Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, applauded $49,943,399.02 in federal funding to date from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. The funding is committed for schools and libraries across the Commonwealth to help expand access to internet connectivity for learning, and close the Homework Gap for students who currently lack internet access. Earlier this year, Congress authorized the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The $49 million in funding has been issued in three waves since late September – with the latest wave being issued this week. 

“We’re proud to see these federal dollars go toward keeping Virginia’s communities connected. This investment will help close the digital divide, while improving access to job opportunities and educational resources for Virginians as we continue to recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” said the Senators.

A detailed breakdown of the funding can be found here.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia. In August, they voted to pass the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a comprehensive infrastructure package that delivers wins to communities across the Commonwealth, including at least $100 million to expand broadband across the Commonwealth. Under the bill, 1,908,000 or 23% of people in Virginia will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access. Last year, Warner and Kaine introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner, a member of the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Senate Budget Committee reintroduced the School Infrastructure Modernization Act, legislation to help modernize schools in Virginia and across the nation. This bill would adjust the current federal historic rehabilitation tax credit to make school buildings that continue to operate as schools eligible for the credit. Under current law, the credit only applies to buildings renovated to serve a different function than before. This bill would waive this ‘prior use’ clause for school renovation projects, allowing school districts with aging infrastructure and tight budgets to partner with private entities to finance renovations that the districts otherwise would not be able to afford. Older schools can often be renovated for less money than the cost of new construction. Representative Dwight Evans (D-PA-3) introduced companion legislation on the House side.

While Mayor of Richmond, Kaine led a coalition to utilize the historic tax credit to finance the renovation of a closed public school and reopen it as the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the need to ensure our schools are modern and safe learning environments,” said the Senators. “By modernizing schools, we can help more students learn, support local economies with construction jobs, and maintain the character of these historic institutions.”

The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program has played a role in rehabilitating historic structures and revitalizing communities for more than 35 years. In the Commonwealth alone, the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (HTC) has helped restore more than 1,200 structures since 1997. According to a June report from the Virginia Department of Education, over half of all schools in Virginia—more than 1,000 schools—are at least 50 years old.

Earlier this month, Kaine joined Representative Evans on a letter calling for the inclusion of this legislation in the final Build Back Better bill. The legislation was included in the latest House Ways and Means Committee draft of the Build Back Better bill. In March, Kaine joined Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in introducing the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, legislation that would build on Kaine and Warner’s bill by investing $130 billion over ten years to modernize K-12 classrooms across the country and help schools upgrade their physical and digital infrastructure. 

To see full text of the School Infrastructure Modernization Act, please click here.

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Tim Scott (R-SC) today introduced the Teacher and School LEADERS Act, which would reform Teacher Quality Partnership Grants to better support school leaders and allow for greater innovation in educator preparation.

“Investing in professional development supports and empowers educators and makes them better teachers. I am proud to reintroduce legislation that invests in the future of our children,” Sen. Warner said.

“Strong school leaders can have an outsized impact on the quality of education for our students, especially in high-needs school districts,” Sen. Cornyn said. “It’s important that educators have access to grant programs to further their impact in our local schools, and I’m proud to partner with my colleagues on this legislation.”

“Educators work tirelessly in Colorado and across the country to support our kids, and this past year has been especially challenging,” said Sen. Bennet. “Our legislation invests in flexible, high-quality training programs for our nation’s educators to use innovative tools and approaches in the classroom. Now more than ever, teachers and school leaders deserve to have access to the training and support they need to grow their careers and support their students."

“We owe a debt of gratitude to our nation’s teachers and school leaders who have given so much to the next generation—even in the midst of a pandemic,” said Sen Tim Scott. “As someone who struggled in school, I am living proof that a few devoted teachers can change the trajectory of a kid’s life. By providing high-quality teacher and leadership preparation programs, the Teacher and School LEADERS Act will ensure more of our educators have the tools they need to lead the next generation with excellence.”

Background:

The Teacher and School LEADERS Act would reform Title II of the Higher Education Act to expand the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grant program. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Expand the program to provide training to educators who aspire to fill leadership roles in high-need schools.
  • Provide grant applicants and recipients greater flexibility over who they can partner with for preparation programs by removing restrictions requiring them to partner with an Institution of Higher Education to qualify.

The Teacher and School LEADERS Act is supported by the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, the American Psychological Association, Knowledge Alliance, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Leading Educators, the National Science Teaching Association, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, New Leaders, Teach For America, and Third Way.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $4,123,765 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education for five of the Commonwealth’s higher education institutions to help them prepare and respond to COVID-19.  The grants can be used in various ways, including resuming operations, supporting students, reducing disease transmission, and developing more agile instructional delivery models for students who can’t attend in-person class. 

“We are pleased to see these federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan go toward helping the Commonwealth’s higher education institutions recover from the effects of the past year,” said the Senators. “We will continue working to ensure Virginia institutions have the resources they need to continue serving their students.” 

This funding was awarded through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which Senators Warner and Kaine voted to pass in March. The legislation included significant funding to help Virginia’s colleges and universities respond to COVID-19.

A breakdown of the funding is below:

  • Norfolk State University in Norfolk will receive $1,952,775
  • Ferrum College in Ferrum will receive $390,542
  • Institute for Psychological Sciences (Divine Mercy University) in Sterling will receive $180,966
  • Rappahannock Community College will receive $1,536,345
  • Appalachian School of Law in Grundy will receive $63,137

As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Kaine has been a strong advocate for students amid the pandemic. Last year, Kaine introduced the Coronavirus Relief Flexibility for Students and Institutions Act to fix several implementation issues with the higher education emergency relief fund in the CARES Act by providing institutions of higher education and students with the increased flexibility Congress intended.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) along with Sens. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to remove an unnecessary bureaucratic obstacle preventing many students from receiving the degree or certification they have rightfully earned. The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2021 would facilitate the “reverse transferring” of college credits – the process of transferring credits from a four-year institution to a two-year institution in which a student was previously enrolled to identify whether they earned enough credits along the way to receive a degree. 

