This is about helping first-time homebuyers pay down their mortgages and build wealth in their homes more quickly. I'm teaming up with Senator Warner to help low-income Georgians and first-time homebuyers build generational wealth,” Sen. Ossoff said.
“Homeownership is not only a key part of the American dream but also one of the best ways to build generational wealth,” said Sen. Kaine, a former fair housing attorney. “I’m proud to be joining my colleagues in introducing this bill to help first-generation homebuyers, particularly those from communities of color, build wealth and help address the racial wealth gap in our country.”
First introduced in 2021, the Low-Income First Time Homebuyers (LIFT) Act would establish a program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in consultation with the Department of the Treasury, to sponsor low fixed-rate 20-year mortgages for first-time, first-generation homebuyers who have incomes equal to or less than 120 percent of their area median income. Treasury would subsidize the interest rate and origination fees associated with these 20-year mortgages so that the monthly payment would be in line with a 30-year Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured mortgage.
For example: A first time homebuyer of modest means who purchases a property for $210,000 is likely to put down $10,000 and take out a $200,000 mortgage. In today’s market, a lender would offer this borrower a 6.5% 30 year FHA insured mortgage, for which the borrower would pay an annual 0.55% FHA insurance fee and a 1.75% up-front insurance fee, which would be folded into the mortgage. The borrower would have a monthly payment of $1,377. Under the LIFT program, the lender would instead offer this homebuyer a 5.5% 20-year FHA insured mortgage, which would include an up-front 4.00% FHA fee that would be folded into the loan and no annual FHA premium. The borrower would have a monthly payment of $1,430. By paying roughly the equivalent monthly payment, a borrower with a LIFT loan would build equity more than twice as fast.
By allowing borrowers to build equity through their homes at twice the rate of a comparable 30-year loan without meaningfully increasing the monthly payment, LIFT will improve the power of homeownership for millions of families. Coupled with well-targeted down-payment assistance, the LIFT program will make meaningful progress in narrowing the racial wealth gap, expanding and greatly strengthening the wealth-building benefits of homeownership in communities too long left behind by our existing financial structures.
This legislation has the support of a number of organizations including the National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients), the Center for Responsible Lending.
“The LIFT Act would be a groundbreaking new approach to help close the nation’s significant and troubling shortfall in homeownership among people of color and the associated substantial wealth racial gap. Focusing eligibility on first-time, first-generation homebuyers would target this assistance to families and individuals most in need of assistance while also narrowing racial homeownership gaps. And the use of subsidies to make a 20-year mortgage as affordable as a 30-year loan puts homebuyers on a path to rapidly accumulate home equity while also making homeownership less risky. The proposed approach is also highly cost effective by leveraging federal subsidies to enable homeowners to build wealth over time more quickly and effectively,” said Chris Herbert, Managing Director, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
“Homeownership is the major source of wealth and assets for most American families. Senator Warner's proposed LIFT Act is a worthy initiative that can help families build equity faster and Opportunity Finance Network is pleased to endorse this legislation,” said Jennifer A. Vasiloff, Chief External Affairs Officer, Opportunity Finance Network.
“Homeownership is the best way to build wealth, especially for lower and moderate income households and families of color, and LIFT supercharges that wealth-building. By helping homeowners get a 20-year mortgage with a lower monthly payment consistent with a 30-year mortgage, LIFT preserves affordability and supports homeownership, but also allows homeowners to rapidly accumulate equity in their homes. LIFT is among the most effective ways policymakers have to address the nation’s pernicious problem of large and widening economic disparities,” said Mark Zandi, Chief Economist, Moody’s Analytics.
“One of the most important benefits of homeownership is the ability to build wealth. In fact, it is the primary way millions of middle-income Americans have achieved economic stability for 75 years. While legally sanctioned racial discrimination seems like a thing of the past, outlawed in the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the reality is that the housing wealth affect continues to disadvantage people of color whose parents and grandparents never benefitted from a wide range of government programs that made homeownership possible to most Americans,” said David Dworkin, President and CEO, National Housing Conference. “The LIFT bill evens that playing field and will not only help close the wealth gap, but it will strengthen the economy for all Americans. Senator Warner has a long history of thinking outside the box and writing legislation that makes a difference in new and innovative ways. The LIFT Act is another example of his leadership.”
“The LIFT Act allows more first-time, first-generation prospective homeowners to realize their American Dream. This creates more generational wealth across different communities and supports low to middle-income Americans. AREAA is proud to support the continued efforts by Senator Warner to pass this legislation,” said Kurt Nishimura, President, Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA).
“NAHREP is pleased to support the re-introduction of the LIFT Homebuyers Act. The bill’s goal of helping homeowners expedite earning equity in their properties means the opportunity to build intergenerational wealth is all that more achievable,” said Gary Acosta, Co-Founder & CEO, NAHREP. “NAHREP is committed to helping Latinos realize their economic potential through homeownership and is encouraged by Senator Warner, Senator Kaine, Senator Warnock, Senator Ossoff, and Senator Van Hollen’s commitment to the same goal as evidenced in the LIFT Homebuyers Act.”
“The Virginia Housing Alliance applauds Senator Warner’s leadership and commitment to ensuring that the wealth building opportunity of homeownership becomes a reality for many more Americans through the Low-Income First Time Homebuyers Act (LIFT Act). In Virginia, the homeownership rate for non-Hispanic white households is 73% compared to just 48% for Black households. The LIFT Act will provide a transformative opportunity to close this gap and make the American dream of homeownership a reality for thousands of first time homebuyers in Virginia,” said Brian Koziol, Executive Director, Virginia Housing Alliance.
Warner & Kaine Urge Virginia General Assembly to Repeal Ban on Same-Sex Marriage in State Constitution
Feb 06 2023
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine urged the Virginia General Assembly to protect marriage equality by repealing the ban on same-sex marriage that remains in Virginia’s constitution. In 2006, over then-Governor Kaine’s strong objection, Virginia passed a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges overrides Virginia’s ban by requiring all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While Sens. Warner and Kaine helped pass legislation last year to ensure same-sex marriages are recognized by every state, the right of same-sex couples to marry in Virginia would be jeopardized by the state ban if Obergefell is overturned.
“We write today to urge you to take action to protect marriage equality. The General Assembly should act now to repeal the shameful ban on same-sex marriage that remains in the state constitution,” the senators wrote in a letter to General Assembly leadership.
The senators continued, “It is long past time that Virginia’s governing document conveys to same-sex marriages the same freedoms, rights, and responsibilities that are afforded to all other constitutional marriages. We urge you to work with your colleagues to advance legislation for a referendum that would fully protect Virginia’s LGBTQ couples.”
Amendments to Virginia’s constitution must pass both chambers of the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions and then be passed on the ballot by voters. Constitutional amendments cannot be vetoed by a Governor. The Virginia Senate passed a bill to repeal the state constitutional ban in the 2022 session, but that bill failed in the Virginia House of Delegates, restarting the amendment process. On January 31, 2023, the Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee favorably reported a similar bill to repeal the ban.
In the U.S. Senate, Warner and Kaine were among the 212 members of Congress who signed an amicus brief arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that same-sex married couples should have the same legal security, rights, and responsibilities that federal law provides all other married couples. Warner and Kaine have also cosponsored the Equality Act, which would amend federal civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, and federal jury service.
Full text of the letter is available here and below.
Dear Leaders Saslaw, Norment, Kilgore, and Scott:
We write today to urge you to take action to protect marriage equality. The General Assembly should act now to repeal the shameful ban on same-sex marriage that remains in the state constitution.
Marriage is a sacred and fundamental right in our society. In a long-overdue victory for the LGBTQ community, the Supreme Court concluded in Obergefell v. Hodges that the 14th Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, bringing the country one step closer to the fundamental ideal of equality for all. We were proud to cosponsor and support the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate. On December 13, 2022, President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law, ensuring that same-sex and interracial couples lawfully married in any state will have their marriages recognized across the country even if Obergefell is overturned. Although the Respect for Marriage Act provides full faith and credit for state-issued marriage licenses, the legislation does not require a state to issue a marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
While the Obergefell decision supersedes Virginia’s constitutional ban, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health makes same-sex couples feel that their marriages are in jeopardy. In fact, Justice Clarence Thomas stated in his concurring opinion that “in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” If Obergefell is overturned, then LGBTQ Virginians will likely lose the right to marry the person they love unless the General Assembly repeals the ban in Virginia’s constitution. Virginia’s circuit courts would be prohibited from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples due to the prohibition in the Commonwealth’s constitution.
We are encouraged by proposals in both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate to repeal the constitutional provision. It is long past time that Virginia’s governing document conveys to same-sex marriages the same freedoms, rights, and responsibilities that are afforded to all other constitutional marriages. We urge you to work with your colleagues to advance legislation for a referendum that would fully protect Virginia’s LGBTQ couples.
Thank you for your continued leadership and service to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Statement of U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner & Tim Kaine on Passage of Bill Designating September as African Diaspora Heritage Month
Dec 14 2022
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, issued the following statement applauding last night’s unanimous Senate passage of legislation Sen. Kaine led to recognize and reaffirm the significant contributions of the African diaspora to the growth and prosperity of the U.S. The passage of the bill—which was cosponsored by Sen. Warner and U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Chris Coons (D-DE)—came on the first day of the Biden-Harris Administration’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which is being attended by African leaders from across the continent.
“Our Commonwealth and our country wouldn’t be what they are today without the African diaspora, which has made countless contributions to our communities despite extraordinary adversity,” said the Senators. “We are gratified by the passage of this legislation to acknowledge, appreciate, and celebrate this fast-growing and dynamic community, and will continue working to ensure that its members have a seat at the table to share their essential perspectives.”
