Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) wrote to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concern and requesting more information regarding Meta’s practice of collecting user’s health information through tracking applications.

In the letter, Sen. Warner highlighted the need for user privacy and increased transparency around how user data is collected online, which has become increasingly important as the use of telehealth appointments, online appointment booking, and electronic record keeping have risen exponentially over the course of the pandemic.

“As we increasingly move health care online, we must ensure there are strong safeguards in place surrounding the use of these technologies to protect sensitive health information,” wrote Sen. Warner.

Specifically, Sen. Warner called attention to Meta Pixel, a tracking tool that sends Meta a packet of data whenever a user clicks a button to schedule a doctor’s appointment – without the knowledge of the individual making the appointment.

He continued, “I am troubled by the recent revelation that the Meta Pixel was installed on a number of hospital websites – including password-protected patient portals – and sending sensitive health information to Meta when a patient scheduled an appointment online.  This data included highly personal health data, including patients’ medical conditions, appointment topics, physician names, email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses, and other details about patients’ medical appointments.”

Sen. Warner also noted allegations that this practice of data harvesting and collection has been used by Meta to target advertisements across their platforms. In August of this year, two lawsuits were filed against the company over the alleged unlawful collection and sharing of health data without consent.

To address these concerns, Sen. Warner requested Meta respond to the following questions:

  1. What information does Meta have access to or receive directly from the Meta Pixel, either currently or previously?
  2. How does Meta store information received through the Meta Pixel?
  3. Has information Meta received from the Meta Pixel ever been used to inform targeted advertisements on Meta’s platforms?
  4. How does Meta handle sensitive information that it receives from third parties that violate its business guidelines?
  5. What steps is Meta taking to safeguard sensitive health information, particularly with third-party vendors? Since the release of The Markup’s report in June, what additional steps have been taken?
  6. According to the report released by the New York State Department of Financial Services last year, Meta stated that the filtering system was “not yet operating with complete accuracy.” What improvements have been made to make the filtering system more effective? How is Meta testing and evaluating the filtering system’s ability to identify sensitive health information?
  7. Where required by law, does Meta always comply with any and all notification requirements when the Meta Pixel handles or transmits protected information, in the manner and time required by such laws?

Sen. Warner has been a leader in Congress pushing for increased transparency and protections surrounding user data and privacy. He introduced the DASHBOARD Act, which works to increase transparency around data collection; the DETOUR Act, which would prohibit companies like Meta from using deceptive dark patterns to manipulate users into handing over their data; and the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act, which would set strong and enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information.

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

October 20, 2022

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

I write to you today to express my concern regarding Meta’s collection of sensitive health information through the Meta Pixel tracking tool without user consent.

As you know, I have long worked to protect user privacy and increase transparency around how user data is collected and shared. This mission is more urgent than ever as the last two years have shown us the importance of health care technology, with many relying on electronic health records, online appointment booking, and virtual patient portals to receive care during the pandemic. As we increasingly move health care online, we must ensure there are strong safeguards in place surrounding the use of these technologies to protect sensitive health information.

I am troubled by the recent revelation that the Meta Pixel was installed on a number of hospital websites – including password-protected patient portals – and sending sensitive health information to Meta when a patient scheduled an appointment online.  This data included highly personal health data, including patients’ medical conditions, appointment topics, physician names, email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses, and other details about patients’ medical appointments. Additionally, of particular concern are the recent allegations that Meta has used Meta Pixel data to inform targeted advertisements on Meta’s platforms.  The use of the Meta Pixel is widespread, as the tool was installed in the systems of 33 of the top 100 hospitals in the country and inside the patient portals of seven health systems at the time of the investigation.

Unfortunately, privacy issues involving the Meta Pixel are not new, as there has been previous scrutiny of the Meta Pixel outside of the health care context. Reports published earlier this year found that the Pixel sent personal information to Meta that was collected from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on the website of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) office within the U.S. Department of Education.  Data sent to Meta includes applicant first and last name, email addresses, and zip codes. Additionally, this is not the first time that your company has been involved in the wrongful collection of sensitive health information. In 2021, an investigation by the New York State Department of Financial Services found that Meta (then Facebook) collected user data from several health and wellness apps, including results from blood pressure and heart rate readings, menstruation and fertility tracking, pregnancy status, and other deeply personal information. 

Meta’s own business guidelines state that the company “[doesn’t] want websites or apps sending [Meta] sensitive information about people,”  including sensitive health information, which Meta identifies as medical conditions, sexual and reproductive health, mental health, details regarding medical devices and trackers, treatments, test results, body specifications or cycles, locations of treatment, and other health-related data.  Yet, in this most recent case and as we have seen previously, Meta is continuing to access this highly sensitive information.

It is critical that technology companies like Meta take seriously their role in protecting user health data. Without meaningful action, I fear that these continuing privacy violations and harmful uses of health data could become the new status quo in health care and public health.

To address the concerns raised in this letter, I request that you provide responses to the following questions by November 3, 2022:

  1. What information does Meta have access to or receive directly from the Meta Pixel, either currently or previously?
  2. How does Meta store information received through the Meta Pixel?
  3. Has information Meta received from the Meta Pixel ever been used to inform targeted advertisements on Meta’s platforms?
  4. How does Meta handle sensitive information that it receives from third parties that violate its business guidelines?
  5. What steps is Meta taking to safeguard sensitive health information, particularly with third-party vendors? Since the release of The Markup’s report in June, what additional steps have been taken?
  6. According to the report released by the New York State Department of Financial Services last year, Meta stated that the filtering system was “not yet operating with complete accuracy.” What improvements have been made to make the filtering system more effective? How is Meta testing and evaluating the filtering system’s ability to identify sensitive health information?
  7. Where required by law, does Meta always comply with any and all notification requirements when the Meta Pixel handles or transmits protected information, in the manner and time required by such laws?

I look forward to your prompt responses.

Sincerely,

###

 

WASHINGTON – As the Biden administration works to establish two crucial semiconductor initiatives authorized by CHIPS and Science Act, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) are leading eight of their colleagues in urging the U.S. Department of Commerce to take full advantage of the contributions, assets, and expertise available in states nationwide.

In a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the Senators advocate for a decentralized “hub-and-spoke” model for the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) and the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP). This model would establish various centers of excellence around the country, as opposed to a single centralized facility that is limited to the resources and strengths of a single state or region.

“Allowing the NSTC and NAPMP to draw upon experts, institutions, entrepreneurs, and private-sector partners spread across the country would best position these programs to fulfill their missions of driving semiconductor and advanced packaging research forward, coordinating and scaling up the ongoing workforce development efforts, promoting geographic diversity, and ensuring long-term U.S. competitiveness in this critical technology sector,” wrote the lawmakers.

They continued, “Such a model would allow them to draw upon the strengths of experts, research facilities, and private-sector partnerships and consortia from across the country. This model would consist of central research facilities with centers of excellence in various locations across the country where there is particular expertise in memory, logic, packaging, testing, or other elements of the semiconductor ecosystem.”

In their letter, the Senators also note that this approach was recommended by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in a report to President Biden. This report stated, “the Secretary of Commerce should ensure the NSTC founding charter includes establishing prototyping capabilities in a geographically distributed model encompassing up to six centers of excellence (COEs) aligned around major technical thrusts.” 

The NSTC and NAPMP – designed to accelerate U.S. semiconductor production and advance research and development – were championed by Sens. Warner, Cornyn, and Kelly, who authored the CHIPS law signed by President Biden in August. In addition to Sens. Warner, Cornyn and Kelly, the letter was signed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

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

October 14, 2022

Dear Secretary Raimondo,

As the Department of Commerce begins implementing the CHIPS and Science Act, we respectfully urge your department to consider using a decentralized, so-called “hub-and-spoke” model as the basis for the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) and the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP). Allowing the NSTC and NAPMP to draw upon experts, institutions, entrepreneurs, and private-sector partners spread across the country would best position these programs to fulfill their missions of driving semiconductor and advanced packaging research forward, coordinating and scaling up the ongoing workforce development efforts, promoting geographic diversity, and ensuring long-term U.S. competitiveness in this critical technology sector.