“This much-needed bill would help to eliminate an unnecessary hurdle for students who’ve worked hard and paid for their studies,” said Sen. Warner. “In a competitive job market, this bipartisan bill will help more Americans claim the degree or credentials that they have rightfully earned.” 

“A four year college is not the only path to prosperity in this country, and community colleges are a vital and economical part of our education system. Removing needless roadblocks on the path to attaining a degree from these institutions is overdue.  I’m happy to join this measure to allow students to get associates degrees and certifications they’ve earned,” said Sen. Braun.

“Our education system has to support different paths to a successful career,” said Sen. Hickenlooper. “Many students who graduate high school never get a four year degree. Making it easier to recognize the work students have already done is a no-brainer.”

Companion legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX). 

“We must ensure every student is provided a pathway to education that fits their goals and career path,” said Rep. Neguse. “This legislation ensures that students can receive credit and earn an associate’s degree or short-term certificate regardless of where they completed their coursework, breaking down barriers for better paying jobs for students who are unable to finish at a four-year institution. Reverse transfer will be a meaningful step for millions of students to increase college affordability and access.”

“I am pleased to join Representative Neguse in introducing the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act. Utah is home to great schools with many students who begin their education at a community college and finish at a university,” said Rep. Curtis. “This bill will improve data sharing between higher education institutions by allowing a student to continue earning credits towards an Associate’s degree at community college, even after transferring to a university, boosting student earning potential and student retention.”

“There is no single or correct path to higher education,” said Rep. Castro. “As students face increasing tuition costs and student loan debt, it is clear that many students are starting their post-secondary academic goals at community colleges. In my district, Alamo Colleges is the largest provider of higher education in South Texas and proves that two-year programs are critical in preparing students for success beyond their hallways. The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act will allow these students to easily transition to four-year universities, like the University of Texas at San Antonio in my district, with an associate’s degree as well as the skillset to finish their studies and successfully enter the workforce.”

The National Student Clearinghouse, an educational nonprofit that verifies enrollment data, has identified over four million individuals that have completed enough credit hours at a four-year institution to be eligible for an associate’s degree, but instead withdrew without a degree or certificate. Facilitating the practice of reverse transfer would ease students’ access to credentials they have already earned and better provide for the demands of the future economy. 

The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2021 would amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to create a new exemption for the sharing of student education records between higher education institutions. The bill would also allow for the sharing of credit data between post-secondary institutions for the sole purpose of determining whether a student earned an associate’s degree or certificate during the course of their studies. Currently, FERPA requires students to give their institutions proactive permission to determine whether they have earned enough credits to be awarded a degree or certificate. 

The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2021 has the support of numerous organizations, including the Virginia Community College System, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers, American Association of Community Colleges, and Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, among others. For a complete list, click here.

“AACRAO believes this legislation is an important step that will enable institutions to increase educational attainment, and ultimately salaries, for millions of in individuals,” said Melanie Gottlieb, Interim Executive Director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (AACRAO). “The additional FERPA exception proposed represents a responsible means of sharing student information between a student's 4-year and 2-year institutions in a way that both protects student privacy and supports the completion agenda.”

“Virginia’s community colleges prepare students for in-demand jobs that respond to the marketplace and employers,” said Glenn DuBois, Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System. “The Reverse Transfer Act is a welcome approach that will benefit students from every race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic group. Communication will be facilitated, obstacles removed, and processes improved between community colleges and four-year institutions. I applaud Senator Warner and Senator Braun for their bipartisan approach in working across the aisle to advance this legislation that will increase affordability, accelerate degree completion, and lead students to upward mobility.”

“Too many struggling students leave universities burdened with debt and without degrees: disproportionately, they are low-income and students of color. Yet, many have enough credits to earn a career pathway certificate or an associate’s degree at NOVA. Unfortunately, there is no ‘reverse transfer’ system that makes it possible to turn these hard-earned credits into valuable college credentials. Senator Warner’s ‘reverse transfer’ proposal would be transformational. Students could earn degrees and certificates, opening the door to high-demand, sustaining wage careers that would secure their financial futures and grow the high-skilled workforce. It’s a true win-win,” said Anne M. Kress, PhD, President of Northern Virginia Community College.

“Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia enthusiastically endorses the proposed ‘Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act.’ This act will allow students to easily earn degrees and other credentials at community colleges by transferring credits earned at four-year institutions. Earning additional credentials will make the individuals more competitive in the modern workforce,” said Dr. John A. Downey, President of Blue Ridge Community College. “Many students currently transfer to four-year institutions without completing their associate degrees or certificates. Offering a reverse transfer option will encourage those students to become graduates of their community college. Completion will show employers that these students are lifelong learners who continue to improve their education. BRCC encourages all parties to support this important piece of legislation to improve our workforce.”

“Virginia Western Community College is delighted to support the bipartisan Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act to help students achieve their goals of a college degree through reverse transfer. This bill removes the roadblocks that deter students from pursuing reverse transfer and will help colleges make the process of credential attainment more accessible. Additionally, this bill  will benefit students, employers, and our communities by helping students realize the credentials needed for employment,” said Dr. Robert Sandel, President of Virginia Western Community College.

“Across the country, there are 36 million adults with some college credit, but no awarded degree. This number includes uncredentialed completers – or students who have earned all of the credits needed toward a degree that has yet to be recognized or awarded. Unfortunately, our current system presents barriers to identifying, reengaging, and awarding earned degrees to these students. The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act will help scale reverse credit transfer, a practice to award earned degrees, by removing a key barrier that limits institutions’ ability to work together to identify eligible students and help them claim their credentials. By promoting greater credit recognition, this necessary policy change will help today’s students enjoy the social and economic mobility that postsecondary degree or credential can provide,” said Mamie Voight, Interim President and CEO, Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP).

“Almost one million Virginians have Some College, No Degree.  Considering that occupations requiring a postsecondary credential are projected to grow faster than occupations that do not require postsecondary education for entry, it is imperative that we combine Virginians completed college coursework to produce credentials that lead to life-sustaining employment.  The FERPA exception proposed in the reverse transfer legislation will allow Virginia’s Community College to do just that,” said Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon, President, Thomas Nelson Community College with campuses in Hampton and Williamsburg, VA.