Virginia is home to more than 115,000 African immigrants, thousands of whom are small- and medium-sized business owners who have helped bring more than $200 million in international trade to the state. The Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution to designate September as Virginia African Diaspora Heritage Month in March 2022.
Full text of the bill is available here.
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on President Biden’s signing of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation which will ensure that same-sex and interracial marriages are recognized by every state:
“We’re proud that Congress has passed and the President has signed the Respect for Marriage Act to ensure all Americans have their marriages recognized across the country. We saw this summer in the Dobbs decision that the Supreme Court is willing to throw out decades of precedent on equal protection and threaten important decisions like Obergefell. We’re glad that we could pass this bill to give same-sex and interracial couples the certainty they deserve that their marriages will be respected no matter what the Court does in the future. Now, it’s time to repeal the shameful ban on same-sex marriages that is still in Virginia’s constitution.”
Virginia passed a ban on same-sex marriage in 2006, which remains in the Virginia Constitution today. The Obergefell decision, which is currently the law of the land, overrides Virginia’s ban. However, if the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell, the right of LGBTQ Virginians to marry in the Commonwealth would be jeopardized unless that ban is repealed.
In the U.S. Senate, Warner and Kaine were among the 212 members of Congress who signed an amicus brief arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that same-sex married couples should have the same legal security, rights, and responsibilities that federal law provides all other married couples. Warner and Kaine are also cosponsors of the Equality Act, which would amend federal civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, and federal jury service.
See the full text of the Respect for Marriage Act here.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued the following statement after the House of Representatives voted to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and extend federal protections for gay and interracial marriages:
“We are glad to see the House of Representatives take the important step of passing the Respect for Marriage Act to guarantee that same-sex and interracial marriages are recognized across the country. Following decisions by the Supreme Court to overturn established precedent in rulings such as Dobbs, it is crucial that we sign this bill into law to ensure that the right of marriage is recognized across the nation for all Americans.
“This legislation is a first step. We must also act to ensure that same-sex and interracial couples are protected in the Commonwealth by repealing Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages. As long as this ban is in place, too many Virginians stand to see one of their most fundamental rights dismantled should the Obergefell ruling be overturned.”
In 2006, Virginia passed a ban on same-sex marriage which remains in the Virginia Constitution today. The Obergefell Supreme Court decision, which is currently the law of the land, overrides Virginia’s ban. However, if the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell, the right of LGBTQ Virginians to marry in the Commonwealth would be jeopardized unless that ban is repealed.
Sens. Warner and Kaine were among the 212 members of Congress who signed an amicus brief arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that same-sex married couples should have the same legal security, rights, and responsibilities that federal law provides all other married couples. Sens. Warner and Kaine are also cosponsors of the Equality Act, which would amend federal civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, and federal jury service.
The Respect for Marriage Act passed through the Senate last month by a vote of 61-36, with both Sens. Warner and Kaine supporting the legislation. It now heads to President Biden’s desk for signature.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement after the Senate voted to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and extend federal protections for gay and interracial marriages:
“Marriage is not only a spiritual bond between two individuals, it’s also a binding contract that cements essential benefits, rights, and privileges. This bill will ensure that gay marriages are recognized across the country, thereby protecting same-sex couples from discrimination that would otherwise block their access to health care, paid family medical leave, hospital visitation, and parental rights — among many others. I was proud to vote for this piece of legislation and urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass it and send it to the President’s desk soon.
“This is a meaningful step to protect rights already established by the Obergefell ruling, but Virginia still has a ban on same-sex marriages at the state level, and it’s time to repeal it.”
Jun 16 2022
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) was joined by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) in introducing bipartisan legislation to promote lasting economic prosperity in Black, brown and low-income communities. This bill would help unlock more equity and long-term financial capital for community development financial institutions (CDFIs). CDFIs often serve as a backbone for low-income or minority-owned businesses, which tend to have fewer banking relationships and less access to traditional forms of funding.
“As a former entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I know that talent and ambition is not confined by income bracket or zip code. Unfortunately, access to start-up capital often is. CDFIs and MDIs do the invaluable work of bridging the gap and reaching small businesses in our most vulnerable communities – a role that became even more critical during the pandemic,” said Sen. Warner. “Despite the historic investments we were able to deliver through the emergency COVID-19 relief package, CDFIs remain in need of additional equity and capital to continue serving their communities. This legislation will create a new tax credit, helping spur important private-sector investments and allowing these community lenders to grow."
“Small businesses, including those in low-income and minority communities, are a pillar of the economy in Mississippi and across the nation,” said Sen. Wicker. “CDFIs and MDIs help support businesses, individuals, and entrepreneurs by providing access to capital and alternatives to predatory loans in low-access areas. I am glad to join my colleagues on this bipartisan measure to create an additional tax credit to support and expand this private-sector investment.”
“CDFI investments are a critical source of capital for small business growth in many Mississippi communities and around the country. This bill would create a tax credit structure to attract greater private-sector investments in CDFIs, which would increase their ability to spur more long-term growth in disadvantaged areas,” said Sen. Hyde-Smith.
“Investing in our small businesses generates more shared prosperity in our communities and CDFIs are a key force multiplier, particularly in financing businesses and projects in economically underserved communities. This legislation will leverage long-term, private sector investments to support their good work and help them expand their efforts to support new and growing small businesses,” said Sen. Van Hollen.
This bill will help direct support to lenders that focus on underserved communities by creating a CDFI Tax Credit for private sector investors that make equity, equity-equivalent investments, or long-term patient capital available to CDFIs. The bill would benefit CDFIs of all types including bank CDFIs, credit union CDFIs, venture capital CDFIs, and CDFI loan funds, while providing institutions with the maximum flexibility and financial support they need to increase wealth in low- and moderate-income communities.
This legislation has the support of a number of organizations, including Community Development Bankers Association, National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, Community Development Venture Capital Alliance, LISC, Opportunity Finance Network, CDFI Coalition, Inclusiv, and the Enterprise Community Loan Fund, among others.
“CDBA and its members strongly support the CDFI Tax Credit Investment Act. The credit will provide an invaluable tool for leveraging private investment into underserved markets. This will be a game changer,” said Jeannine Jacokes, Chief Executive Officer, Community Development Bankers Association.
“The CDFI Tax Credit Act is a practical, bipartisan way to marshal the long-term capital that struggling urban and rural communities need. It will create jobs, grow small businesses, and strengthen families by providing health services and child care. It's a smart investment in America's future,” said Buzz Roberts, President & CEO, National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders.
“CDVCA strongly supports the CDFI Tax Credit Investment Act. It will give incentive for investors to provide flexible, long-term risk capital to create good jobs, productive wealth, and entrepreneurial capacity in underinvested communities throughout the nation,” said Kerwin Tesdell, President, Community Development Venture Capital Alliance.
“The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) applauds Senators Warner and Wicker for introducing the Community Development Tax Credit Act of 2022. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have time and time again proven their ability to leverage public and private capital to support investments in some of the most underserved communities in the country. This tax credit, by incentivizing long term investments in CDFIs, will allow CDFIs to in turn provide longer term, lower cost loans to finance affordable housing, small businesses, homeownership and essential community facilities in their neighborhoods,” said Matt Josephs, Senior Vice President for Policy, LISC.
“OFN applauds Senators Warner and Wicker’s continued leadership in supporting community development financial institutions (CDFIs). The CDFI Tax Credit Investment Act will help drive more private capital to CDFIs offering affordable, responsible financing to low-wealth urban, rural, and Native communities across the country,” said Jennifer A. Vasiloff, Chief External Affairs Officer, Opportunity Finance Network.
“The CDFI Coalition is pleased to add its voice in strong support for the legislation sponsored by Sens. Warner and Wicker to establish a tax credit for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). CDFIs provide financial products and services in urban neighborhoods and rural areas underserved by traditional financial institutions, particularly those communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment. Throughout the last economic downturn, CDFIs served as economic shock absorbers, providing flexible and patient capital, rigorous risk management, and commitment to the projects in their communities and the sustainability of their borrowers. While traditional lenders fled economically distressed communities, CDFIs stepped in to fill the void. Since the advent of the economic crisis prompted by the pandemic, CDFIs have been on the frontlines of providing financial and technical assistance to small and minority-owned businesses. CDFIs fill a vital niche in the nation's financial services delivery system by serving communities and market sectors that conventional lenders cannot - with the ultimate goal of bringing CDFI customers into the mainstream economy as bank customers, homeowners and/or entrepreneurs. The proposed CDFI Tax Credit will provide a new avenue for CDFIs to raise capital that will be deployed to finance small businesses, construct affordable housing, and support community facilities in disadvantaged communities across the country. CDFIs leverage over $12 in private capital to every $1 in federal support, so the resources authorized by the tax credit will extend far beyond the amount authorized and help CDFIs to fill the widening credit gap encountered by economically disadvantaged communities across the country,” said Ceyl Prinster, President and CEO, Colorado Enterprise Fund and Chair of the CDFI Coalition.
“CDFI credit unions deliver credit and responsible banking services in communities long-excluded by the financial system. Credit union lending runs the gamut from helping households access small emergency loans to meet basic needs; to repairing; to purchasing that first home or starting or expanding a small business. Together CDFI credit unions are able to channel and recycle billions of dollars of loans in local economies across the country. In order to grow reach and impact, these high-impact lenders need long-term equity like investment. The proposed legislation by Senators Warner and Wicker to establish a CDFI Tax Credit is groundbreaking. This bill will provide an incentive for private sector investors to make flexible long-term investments that enable our institutions to grow, expand their lending and increase wealth in low- and moderate-income communities,” said Cathie Mahon, President and CEO, Inclusiv.