When Congress passed the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act in January 2021 and funding of $11 billion in the recently-passed CHIPS and Science Act, it recognized the need for increased investment in research and development (R&D). This R&D will include prototyping of advanced semiconductor tools, technology, and packaging capabilities to advance both U.S. economic competitiveness and the security of our domestic supply chain.

The NSTC was established as a way to drive this research forward, bringing together the Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the private sector in a public-private consortium. Congress created the NAPMP to “strengthen semiconductor advanced test, assembly, and packaging capability in the domestic ecosystem” in coordination with the NSTC.

Incredibly diverse knowledge and expertise will be required to ensure that the NSTC and NAPMP are successful. We believe that it would be in the best interests of the long-term success of these programs if the Department of Commerce was to embrace a “hub-and-spoke” model for these programs. In fact, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended such an approach in their report to President Biden titled, “Revitalizing the U.S. Semiconductor Ecosystem.” The report states, “The Secretary of Commerce should ensure the NSTC founding charter includes establishing prototyping capabilities in a geographically distributed model encompassing up to six centers of excellence (COEs) aligned around major technical thrusts.”  Such a model would allow them to draw upon the strengths of experts, research facilities, and private-sector partnerships and consortia from across the country. This model would consist of central research facilities with centers of excellence in various locations across the country where there is particular expertise in memory, logic, packaging, testing, or other elements of the semiconductor ecosystem. Doing so would ensure that a broader range of expertise is captured by the NSTC and NAPMP and ensure entrepreneurs and researchers across the country can take advantage of these programs to drive America’s semiconductor ecosystem forward.

Thank you for your consideration and for all of the work that you and your team are doing to implement this important legislation.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Tina Smith (D-MN), joined by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (HHS/CMS) leadership urging them to review and formally report on the adequacy of the Affordable Care Act’s Essential Health Benefits (EHBs). The letter expressed the need for a review of telehealth flexibilities and the impact that scaling back these service options will have on those who rely on telehealth capabilities for treatment.

“As we begin to envision health care policies post-pandemic, we remain concerned telehealth services will be significantly pared back, hindering access to care for millions of Americans—especially those with complicated health conditions,” the Senators wrote.

When the Affordable Care Act was enacted, it required the Secretary of HHS to review EHBs and provide a report to Congress, and the public, that contains:

  • An assessment of whether enrollees are facing any difficulty accessing needed services for reasons of coverage or cost;
  • An assessment of whether the EHBs list needs to be modified or updated to account for changes in medical evidence or scientific advancement;
  • Information on how EHBs will be modified to address any such gaps in access or changes in the evidence base;
  • An assessment of the potential of additional or expanded benefits to increase costs and the interactions between the addition or expansion of benefits and reductions in existing benefits to meet actuarial limitations;

Despite this requirement, this formal review and report have never been undertaken or completed. The Senators stressed the need for this process in light of changes being made to care as the health care system shifts to a post-pandemic structure.

“We have heard from constituents who have concerns that coverage will start to vary based upon visit modality. For some specialized, complicated care—eating disorders, for example—it has always been challenging getting the most appropriate treatment covered, whether that’s because of parity or network issues,” the Senators continued. “We are concerned that modality will become one additional way barriers to treatment will be enacted, if arbitrary in-person requirements become one more way care is denied or delayed.”

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

Dear Secretary Becerra, Administrator Brooks-LaSure and Deputy Administrator Montz:

We thank you for your continued partnership in establishing and extending telehealth flexibilities to ensure Americans have access to vital health care services and supports over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we begin to envision health care policies post-pandemic, we remain concerned telehealth services will be significantly pared back, hindering access to care for millions of Americans—especially those with complicated health conditions.

According to federal statute, it is incumbent upon the Secretary to periodically review insurance plan Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) and provide a public report to Congress that contains 1) an assessment of whether enrollees are facing difficulty accessing needed services for reasons of coverage or costs; 2) an assessment of whether plan benefits need to be modified or updated to account for changes in medical evidence or scientific advancement; 3) information on how plan benefits will be modified to address any such gaps or changes in the evidence base; and 4) an assessment of potential of additional or expanded benefits to increase costs and the interactions between the addition of benefits and reductions in existing benefits.

We believe after 12 years of the ACA it is important that EHBs be formally reviewed and the mandated report be issued to the public and Congress, especially as your Administration is committed to maintaining and further strengthening the law’s protections. We urge you to undertake such a review and report, and in addition we urge you to ensure that visit modality is not one of the “reasons of coverage” for which “enrollees are facing difficulty accessing needed services.”

We have heard from constituents who have concerns that coverage will start to vary based upon visit modality. For some specialized, complicated care—eating disorders, for example—it has always been challenging getting the most appropriate treatment covered, whether that’s because of parity or network issues. We are concerned that modality will become one additional way barriers to treatment will be enacted, if arbitrary in-person requirements become one more way care is denied or delayed.

The Department addressed a delay in completing such a report to Congress in its 2019 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameter Final Rule, citing the need for further insurance market stabilization that the final rule would provide. Although we understand the difficulty of reviewing the markets as they continue to evolve, it is for that reason critical that the Administration review and report on EHBs so that we have an understanding of whether they continue to be adequate in an ever-evolving health care ecosystem. The health care system will not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is an opportunity to renew our commitment to comprehensive, affordable and accessible health care coverage. We respectfully request this report be conducted and issued to Congress to inform future health policy to better serve Americans.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to continuing to work with you on this very important issue.

###

Earlier this month, Apple publicly acknowledged that it is considering procuring NAND memory chips for future iPhones from Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. (YMTC), a state-owned company with extensive links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its armed wing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). 

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman and Vice Chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines calling for a public analysis and review of YMTC and the risks it presents to U.S. national security. 

  • “[W]e write to convey that any decision to partner with YMTC, no matter the intended market of the product offerings developed by such a partnership, would affirm and reward the PRC’s distortive and unfair trade practices, which undermine U.S. companies globally by creating significant advantages to Chinese firms at the expense of foreign competitors. Last year, the Biden Administration described YMTC as China’s ‘national champion memory chip producer,’ which supports the CCP’s efforts to counter U.S. innovation and leadership in this space.” 
  • “Policymakers have for several years now conveyed to the American public the importance of a competitive semiconductor industry to U.S. national and economic security. A partnership between Apple and YMTC would endanger this critical sector and risk nullifying efforts to support it, jeopardizing the health of chipmakers in the U.S. and allied countries and advancing Beijing’s goal of controlling the global semiconductor market. Buoyed by a major contract with a leading global equipment vendor such as Apple, YMTC’s success would threaten the 24,000 American jobs that support memory chip production. More broadly, such a partnership would also threaten the opportunities this market provides for research at U.S. universities and further development of memory chips for civilian and military uses.”

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) also signed the letter.

Full text of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Director Haines:

We write to convey our extreme concern about the possibility that Apple Inc. will soon procure 3D NAND memory chips from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-owned manufacturer Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. (YMTC). Such a decision would introduce significant privacy and security vulnerabilities to the global digital supply chain that Apple helps shape given YMTC’s extensive, but often opaque, ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and concerning PRC-backed entities. In addition, we write to convey that any decision to partner with YMTC, no matter the intended market of the product offerings developed by such a partnership, would affirm and reward the PRC’s distortive and unfair trade practices, which undermine U.S. companies globally by creating significant advantages to Chinese firms at the expense of foreign competitors. Last year, the Biden Administration described YMTC as China’s “national champion memory chip producer,” which supports the CCP’s efforts to counter U.S. innovation and leadership in this space. 

In July 2022, we wrote to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to warn of the threat YMTC poses to U.S. national security and to request that it be added to the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Entity List. We made these arguments based on the company’s central role in CCP efforts to supplant U.S. technological leadership, including through unfair trade practices. YMTC also appears to have strong ties to the PRC’s military-civil fusion program, as shown through its investors and partnerships; its parent company, Tsinghua Unigroup, allegedly supplies the PRC military.