A copy of the bill text is available here

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, urged the Biden administration to ensure that school systems across the country are equipped to fend off the growing number of cyberattacks targeting K-12 schools

In a letter to the Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the senators requested that the department issue guidance affirming that school districts across the country have the authority to use federal dollars from two COVID-19 relief funds on cybersecurity resources. The two funds – Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) – were authorized by the CARES Act supported by both senators. 

“Experts agree that the increased reliance on online learning programs is likely to far outlast the pandemic.  While online learning offers an abundance of positive opportunities for educators and students, without proper cybersecurity defenses, our nation’s education systems face formidable risks,” the Senators wrote. “School systems must have strong cybersecurity resources available to protect themselves against cyber and ransom attacks. With the increasingly persistent attacks on our schools, they simply cannot wait until they are a target to take action.”

In the letter, the Senators highlighted last year’s cybersecurity breach at Fairfax County Public Schools, the 11th largest school district in the nation, which had private informationstolen and published online. The senators also cited a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that since 2016, more than 17,000 public school districts and approximately 98,000 public schools have experienced breaches that resulted in the disclosure of personal information.

Noting that they have heard from school district leaders who are unsure as to whether they can use relief funds to adopt better cybersecurity measures, the senators specifically requested that the Department of Education publish and publicize guidance clearly stating that these funds may be used to improve cybersecurity. The senators also urged the department to provide recommended cybersecurity benchmarks as well as guidance on suggested spending priorities to best address the disproportionate number of cyber-threats facing school systems.

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

 

Dear Secretary Cardona: 

We write today regarding the continued need to prioritize cybersecurity efforts in the context of our nation’s school systems. You know better than anyone the dramatic ways the COVID-19 public health crisis has affected how students learn. Experts agree that the increased reliance on online learning programs is likely to far outlast the pandemic.  While online learning offers an abundance of positive opportunities for educators and students, without proper cybersecurity defenses, our nation’s education systems face formidable risks.  School districts have a unique opportunity to use COVID-19 relief funds to revamp their cybersecurity systems. Therefore, we strongly urge the Biden Administration to publicize guidance stating allowable Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) monies can be spent on cybersecurity resources and engage with school districts to increase awareness of the critical need for prioritizing stronger cybersecurity measures. 

The pandemic has changed daily life for almost everyone in many ways; perhaps, there is no clearer example than the sudden shift to remote learning for students of all ages across the country. Census data shows that nearly 93% of people in households with school-age children reported their children were engaged in some form of “distance learning” over the past year.  While the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has significantly slowed the spread of the virus, some remote learning is likely to continue, with hundreds of the nation’s 13,000 school districts having already created virtual schools intended to operate well into the pandemic’s aftermath.  Even as our nation’s schools fully return to in-person learning, cybersecurity risks will still be plentiful in the technology-dependent modern learning environment. 

With the shift to online instruction, school districts are now incredibly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. Last fall, Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, the 11th largest school district in the nation, was the target of a cybersecurity breach and ransomware incident that included theft of protected information.  This incident is far from an outlier. A report from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released in September 2020 stated more than 17,000 public school districts and approximately 98,000 public schools throughout the U.S. had experienced breaches that resulted in the disclosure of personal information since 2016.  

School systems must have strong cybersecurity resources available to protect themselves against cyber and ransom attacks. With the increasingly persistent attacks on our schools, they simply cannot wait until they are a target to take action.  

The COVID-19 relief bills Congress passed over the past year allocated millions to ESSER and GEER funds, which can be used for this purpose. In total, these bills included almost $200 billion for ESSER and over $7 billion for GEER. These available funds provide schools with a unique opportunity to invest in cybersecurity resources. While we understand schools must divide these funds across various crucial concerns, the pandemic has catapulted our school systems to an inflection point where investment in cybersecurity is now more critical than ever.

We have heard from school districts unsure whether they can use relief funds for this purpose. We greatly appreciate the Department of Education recently issuing a “Frequently Asked Questions” document, which confirms they can be used to improve cybersecurity “to better meet educational and other needs of students related to preventing, preparing for, or responding to COVID-19.”  We respectfully ask that the Administration take steps to publicize this information and help school districts understand the importance of using funding for cybersecurity efforts, including by promulgating lists of recommended cybersecurity benchmarks that additional resources could help school districts attain. Specifically, we urge the Education Department to issue public guidance clearly stating that states and local education authorities (LEAs) can use ESSER or GEER funds to improve cybersecurity, with guidance on suggested spending priorities to address the endemic threat of ransomware disproportionately impacting school systems. We also ask that the Department develop a plan to make sure school districts are aware of this allowable use and engage with LEAs to ensure they understand the importance of these resources.

We implore the Administration to recognize the urgent national need to prioritize cybersecurity in our nation’s education systems. Because of the relief funding Congress has provided over the past year, we have a real opportunity to address accumulating cybersecurity risks in schools. We encourage the Administration to ensure school systems are aware of this use for these funds and engage with LEAs, so they are equipped to take on this challenge. 

Again, thank you for your attention to this matter. We greatly appreciate your efforts on behalf of our nation’s students, and we look forward to continuing work together as our systems grapple with the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) joined universities and wind energy experts from across the country on Friday to announce the winners of the Collegiate Wind Competition. Over the course of the academic year, thirteen undergraduate teams designed, built, and tested model wind turbines, developed project plans, collaborated with industry experts, and engaged with their local communities—preparing them for careers in the growing wind and renewable energy workforce to support President Biden’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

“Congratulations to the students at Virginia Tech for winning the Connection Creation Contest in the Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition,” said U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner. “Virginia is proud to be a leader in renewable energy and I look forward to seeing the extraordinary work these students continue to do in the jobs of tomorrow.”

“Wind energy is an essential part of our fight against the climate crisis, and that means one thing for talented and driven young people like these students: jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “With their help, I have no doubt that we’ll propel the wind industry to sky-high heights, and send a gust of growth from coast to coast that lifts every American community into a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous future.”