“Senators Warner and Wicker's innovative proposal to drive more resources into our communities is forward-thinking and much needed. CDFIs, whose missions are to create economic opportunity for all, already leverage private capital sources to develop community-centered investments and sustain the communities they serve. Unfortunately, the community need is outpacing the resources available to CDFIs. Additional investment options like the CDFI Tax Credit will be a game-changer for the industry across the country. The VA CDFI Coalition is excited by the possibilities these investments could create across Virginia and hope to see this pass,” said Leah Fremouw, Board President, VA CDFI Coalition.
“Enterprise enthusiastically supports the CDFI Tax Credit Act introduced by Senators Warner and Wicker. The legislation exponentially builds on the power of CDFIs to leverage private capital and supercharges their work to address systemic inequities in access to capital in low-income communities. Over three decades, we've invested $2.4 billion in under-served communities, and we know that CDFI investments are key to equitable development and broad-based economic growth,” said Elise Balboni, President, Enterprise Community Loan Fund.
To combat the hemorrhaging of jobs and economic opportunities during the pandemic, Sen. Warner has been a leader in Congress for CDFIs and MDIs. In July of 2020, he teamed up with then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act – an effort that secured endorsements from a host of other advocacy organizations and civil rights groups.
Sen. Warner was later able to secure provisions from the bill in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020, providing an unprecedented $12 billion in funding for CDFIs.
Warner & Kaine Applaud Signing of Anti-Hate Crime Bill, Including Provisions of Heather Heyer No Hate Act
May 20 2021
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded President Biden’s signing of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, legislation cosponsored by Warner and Kaine, into law. The law is designed to counter the recent trend of violence against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. It includes provisions of the Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act, cosponsored by Warner and Kaine last Congress to improve hate crimes reporting and expand assistance and resources for victims of hate crimes.
“Today, President Biden and Congress send a clear message: bigotry is wrong; violence won’t be tolerated; and hate has no place in America,” said the Senators. “Almost four years after her murder, Heather Heyer’s legacy endures in this law combating racism and supporting the victims of hate. May we be like Heather by always standing up for justice, and may we strengthen our communities by embracing our differences and holding prejudice accountable.”
The provisions included from the Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act will:
- Improve Reporting of Hate Crimes: This legislation will support the implementation of and training for the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), the latest crime reporting standard, in law enforcement agencies without it. This will allow law enforcement agencies to record and report detailed information about crimes, including hate crimes, to the FBI.
- Encourage Law Enforcement Prevention, Training, and Education on Hate Crimes: This legislation will provide support to law enforcement agencies that establish a policy on identifying, investigating, and reporting hate crimes, train officers on how to identify hate crimes, develop a system for collecting hate crimes data, establish a hate crimes unit within the agency, and engage in community relations to address hate crimes in that jurisdiction.
- Establish Hate Crime Hotlines: This legislation will provide grants for states to establish and operate hate crime hotlines, record information about hate crimes, to redirect victims and witnesses to law enforcement and local support services as needed.
- Rehabilitate Perpetrators of Hate Crimes through Education and Community Service: This legislation will allow for judges to require individuals convicted under federal hate crime laws to undergo community service or education centered on the community targeted by the crime.
The Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act was partially named after Heather Heyer, a Virginian murdered by a white supremacist in Charlottesville in 2017. Hours before the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed the Senate in April, Senator Kaine spoke on the Senate floor in remembrance of Heather. The rest of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act directs the Department of Justice to accelerate the review of hate crimes by requiring the Attorney General to designate someone responsible for handling such crimes. According to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crimes against Asian Americans rose nearly 150% in America’s largest cities last year. The law also mandates the issuance of guidance to state and local law enforcement on establishing a multi-lingual online system to report hate crimes.
Following Warner Legislation, Treasury Dept. Announces $9 Billion Investment in Minority Communities
Mar 04 2021
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today applauded an announcement by the U.S. Treasury Department opening the application process for the Emergency Capital Investment Program (ECIP), a new initiative designed to support access to capital in minority and low-income communities that have historically been excluded from the financial system and that have been the hardest-hit during the COVID-19 crisis. The funding is available as part of a record $12 billion investment to open up new credit opportunities for Black, Latino and low-income communities that Sen. Warner successfully fought to include in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in December.
“Even before the pandemic, low-income communities and communities of color faced significant barriers in accessing credit and economic opportunity,” said Sen. Warner. “The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has only exacerbated those inequalities. Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department is a historic step in helping underserved communities recover and emerge from this unprecedented economic downturn with more opportunities than before.”
Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department opens up $9 billion in capital for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) in order to expand the flow of credit into underserved, minority, and historically disadvantaged communities, helping small businesses stay afloat and expand operations while providing affordable access to credit for lower income borrowers. Surveys show that Black- and Latino-owned small businesses have been particularly hard-hit during the pandemic. Thousands of minority-owned small businesses have closed for good, in part due to difficulty securing bank loans and accessing assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that while overall small business ownership in the U.S. dropped 22 percent between February and April 2020, Black and Latino ownership dropped by 41 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Another recent survey revealed that almost 1 in 5 Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs expect to permanently close their doors within three months, compared to 14 percent of white small business owners.
In order to combat the hemorrhaging of jobs and economic opportunities during the pandemic, Sen. Warner in July teamed up with then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act in order to strengthen the financial institutions that serve communities of color and increase lending to minority-owned businesses and lower-income borrowers. The effort secured endorsements from the Black Economic Alliance, the NAACP, the National Bankers Association, the National Urban League, the Center for Responsible Lending and a host of other advocacy organizations and civil rights groups. Sen. Warner was later able to secure provisions from the bill in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020, providing an unprecedented $12 billion in funding for lenders that predominantly operate in underserved communities.
In addition to the $9 billion in funding that is part of Emergency Capital Investment Program, the Treasury Department last week opened a $1.25 billion grant program for depository and non-depository CDFIs intended to support, prepare for, and respond to the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. In addition, the Treasury Department is expected to release $1.75 billion in funding to expand lending, grant making, and investment activity in minority communities by this summer. Together, the three programs will help minority and low-income communities weather the COVID-19 crisis and promote an equitable economic recovery in communities that have traditionally been underserved by the financial sector.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today applauded an announcement by the new Chief of the U.S. Park Police (USPP) Pamela A. Smith that she will, as one of her first actions as chief, implement a nationwide body-worn camera program for USPP by the end of the year.
“It’s been more than three years since Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police and his family is still searching for answers to understand what happened to their son and brother that day,” said Sen. Warner. “While nothing will bring Bijan back, I am glad to see the new leadership of the Park Police taking steps that could help avert more needless tragedies. I have long supported federal funding for law enforcement body cameras because I think they help instill trust between officers and the public they serve. I congratulate Chief Smith on her historic appointment and look forward to working with her to increase safety and accountability on our federal lands.”
Today Smith was named as the new Chief of United States Park Police. Smith is the first African American woman to lead the USPP, the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.
Following Warner Legislation, Treasury Dept. Announces Minority and Community-Based Lenders Can Apply for Emergency COVID-19 Grants
Feb 25 2021
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today announced that minority-owned and community-based lending institutions can now apply for grants through the U.S. Treasury Department to support, prepare for, and respond to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is available as part of a record $12 billion investment to open up new credit opportunities for Black, Latino and low-income communities that Sen. Warner successfully fought to include in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in December.
“Even before the pandemic, low-income communities and communities of color faced significant barriers in accessing credit and economic opportunity,” said Sen. Warner. “The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has only exacerbated those inequalities. Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department is one step in helping low-income and minority communities recover and emerge from this unprecedented economic downturn with more opportunities than before.”
Surveys show that Black- and Latino-owned small businesses have been particularly hard-hit during the pandemic. Thousands of minority-owned small businesses have closed for good, in part due to difficulty securing bank loans and accessing assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that while overall small business ownership in the U.S. dropped 22 percent between February and April 2020, Black and Latino ownership dropped by 41 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Another recent survey revealed that almost 1 in 5 Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs expect to permanently close their doors within three months, compared to 14 percent of white small business owners.
In order to combat the hemorrhaging of jobs and economic opportunities during the pandemic, Sen. Warner in July teamed up with then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act in order to strengthen the financial institutions that serve communities of color and increase lending to minority-owned businesses and lower-income borrowers. The effort secured endorsements from the Black Economic Alliance, the NAACP, the National Bankers Association, the National Urban League, the Center for Responsible Lending and a host of other advocacy organizations and civil rights groups. Sen. Warner was later able to secure provisions from the bill in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020, providing an unprecedented $12 billion in funding for lenders that predominantly operate in underserved communities.
Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department releases an initial tranche of $1.25 billion in grant funding for eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) in order to expand the flow of credit into underserved, minority, and historically disadvantaged communities, helping small businesses stay afloat and expand operations while providing affordable access to credit for lower income borrowers. Additional funding will be made available in the coming months, as part of the largest single investment into minority-owned and community-based lending institutions in the nation’s history.
Feb 08 2021
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va) joined Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in announcing the reintroduction of the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act, legislation to allow qualified TPS recipients to apply for legal permanent residency. The Senators noted the support of over 20 of their Senate colleagues. They underscored their commitment to working with the Biden Administration and the new Democratic majority in the Senate to provide security to TPS recipients.
“TPS recipients are essential to our communities in Maryland and across the country. They are business owners contributing to our economies, students with bright futures, and leaders on the frontlines of our social movements. They came here legally and it is unsafe to return to their home countries. We have a moral obligation not to return people to countries that will put them in harm’s way,” said Senator Cardin. “The SECURE Act will extend protections for these hardworking residents and end the uncertainty and discrimination they faced under the previous administration.”
“For decades, our country has welcomed and protected those fleeing violence and turmoil around the world. TPS recipients are members of our communities – they are our neighbors, local business owners, friends, and frontline workers. Many have lived here legally for over twenty years – and have come to call our country home. But over the last four years, the livelihoods of these individuals have been under constant threat. Now, alongside the Biden Administration, we must prioritize providing TPS recipients security and certainty. We’ll be working to quickly get this done,” said Senator Van Hollen.