The PRC has heavily subsidized YMTC for several years, enabling the company to rapidly expand production and sales in China and internationally. Since its formation in 2016, YMTC’s nearly $24 billion in PRC subsidies triggered explosive growth, helping to prepare the company’s plan to launch a second plant in Wuhan as early as the end of this year. At a time when overcapacity is potentially disrupting the market for chipmakers, these subsidies could enable YMTC to distort this often highly cyclical market, selling memory chips below cost in an effort to push out competitors. In addition, in April, reports alleged that YMTC may have breached the U.S.’s foreign direct product rule for supplying smartphone and electronics components to Huawei.

For these reasons, we request that you coordinate among the relevant intelligence community (IC) components a comprehensive review and analysis of YMTC and the threat that a suppler partnership arrangement between it and Apple would pose to U.S. national and economic security. The review should consider, among other issues:

  • How the CCP supports the YMTC as part of its plan to bolster and indigenize China’s semiconductor industry and to displace chipmakers from the United States and allied and partnered nations;
  • YMTC’s role in assisting other Chinese firms, including Huawei, to evade U.S. sanctions;
  • YMTC’s role in the PRC’s military-civil fusion program and its linkages to the People’s Liberation Army; and
  • The risks to U.S. national and economic security of this potential procurement.

Policymakers have for several years now conveyed to the American public the importance of a competitive semiconductor industry to U.S. national and economic security. A partnership between Apple and YMTC would endanger this critical sector and risk nullifying efforts to support it, jeopardizing the health of chipmakers in the U.S. and allied countries and advancing Beijing’s goal of controlling the global semiconductor market. Buoyed by a major contract with a leading global equipment vendor such as Apple, YMTC’s success would threaten the 24,000 American jobs that support memory chip production. More broadly, such a partnership would also threaten the opportunities this market provides for research at U.S. universities and further development of memory chips for civilian and military uses.

We once again request that you convene the relevant IC components to review and assess YMTC’s ties to the CCP and produce a comprehensive public report on YMTC, which can be used to inform federal agencies and the public as to the nature and risks associated with YMTC and similar companies.  

We look forward to your attention to this critical matter and request a response by October 1, 2022.

Sincerely,

###

 

WASHINGTON - Following unprecedented flooding that has left one-third of Pakistan underwater and affected approximately 33 million people, today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and 10 Senate colleagues in writing a letter calling on President Biden to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Pakistani nationals currently residing in the United States. Implementing TPS would allow Pakistani nationals to remain in the U.S. until Pakistan recovers from this environmental disaster. The ongoing crisis has left many regions of the country uninhabitable and unsafe, caused at least an estimated $10 billion in damage, and contaminated the water supply, spreading an array of waterborne illnesses, including diarrhea, malaria, acute respiratory infections, skin and eye infections, and typhoid.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Gillibrand, the letter to President Biden was also signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Tina Smith (D-MN).

“Granting TPS to Pakistani nationals in need is a small but consequential step that the United States can take to immediately reduce the human suffering caused by this natural disaster and would reaffirm our stance as a global leader committed to humanitarian relief efforts and protections,” wrote the senators. “Should Pakistan officially request TPS designation given the current conditions the country is facing, we urge the Biden administration to prioritize such a request while continuing to monitor ongoing developments and deliberate on the best way to aid the Pakistani community.”

This action is supported by the National Immigration Forum, Asian American Federation (AAF), the Climate Justice Collaborative at the National Partnership for New Americans, Communities United for Status and Protection (CUSP), and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).

The full text of the letter is available below:

Dear President Biden:

We write to respectfully urge your Administration to consider designating the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Unprecedented flooding in Pakistan is currently impacting approximately 33 million people and has killed more than 1,500 people, including 536 children. Given the severity of this crisis, the United States must ensure that Pakistani nationals present in the United States are not forced to return to conditions that could imperil their lives.

Current conditions in Pakistan represent an ongoing environmental disaster – one of the statutory bases for TPS designation. Extreme flooding has left most regions of the country uninhabitable and unsafe. According to data from the European Space Agency, approximately one-third of Pakistan is underwater. The Indus River is exceeding its capacity, which has led officials to evacuate entire villages in hopes of mitigating further disaster. Half of Pakistan’s municipal districts have declared a “state of calamity” and the country’s National Disaster Management Authority estimates that one in seven Pakistanis has been affected. According to Pakistan’s finance minister, the damage is likely to exceed $10 billion, which is equivalent to 4 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product.

Even as Pakistanis are reeling from the physical destruction caused by the flooding, they are also facing the spread of waterborne illness that this environmental crisis has exacerbated. Tens of thousands have been stricken by diarrhea, malaria, acute respiratory infections (ARI), skin and eye infections, typhoid, and other health issues resulting from contamination of the water supply. While we applaud your Administration’s decision to provide a much needed $30 million in humanitarian assistance and dispatch a USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team, further action is needed to mitigate the harmful effects of this crisis.

Forcing Pakistanis to return to a country that is experiencing what U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called a relentless impact of “epochal” levels of rain and flooding would be a grievous obstruction to relief efforts. It would also risk fueling further displacement, destabilizing the region, and undermining key U.S. national security interests.8 The use and implementation of TPS as a humanitarian tool would provide necessary relief to individuals that are unable to return to their country due to the extraordinary environmental and public health conditions. 

Additionally, designating Pakistan for TPS would also contribute to your Administration’s multi-pronged disaster response. It would decrease the strain on Pakistani infrastructure and provide a safe haven for those who cannot return to their homes or whose homes have been destroyed. Should Pakistan officially request TPS designation given the current conditions that the country is facing, we urge you to prioritize such a request and take it into serious consideration while you continue to monitor ongoing developments and deliberate on the best way to aid the Pakistani community. TPS is a small but consequential step that the United States can take to immediately reduce the human suffering caused by this natural disaster and would reaffirm our stance as a global leader committed to humanitarian relief efforts and protections.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your timely reply.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)  and more than 30 of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter to Senate leadership in support of closing the $3 billion funding shortfall impacting the Secure & Trusted Communications Networks Act’s Reimbursement Program. The shortfall leaves wireless networks—often in rural areas—vulnerable to espionage or disruption.

Due to security concerns, in 2020 the FCC prohibited the purchase of equipment manufactured by Chinese telecom companies Huawei and ZTE and also prohibited the use of FCC-administered funds to expand or maintain networks with Huawei or ZTE equipment already present.

The reimbursement program helps small telecommunications providers remove and replace suspect Chinese network equipment manufactured by Huawei and ZTE. If the funding shortfall for the program is not closed, the FCC will not be able to fully cover the costs of removing, disposing, and replacing suspect network equipment which will leave U.S. wireless networks vulnerable to espionage and disruption.

“The highest priority class of telecommunications providers in the Reimbursement Program serve the most rural areas of the United States where wireless connectivity is a vital lifeline to accessing telehealth services, receiving emergency notifications, and participating in the 21st century economy,” wrote the Senators.

The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act was enacted in 2020 and given a $1.9 billion appropriation for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help small network providers remove and replace high-risk network equipment. While the initial $1.9 billion was based on a voluntary survey of possible costs small network providers would incur, supply chain disruptions and additional program requirements (such as proper disposal of suspect equipment) added to the overall costs within the Reimbursement Program.

The bipartisan Senate support – thirty-four Senators! – in favor of a well-resourced Reimbursement Program sends a clear message, and I applaud the letter signatories, especially Senators Hickenlooper, Fischer, Peters, and Lummis, for their leadership on this critical national security issue. The funding shortfall must be addressed as soon as possible to ensure eligible small and rural carriers are adequately reimbursed for costs associated with removing, destroying, and replacing affected equipment. These carriers serve some of the most rural and hard-to-reach places across the country and, without adequate reimbursements, their ability to provide ongoing service to customers is seriously jeopardized,” said Steven K. Berry, president and CEO, Competitive Carriers Association (CCA).

Text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Leader Schumer and Leader McConnell,

We write to express our support for the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Reimbursement Program under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act (Secure Networks Act). The program’s success is critical to maintaining network resiliency in Rural America and our national security. Since the Secure Networks Act was signed into law in 2020, Congress has appropriated $1.9 billion to support the FCC’s ongoing implementation of the Secure Networks Act and the establishment of the Reimbursement Program to reimburse eligible small and rural telecommunications providers for costs associated with removing, destroying, and replacing “threats to the security of our nation’s communications networks posed by certain communications equipment providers.”