Each year, the Collegiate Wind Competition integrates a new challenge into the contest that reflects real-world wind industry needs. Taking the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of supply chain disruptions into account, the 2021 challenge tasked teams with developing projects for deployment in highly uncertain times, with a significant degree of unknown risks and delays. This year’s competition also featured a new “Connection Creation Contest,” which challenged students to engage with industry professionals, their local communities, and local media outlets, in order to broaden their understanding of the workforce and educate new audiences about the benefits of wind and renewable energy.

The full list of winners is below:

  • Connection Creation Contest: Virginia Tech University
  • Overall First Place: Pennsylvania State University
  • Overall Second Place: Johns Hopkins University
  • Overall Third Place: California Polytechnic State University
  • Turbine Prototype Contest: Kansas State University
  • Project Development Contest: Pennsylvania State University

“Congratulations to the students of Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Wind Competition team on their victory in the Connection Creation Contest. Their accomplishment showed an impressive understanding of the wind power industry and an ability to engage the community in their goals. This achievement shows once again how Virginia Tech leads the way in the STEM field and equips young people for the challenges of the future,” said U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith.

“Congratulations to Cal Poly’s Wind Energy Team for their recognition in the 2021 Collegiate Wind Competition! They embodied the ‘learn by doing motto,’ tackling this real world project with dedication and determination. We know renewable energy is the future, so it is imperative that we have a workforce that is prepared for these future-oriented jobs. We will need smart people, like the members of the Cal Poly Wind Energy Team, to lead the way,” said U.S. Representative Salud Carbajal.

The 2022 Collegiate Wind Competition is scheduled for May 16–19, 2022, at the American Clean Power Association’s CLEANPOWER 2022 Conference & Exhibition in San Antonio, Texas. For more details about Collegiate Wind Competition, visit the CWC website

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Angus King (I-ME) today introduced legislation to stimulate the economy and allow borrowers to get a better handle on their student debt during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. This legislation comes as student debt in the U.S. surpasses $1.7 trillion – all while an increasing number of borrowers find themselves unable to pay back their loans due to job scarcity and other extraordinary financial circumstances caused by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. 

“All over the country, we have young people who made a substantial decision to invest in their future, but now find themselves saddled by overwhelming student loan debt during a pandemic that has tanked the economy and shattered the job market,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner. “The way to get our economy back on track is not by having an entire generation of people who are unwilling or unable to make future financial commitments because they are buried by the loans they took out in their late teens or early twenties. This legislation will give student borrowers a real shot at paying back their debt so that in the near future they are able to invest in a home, start up a business, or save for retirement.”

“Young folks across our country are facing unprecedented financial hardship simply because they made a choice to invest in their futures,” said Sen. Tester. “These are the current and future leaders of our communities and it’s critical that they have financial security so they can make investments and purchases to drive our economy forward and help America bounce back from this crisis. This bill will provide student borrowers with more opportunities to pay back their loans so that they are better able to participate in their local economies without the fear of drowning in debt.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has hit our economy hard – and that’s a major problem for the millions of Americans who took out student loans to invest in their future,” said Sen. King. “As the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout continues to unfold, Congress needs to take steps to help these young people have added flexibility and options to meet these obligations. Our legislation provides paths to help get this debt under control – if enacted, it can improve financial prospects for these borrowers while also supporting the overall health of the American economy.”

The Coronavirus Emergency Student Loan Refinancing Act of 2021 would ease the burden of the student debt crisis by:

  • Allowing student loan borrowers to refinance their federal student loans as long as they are in good standing and meet eligibility requirements based on income or the debt-to-income ratio established by the Department of Education. Under the legislation, borrowers would be able to apply to refinance their Direct Loan or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL).
  • Giving borrowers the option to refinance their federal student loans at lower interest rates to the lowest yield of the 10-year Treasury note in the preceding six months, plus a fixed percentage rate established by the Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013. 
    • For undergraduate borrowers with Federal Direct Stafford, Unsubsidized, PLUS, and Consolidated loans, the interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 2.05 percent;
    • For graduate borrowers with Federal Direct Stafford or Unsubsidized loans, the interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 3.6 percent; and
    • For borrowers with PLUS loans, the new interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 4.6 percent.

This legislation has the support of a number of organizations, including the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), the National Association of Realtors, and the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce:

“Loans keep people from going to college, loans force students to major in lucrative subjects rather than follow their true work interests and values, and loans force people to postpone making decisions like buying homes and forming families, which hurts all of us. We are fortunate that Senator Warner recognizes this and has stepped up to do something about it,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“High student loan debt is deterring families and individuals from pursuing the American Dream of homeownership, and its impact has been particularly significant on minority and millennial households. In fact, a 2020 NAR report found that student loan costs have been the single biggest factor inhibiting Americans’ ability to save for a down payment over the past five years. Realtors® applaud Senator Warner for furthering the critical national conversation regarding the impact of student loan debt on the broader U.S. economy, and look forward to working with him to advance this legislation through Congress,” said Charlie Oppler, President of National Association of Realtors.

Bill text is available here. A one-page summary is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $1,879,967 in federal funding to help Virginians in 19 localities reduce their dependency on federal assistance and rental subsidies. The funding, awarded through the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will help connect Virginia families to public and private resources that help them increase their earned income and transition to more stable housing.

“These funds will empower Virginia families by providing educational opportunities, job training, and counseling to help them make lasting progress towards economic independence,” said the Senators. “We applaud the Department of Housing and Urban Development for taking this approach to give Virginians the tools they need to increase their income and move up the economic ladder.”

The funding will be distributed as follows:

  • Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $78,659;
  • Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $49,627;
  • Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $167,400;
  • City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $151,470;
  • City of Virginia Beach Department of Housing: $56,347;
  • Loudoun County: $74,080;
  • Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $24,818;
  • Fairfax County Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $152,078;
  • Franklin Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $60,000;
  • Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $60,152;
  • Harrisonburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $35,103;
  • Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $72,000;
  • James City County Office of Housing & Community Development: $28,500;
  • Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $112,031;
  • Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $360,000;
  • Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $226,656;
  • Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $72,000;
  • Suffolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $52,368;
  • Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $48,638.

The FSS program helps HUD-assisted families increase their earned income and reduce their dependency on federal assistance and rental subsidies. Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) work in collaboration with a Program Coordinating Committee (PCC) to secure commitments of public and private resources for the operation of the FSS program, to develop the PHA’s FSS Action Plan (the FSS policy framework), and to implement the program.