"TPS holders are our neighbors, friends and colleagues and many have lived in the U.S. for decades and call America home. These individuals have made countless contributions to our communities and businesses and many have served on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. It is essential that we stand with them by working to pass the SECURE Act, which is why I'm proud to join Senator Van Hollen and Senator Cardin in reintroducing this piece of legislation today," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), an original cosponsor of the legislation.
In addition to Senators Warner, Cardin, Van Hollen, and Schumer the legislation is cosponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
TPS is a temporary, legal status granted to foreign citizens who are endangered by conditions in their home country such as ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, epidemic, or other extraordinary events. Currently, there are approximately 411,000 people with TPS in the United States from ten designated countries: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. TPS status is granted for set periods ranging from six to 18 months, requiring the Department of Homeland Security to extend a country's status on a recurring basis. Every time a country is recertified, recipients must reapply and pass a thorough background check.
In September 2020, a federal court of appeals ruled in favor of the Trump Administration and reversed a court order in the Ramos v. Nielsen lawsuit which halted the termination of TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan; this court order also stopped terminations of TPS for Honduras and Nepal. TPS recipients now face uncertainty as they wait for the pending re-hearing on the case. This uncertainty and the continued dangerous circumstances in their home countries has created considerable hardship for TPS recipients and their families, including American-born children. The SECURE Act will provide stability for these individuals and their communities by giving them the ability to apply for legal permanent residency. Under the bill, all TPS recipients who were qualified under the most recent TPS designation and who have been continuously present in the United States for at least three years would be eligible to apply for legal permanent residency.
Today’s call was attended by a wide array of advocacy organizations including: CASA, National TPS Alliance, 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), LIUNA, Alianza Americas, African Communities Together, Adhikaar, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Presente.org.
“I am the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit led by TPS families challenging the Trump Administration’s racist and anti-immigrant attempts to tear more than 275,000 US citizen children from their parents. For too long TPS families have been pawns in other people's agendas even after we fought tirelessly in the federal courts, marched on Washington, and lobbied congress to get to this point. Now it is time for Congress to utilize any and all legislative vehicles which would guarantee our families a Permanent Residency,” said Crista Ramos, lead plaintiff in the Ramos Case and daughter of Salvadoran TPS holders from San Francisco, California. Crista is a member of the National TPS Alliance.
“My job as an essential worker, making sure rooms are safe and clean for Walter Reed patients can mean life or death for everyone inside,” said TPS holder, Barbara Rauda, a 32BJ SEIU member and mother of three working as a frontline cleaner at Walter Reed Military Hospital. “I have been in the U.S. for over twenty one years and I have three children who are U.S. citizens, having a green card would help keep families like mine together.”
“As a frontline worker during the COVID pandemic, my immigration status has brought me tremendous stress that I would not be able to provide care in my community. It has been a privilege to be part of the workforce combatting COVID-19, taking care of vulnerable populations. However, as a TPS holder, my working permit had an expiration date. There was always that fear that it would not be renewed or worse, that I would be deported back to my country; a country that I had left as a teenager almost two decades ago. For the past decades, I felt loss, hurt, disappointed, and afraid for my future. Lawful permanent residency would mean hope for tomorrow, hope for my future and for my family,” said Rose Michelle Tilus, a Rhode Island TPS Holder from Haiti, frontline worker and member of the Haitian Bridge Alliance.
“This month of February it is 21 years that I cannot hug my parents. Two weeks ago my 96-year-old father was on the brink of death. Lawful permanent residency would allow me to continue contributing to the United States and to be close to my family in El Salvador during emergencies,” said Yanira Arias, TPS beneficiary from El Salvador and member of Alianza Americas. Yanira is the main source of financial support for her elderly parents and an organizer mobilizing immigrant communities across the United States.
“I am a proud single mother of a daughter who is now 30 years old and is working as a nurse. Within a couple of years of getting my work permit through TPS, I was able to acquire two businesses in Dallas, and in Texarkana. TPS has given this mother and daughter the opportunities that we could never have imagined back in Nepal, especially as a single mother family. Yet, the uncertainty that TPS entails has been very stressful for us. We need permanent residency so that I can grow my businesses further, my daughter can be ensured of longer-term employment in health services, and we can both continue to give back to the community the way we always have been even while in temporary status,” said Namrata Pokhrel, a Texas TPS holder from Nepal, member of Adhikaar and small business owner.
Warner Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Increase Access to Nutritious Foods, Help Eliminate Food Deserts
Feb 03 2021
WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), joined by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), introduced the Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act. The legislation aims to expand access to affordable and nutritious food in areas designated as “food deserts” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“Today, too many Americans lack access to fresh nutritious and healthy foods. Unfortunately, that reality has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, which has made it even more difficult for working families to seek out and afford healthy foods,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that will serve as an important tool to combat food insecurity in our communities.”
“Over the past year, we have seen unprecedented need at food banks as Kansans line-up seeking access to nutritional food,” said Sen. Moran. “Even while living in the breadbasket of our nation, food insecurity affects far too many Kansans, a need that has only increased during COVID-19. This bipartisan legislation, which would incentivize food providers to establish and renovate grocery stores, food banks and farmers markets in communities that traditionally lack affordable, healthy and convenient food options, is now more important than ever during this pandemic.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made routine tasks like going to the grocery store difficult for millions of Americans—especially for families who live in a food dessert and have to travel an extended distance to access healthy foods.” said Senator Casey. “No one in America should be burdened by a simple trip to the grocery store. The bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would provide critical support to expand access to healthy food in underserved communities,” said Sen. Casey.
“Many Americans living in rural communities—including those in West Virginia—have difficulty accessing fresh and nutritious foods. I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation, which will go a long way in helping to improve access to groceries and healthy foods across West Virginia and make it easier for businesses and non-profit organizations to serve our rural communities,” said Sen. Capito.
According to recent data from USDA, nearly 40 million Americans live in food deserts, areas defined to be without grocery stores within one or more miles in urban regions, and ten or more miles in rural regions. In Virginia alone, there are more than one million individuals living in food deserts. Studies have shown that Americans who live in communities with low-access to healthy food options are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Additionally, according to USDA’s own study, people of color are more likely to reside in a food desert.
In an effort to eliminate food deserts in the U.S., the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would provide incentives to food providers to expand access to healthy foods in these underserved communities and reduce the number of food deserts nationwide.
Specifically, the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act, which defines a grocery market as a retail sales store with at least 35 percent of its selection (or forecasted selection) dedicated to selling fresh produce, poultry, dairy, and deli items – would spark investment in food deserts across the country that have a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, or a median family income of less than 80 percent of the median for the state or metro area. It would grant tax credits or grants to food providers who service low-access communities and attain a “Special Access Food Provider” (SAFP) certification through the Treasury Department. Incentives would be awarded based on the following structure:
- New Store Construction – Companies that construct new grocery stores in a food desert will receive a onetime 15 percent tax credit after receiving certification.
- Retrofitting Existing Structures – Companies that make retrofits to an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a onetime 10 percent tax credit after the repairs certify the store as an SAFP.
- Food Banks – Certified food banks that build new (permanent) structures in food deserts will be eligible to receive a onetime grant for 15 percent of their construction costs.
- Temporary Access Merchants – Certified temporary access merchants (i.e. mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks) that are 501(c)(3)s will receive grants for 10 percent of their annual operating costs.
The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act boasts the support of numerous organizations, including Feeding America, the National Grocers Association, Share Our Strength, and Bread for the World.
“Feeding America commends Senator Warner for confronting the unfortunate fact that the burdens faced by the 40 million Americans living with hunger are even worse for those who live in food deserts. Our network of 200 member food banks understands that areas without affordable, healthy food options have higher rates of food insecurity exacerbated by the lack access to adequate transportation to the nearest food pantry or grocery market. Feeding America supports the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and believes it is a critical step to give nonprofits and retailers support to increase food access in underserved areas,” said Kate Leone, Chief Government Relations Officer at Feeding America.
“The National Grocers Association embraces Senator Warner’s efforts to remove the obstacles faced by grocers looking to expand access to nutritious food for rural and urban communities without a supermarket,” said Molly Pfaffenroth, Senior Director of Government Relations at National Grocers Association. “Independent community grocers are the heartbeat of the areas they serve and historically are leaders in reaching out to those most in need of better food options. Communities are stronger both physically and economically when they have better access to healthy food, so we look forward to working with Congress on this important bipartisan legislation.”
“To end childhood hunger in America, we must ensure that low-income families, have equitable access to healthy, affordable food options no matter their zip code or circumstances. Ending food deserts will help more families put food on the table and help children get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong. Share Our Strength supports The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and thanks Sens. Warner, Moran, Casey, and Capito for their leadership on this issue,” said Billy Shore, Founder and Executive Chair of Share Our Strength.
“Bread for the World is once again excited to see a bipartisan effort to address food deserts and improve access to nutritious food in low-income areas across America. With 1 in 6 Americans and 1 in 4 children experiencing food insecurity during this pandemic, this legislation is desperately needed. Bread for the World thanks Senators Warner, Moran, Casey and Capito for introducing this bill to reduce hunger in communities and improve health across the country,” said Heather Valentine, Director of Government Relations of Bread for the World.
Companion legislation will soon be introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and A. Donald McEachin (D-VA).
Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 crisis. 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 in December provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits. Last month, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that allows federal government to pay all costs to states to partner with restaurants and provide food to vulnerable populations.
Population of Virginians by city or county living in food deserts as defined in this bill*
James City: 4014
King and Queen: 3881
Prince Edward: 10624
Prince George: 8543
Prince William: 55128
Buena Vista: 6650
Franklin City: 8582
Manassas Park: 6248
Newport News: 38292
Richmond City: 62381
Roanoke City: 39950
Virginia Beach: 27205
*The most recent year for which data is available is 2017.
WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA) in introducing the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025.
A study conducted by the Commonwealth Institute found that approximately 1,018,000 Virginians would have their wages raised under the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, while another 254,000 Virginians who make just above the new minimum would see increases as well as employers seek to maintain wage scales and reward seniority. Combined, one in every three working people in Virginia will benefit from raising the wage. The vast majority of Virginians who would benefit are working adults helping to support themselves and their families – 92 percent are age 20 or older and 89 percent are working at least 20 hours a week. In Virginia, the General Assembly approved a gradual increase to the hourly minimum wage beginning May 1, 2021.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered the economic disparities that already exist in this country. In the midst of an unprecedented economic and health crisis that has pushed millions of workers to the brink of poverty, the least we can do is ensure that our minimum wage is a living wage that allows folks who work a full-time job to make ends meet,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing a bill that will help expand economic opportunity for more families.”
“Every day, millions of hardworking Americans struggle to put food on the table or pay the rent. These hardships have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Kaine. “Raising the minimum wage will stimulate our economy and give people a fair shot at economic mobility.”
Specifically, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would increase the federal minimum wage over a four-year period from $7.25 to $15. It would also index future increases in the federal minimum wage to median wage growth in addition to phasing out the subminimum wage for tipped workers, youth workers, and workers with disabilities. According to an independent analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would increase wages for nearly 32 million Americans, including roughly a third of all Black workers and a quarter of all Latino workers.
The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker, (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy, (D-CT), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jackie Rosen (D-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL).
Warner Reintroduces Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Address Food Insecurity Amid COVID-19 Crisis
Jan 22 2021
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).
Warner Urges Wireless Carriers and Social Media Companies to Preserve Evidence Related to the Attack on the U.S
Jan 09 2021
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former telecommunications entrepreneur and incoming Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today urged mobile carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon and social media companies Apple, Facebook, Gab, Google, Parler, Signal, Telegram, and Twitter to immediately preserve content and associated meta-data connected to Wednesday’s insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol.
In all eleven letters to the companies’ CEOs, Sen. Warner emphasized how the rioters took the time to document the event “later posting them to their social media accounts or sharing them via text or mobile messaging platforms to celebrate their disdain for our democratic process.”
“The United States Capitol is now a crime scene,” wrote Sen. Warner in his letters to AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Apple, Facebook, Gab, Google, Parler, Signal, Telegram, and Twitter. “The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are currently investigating the events of that day, and trying to piece together what happened and the perpetrators involved. The prospect of litigation on behalf of the victims of the mayhem also is highly likely. Messaging data to and from your subscribers that may have participated in, or assisted, those engaged in this insurrection – and associated subscriber information – are critical evidence in helping to bring these rioters to justice.”
Warner, Booker, Harris Applaud Passage of Bill to Make a Record Investment in Low-Income and Minority Communities
Dec 22 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) applauded Congressional passage of legislation they authored to make the largest single investment into minority-owned and community-based lending institutions in the nation’s history. Provisions of the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act passed as part of yesterday’s COVID-19 relief bill after Sen. Warner fought to include them in the legislative blueprint that served as the foundation for the final relief deal.
“With Black and Brown unemployment rates more than twice as high as they were at this time last year, we need to be doing everything we can to invest in our most vulnerable communities,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m proud to have fought for these provisions during bipartisan relief negotiations and I trust that they will help put the brakes on the hemorrhaging of jobs and shuttering of minority-owned businesses caused by this crisis. I urge the President to promptly sign this historic legislation into law so that that minority communities start seeing the relief they desperately need.”
“As we work to confront and recover from this public health and economic crisis, we need to be doing everything we can to invest in the communities that have been hardest hit by this pandemic and continue to bear the burden of longstanding structural inequities and systemic racism. The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act will expand critically needed access to capital for communities of color and will help to empower minority owned businesses to play an important role in our long-term economic recovery,” said Sen. Booker.
“To help every American get through this crisis, we need to start by helping those who need it most—whether in distributing the vaccine or investing in communities. Our bill will do just that, by providing much-needed capital to communities of color and low-income communities across the country. I’m proud that it will soon become law. Moving forward, we must always remember that relief isn’t relief unless it reaches those who’ve been hardest hit,” said Sen. Harris.
Once signed into law, this legislation will provide $12 billion to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to open the flow of emergency capital to countless small businesses located in minority and low- and moderate-income communities, which have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
Joining Sens. Warner, Booker and Harris in introducing this legislation were Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Doug Jones (D-AL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Boozman (R-AR), John Kennedy (R-LA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Tina Smith (D-MN), Steve Daines (R-MT) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS).
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 Research: Provides $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 Act, to 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.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) today sent a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), urging him to take swift action once confirmed to protect 58,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients living in Virginia and Maryland alone. Currently, TPS status for thousands of beneficiaries continues to be in jeopardy due to ongoing legal efforts by the Trump Administration to terminate the program. In a letter to DHS Secretary-Designate Mayorkas, the Senators applaud the Biden Administration’s commitment to protect current TPS holders and its pledge to grant TPS to Venezuelans already in the United States. The Senators also ask the incoming administration to take immediate executive actions to provide stability for TPS recipients and their families from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan.
“We write today to reiterate our support for immediate action to protect the hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients whose continued lawful status in the country remains in jeopardy as a result of the Trump Administration’s efforts to terminate their protections and to urge you to promptly issue additional TPS designations and redesignations based upon a sober assessment of country conditions and an exercise of your clear statutory authority. We are pleased that President-elect Biden has pledged to grant TPS to Venezuelans already in the United States, something for which we have advocated. It is critical, especially during the ongoing public health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, for the Biden-Harris Administration to act quickly to provide clarity and long-term stability to TPS recipients in our communities,” wrote the Senators to DHS Secretary-Desginate Alejandro Mayorkas.
In their letter, the Senators highlight that over the past four years, the Trump Administration has taken action to terminate TPS protections for recipients from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan, a move that President-elect Biden has described as “politically motivated.” While the Trump Administration recently extended TPS and associated work authorization documents for these individuals until October 4, 2021, TPS protections could still be removed without swift action by the incoming Biden Administration.
“TPS recipients from these six countries represent approximately 400,000 residents and over 97 percent of all TPS recipients nationwide. We are proud to represent over 58,000 TPS recipients in the National Capitol region alone. Additionally, approximately 63,100 U.S. citizen children of TPS recipients, many of whom are school-aged, live in our region. We cannot overstate the importance of our desire to protect those American children from the brutal choice they and their families will face if the Trump Administration’s terminations are permitted to go into effect. Their parents will immediately lose their permission to work. And each child will be forced to either separate from their parents or be uprooted from the lives they have built in this—their own—country. In Virginia and Maryland alone, an estimated 13,300 TPS holders work in industries that DHS deems ‘essential critical infrastructure’ including health care, agriculture, and manufacturing. These individuals have worked alongside other Americans at great risk to themselves and their family members to help keep the country running, and they will continue to play an important role in the recovery and rebuilding ahead,” continued the Senators.
In addition to calling for a swift reversal of the Trump Administration’s TPS policies and urging the incoming Biden Administration to explore executive actions to provide stability for TPS recipients, the Senators ask the incoming Biden Administration to send an immigration bill to Congress that includes pathways towards lawful permanent residency for TPS recipients. The Senators also urge the Administration to redesignate El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua for TPS and issue a new TPS designation for Guatemala due to the devastation from Hurricanes Eta and Iota.
A copy of the letter is found here and below.
Dear Secretary-Designate Mayorkas:
We would like to congratulate you on President-elect Joe Biden’s announcement that he intends to nominate you for the position of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We trust that your experience as Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and as Deputy Secretary of DHS, along with your personal experience as a son of refugees, will leave you well-positioned to address the pressing issues facing our nation’s immigration system, many of which have been significantly worsened by the Trump Administration’s harmful policies.
The task of the incoming Biden-Harris Administration will be, as the President-elect often states, to “restore the soul of the nation,” which is urgently needed in the sphere of immigration policy. We write today to reiterate our support for immediate action to protect the hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients whose continued lawful status in the country remains in jeopardy as a result of the Trump Administration’s efforts to terminate their protections and to urge you to promptly issue additional TPS designations and redesignations based upon a sober assessment of country conditions and an exercise of your clear statutory authority. We are pleased that President-elect Biden has pledged to grant TPS to Venezuelans already in the United States, something for which we have advocated. It is critical, especially during the ongoing public health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, for the Biden-Harris Administration to act quickly to provide clarity and long-term stability to TPS recipients in our communities.
Over the past four years, the Trump Administration moved to terminate TPS for recipients from six nations: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan. President-elect Biden decried these decisions as having been “politically-motivated”—a finding supported by a report prepared by the minority staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and by the federal district court in Ramos v. Nielsen that initially blocked several terminations from taking effect. Only by virtue of litigation that remains pending have these designations remained in place, but the success of that litigation is now in doubt, and the continued fear and uncertainty experienced by TPS recipients are very real. While the Trump Administration, as a result of the outstanding court cases, recently extended TPS and associated work authorization documents for these individuals until October 4, 2021, even that brief reprieve could be taken away from many of these individuals if a court ruling comes soon.
TPS recipients from these six countries represent approximately 400,000 residents and over 97 percent of all TPS recipients nationwide. We are proud to represent over 58,000 TPS recipients in the National Capitol region alone. Additionally, approximately 63,100 U.S. citizen children of TPS recipients, many of whom are school-aged, live in our region. We cannot overstate the importance of our desire to protect those American children from the brutal choice they and their families will face if the Trump Administration’s terminations are permitted to go into effect. Their parents will immediately lose their permission to work. And each child will be forced to either separate from their parents or be uprooted from the lives they have built in this—their own—country. In Virginia and Maryland alone, an estimated 13,300 TPS holders work in industries that DHS deems “essential critical infrastructure” including health care, agriculture, and manufacturing. These individuals have worked alongside other Americans at great risk to themselves and their family members to help keep the country running, and they will continue to play an important role in the recovery and rebuilding ahead.