On February 4, 2022, the FCC announced providers, using guidance provided by the FCC, had requested close to $5.6 billion to remove and replace equipment in their networks—nearly three times more than a previous projection for the Reimbursement Program and creating a significant financial shortfall of $3.7 billion. On July 15, 2022, the FCC informed Congress that following an extensive review of applications submitted under the Reimbursement Program, the amount of supplemental funding needed to fully fund approved cost estimates is $3.08 billion. Pursuant to the Secure Networks Act, a funding shortfall requires the FCC issue a pro-rated reimbursement to eligible telecommunications providers—resulting in only 39.5% of funding for approved costs allocated for reimbursement.

The highest priority class of telecommunications providers in the Reimbursement Program serve the most rural areas of the United States where wireless connectivity is a vital lifeline to accessing telehealth services, receiving emergency notifications, and participating in the 21st century economy. Due to significant national security risks to U.S. communications infrastructure, the FCC has already prohibited monies from the Universal Service Fund (USF) from supporting the maintenance or expansion of any wireless network that has covered equipment from Huawei and ZTE present. While these actions are necessary, small rural wireless telecommunications providers rely upon USF funds, and rural America faces a perilous situation. Currently, rural wireless carriers may not maintain, service, or upgrade networks with USF with Huawei and ZTE equipment still present. We are jeopardizing vital communications networks nationwide and our national security.

Recognizing the importance of a well-resourced Reimbursement Program to maintaining critical telecommunications service in rural communities, we are committed to working with you on legislative solutions to promptly provide the financial resources necessary to mitigate national security vulnerabilities emanating from network equipment manufactured by untrusted companies such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to working with you to find a swift solution.

Sincerely,

 

 ###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) asking the agencies to explain their plan to ensure continuity of care for patients being prescribed controlled substances via COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) telemedicine flexibilities. The current PHE declaration is set to expire on October 13, 2022 without intervention from the Biden Administration. Upon expiration current access to certain prescribed medications via telemedicine appointments will be stopped in order to remain in accordance with the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008.

During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, DEA has waived certain requirements of the Haight Act, including in-person or Special Registration requirements in order to prescribe controlled substances via telehealth.

“At the onset of the COVID-19 PHE, I was pleased to see the DEA act swiftly to ensure that patients could continue to access medically necessary controlled substances, including treatment for opioid use disorder, via telehealth by waiving the requirement that the patient have a prior in-person visit, regardless of their location, for the duration of the PHE,” wrote Sen. Warner.

He continued, “In the more than two years since that flexibility was put into place, patients have successfully continued and established treatment virtually, without reports of widespread harm. The pandemic has shown that telehealth is an appropriate modality for a great deal of health care services, and that health care providers and their patients should be at the center of modality decision-making.”

Sen. Warner posed a series of questions to ensure that there is a plan to continue to provide uninterrupted service:

  1. Does DEA plan to extend any current waivers or flexibilities regarding prescribing controlled substances over telehealth beyond the expiration of the PHE?
    1. If so, in what way(s)?
    2. If not, why not? Would additional authorities from Congress be needed?
  2. For patients who are under the care of a health care provider and are at risk of such care being interrupted or terminated upon PHE expiration, what flexibility or assistance will DEA provide such provider and patient to ensure appropriate continuity of care after the expiration?
  3. As opioid overdoses and deaths continue to impact our communities, is DEA considering continuing some of these telehealth flexibilities under the ongoing nationwide opioid crisis Public Health Emergency designation?
    1. If so, what are the agency’s plans?
    2. If not, why not?
  4. It is unacceptable that Americans have waited 14 years for the Special Registration rule; as telehealth will continue to expand, what is DEA’s plan to ensure appropriate access to legitimate health care services prior to the rule being finalized and implemented?

Earlier this year, Sen. Warner pushed the DEA to finalize a special registration for providers to prescribe controlled substances over telehealth, which has been required by Congress for nearly 14 years. Following this push, the DEA has drafted a rule, which is currently waiting for White House approval.

Sen. Warner has been a consistent leader for expanding telehealth accessibility. In May of this year, Sen. Warner led a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers in legislation to expand telehealth services for patients undergoing dialysis. Sen. Warner was also an original co-sponsor of the 2016 Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, reintroduced in 2021, and has been a longtime advocate for the expansion of telehealth in order to ease access to health care. 

Sen. Warner has consistently pushed for the permanent expansion of telehealth services, writing letters to congressional leadership in June 2020 and February 2022. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Warner included a provision to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, telehealth expansion allows individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available nearby.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Attorney General Garland, and Administrator Milgram:

As we await release of the proposed rule to create the Special Registration for Telemedicine, as directed by Congress first in 2008 in the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act and subsequently in the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act and appropriations legislation, I am writing today to request information about the Drug Enforcement Administration’s plan to ensure continued patient access to care upon expiration of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).

At the onset of the COVID-19 PHE, I was pleased to see the DEA act swiftly to ensure that patients could continue to access medically necessary controlled substances, including treatment for opioid use disorder, via telehealth by waiving the requirement that the patient have a prior in-person visit, regardless of their location, for the duration of the PHE. In the more than two years since that flexibility was put into place, patients have successfully continued and established treatment virtually, without reports of widespread harm. The pandemic has shown that telehealth is an appropriate modality for a great deal of health care services, and that health care providers and their patients should be at the center of modality decision-making.

I am concerned for patients who are at risk of having their health care interrupted or terminated when DEA PHE flexibilities end. As you know, the goal of the Ryan Haight Act was not to stymie appropriate access to care, but to prevent illicit use and sale of controlled substances. To that end, it is critical that Congress understands what DEA’s plan is for the time between when the PHE expires and the Special Registration is implemented to ensure constituents receive the continued health care they need and deserve. Specifically, I would like to know:

(1)    Does DEA plan to extend any current waivers or flexibilities regarding prescribing controlled substances over telehealth beyond the expiration of the PHE?

  1. If so, in what way(s)?
  2. If not, why not? Would additional authorities from Congress be needed?

(2)    For patients who are under the care of a health care provider and are at risk of such care being interrupted or terminated upon PHE expiration, what flexibility or assistance will DEA provide such provider and patient to ensure appropriate continuity of care after the expiration?

(3)    As opioid overdoses and deaths continue to impact our communities, is DEA considering continuing some of these telehealth flexibilities under the ongoing nationwide opioid crisis Public Health Emergency designation?

  1. If so, what are the agency’s plans?
  2. If not, why not?

(4)    It is unacceptable that Americans have waited 14 years for the Special Registration rule; as telehealth will continue to expand, what is DEA’s plan to ensure appropriate access to legitimate health care services prior to the rule being finalized and implemented?

It is unacceptable that Americans have waited 14 years for the Special Registration rule; as telehealth will continue to expand, what is DEA’s plan to ensure appropriate access to legitimate health care services prior to the rule being finalized and implemented?

It is critical that the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Congress work together to ensure Americans receive the health care they need, both during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards. I also urge you to expeditiously finalize the rulemaking for the Special Registration, as directed by Congress. Thank you in advance for your attention to this request and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

cc: The Honorable Shalanda D. Young, Director, Office of Management and Budget

 

### 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined a bipartisan group of House and Senate members in a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig reiterating concerns regarding persistent customer services issues within the agency, and urging the IRS to eliminate the ongoing processing delays, improve customer service, extend the suspension of automated notices and collections, and continue making maximum use of overtime and surge teams.

“Since last year, numerous Members of Congress in the House and Senate have sent several letters regarding customer service issues, processing delays, and the outstanding backlog of returns,” wrote the bicameral group of lawmakers to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “Yet, we are writing again to urge the IRS to extend the suspension of automated collections, continue the pause on automated notices, keep its surge teams in place until hiring challenges and processing backlogs are adequately addressed.”

The lawmakers continued, “[W]e believe that the IRS must take additional steps to improve customer service issues, decrease processing delays, and work-down the backlog of paper returns and correspondence by continuing the maximum use of overtime and surge teams, as well as the continued suspension of automated notices and collections—which have been critical in reducing pandemic-related tax return and correspondence backlogs.”