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WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $5,740,241 in federal grant funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Head Start and Early Head Start programs throughout Virginia.

“These programs are critical to help ensure that our schools and organizations across the Commonwealth have the resources they need to support our future leaders,” the Senators said. “We’re excited to see this funding go toward promoting early childhood development.” 

The following organizations will receive funding:

Recipient

City

Amount

 

Augusta County School Board

 

Verona

$1,205,103

People Incorporated of Virginia

 

Abingdon

$2,383,149

STEP, Inc.

 

Rocky Mount

$1,120,735

Eastern Shore Area Agency on Aging/Community Action Agency

 

Exmore

$1,031,254

Total:

 

$5,740,241

As Governors and Senators, Warner and Kaine have advocated for investments in early childhood education. Head Start programs promote school readiness for children under 5 years old from low-income families through health, education, family support, and social services.

 

###

 

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

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

The funding will be awarded as below:

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

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

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

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $19,013,614 from the U.S. Department of Labor for two career and training centers for seniors in Arlington, VA.

“These investments will enhance on-the-job training programs and provide seniors who are currently out of work with an opportunity to earn a paycheck and learn new skills, making them better-qualified candidates for future employment,” said the Senators.

The funding will be awarded as follows:

  • $17,431,229 for the National Council on Aging, Inc in Arlington, VA.
  • $1,582,385 for the National Older Worker Career Center in Arlington, VA.

The funding is made available through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). SCSEP is a community service and work-based job training program for older Americans. Authorized by the Older Americans Act, the program provides training for low-income, unemployed seniors, to give them the skills they need to re-enter the workforce. Additionally, SCSEP participants will have access to employment assistance through American Job Centers.

###

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.

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Mr. Dodaro:            

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Secretary DeVos: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We appreciate your time and consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

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

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

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and 27 of their colleagues in calling for a full extension of school meal waivers through the end of the 2020-2021 school year so that schools have the flexibility that they need to fully serve students whether or not they are attending school in person. 

Sens. Warner, Hassan and colleagues initially made this request in July, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that it will agree to extend some of the school meal waivers.

“We are glad that you have extended some school meal waivers until the end of the 2020-2021 school year, and grateful that you recently extended some other waivers until December 31, 2020. However, we remain concerned by your decision not to extend all waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year, and we urge you to correct this as soon as possible,” wrote the Senators.

The Senators raise the importance of full extension given that the economic and public health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will clearly last beyond the end of the calendar year.

“The remaining waivers that you have not extended for the entire 2020-2021 school year are desperately needed by school meal providers across the country to ensure they have the funding, flexibility, and certainty to continue feeding schoolchildren for the entire upcoming school year. Many localities are dealing with budget shortfalls due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are relying on federal assistance to keep providing meals,” wrote the Senators. “Furthermore, millions of parents have lost their jobs in the past six months and are struggling to ensure that their children have access to nutritious and healthy meals. Many families are relying on school provided meals as one of the only reliable sources of healthy food for their children.” 

The Senators also address why USDA already has the authority necessary to fully extend the critical waivers.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Hassan, the letter was sent by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Read the Senators’ full letter below:

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:  

Thank you for your letter dated August 20, 2020 in response to our letter dated July 29, 2020 urging you to extend all relevant school meal waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year. We are glad that you have extended some school meal waivers until the end of the 2020-2021 school year, and grateful that you recently extended some other waivers until December 31, 2020. However, we remain concerned by your decision not to extend all waivers for the entire 2020-2021 school year, and we urge you to correct this as soon as possible. We also write to express disagreement with your conclusion that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not have the authority to extend these waivers until the end of the next school year.

In your response to our July 29th letter you wrote that the request to extend all of the relevant waivers “is beyond what USDA currently has the authority to implement.” This conclusion is based off an incorrect interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Pub. L. No. 116-127) (“FFCRA”). FFCRA clearly provided USDA with the authority to issue these waivers for the 2020-2021 school year. The only constraint that Congress imposed upon USDA’s authority to issue these waivers was the requirement in Section 2202(e) that they be issued on or before September 30, 2020. Waivers issued prior to that sunset date can still cover periods after the sunset date, including the entire 2020-2021 school year.  USDA’s previous decision to extend a number of the nationwide waivers that we mentioned in our letter until the end of the 2020-2021 school year including for the food management company contract duration, local school wellness assessment, and the fresh fruit and vegetable program parent pickup requirements – and your recent decision to extend the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Seamless Summer Option (SSO), and Area Eligibility Waivers until the end of this calendar year – clearly show that USDA believes it has the authority to extend these waivers well beyond the sunset date. [1]   

The remaining waivers that you have not extended for the entire 2020-2021 school year are desperately needed by school meal providers across the country to ensure they have the funding, flexibility, and certainty to continue feeding schoolchildren for the entire upcoming school year. Many localities are dealing with budget shortfalls due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are relying on federal assistance to keep providing meals. Furthermore, millions of parents have lost their jobs in the past six months and are struggling to ensure that their children have access to nutritious and healthy meals. Many families are relying on school provided meals as one of the only reliable sources of healthy food for their children.

We urge you to reverse your decision and use the authority given to your Department under the FFCRA to extend the following waivers nationwide for the entire 2020-2021 school year: 

  • Area Eligibility Waiver
  • Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) Waivers
  • Unexpected School Closures Waiver

We recognize the incredible effort USDA has undertaken to ensure that millions of schoolchildren in this country do not go hungry. This hard work is not yet complete and we implore you to continue working with states and use USDA’s already existing authority to provide them with the flexibility needed to enable food authorities to provide meals through USDA’s child nutrition programs. For any questions, please reach out to Andres Hoyos at Andres_Hoyos@hassan.senate.gov and Tom Koester atTom_Koester@hassan.senate.gov.  We look forward to receiving your response as soon as possible on this timely matter.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Richard Blumenthal and 23 of their colleagues in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to boost its Lifeline program to keep students connected as millions return to school both virtually and in person. Since 1985, the FCC’s Lifeline program has made basic internet and telephone service more affordable for low-income Americans and has had bipartisan support. The senators strongly criticized the FCC, under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, for not only failing to make access to broadband easier for families, but also for actively undermining and destabilizing the Lifeline program.