The incoming Biden-Harris Administration has promised to immediately review Temporary Protected Status for vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their countries due to violence or disaster. Additionally, the new administration has promoted a pathway to citizenship through legislative immigration reform for TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients. While we share the Biden-Harris Administration’s desire for a comprehensive review of TPS policy and pathways to citizenship, we also urge you to take immediate executive actions to provide stability for TPS recipients and their families in the U.S. weathering the public health and economic crises brought on by COVID-19.
First, we respectfully request that the Biden-Harris Administration issue a notice in the Federal Register on January 20, 2021, vacating the Trump Administration’s termination decisions for all six nations and automatically extending current protections, including Employment Authorization Documents, while committing to conduct new fact-based assessments of country conditions required by law. Decisions regarding whether to extend, redesignate, or terminate protections for each of these countries must be made based upon the facts and the law. We also encourage you to consider granting DED to nationals of these countries, if necessary, as a way to ensure continuity of protections in the interim.
Second, in connection with the decision to review country conditions anew, we respectfully request that the Biden-Harris Administration promptly redesignate El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, for TPS—and issue a new TPS designation for Guatemala—as a result of the devastation left behind by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. The economic damage to these countries from these two unprecedented hurricanes is projected to far surpass the damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 on which the current designations for Honduras and Nicaragua are based. Widespread flooding and landslides caused substantial damage to critical infrastructure, housing, livelihoods, and food security, and weakened each country’s public health infrastructure at a time when they were already struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The governments of Honduras and Guatemala already have made formal requests for TPS—a pre-condition for designations under Section 244(b)(1)(B)—but the “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that make it impossible for these four countries to safely accept the return of their nationals more than justifies designations under Section 244(b)(1)(C), which does not require a request from a foreign government.
As the new administration works to fulfill its promise of sending an immigration reform bill to Congress within its first 100 days, we urge you to consult the models of the bipartisan American Dream and Promise Act, as well as the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act. Both bills include pathways towards lawful permanent residency for TPS recipients.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the reality that millions of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, work alongside other Americans every day to keep the country going, and their work and contributions will be no less important as we begin to turn the corner and work toward a national recovery that is strong, resilient, and equitable. This is true of more than 131,000 TPS holders who are serving in jobs essential to the nation’s critical infrastructure. As we overcome this crisis, we owe a debt of gratitude to these communities that we can begin to pay by extending citizenship to those who have dutifully served their neighbors in a time of crisis. We commit to working with you to achieve that goal. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Warner Joins Menendez, Brown, Warren in Slamming Implementation of Trump’s Executive Order Prohibiting Diversity and Inclusion Trainings
Dec 17 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) opposing the implementation of President Trump’s recent Executive Order prohibiting federal agencies, contractors and grant recipients from using workplace diversity and inclusion trainings that promote “divisive concepts.”
In an OMB memo, Director Russell Vought said trainings that include terms such as “systemic racism”, “white privilege” and “unconscious bias” are likely included in that prohibition. As a result, many entities, including hospitals, community health centers, colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations that hold contracts with the federal government have cancelled or delayed their trainings.
“The Executive Order and the Administration’s implementation actions to date are already stifling much-needed efforts in our states to reduce racial and sex-based discrimination. There is widespread uncertainty regarding the scope of the Executive Order, and some entities have cancelled their diversity and inclusion trainings altogether out of fear of losing federal funding,”the Senators wrote in a letter to OMB Director Vought. “Given that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our nation’s stark racial inequities and other health disparities, the Administration should focus on reducing racial and sex-based discrimination rather than engaging in ill-informed political stunts. We urge you to immediately halt your efforts to implement this propagandist and deeply harmful Executive Order.”
The lawmakers pointed out that legitimate diversity and inclusion training “would not promote repugnant ideas such as the ‘inherent superiority’ of a particular race” and that a training that promoted those ideas are already illegal under longstanding anti-discrimination laws. The Senators then slammed the Administration for showing a complete disregard and misunderstanding of the racial equity movements in the country.
“However, by equating the acknowledgement of unconscious bias or systemic racism with claims of racial superiority, the Administration is purposefully sowing confusion and fear about our country’s growing diversity and recent political movements in support of racial equity,” the lawmakers wrote. “By creating vague and illogical requirements, the Administration is effectively discouraging entities from offering diversity and inclusion trainings altogether, which we fear is the underlying goal of this misguided effort.”
The letter was also signed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
A copy of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Mr. Vought,
We write today to express our profound opposition to President Trump’s recent Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. The Executive Order and the Administration’s implementation actions to date are already stifling much-needed efforts in our states to reduce racial and sex-based discrimination. There is widespread uncertainty regarding the scope of the Executive Order, and some entities have cancelled their diversity and inclusion trainings altogether out of fear of losing federal funding. Given that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our nation’s stark racial inequities and other health disparities, the Administration should focus on reducing racial and sex-based discrimination rather than engaging in ill-informed political stunts. We urge you to immediately halt your efforts to implement this propagandist and deeply harmful Executive Order.
On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13950, which claims to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating” by prohibiting federal agencies, contractors, and grant recipients from using workplace training programs that promote “divisive concepts.” According to the Executive Order, such concepts include that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” and that “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.” In your September 28, 2020 memorandum instructing the heads of executive departments and agencies on implementation, you stated that the Executive Order likely prohibits trainings that use terms such as “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” and “unconscious bias.”
Legitimate diversity and inclusion training for federal employees, contractors, or federally supported entities would not promote repugnant ideas such as the “inherent superiority” of a particular race – and in fact such a training would already be illegal under longstanding anti-discrimination laws. However, by equating the acknowledgement of unconscious bias or systemic racism with claims of racial superiority, the Administration is purposefully sowing confusion and fear about our country’s growing diversity and recent political movements in support of racial equity. By creating vague and illogical requirements, the Administration is effectively discouraging entities from offering diversity and inclusion trainings altogether, which we fear is the underlying goal of this misguided effort. Additionally, the Executive Order is unclear about its applicability to federal grantees, creating widespread uncertainty among state governments and other federal grant recipients.
Indeed, the Executive Order and your subsequent memorandum have exerted a chilling effect on both federal agencies and the many entities in our states that receive federal funding. The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services halted all diversity and inclusion trainings for managers and employees. The Health Resources and Services Administration has reportedly frozen funding for some state-run implicit bias trainings for hospitals and community health centers. Some colleges and universities paused or cancelled their diversity and inclusion trainings and other diversity-focused events out of fear of jeopardizing their federal funding. Companies and non-profit organizations that hold contracts with the federal government cancelled or delayed their trainings.
By continuing to implement this misguided policy during the final days of President Trump’s Administration, your agency is discouraging and needlessly politicizing critical efforts to end racial and sex-based discrimination. Once again, we urge you to immediately cease implementing this illogical and harmful Executive Order. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this urgent matter no later than December 23, 2020.
Warner Joins Coons, Colleagues in Pressing Facebook to Take Immediate Action to Combat Anti-Muslim Bigotry on its Platform
Nov 15 2020
WILMINGTON, Del. – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today led 14 colleagues on a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on the company to fully address the problem of anti-Muslim bigotry on its platform, which has enabled offline violence against Muslims in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
Senator Coons is joined on the letter by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate. Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world,” the Senators wrote.
Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform. In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a “call to arms” policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to a location. However, the Senators note that Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this policy, which should have barred an event page in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier this year, as well as a 2019 event page used to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country.
“We recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas,” the Senators wrote. “Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today.”
“As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more.”
An independent civil rights audit of Facebook from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre…” These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes.
In their letter, the Senators urge Facebook to take a number of actions to address these issues including collecting and publishing the data needed to understand the scope of the problem, publishing readily available information to help the public evaluate its response, and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy.
“We thank Sen. Coons and his colleagues for holding Facebook accountable for anti-Muslim hate and violence on its platform,” said Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera. “Since 2015, Muslim Advocates has warned Facebook that the platform’s event pages were being used by violent militias and white nationalists to organize armed rallies at mosques. With their letter, these senators are raising needed attention to this critical issue. We need to know what Facebook plans to do to end the anti-Muslim hate and violence enabled by their platform—and end it now.”
Groups supporting the letter include Muslim Advocates, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for American Progress, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Campaign, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Free Press, the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, the Interfaith Alliance, the Japanese American Citizens League, MediaJustice, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Shoulder to Shoulder, The Sikh Coalition, and UltraViolet.
A copy of the letter is below.
November 16, 2020
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
1601 Willow Road
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:
We write to express our deep concern regarding anti-Muslim bigotry on Facebook. An independent civil rights audit of the company from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre . . . .” These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes. As members of Congress who are committed to protecting the Muslim community, we urge you to take immediate action to combat this bigotry on Facebook’s platforms.
Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate. Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world. The enabling of hate speech and violence against any group is not acceptable. We appreciate that Facebook has taken certain steps to combat these problems. For instance, you recently reversed a prior decision that had allowed content denying the Holocaust, and you have altered your policies to ban blackface and certain anti-Jewish stereotypes. But much more must be done to protect these vulnerable communities. With regard to the Muslim community in particular, the civil rights audit noted advocates’ “alarm that Muslims feel under siege on Facebook” and explained how attacks on Muslims present unique considerations that require separate analysis and response compared to other kinds of attacks. Yet, the auditors noted, “Facebook has not yet publicly studied or acknowledged the particular ways anti-Muslim bigotry manifests on its platform.”
Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform. In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a “call to arms” policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to locations. Yet, in August 2019, when advocates reported to Facebook that a militia group was using an event page to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country for the second year in a row, it took Facebook more than a full day to remove the content, a delay that Facebook acknowledged was too long and an “enforcement misstep.”