The letter came just before the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act — legislation Sens. Warner and Kaine helped pass in the Senate—which provides funding to modernize IRS systems and improve customer service when paying taxes. This will help ensure the IRS has the resources it needs to process tax returns quickly, get rebates to taxpayers faster, and address challenges Americans have when filing taxes.

Sen. Warner has been pressing the IRS to address pandemic-related processing delays for the last two years. Sen. Warner first raised concerns over backlogs at the IRS in February 2021, as millions of Americans waited for delayed stimulus payments and processing of their tax returns. In January 2022, as the tax filing season opened, Sen. Warner again called on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commissioner Rettig to quickly address reports of unprocessed tax returns for the 2020 filing season. Later that month, Sens. Warner and Kaine called on the IRS to provide relief for taxpayers amidst the backlog – a request they again reiterated in a bipartisan and bicameral March letter.  

In April of this year Sen. Warner questioned Commissioner Rettig during a Senate Finance Committee hearing about IRS-backlog related issues regarding Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Additionally, in a separate hearing of the Committee, Sen. Warner questioned IRS National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins about the backlogs and about the measures being taken to address the situation, and joined colleagues in another letter to Commissioner Rettig urging immediate action to reduce backlogs and improve customer service during the 2022 filing season.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Commissioner Rettig:

Thank you for your continued work to eliminate the unprecedented backlog at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Since last year, numerous Members of Congress in the House and Senate have sent several letters regarding customer service issues, processing delays, and the outstanding backlog of returns. Several Members of Congress have urged you to provide penalty relief for taxpayers, have continually pressed the agency to pursue maximum overtime options for staff who are working on the backlog and on surge teams, and have asked the agency to deploy additional surge teams and other resources in an effective manner to reduce the backlog. Yet, we are writing again to urge the IRS to extend the suspension of automated collections, continue the pause on automated notices, keep its surge teams in place until hiring challenges and processing backlogs are adequately addressed.

In a Senate Finance Committee Hearing on April 7, 2022, you estimated that the IRS would return to a “healthy state” by the end of 2022 and that the IRS expected to hire 10,000 customer service representatives between this year and next year. Yet, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA), the paper return backlog has actually increased by 1.3 million from the same point as last year and that the IRS was only able to meet 12 percent of its hiring goals for processing center employees earlier this year. NTA also noted that the IRS has not met its 5,000 employee hiring goal for submission processing positions—falling short by 3,417 employees, and that while historically the IRS has paid refunds from paper returns in four to six weeks, refunds are currently taking six months or longer.

Accordingly, we believe that the IRS must take additional steps to improve customer service issues, decrease processing delays, and work-down the backlog of paper returns and correspondence by continuing the maximum use of overtime and surge teams, as well as the continued suspension of automated notices and collections—which have been critical in reducing pandemic-related tax return and correspondence backlogs. Additionally, the IRS must improve its recruitment and retention efforts to adequately address the backlog and increase levels of taxpayer service.

In order to gauge the extent of hiring and processing challenges still facing the Agency, we ask that you provide answers to the following questions no later than August 19, 2022:

Processing Backlogs:

  1. How do you plan to keep your promise to eliminate the backlog?
  2. What is a “healthy level” of unprocessed tax returns? How does this level align with average carryover levels, prior to the pandemic? Please provide the average carryover level over the ten years prior to FY2020, and the current carryover levels.
  3. How would you quantify a “manageable” carryover level? How does this compare to average carryover levels prior to the pandemic? Please provide a breakdown of average carryover levels for accounts management, submission processing, and returns in suspense.
  4. By how much do you estimate the carryover level will increase following the October 15, 2022 extension filing deadline?
  5. Do you believe your answers to questions 2-4 call your end-of-year estimate for a “healthy” IRS into question?
  6. For this filing season, what is the average refund delivery period? For comparison, please provide the average refund delivery period over the past ten years including the COVID-19 pandemic and excluding the COVID-19 pandemic.
  7. How long will the surge teams continue?  Will they continue through the end of the fiscal or calendar year, or beyond?
  8. What effect does the use of surge teams to process the backlog have on the IRS’ other activities, particularly answering phones?
  9. What steps is the Agency taking to speed up its processing of tax returns? Please specifically note whether the agency prioritizes the processing of returns with refunds.
  10. What is the status of IRS efforts to implement scanning technology, as recommended by the NTA?

Hiring Challenges:

  1. How many contractors is the IRS currently utilizing? How do contractors factor into the IRS’ stated hiring goals for submission processing and accounts management positions?

We appreciate your consideration of these requests and attention to these issues.

Sincerely,

### 

WASHINGTON – Today, the bipartisan senators from Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee sent a letter to Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), pressing for additional assistance to combat drug-trafficking in the Appalachian region.

“In Appalachia, law enforcement struggles to stem the tide of substance abuse,” wrote U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty (both R-TN). “In the words of then-Attorney General, William Barr, Appalachia has suffered the consequences of the opioid epidemic ‘more, perhaps, than any other region.’ In 2018, the overdose mortality rate for individuals ages 25-43 was 43 percent higher in Appalachia than the rest of the country. It is a region that needs the assistance that the HIDTA program was designed to provide.”

Since its creation in 1988, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) grant assistance program has provided for greater coordination and information sharing among federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies. These additional federal resources, allocated to areas deemed as critical drug trafficking regions, are essential in eliminating drug trafficking and its harmful consequences. ONDCP has the statutory authority to create new HIDTAs and add new counties to existing HIDTAs once it has received a formal petition from a coalition of law enforcement agencies.

Despite the enormous need, historically the Appalachian HIDTA has only gained approval for approximately 30 percent of petitions submitted. In the most recent round of designations, no counties within the Appalachian HIDTA – which encompasses Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Southwest Virginia – received the sought-after designation.

“This fact, juxtaposed with the region’s manifest need, suggests strongly that the process of awarding needs to be revisited,” the senators wrote in their letter to ONDCP. “Counties in the Appalachian HIDTA would benefit from the expansion of this program into their communities and it would be of immense help to the law enforcement agencies serving them and surrounding areas. As ONDCP reviews HIDTA designation petitions from Appalachia, we ask that you consider the devastating impacts of illegal drugs in the region in order to effectively disrupt and dismantle trafficking organizations and reduce drug-related crime.”

Concluded the senators, “We urge ONDCP to review its criteria to ensure that hard-hit regions like Appalachia remain competitive for HIDTA designations. We further request a written response describing the results of this review be provided in a timely manner.”

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Dr. Gupta:

We write today regarding the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and certain deficiencies in the designation process for counties in the Appalachian region.

Since its creation in 1988, the HIDTA grant assistance program has provided for greater coordination and information sharing among federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies. These additional federal resources, allocated to areas deemed as critical drug trafficking regions, are essential in eliminating drug trafficking and its harmful consequences.

As you know, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act) provides ONDCP the statutory authority to create new HIDTAs and add new counties to existing HIDTAs once it has received a formal petition from a coalition of law enforcement agencies. HIDTA designation is determined by four criteria, which include an evidence based description detailing the extent of illegal drug activity, the impact on the area and the United States, existing efforts to curtail it, and the increased need for federal resources to respond adequately to the area’s drug-related activities.

In Appalachia, law enforcement struggles to stem the tide of substance abuse. In the words of then-Attorney General William Barr, Appalachia has suffered the consequences of the opioid epidemic “more, perhaps, than any other region.” In 2018, the overdose mortality rate for individuals ages 25-43 was 43% higher in Appalachia than the rest of the country.  It is a region that needs the assistance that the HIDTA program was designed to provide.

Yet, historically, the Appalachian HIDTA has only gained approval for approximately 30% of petitions submitted. And in this most recent round of designations, no counties within the Appalachian HIDTA received the sought after designation. This fact, juxtaposed with the region’s manifest need, suggests strongly that the process of awarding the designation needs to be revisited.

Counties in the Appalachian HIDTA would benefit from the expansion of this program into their communities and it would be of immense help to the law enforcement agencies serving them and surrounding areas. As ONDCP reviews HIDTA designation petitions from Appalachia, we ask that you consider the devastating impacts of illegal drugs in the region in order to effectively disrupt and dismantle trafficking organizations and reduce drug-related crime.