“As millions of American families face unprecedented financial pressures and educational challenges, we urge the FCC to reverse proposed changes to the Lifeline program, take immediate steps to open its assistance to more households, and ensure that its services meet the pressing needs of families during this crisis,” the Senators wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We are alarmed that as students head back to class – in person or online – there is still no national plan from the FCC to secure families’ access to their educational future. This looming disaster is one product of the vast digital divide that hinders families’ educational futures, economic opportunities, and health, which FCC should vigorously bridge through Lifeline and other USF programs.”

“Regrettably, under your Chairmanship, the FCC has actively worked to undermine and destabilize the Lifeline program, which has left more families vulnerable during the pandemic by widening the learning gap and lessening household’s ability to access crucial services, such as unemployment benefits, food assistance, and health resources,” the Senators continued. “Since the first weeks of your tenure, the FCC has sought to block new broadband providers’ participation in the Lifeline program, curtail benefits in tribal areas, exclude existing carriers, rollback reforms for registering new carriers, make it harder for new applicants to subscribe, prevent carriers from offering free in-person distribution of phones, reduce incentives to enroll subscribers, and add more barriers for participating carriers and subscribers.” 

The senators called for the FCC to put in place a comprehensive plan to respond to this national crisis and to immediately take steps to implement reforms that will bridge the homework gap that has already left millions of children behind with no access to internet or connected devices. These reforms include temporarily expanding unlimited mobile data and voice minutes to consumers to keep them connected during the pandemic, closing proposed rulemakings that could create new obstacles for eligible households, pausing unnecessary standards changes that could result in disruptions to broadband access in the midst of a pandemic, and notifying Congress if additional funding is needed to support the program.  

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA). 

Warner and Kaine have previously called for robust Lifeline and E-Rate assistance program funding to ensure Americans stay connected amid the coronavirus pandemic. In April, they joined group of 27 senators in calling on Congressional leadership to commit at least $1 billion in funding for the Lifeline program in future coronavirus relief to meet the new connectivity needs of Americans. That letter is available here. Warner and Kaine also cosponsored the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation aimed at ensuring K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, Sen. Warner recently wrote a letter urging prominent tech companies to help ensure that Virginia students can properly participate in distance learning this fall. That letter is available here.

A copy of today’s full letter is available here and below.

 

Dear Chairman Pai,

            We write to express our profound frustration that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has failed to take forceful action to keep households connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. As millions of American families face unprecedented financial pressures and educational challenges, we urge the FCC to reverse proposed changes to the Lifeline program, take immediate steps to open its assistance to more households, and ensure that its services meet the pressing needs of families during this crisis.

            The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and even reinforced the vast homework gap that has left millions of children offline because their parents cannot afford broadband internet access. Schools across the country are grappling with this digital divide as they decide whether they can safely reopen and whether virtual learning will work. According to Common Sense Media, one quarter of students nationally are at risk of being left out of the classroom because they lack broadband or connected devices, a toll that falls disproportionately and disastrously on communities of color.[1] Unfortunately, the homework gap has already had an immense cost to children during this crisis, as some students have been forced to forgo online lectures and miss important homework. We are alarmed that as students head back to class – in person or online – there is still no national plan from the FCC to secure families’ access to their educational future. This looming disaster is one product of the vast digital divide that hinders families’ educational futures, economic opportunities, and health, which FCC should vigorously bridge through Lifeline and other USF programs

            The FCC already has the ability to take immediate steps to close the homework gap and ensure that families have access to broadband. One of the FCC’s most important assistance programs, Lifeline, was established under the Reagan Administration to provide discounts for free or low cost phone services to those who qualify for other financial assistance. In the four decades since, the Lifeline program has been supported and expanded on a bipartisan basis – a resounding recognition that phone and internet access is essential for economic security, health, and family life. Lifeline has lived up to its name for millions of veterans needing telehealth services,[2] domestic violence survivors,[3] older Americans, those experiencing housing insecurity, and other vulnerable Americans. Our immense reliance on broadband during the pandemic for telework, virtual learning, social connections, and telehealth has proven the original, bipartisan vision of Lifeline.

            Regrettably, under your Chairmanship, the FCC has actively worked to undermine and destabilize the Lifeline program, which has left more families vulnerable during the pandemic by widening the learning gap and lessening household’s ability to access crucial services, such as unemployment benefits, food assistance, and health resources. Since the first weeks of your tenure, the FCC has sought to block new broadband providers’ participation in the Lifeline program, curtail benefits in tribal areas, exclude existing carriers, rollback reforms for registering new carriers, make it harder for new applicants to subscribe, prevent carriers from offering free in-person distribution of phones, reduce incentives to enroll subscribers, and add more barriers for participating carriers and subscriber. These proposals have been so extreme that they would lead to cutting off carriers serving almost 70% of Lifeline subscribers.[4] 

The FCC has also failed to complete important reforms to ease burdens on consumers and reduce fraud, such as the full implementation of the National Verifier meant to automate registration and preserve the integrity of Lifeline.[5] Lastly, carriers face continued uncertainty about the long-term stability of the program given the open FCC proposals to cut back participation and compensation for services. The consequences of this sustained assault on Lifeline are stark – less than 20% eligible households subscribe to services, as much as a 30% drop during your watch.[6] 

            The FCC should step up to tackle the profound inequities and divides that American families are struggling with during this national crisis. We appreciate that the FCC issued and extended the temporary waivers in response to the pandemic to pause usage and subscriber documentation requirements, and also appreciate that it partnered with state utility commissioners to improve public awareness of the program.[7] But, by the benchmark established during previous crises, such as Hurricane Katrina, the FCC response falls far short. Lifeline could be a reprieve for millions of households. The FCC should take the initiative to ensure that Lifeline meets the connectivity needs of households sheltering in place at home and facing financial hardship during the COVID-19 crisis. However, regrettably, you have asked your Commissioner colleagues to vote on order that would permanently alter the minimum standards for Lifeline without changes in contributions, which could potentially lead to the loss of the free Lifeline services in the middle of this pandemic.[8] We support increasing Lifeline subscribers’ data allowances during this crisis, but such increases should be backed with additional funding. At this critical moment, the FCC should provide the additional financial support needed for Lifeline subscriptions to meet the data demands of virtual classroom time, telehealth, and telework during this time.[9]