Other recent events have demonstrated how Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this call to arms policy. In August 2020, a group called the Kenosha Guard posted an event page titled “Armed Citizens to Protect Our Lives and Property,” calling for armed individuals to gather in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the shooting of Jacob Blake. Notwithstanding multiple reports by users that this page violated Facebook policies, Facebook did not take the page down. An armed 17-year-old traveled from out of state to join this gathering, fatally shot two protestors that night, and is charged with their murder. You stated that the failure to take down the event page and the Kenosha Guard’s group page was “largely an operational mistake” because contract content moderators without specialized training failed to detect that the pages violated a new militia policy Facebook had established in August 2020. Your statement was misleading as to the event page, however, because it did not mention that the event page also violated the call to arms policy that had been in place for over a year. Importantly, we understand that the contractors who review user-reported content are not instructed to enforce a core component of the call to arms policy. It is not apparent that Facebook ensures meaningful enforcement of this policy, and that is not acceptable. As the Change the Terms Coalition has explained, that “isn’t an operational mistake – that’s a design defect.”
We have similar concerns about Facebook’s efforts to ensure that the platform is not used to enable systematic violence and discrimination against Muslims around the world. A United Nations report concluded that the company played a “determining” role in violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Facebook has similarly acknowledged that the platform was used to “foment division and incite offline violence” against the Rohingya. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. According to a New York Times report published a month after anti-Muslim violence erupted in Sri Lanka in March 2018, “Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing,” despite numerous attempts by Sri Lankan activists and government officials to warn Facebook about potential outbreaks of violence. In an especially horrific episode of anti-Muslim activity on Facebook, in March 2019, a white nationalist gunman broadcasted his 17-minute slaughter of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, for the entire world to see using Facebook Live. Reports indicate that the platform has also been used to support the internment of the Uyghurs in China and other human rights violations against this population, that Facebook and WhatsApp have been used to incite violence against Muslims in India, and that Facebook has been used to promote hate and violence in other areas around the world.
The civil rights audit and other reports have documented the shortcomings of Facebook that have led to these results over the years. The United Nations explained in 2018 that Facebook launched its Myanmar-specific services without content moderators who spoke the necessary languages, without adequate technology, and without sufficient transparency and coordination with local organizations. It also documented how speech in clear violation of Facebook’s policies remained on the platform notwithstanding multiple reports, and how even after the speech was taken down, re-posts continued to circulate months later. Furthermore, the civil rights audit found that Facebook is not sufficiently attuned to how its algorithms “fuel extreme and polarizing content,” and thereby may “driv[e] people toward self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism,” as seen in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Advocacy groups similarly detailed the extent and persistence of anti-Muslim hate content on Facebook India in multiple reports last year, concerns that have been amplified by recent allegations that some high-ranking employees at Facebook India have enabled hate speech against Muslims and others by applying the platform’s content moderation policies in a selective manner.
We recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas. These include, for instance, adding country-specific staff and content moderators proficient in certain local languages, investing in proactive detection technologies, strengthening local fact-checking partnerships, and limiting the ability to reshare certain kinds of messages.
Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today. In part, this is because Facebook still does not collect the information needed to evaluate the effectiveness of its responses. For instance, Facebook reported that it took action on 22 million pieces of hate speech content in the second quarter of 2020, up from over 9 million in the first quarter. It is not apparent, however, whether this is a sign of an improving or worsening problem, because this data lacks crucial context: Facebook does not calculate or report on the overall prevalence of hate speech on the platform. It is thus unclear how significant this increase is as a proportion of total hate speech or whether takedowns are increasing only because hate content on the platform is increasing. Facebook recognizes that the statistic it reports “only tells part of the story,” and Facebook does estimate prevalence in other contexts. Its failure to do so as to hate speech is concerning.
In addition, the civil rights audit pointed out that for content that Facebook does remove, the company does not collect data about which protected groups were the target of the removed post. This prevents Facebook and the public from understanding the volume of hate against a particular group, whether attacks against certain groups are consistently not removed, and whether there are gaps in Facebook’s policies that result in perpetuating or increasing hate speech and attacks against particular groups. It is difficult to understand how Facebook can effectively combat hate speech without this information.
There is also basic information that Facebook has or could readily make available, but which it has inexplicably declined to make public. For instance, while pointing to its increases in country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators in certain areas, Facebook has declined repeated requests from advocates to provide detailed information about its country-specific staff or language-specific content moderators across the world. Such information is necessary to evaluate Facebook’s suggestion that its additions are adequate and to determine whether there are gaps in coverage in other regions that should be addressed proactively before the next violent event. Facebook similarly does not provide information about how the hate speech it has taken down is disaggregated by language or country of origin, information that would help identify volatile areas in need of further attention from content moderators or others at Facebook. That is so even though Facebook has conceded that “[t]hese breakdowns are feasible for these count-based metrics” and that it “recognize[s] the value in having different subpopulations of the various metrics.” The United Nations 2018 Myanmar report expressed “regret” that Facebook did not provide country-specific data about hate speech and deemed it “essential” that such information be disclosed.
Though these concerns have been raised for years, Facebook thus far has not taken the steps required to effectively address hate and violence targeting Muslims. In 2018, Facebook acknowledged that it “can and should do better” after its platform fueled violence in Myanmar and outlined steps it would take. In 2020, Facebook “apologize[d] for” the human rights impacts that resulted from misuse of its platform in Sri Lanka and outlined more steps. Despite these experiences, recent reporting suggests that today, Facebook is contributing to the spread of hate speech and violence against ethnic and religious groups in Ethiopia, where Facebook “dominates” the internet. Meanwhile, it announced a call to arms policy to assuage concerns but has failed to adequately enforce it. As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more. We believe Facebook must frankly and openly detail the scope of the problem and take concerted and sustained actions to address this problem fully. We respectfully request that you respond to the questions below by December 16, 2020. As to each question, insofar as Facebook will commit to taking action, please provide details of its plan and expected timing.
1. Will Facebook commit to developing and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy, including through proactive review of event pages, content moderator review of user reports, and prioritization of highly reported events? If not, why not?
2. Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing data about the overall amount and prevalence of hate content on the platform and whether hate content is increasing on its platform? If so, please specify whether Facebook will break down this data by country and language. If not, why not?
3. Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing data about which groups were the subject of the hate speech it removes and enforcement rates across groups? If so, please specify the groups for which Facebook will provide this information. If not, why not?
4. Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing country-specific or language-specific data on hate speech that is on or removed from the platform? If not, why not?
5. Will Facebook publish detailed information about the number of country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators it employs? If not, why not?
6. Will Facebook commit to studying regularly its civil rights and human rights impacts and making future human rights impact assessments or rights audits public in their entirety? If not, why not?
7. Will Facebook commit to establishing and publishing criteria that must be met for Facebook to expand or maintain usage of its services in markets at risk of hate content fueling religious and/or ethnic violence to ensure Facebook does not enable human rights violations? If so, please specify the outside input that Facebook will solicit in developing these criteria. If not, why not?
8. Will Facebook conduct an analysis of how it can better design its systems and algorithms to not just identify and take down hate speech, but limit the reach of this content and its ability to cause offline violence? If not, why not?
9. Will Facebook commit to creating a working group led by a senior employee with expertise in anti-Muslim bigotry specifically tasked with monitoring, reviewing, and coordinating efforts to proactively remove anti-Muslim content on the platform? If not, why not?
Thank you for your consideration of our views. We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $17,735,349.43 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education to Hampton University to establish the Virginia Workforce Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (VWIEC), a statewide small business incubator project. This grant will expand the capability and capacity of Virginia’s current and aspiring entrepreneurs to aid with economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re pleased that these federal dollars will assist Hampton University in continuing to serve their students in the face of the current health and economic crisis,” said the Senators. “Historically Black Colleges and Universities help provide a first-rate education for so many students from traditionally underserved communities. We will continue to advocate for them as they support their students during this ongoing crisis.”
This grant was awarded through the Department of Education’s Education Stabilization Fund, which seeks to provide support to state educational agencies in addressing the specific educational needs of students, parents, and teachers in elementary and secondary schools, and higher education institutions. Sens. Warner and Kaine are strong supporters of Virginia’s HBCUs. Last year, the Senators successfully pushed to get the FUTURE Act signed into law to restore $255 million in federal funding for these critical institutions. They also secured $93 million in critical funding to strengthen HBCUs as part of the December government spending deal.
Warner, Kaine, Murray Demand Investigation into Transfer of ICE Detainees from COVID Hotspots to Farmville as Part of Efforts to Send More Federal Agents to End D.C. Protests
Sep 18 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner, Tim Kaine, and Patty Murray wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) requesting an investigation into the June 2020 transfer of immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention to Farmville, Virginia. The transfer, which was reportedly part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to send more federal agents to Washington, D.C., to end racial justice protests, led to a dramatic spike in COVID-19 infections at the Farmville facility, managed by the private contractor Immigration Centers of America (ICA). The Senators write that ICE, ICA, and DHS’s mishandling of the situation fits the pattern of abuse behind ICE detention.
“While ICE said they transferred ‘larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees’ to ‘promote social distancing,’ according to recently released information, ICE’s own statistics showed the facilities from where the detainees came on June 1 were not near capacity when the transfers were arranged,” the Senators wrote. “ICE and ICA’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville raises the alarm about people’s safety and the nature of ICE detention. And ICE and DHS’s disregard of Senate inquiry in the face of clear mishandling of the situation and people’s lives is unacceptable. It is critical for the OIG to investigate the transfer of individuals in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the pattern and practice of abuse and the lack of accountability within ICE facilities.”
The Senators noted that, while the Farmville facility was 57 percent full the day of the transfer, the Arizona facility from which the migrants were transferred was only 35 percent full. “The statistics indicate that ICE has misled Congress about the reasons for transferring individuals during the pandemic,” wrote the Senators.