We urge ONDCP to review its criteria to ensure that hard hit regions like Appalachia remain competitive for HIDTA designations. We further request that a written response describing the results of this review be provided in a timely manner.

### 

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, alongside Reps. Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), Don Beyer (VA-08), and Gerry Connolly (VA-11), pressed President Biden to raise Asim Ghafoor’s detention with the highest levels of the Emirati government and advocate for his fair and humane treatment. Asim Ghafoor—a U.S. citizen and Virginia resident—was reportedly tried in absentia, detained without notice of his conviction, and sentenced to prison on to-date unsubstantiated charges by United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities.

Ghafoor was a close personal friend of and reportedly served as legal counsel to Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered by Saudi officials in 2018, in an operation that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) assessed was approved by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

“…[W]e strongly urge you and your Administration to raise Mr. Ghafoor’s case immediately at the highest levels of the Emirati government and advocate for his fair treatment, including assurances regarding his health and safety while in Emirati custody. It is critical the Administration makes clear that the hasty detention of U.S. citizens like Mr. Ghafoor cannot become normalized as an appropriate tactic of U.S. partners,” the lawmakers wrote.

“We welcomed the Department of State’s July 18, 2022, statement that the United States had ‘not sought’ Ghafoor’s arrest. However, absent concrete evidence of Ghafoor’s alleged criminal behavior, the UAE’s repeated claim that this arrest was conducted in coordination with the United States government in order to ‘combat transnational crimes’ raises concerns about oversight of U.S. involvement in that partnership,” they continued.

Additionally, the lawmakers requested that the Biden Administration:

  1. Call on Emirati authorities to allow Mr. Ghafoor regular access to his family and to his attorneys;
  2. Ensure that the U.S. embassy continues to receive consular visits with Mr. Ghafoor and that U.S. embassy staff are permitted to attend all trial proceedings;
  3. Confirm with UAE officials that Mr. Ghafoor will receive humane and fair treatment while in Emirati custody, including immediate access to required medical care; and
  4. Solicit additional information from the Emirati government regarding the legal proceedings against Mr. Ghafoor, in order to determine if his arrest should be considered a wrongful detention or act of transnational repression.

Full text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Mr. President,

We request your Administration’s urgent attention to the recent detention of U.S. citizen and Virginia resident Mr. Asim Ghafoor by United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities. Mr. Ghafoor was convicted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on currently unsubstantiated charges of money laundering and tax evasion, in absentia and, reportedly, without his knowledge. Mr. Ghafoor was detained by UAE authorities on July 14, 2022, while transiting Dubai International Airport, and was sentenced to three years in prison on July 16, 2022. The UAE’s decision to detain Mr. Ghafoor – without notice or opportunity to seek legal counsel – represents a gross violation of his due process rights.

Mr. Ghafoor is a board member for the nonprofit organization Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN), which advocates for democratic reforms in the Middle East and has at times criticized the Emirati government. In his capacity as an attorney, Mr. Ghafoor is reported to have represented his friend Mr. Jamal Khashoggi, who was also a Virginian and who was brutally murdered by Saudi officials in 2018. Noting your July 16, 2022, meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan and your invitation for him to visit the United States by the end of this year, as well as the close relationship between the Saudi and Emirati governments, we strongly urge you and your Administration to raise Mr. Ghafoor’s case immediately at the highest levels of the Emirati government and advocate for his fair treatment, including assurances regarding his health and safety while in Emirati custody. It is critical the Administration makes clear that the hasty detention of U.S. citizens like Mr. Ghafoor cannot become normalized as an appropriate tactic of U.S. partners.

The UAE has claimed the United States played a role in Mr. Ghafoor’s detention, and as such we further urge your Administration to clarify the nature of the United States’ potential involvement. We welcomed the Department of State’s July 18, 2022, statement that the United States had “not sought” Ghafoor’s arrest. However, absent concrete evidence of Ghafoor’s alleged criminal behavior, the UAE’s repeated claim that this arrest was conducted in coordination with the United States government in order to “combat transnational crimes,” raises concerns about oversight of U.S. involvement in that partnership.

As your Administration works to ensure that Mr. Ghafoor is treated humanely and fairly, we respectfully request that you take the following interim measures:

  1. Call on Emirati authorities to allow Mr. Ghafoor regular access to his family and to his attorneys.
  2. Ensure that the U.S. embassy continues to receive consular visits with Mr. Ghafoor and that U.S. embassy staff are permitted to attend all trial proceedings.
  3. Confirm with UAE officials that Mr. Ghafoor will receive humane and fair treatment while in Emirati custody, including immediate access to required medical care.
  4. Solicit additional information from the Emirati government regarding the legal proceedings against Mr. Ghafoor, in order to determine if his arrest should be considered a wrongful detention or act of transnational repression.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to formally investigate TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance. The call comes in response to recent reports that the social media platform has permitted TikTok engineers and executives in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to repeatedly access private data of US users despite repeated claims to lawmakers and users that this data was protected. This includes instances where staff based in the United States had to consult with their China-based colleagues for information about U.S. user data as they did not have access to the data on their own. These revelations undermine longstanding claims by TikTok’s management that the company’s operations were firewalled from demands of the Chinese Communist Party.

“We write in response to public reports that individuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been accessing data on U.S. users, in contravention of several public representations, including sworn testimony in October 2021,” the senators wrote in a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan. “In light of this new report, we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counter-intelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The report also highlights TikTok’s misrepresentation of the company’s relationship to ByteDance and its subsidiaries, including Beijing-based ByteDance Technology, which is partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The senators continued, “TikTok’s Trust and Safety department was aware of these improper access practices and governance irregularities, which – according to internal recordings of TikTok deliberations – offered PRC-based employees unfettered access to user information, including birthdates, phone numbers, and device identification information. Recent updates to TikTok’s privacy policy, which indicate that TikTok may be collecting biometric data such as faceprints and voiceprints (i.e. individually-identifiable image and audio data, respectively), heighten the concern that data of U.S. users may be vulnerable to extrajudicial access by security services controlled by the CCP.”

As Chairman and Vice Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sens. Warner and Rubio have been vocal about the cyber and national security threats posed by the CCP. In 2019, the senators introduced legislation to combat tech-specific threats to national security posed by foreign actors like China.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Chairwoman Khan:

We write in response to public reports that individuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been accessing data on U.S. users, in contravention of several public representations, including sworn testimony in October 2021. In an interview with the online publication Cyberscoop, the Global Chief Security Officer for TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, made a number of public representations on the data security practices of TikTok, including unequivocal claims that the data of American users is not accessible to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government of the PRC. As you know, TikTok’s privacy practices are already subject to a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, based on its improper collection and processing of personal information from children. In light of this new report, we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counter-intelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Additionally, these recent reports suggest that TikTok has also misrepresented its corporate governance practices, including to Congressional committees such as ours. In October 2021, TikTok’s head of public policy, Michael Beckerman, testified that TikTok has “no affiliation” with another ByteDance subsidiary, Beijing-based ByteDance Technology, of which the CCP owns a partial stake. Meanwhile, as recently as March of this year, TikTok officials reiterated to our Committee representations they have previously made that all corporate governance decisions are wholly firewalled from their PRC-based parent, ByteDance. Yet according to a recent report from Buzzfeed News, TikTok’s engineering teams ultimately report to ByteDance leadership in the PRC. 

According to this same report, TikTok’s Trust and Safety department was aware of these improper access practices and governance irregularities, which – according to internal recordings of TikTok deliberations – offered PRC-based employees unfettered access to user information, including birthdates, phone numbers, and device identification information. Recent updates to TikTok’s privacy policy, which indicate that TikTok may be collecting biometric data such as faceprints and voiceprints (i.e. individually-identifiable image and audio data, respectively), heighten the concern that data of U.S. users may be vulnerable to extrajudicial access by security services controlled by the CCP.