It is time for the FCC to offer a bold plan to respond to this national crisis through bolstering the Lifeline program, and the Commission does not need to wait to act. We strongly urge you to immediately take the following steps:

  1. Take emergency measures to provide additional financial support to Lifeline providers during the pandemic to temporarily provide unlimited mobile data and voice minutes, and notify Congress if additional funding is needed to support such changes.
  2. Extend all current FCC waivers on Lifeline usage and subscriber documentation requirements for at least a full year, until August 2021 or when we have recovered from the pandemic.
  3. Close the currently outstanding Lifeline proposed rulemakings that would create new obstacles for eligible households and add unwarranted burden on carriers.
  4. Pause the scheduled changes to Lifeline program’s minimum service standards until the Commission studies such impacts on the market in its upcoming 2021 State of Lifeline Marketplace Report, to avoid disruptions to customer’s services.
  5. Restore the monthly subsidy to $9.25 for plans offering voice services for subscribers who value voice over data-heavy plans and pause the planned decrease in contributions for voice support.
  6. Work with states to increase the automated verification of state databases with the National Verifier program by the end of this year.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.           

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a former technology and telecommunications entrepreneur, urged prominent tech companies to contribute to a whole-of-society effort to contain the economic and societal impact of COVID-19 by helping ensure that Virginia students can properly participate in distance learning this fall.  

In letters to DellAppleHPSamsungGoogleMicrosoftAcer America, and ASUS USA, Sen. Warner asked companies to do what they can to help bridge the “homework gap” – the lack of reliable computer or internet access that prevents school-aged children from being able to do school work from home. 

“While the CARES Act provided essential funding for schools to purchase equipment for home learning, significant challenges remain to provide students with appropriate devices,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Any primary and secondary school districts report that computers and tablets suitable for student use are not readily available for them to purchase in bulk. In other areas where the district doesn’t provide items, families are not able to afford purchasing their own devices. Vulnerable students who already face numerous hardships are then further disadvantaged when they cannot access a remote education due to device unavailability.”

He continued, “In light of these circumstances, I urge you take immediate action to help close this new education gap created by the health crisis as the school year commences. There are a range of actions your company can take, including educational product discounts, the provision of complimentary or donated computers (including for home lending programs many educational institutions operate), and the provision of refurbished or returned products in good working condition for school districts and higher education institutions to distribute to educators and students. While I understand the strains placed on the global supply chain, your prioritization of these matters would greatly assist struggling families at this challenging time.” 

According to findings from a Pew Research study, the homework gap is more pronounced among Black, Hispanic and lower-income households. The economic cost of this gap has been identified by McKinsey and Company as having deprived the economy of at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019.

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that the necessary distance-learning measures that schools have adopted during this public health crisis have likely exacerbated this gap and highlighted the heavy reliance on now-inaccessible school computer labs.

Sen. Warner also expressed his willingness to facilitate the effort to support students by offering to help connect the companies to local education officials and administrators in Virginia.

Sen. Warner has continued to be a strong advocate for education during the COVID-19 crisis. Last month, he introduced legislation to prevent the Trump Administration from reducing or redirecting critical education funding for schools that determine they cannot safely reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. He has also joined his Senate colleagues in introducing a bill to ensure K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices and has also repeatedly advocated for robust funding and distance learning resources for K-12 students. 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led 16 Senators in a letter to Senate leaders urging them to include long-term relief for millions of Americans with student loans in the next coronavirus relief package as negotiations between Senate Republicans and Democrats continue. The letter comes after the President issued an executive order that only places a three-month forbearance for some student loan borrowers, leaving nearly 8 million student loan borrowers to fend for themselves in the midst of an economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although the President recently issued an Executive Order temporarily extending forbearance for some borrowers and waiving interest through the end of the year, Congress must act to ensure this relief is reliably available until the public health emergency ends. Further, only congressional action will ensure that all of our nation’s 43 million federal student loan borrowers are able to access full relief. Just as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided six months of relief following administrative action, we strongly believe that student loan forbearance should be codified for the duration of our economic crisis in the next COVID-19 response legislation,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Due to the financial impact of COVID-19, many student loan borrowers faced the uncertainty of meeting their monthly repayment obligations in addition to paying for their basic necessities. To help provide a financial lifeline, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which provided six months of interest free relief for certain federal student loan borrowers, through September 30, 2020. With Senate Republicans and Democrats still hammering out a deal on the next COVID-relief package, the President signed an executive order to extend existing CARES Act student loan repayment protections for another three months, which still leaves nearly 8 million of Americans from being unable to attain this critical relief.   

Unfortunately, nearly 8 million borrowers were not eligible for the CARES Act relief, and will not benefit from the President’s Executive Order. These donut holes must be closed. And, while administrative action extending the forbearance will provide relief to many borrowers, it is not clear how the U.S. Department of Education will handle crucial issues related to credit toward forgiveness, credit reporting, loan rehabilitation, and collections that were addressed by the CARES Act. It is critical that Congress provide this relief legislatively so that payments do not resume before the economy is showing signs of recovery, that borrowers do not experience collateral damage from further donut holes in the Executive Order, and that no one faces unnecessary uncertainty about the status and treatment of their loans during this difficult time,” wrote the Senators.

In the letter, the Senators underscore that student loan debt has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino Americans. Approximately 90 percent of Black students and 72 percent of Latino students take out loans, compared to 66 percent of their white counterparts. While the student loan crisis has always contributed to inequality in the U.S., the COVID-19 crisis has only exposed and exacerbated these inequities.                                 