Senators Warner and Kaine have repeatedly pushed the Administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia detention facilities. After the June transfer resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at Farmville, the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the health of detainees and workers by stopping the transfer of people in ICE custody and increasing COVID-19 testing at the facilities. Nearly a month later, with approximately 80 percent of the Farmville population testing positive for COVID-19, the Senators once again pressed ICE and DHS to stop transfers between facilities. They also posed a series of questions regarding the measures in place to safeguard the health of people in custody, staff members, and the community. In July, the Senators also insisted that the Trump Administration work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the facility after nearly every detained person in the Farmville facility contracted COVID-19. At the Senators’ urging, the CDC deployed its teams to the Farmville facility in August to conduct an assessment of the rate of infection among workers and detainees, risk factors for infection among workers and detainees, infection control and prevention practices in the facility, and transmission dynamics among workers, detainees, and the surrounding community. Additionally, following reports that two detained individuals tested positive for COVID-19 at the Caroline County Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility, the Senators sent a letter today pressing for answers on what ICE is doing to protect the health of individuals in custody, staff members, and the Bowling Green community.
You can read the full letter here and below:
Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari
Office of Inspector General
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, DC 20528-0305
Dear Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari,
We write to request that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigate the transfer of individuals in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Virginia via ICE Air in June 2020 as part of the administration’s efforts to send more federal agents to end racial justice protests in Washington, D.C. The transfer led to the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the ICE detention center in Farmville, Virginia, run by the private contractor Immigration Centers of America (ICA) and fits into the pattern of abuse behind ICE detention during the pandemic. We ask that your office incorporate an investigation into the June 2020 transfer to Virginia into the ongoing investigation into “ICE’s Efforts to Prevent and Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in its Facilities.”
On June 2, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to ICA-Farmville from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. According to testimony at a Farmville town council meeting in August, ICE officials in the Washington field office objected to the transfer of detainees. The transfer, compounded by the inability to appropriately socially distance within the facility, led to a dramatic spike in infections. Within two weeks of the June 2020 transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. At least six people inside have been hospitalized with severe symptoms. In August, the Farmville facility had at times a nearly 90% infection rate among detainees, including James Thomas Hill, a Canadian national who tragically died on August 5.
While ICE said they transferred “larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees” to “promote social distancing,” according to recently released information, ICE’s own statistics showed the facilities from where the detainees came on June 1 were not near capacity when the transfers were arranged. The detention facility in Arizona from where detainees were transferred, CCA Florence, has space for approximately 550 detainees but was only about 35 percent full that day, while Farmville was 57 percent full. The statistics indicate that ICE has misled Congress about the reasons for transferring individuals during the pandemic, in violation of the CDC guidelines indicating that people should not be transferred between facilities “unless necessary for medical evaluation, medical isolation/quarantine, clinical care, extenuating security concerns, release, or to prevent overcrowding.”
We have consistently raised alarm with DHS about the surging number of COVID-19 cases at the Farmville detention facility as a result of ICE’s decision to continue transferring detainees. Yet both DHS and ICE have refused to respond to our questions concerning how ICE is protecting the health of individuals in their custody, staff members, and the Farmville community. We request that you investigate the following:
? Whether ICE and DHS shared information with Farmville officials (including local elected officials like the mayor and members of the town council) about the June transfer and the subsequent outbreaks at Farmville-ICA in an effort to protect against community spread;
? The objection to the transfer by the Washington field office and any other objections made prior to the transfer of detainees to Farmville;
? The role of the company in charge of the facility, ICA, in the June 2020 transfer;
? Whether the ICE agents aboard the ICE Air flight in question were tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding and ICE’s general policies around testing prior to boarding flights with detainees;
? All information pertaining to the planned flight, including whether the flight was postponed or altered to accommodate agents;
? The capacity at each ICE facility on June 2, 2020;
? Whether any detainees transferred to Farmville on June 2, 2020, were subject to the Title 42 expulsions conducted by the Administration;
? The I-216 of each detainee transferred to Farmville on June 2, 2020;
? The number of ICE transfers during the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic, the justifications behind the transfers, the capacity at the facilities individuals were transferred from and to, and the result of any COVID-19 spread at the facilities to which detainees were transferred;
? The decision-making process that went into making the June 2 transfer and all other transfers during the pandemic, including communication between ICE headquarters, field offices, private contractors, and local officials involved in the management of the facilities where transfers have taken place as well as agency and administration guidance, memos, and any other information guiding ICE’s decision process to embark on transfers during the pandemic;
? Whether any assessments or inquiries were made of the local hospital and medical capacity to handle possibly infected detainees prior to transfer;
? ICE’s use of “ICE Air” charter flights to transfer detainees during the pandemic.
ICE and ICA’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville raises the alarm about people’s safety and the nature of ICE detention. And ICE and DHS’s disregard of Senate inquiry in the face of clear mishandling of the situation and people’s lives is unacceptable. It is critical for the OIG to investigate the transfer of individuals in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the pattern and practice of abuse and the lack of accountability within ICE facilities.
“Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy,” the senators wrote. “To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies.”
In addition to Senators Feinstein, Leahy, Murray, Casey and Booker, the letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Full text of the letter follows:
September 17, 2020
Hon. Joseph V. Cuffari
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, DC 20528-0305
Dear Mr. Cuffari:
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General should expeditiously conduct a thorough investigation into a whistleblower complaint alleging forced hysterectomies and other egregious abuses at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia. LaSalle Corrections operates that facility for the federal government, including for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The alleged abuses detailed in the complaint and in related reports must be thoroughly and swiftly investigated to protect the rights and safety of women and patients in our nation’s care.
The whistleblower expressed alarm about the “rate at which the hysterectomies have occurred” at the facility. Specifically, the complaint alleges that between October and December 2019 at least five women detained at the ICDC received hysterectomies. When asked about the procedures, however, the women “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” The complaint also describes how a gynecologist once removed the wrong ovary on a young woman, causing her “to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy,” leaving her unable to bear children.
Another detained woman who received a hysterectomy recounted that medical personnel “did not properly explain to her what procedure she was going to have done.” Although she asked for more information about why she was receiving a hysterectomy, she was “given three different responses by three different individuals.” When the woman told a nurse that the procedure “isn’t for me,” the nurse “responded by getting angry and agitated.”
Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy. To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other ICE facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies.
In addition to thoroughly investigating the recent alleged abuses at the ICDC, we urge you to immediately conduct a national review of reproductive health policies and practices at ICE facilities to ensure that the human rights of women in federal immigration custody are assured.
Warner & Kaine Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Commemorate Moton Museum in Farmville & Other Brown v. Board of Education Sites
Sep 17 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Chris Coons and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn to introduce legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The bill would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., -- including the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville – by designating them as National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Tom Carper (D-DE).
“On April 23, 1951, a 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a walkout of students at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, to protest school segregation and poor education conditions. The student-led strike in Virginia and the subsequent lawsuit became one of the five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education. As our country continues to grapple with the need to reckon with our past and present, it is more important than ever to highlight those Americans who time and time again have stood up and pulled our nation towards progress,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan bill to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and recognize the vital role played by the Moton School in Farmville in ending school segregation.”
“I am proud to join this bipartisan bill to honor and protect historic sites connected to Brown v. Board of Education—a watershed case in our nation’s progress toward equality for all,” said Senator Kaine. “One of the sites that will benefit is the Moton Museum, former home of the Moton School, where Barbara Johns led a protest over the intolerable conditions for Black students. It’s so important that we preserve these sites for all to reflect on the sacrifice and patriotism of leaders like Johns, Spottswood Robinson, and Oliver Hill.”
“The Robert R. Moton Museum is excited to join with communities involved in the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. In seeking to become an affiliated area of the National Park Service, we know this affiliation will allow us the opportunity to better collaborate with other communities involved in the historic Brown decision as we work to ensure that countless individuals have the opportunity to know of the courage and sacrifice that citizens made towards equality in education,” said Cameron D. Patterson, Executive Director of the Robert R. Moton Museum. “The Moton Museum Board of Trustees, Moton Museum Community Council, and our partner institution Longwood University in offering their support towards this effort, recognize that the resources and benefits offered from this affiliation with the National Park Service will only strengthen our ability to fulfill our mission as a museum.”
The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was described by constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak as “probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Brown decision transformed the United States, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The Plessy decision was the linchpin that condoned and entrenched legalized segregation across the South despite liberty and equality protections clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution and underscored by the 14th and 15th Amendments.
These laws stayed in placed for nearly 100 years after Reconstruction, but pioneering civil rights lawyers Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, William Hastie, Constance Baker Motley, Louis Lorenzo Redding, and others challenged the constitutionality of segregation and won. The Brown decision ended the practice of legalized segregation in educational facilities and was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
The history of Brown v. Board of Education is represented in our national consciousness by a single building, Monroe School, which is a National Historic Site located in Topeka, Kansas. This limited geographic scope condenses public memory of these events and inadvertently fails to recognize the contributions of the other communities in Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia that were also important to the fight for equality and that saw their cases consolidated with the Brown case. The geographic dispersion of these locations demonstrates that Brown v. Board of Education is truly a story of a national struggle with national significance.
The creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education case and an expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include the related sites in South Carolina provides an opportunity for these sites to tell their own uplifting, under-recognized stories of students, parents, and their allies who helped shape American society.
Enactment of this legislation has the potential to appropriately recognize the sites associated with the other four court cases and help them to combine current uses with preservation and public education. In collaboration with local partners and other stakeholders, the National Trust will continue their collective work to bring recognition to communities that fought for school integration, helping these sites to tell their own history of the Brown v. Board of Education case and make connections to other communities engaged in the fight for educational equity, past and present.