A series of national security laws imposed by the CCP, including the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law provide extensive and extra-judicial access opportunities for CCP-controlled security services. Under these authorities, the CCP may compel access, regardless of where data is ultimately stored. While TikTok has suggested that migrating to U.S.-based storage from a U.S. cloud service provider alleviates any risk of unauthorized access, these latest revelations raise concerns about the reliability of TikTok representations: since TikTok will ultimately control all access to the cloud-hosted systems, the risk of access to that data by PRC-based engineers (or CCP security services) remains significant in light of the corporate governance irregularities revealed by BuzzFeed News. Moreover, as the recent report makes clear, the majority of TikTok data – including content posted by users as well as their unique IDs– will remain freely accessible to PRC-based ByteDance employees.

In light of repeated misrepresentations by TikTok concerning its data security, data processing, and corporate governance practices, we urge you to act promptly on this matter.

Sincerely, 

### 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) led a group of their colleagues in sending a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure expressing their strong support for a CMS proposal that encourages hospitals to buy American products and bolsters American mask manufacturers to help prevent future shortages of lifesaving personal protective equipment. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the shortage of American made, medical use-approved masks that are essential for the protection of healthcare workers, and the proposed effort by CMS will help prevent future shortages and support American manufacturers.

“It is critically important now and moving forward for our country to possess a ready-supply of NIOSH-approved surgical N95 respirators and raw material inputs that are wholly domestically made,” said the senators. “U.S. companies and their workers are ready to support this effort, and we applaud your work to ensure that hospitals and health systems have the resources needed to buy American-made masks.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Bob Casey (D-PA).

The full letter can be found here or below:

The Honorable Chiquita Brooks-LaSure
Administrator
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
7500 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21244

Dear Administrator Brooks La-Sure:

We write to express our strong support for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposal to bolster American mask manufacturers and encourage hospitals to buy American. Specifically, we appreciate CMS’ recognition of the need for a robust domestic supply of surgical N95 respirators in its Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Medicare Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) proposed rule. It is critically important that the agency move forward with a final rule that would provide payment adjustments to support hospitals’ purchase of domestically produced NIOSH-approved surgical N95 respirators.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, American hospitals faced severe shortages of NIOSH-approved surgical N95 respirators. These surgical respirators are essential for the protection of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and those who provide care to patients, and we must do everything we can to prevent future shortages. Thankfully, for the past two years, American companies and American workers have retooled manufacturing lines to meet the need for this essential product. The entrepreneurship and patriotism of these companies has saved lives, and we now have dozens more manufacturers of N95 respirators, their components and raw materials, based here in the United States than we did before the pandemic, when less than 10 percent of N95 respirators were manufactured domestically.

Unfortunately, too many U.S.-based manufacturers are struggling to exist as hospitals and health systems continue to grapple with the choice between purchasing more expensive domestically-made N95s or cheaper masks made in China. We agree that implementation of a payment adjustment for purchases of wholly domestically made NIOSH-approved surgical N95 respirators would help sustain “a level of supply resilience for surgical N95 respirators that is critical to protect the health and safety of personnel and patients in a public health emergency.” Both approaches outlined by the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) proposed rule would improve our nationwide preparedness for future threats, promote the safety of providers and patients, and bolster our domestic manufacturing supply chains by supporting our Made in America economy. Further, we encourage CMS to examine ways to incentivize purchases of other domestically manufactured PPE, including surgical and isolation gowns, face masks, face shields, and eyewear, during future rulemaking.

It is critically important now and moving forward for our country to possess a ready-supply of NIOSH-approved surgical N95 respirators and raw material inputs that are wholly domestically made. U.S. companies and their workers are ready to support this effort, and we applaud your work to ensure that hospitals and health systems have the resources needed to buy American-made masks.

Sincerely,

###

 

WASHINGTON – With summer break already underway in a number of school districts across Virginia, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and 30 of their Senate colleagues in a push to extend the child nutrition waivers that have kept many children from going hungry throughout the pandemic, both during the school year and in the summer. In the letter, the Senators stress the need for Congress to extend these programs before the waivers expire on June 30, 2022, as well as create a nationwide Summer EBT program and expand community eligibility (CEP) – a flexible meal service option for school districts in low-income areas. 

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the child nutrition programs and the role they play in keeping hunger at bay for millions of children across the country. As schools close for summer across the country, families will soon lose access to free school meals and be faced with the prospect of increased food insecurity, weight gain, and learning disruptions,” wrote the Senators. “As Congress develops legislation to support families impacted by high food costs, we must help ease the burden of these challenges and ensure that these child nutrition programs can fully meet children’s nutritional needs while they are at school, afterschool and summer programs, and childcare.”

"More must be done to fuel children's health and learning as millions of families continue to struggle with the fallout of COVID-19. Extending the child nutrition waivers, expanding community eligibility, and creating a nationwide Summer EBT program are surefire ways for our nation's children to have access to the nutrition they need to grow and thrive in the classroom and beyond," said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). “We call on Congress to act quickly and include these provisions in any upcoming legislative vehicle. Hungry children can’t wait.”

“In a typical year, Boys & Girls Clubs across the country serve 95 million meals and snacks to kids at no cost. Clubs also continually adapt to support the needs of communities during times of crisis including during the peak of the pandemic, providing more than 24 million meals to nearly a half million families nationwide," said Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. "Extending the child nutrition waivers is critical to support the essential needs of kids, families, and communities still recovering from the economic and social impacts of the last two years.  We urge Congress to make child nutrition and hunger a priority by extending the waiver authority and investing in programs that keep youth healthy, safe, and learning.”

“Summer is underway and YMCAs across the country are working to get healthy meals to every child in need. This summer, only 1 in 7 eligible children will have access to these meals, and Congress’ unwillingness to extend child nutrition waivers beyond June 30 is hampering our ability to provide meals when kids need them most," said Suzanne McCormick, President and CEO of YMCA of the USA. “We need to be able to use every possible tool to feed kids this summer, so the recommendations outlined by Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues cannot be passed soon enough. We are hopeful Congress works to enact these provisions, which will help ensure that every child has a summer free of hunger.”

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, and Gillibrand this letter was signed by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jeffrey Merkley (D-OR), and Chris Murphy (D-CT).

This letter is endorsed by Food Research & Action Center, YMCA of the USA, Afterschool Alliance, Boys & Girls Club of America, Feeding America, School Nutrition Association, American Heart Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, First Focus Campaign for Children, MomsRising, Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Parent Teacher Association, National Farm to School Network, School Superintendents Association, Save the Children, National Education Association, National Center for Health Research, Healthy Food America, Food Corps, Community Food Advocates, National CACFP Association, Society of Behavioral Medicine, Center for Food Equity & Economic Development, California Association of Food Banks, Healthy Schools Campaign, Voices for Georgia’s Children, and Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been vocal about the need to ensure that children have continuous access to healthy meals. In April, they introduced the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act – legislation to grant the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) additional flexibility so that schools and summer meal sites can stay open.

Full text of the letter is available here or below. 

Dear Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, and Leader McCarthy,

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the child nutrition programs, and the role they play in keeping hunger at bay for millions of children across the country. As schools closed across the country, families faced the same challenges they face every summer when they lose access to free school meals: increased food insecurity, weight gain, and learning disruptions.

As the Senate develops legislation to support families being impacted by high food costs and provide pandemic relief, we ask that it include the following three things in any upcoming packages to help ensure that the child nutrition programs are able to support recovery from the impact of the pandemic. School children have to have access to the nutrition they need to grow and thrive while they are at school and during the summer. These provisions will also set the stage for a much stronger Child Nutrition Reauthorization that can take additional steps to ensure that the child nutrition programs are able to fully meet children’s nutritional needs while they are at school, afterschool and summer programs, and in childcare. 