To help make sure that all student loan borrowers have access to financial relief, the Senators also urged that the next COVID relief package include long-term financial relief for all federal student loan borrowers through September 2021, which mirrors provisions from the House passed HEROES Act.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jackie Rosen (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

We write in support of our nation’s federal student loan borrowers, specifically the millions of those whose ability to repay their loans has been negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and resulting economic crisis. Although the President recently issued an Executive Order temporarily extending forbearance for some borrowers and waiving interest through the end of the year, Congress must act to ensure this relief is reliably available until the public health emergency ends. Further, only congressional action will ensure that all of our nation’s 43 million federal student loan borrowers are able to access full relief. Just as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided six months of relief following administrative action, we strongly believe that student loan forbearance should be codified for the duration of our economic crisis in the next COVID-19 response legislation.

For the 19th consecutive week, over 1 million Americans have filed for new unemployment benefits. This unprecedented increase in job loss in the U.S. resulting from the coronavirus has left many people unable to afford even basic necessities. Despite the sudden and rapid rise in unemployment numbers, the U.S. is likely to experience high unemployment levels for a significant time. A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that unemployment will still be over 9% by 2021. As families continue to face sudden joblessness, high medical bills, and other financial setbacks resulting from the crisis, tens of millions of student loan borrowers have continued to worry about when they will have to resume their payments.

We appreciate your leadership in ensuring that the CARES Act provided relief to certain federal student loan borrowers through September 30, 2020. Congress extended a critical lifeline by not requiring payments on most federally-held loans, suspending interest accrual for such loans, prohibiting forced collections and negative credit reporting, and ensuring that student loan borrowers continue receiving credit toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-driven repayment forgiveness, and loan rehabilitation. These key details were an important part of the relief provided to borrowers.

Unfortunately, nearly 8 million borrowers were not eligible for the CARES Act relief, and will not benefit from the President’s Executive Order. These donut holes must be closed. And, while administrative action extending the forbearance will provide relief to many borrowers, it is not clear how the U.S. Department of Education will handle crucial issues related to credit toward forgiveness, credit reporting, loan rehabilitation, and collections that were addressed by the CARES Act. It is critical that Congress provide this relief legislatively so that payments do not resume before the economy is showing signs of recovery, that borrowers do not experience collateral damage from further donut holes in the Executive Order, and that no one faces unnecessary uncertainty about the status and treatment of their loans during this difficult time.

We also know that the burden of student debt is even heavier for Black and Latino borrowers. About 90% of Black students and 72% of Latino students take out loans, compared to 66% of white students. The student loan crisis has always contributed to inequality in the U.S., and, without further Congressional action, COVID-19 will only exacerbate the problem. Given the dire circumstances for many student loan borrowers, we urge you to ensure that an extension of reprieve on student loan payment is codified in future COVID-19 related legislation.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on May 15, 2020. The bill would extend the current suspension of payments, interest, and involuntary collections through September 2021. This timeline is essential given the projected length of the economic crisis borrowers are facing. The bill also extends the relief in the CARES Act to all federal student loans. We request your leadership in ensuring that the Senate adopts these HEROES Act provisions, and appreciate your continued work in getting essential relief to our nation’s student loan borrowers.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 28 of their Senate colleagues in urging Senate leadership to reject the Trump Administration’s desire to condition education funds in the next coronavirus relief package on the reopening of elementary and secondary schools for in-person instruction. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Senators said that the Senate should not be complicit in President Trump’s demands that would risk the health and lives of students and school personnel, and that Congress should instead provide federal assistance to schools in need and support for local officials to base reopening decisions on facts and science.

“Instead, Congress should provide federal assistance to elementary and secondary schools that gives state and local officials the tools and resources they need to ensure a safe and effective learning environment for students, including students from low-income families and students of color, and a safe and effective working environment for educators and staff—whether it be in-person, remote, or a hybrid model,” the Senators wrote. “Every one of us wants schools to reopen when it is safe to do so.  But, facts and science must drive those decisions, not Presidential pipedreams or impatience.” 

The Senate Republican proposal, unveiled this week by McConnell, would provide only $70 billion to elementary and secondary education – with an estimated two-thirds of that federal funding held hostage unless schools reopen to in-person learning.  Durbin and other Senate Democrats, led by Senator Patty Murray of Washington, have proposed the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, which would provide $175 billion to elementary and secondary education without regard to the operating status of schools. 

In addition to Sens. Warner and Durbin, the letter was signed by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ron Wyden (D-OR),  Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA),  Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D_MI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV),  Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Gary Peters (D-MI). 

Text of this letter is available here.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced legislation to prevent the Trump Administration from reducing or redirecting education funding for schools that determine they cannot safely reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. This bill comes as the Trump Administration continues to pressure education leaders to fully reopen schools by threatening to cut education funding.

“The decision to reopen schools should be informed by local health figures and determined by community health officials, parents and teachers,” said Sen. Warner. “Instead of working to support such efforts during this global pandemic, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are blindly pressuring schools all across the country to make decisions that may put students, teachers, and families at risk. This bill makes it clear that the Administration has no legal authority to cut critical education funding during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Specifically, the legislation prohibits the promulgation of any federal regulation, guidance, or policy that requires in-person instruction during this public health crisis. It clarifies that the Secretary of Education cannot compel in-person instruction during an emergency as declared by a federal, state, or local authority, with respect to COVID-19. The bill would apply to any program for which the Secretary of Education has administrative responsibility under the General Education Provisions Act.

Sen. Warner has continued to be a strong advocate for education during the COVID-19 crisis. In May, he joined his Senate colleagues in introducing a bill to ensure K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices so that they may participate in online learning during this health crisis. He has also repeatedly advocated for robust funding and distance learning resources for K-12 students.

Full text of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued a statement today regarding threats by the Trump Administration to withhold federal education funding from school districts that determine they cannot safely reopen for in-person instruction in the fall:

“Decisions about school openings should be made by local health officials, parents and teachers – not Betsy DeVos or Donald Trump,” said Sen. Warner. “I'll be introducing a bill to make it crystal clear that the Trump Administration doesn’t have the authority to cut off funding for local schools during the COVID-19 crisis.” 

Sen. Warner has continued to be a strong advocate for education during the COVID-19 crisis. In May, he joined his Senate colleagues in introducing a bill to ensure K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices so that they may participate in online learning during this health crisis. He has also repeatedly advocated for robust funding and distance learning resources for K-12 students.

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