  • Extend the Child Nutrition Waivers. The waiver authority that we provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 has allowed school nutrition programs, local government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to keep feeding children in the face of the numerous challenges the pandemic created by providing the necessary program flexibility. In addition, the waivers have been a critical support to school nutrition programs. According to a USDA survey of school nutrition programs during School Year 2021-2022 school year, 90 percent used the Seamless Summer Option, 92 percent reported supply chain challenges, and nearly one in four school nutrition departments reported staffing challenges[1] ; while 51% of afterschool and summer providers reported staffing challenges.[2]
  • Expand Community Eligibility. Community eligibility offers an important and viable path forward for schools as they transition from pandemic operations. For the schools that adopted it prior to the pandemic, it transformed their school breakfast and lunch programs, allowing schools to offer meals to all students at no charge, which reduces paperwork for schools and families, and eliminates unpaid school meal fees. Most importantly, it ensures that all students have access to the nutritious meals at school that they need to learn and thrive. Under the current rules, too many high need schools are not eligible. For schools that are eligible, the reimbursement structure can keep them from adopting community eligibility. Congress should lower the eligibility threshold to make more schools eligible to implement community eligible and increase the funding (raising the multiplier from 1.6 to 2.5) so that more schools are able to implement community eligibility. And as a growing number of states move to create statewide programs that offer school meals to all students at no charge, offering a statewide community eligibility option can support those efforts.
  • Create a Nationwide Summer EBT Program. This approach offers an important way to complement the Summer Nutrition Programs. When schools close, families lose access to healthy free or reduced-price school meals for their children. The result is increased food insecurity among families with children. The existing summer nutrition programs are designed to replace school meals and often support much-needed summer programming, but the reach of these meals is too low. Prior to the pandemic, just one child for every seven who count on free or reduced-price school meals during the school year were served a summer meal. A nationwide Summer EBT program would provide families an EBT card to purchase food when schools are closed. Evaluations of Summer EBT demonstrations have found that they reduce food insecurity and improve nutrition.

We look forward to working with you to include these provisions in the upcoming legislative vehicles being developed by Congress.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) led colleagues in a letter to the CEO of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google, Sundar Pichai, urging him to take action to prevent misleading Google search results and ads that lead to anti-abortion clinics.

In the letter, the lawmakers note that 37 percent of Google Maps results and 11 percent of Google search results for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” in states with so-called “trigger laws” – laws that would effectively ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned – were for anti-abortion clinics. Additionally, 28 percent of Google ads displayed at the top of search results were for anti-abortion clinics. Amid a draft opinion of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe and the passage of several state laws that would curtail access to reproductive health care, the lawmakers are pushing for quick action to display accurate information.

“Directing women towards fake clinics that traffic in misinformation and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results,” wrote the lawmakers. “Google should not be displaying anti-abortion fake clinics or crisis pregnancy centers in search results for users that are searching for an ‘abortion clinic’ or ‘abortion pill.’ If Google must continue showing these misleading results in search results and Google Maps, the results should, at the very least, be appropriately labeled.”

In addition to Sen. Warner and Rep. Slotkin, the letter was also signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Tina Smith (D-MN). It was also signed by Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Jason Crow (D-CO), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Katie Porter (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Jackie Speier (D-CA).

The lawmakers requested Sundar Pichai respond to the letter and provide:

1.      A plan to limit anti-abortion clinics in Google search results, ads, and Maps

2.      A plan to add disclaimers that clearly indicate whether a search result does or does not provide abortions

3.      Information on Google’s attempts to provide accurate search results pertaining to health care

Sen. Warner has been a longtime supporter of both abortion rights and increasing transparency online. He is a cosponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade, and several pieces of tech legislation that would promote transparency and curb manipulative patterns.

Text of the letter is below. 

Dear Mr. Pichai,

We write today regarding disturbing new reports that Google has been directing users who search for abortion services towards anti-abortion ‘fake clinics,’ also known as ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ or ‘pregnancy resource centers’ without any disclaimer indicating these businesses do not provide abortions and seek to steer women away from certain health decisions. In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, we find these reports especially concerning and would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.

According to research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a U.S.-based nonprofit that fights online hate and misinformation, 11% of results for searches for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” in states with so-called ‘Trigger Laws’ – laws that would effectively ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned – were for anti-abortion fake clinics. Directing women towards fake clinics that traffic in misinformation and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results.

This problem is even more pronounced on Google Maps, where CCDH found that 37% of search results were for anti-abortion fake clinics. Google should not be displaying anti-abortion fake clinics or crisis pregnancy centers in search results for users that are searching for an ‘abortion clinic’ or ‘abortion pill.’ If Google must continue showing these misleading results in search results and Google Maps, the results should, at the very least, be appropriately labeled.

CCDH also found that 28% of Google Ads displayed at the top of search results were for anti-abortion fake clinics. Since facing criticism over misleading ads related to anti-abortion fake clinics in 2019, Google has provided a disclaimer – albeit one that appears in small font and is easily missed – for ads from anti-abortion fake clinics. However, no such warning is present on non-sponsored search results on Google Search. The prevalence of these misleading ads marks what appears to be a concerning reversal from Google’s pledge in 2014 to take down ads from crisis pregnancy centers that engage in overt deception of women seeking out abortion information online.

Given this disturbing research, we would appreciate answers to the following questions:

1.       What steps will Google take to limit the appearance of anti-abortion fake clinics or so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ in Google search results, Google Ads, and on Google Maps when users search for “abortion clinic,” “abortion pill,” or similar terms?

2.       If Google will not take action to prevent anti-abortion fake clinics from appearing in search results, will Google add user-friendly disclaimers that clearly indicate whether or not a search result does or does not provide abortions?

3.       What additional steps will Google take to ensure that users are receiving accurate information when they search for health care services like abortion on Google Search and Google Maps when users search for “abortion clinic,” “abortion pill,” or similar terms?

We urge you to take action to rectify these issues and help ensure women seeking health care services are directed to the basic information they request. Many thanks for your consideration, and we look forward to your timely response.  

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Sherrod Brown (D-OH) encouraged the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to continue focusing on improving human capital disclosures and on reforms that would ensure shareholders can properly evaluate public companies’ human capital practices and investments in their workers. The letter urges the SEC to implement the recommendations included in a petition from the Working Group on Human Capital Accounting Disclosure, which seeks to level the playing field between investments in workers and investments in physical equipment.

“As the Commission considers improvements to Regulation S-K and human capital disclosure, the working group’s recommendations would go a long way in ensuring shareholders can properly evaluate public companies’ human capital practices and investments in their workers. Strengthening human capital disclosure is needed to reflect the modern economy, where public firms are increasingly deriving their value from intangible assets,” the senators wrote. 

They continued, “Human capital does not receive the same treatment as even R&D in this respect, placing spending on workers at a further disadvantage. Unlike R&D, human capital spending is included as part of a company’s administrative expenses and not as a stand-alone item. As a result, investors are not given the information to differentiate between a firm with poor human capital management and one that is making a concerted effort to invest in its workforce to increase worker capability and performance.”

On June 7, 2022 the Working Group on Human Capital Accounting Disclosures petitioned the Commission to improve human capital disclosures including the following recommendations: 

  1. Requiring managers to disclose, in the Management’s Discussion & Analysis section of Form 10-K, what portion of investments in workers should be considered as an investment in the firm’s future growth to allow investors to distinguish between labor expenses and value-adding investments, like training or upskilling;
  2. Treating workforce costs similar to investments in R&D by ensuring workforce costs are disclosed; and
  3. Disaggregating labor costs to allow investors to clearly understand employees’ job function, expected value creation, and contributions to their company.

Since 2018, Sen. Warner has stressed the importance of updating human capital disclosure requirements to reflect the priorities of modern companies. Sen. Warner has long focused on prioritizing better reporting on human capital management and on making sure that companies are not discouraged – based on accounting or reporting rules – from investing in their workers. In a May 2020 letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Sen. Warner and Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) urged the SEC to require that human capital management information be 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.

In May 2021, Sen. Warner and Rep. Axne reintroduced the Workforce Investment Disclosure Act to require public companies to disclose crucial workforce management metrics, including investments made in skills training, workforce safety, and employee retention. Sen. Warner also leads legislation, the Investing in American Workers Act, modeled on the R&D tax credit to further incentivize investments in companies’ most important asset, their workers.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Chairman Gensler,

We are writing to urge the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to adopt the recommendations included in the Working Group on Human Capital Accounting Disclosure’s petition to the Commission on June 7, 2022. As the Commission considers improvements to Regulation S-K and human capital disclosure, the working group’s recommendations would go a long way in ensuring shareholders can properly evaluate public companies’ human capital practices and investments in their workers. Strengthening human capital disclosure is needed to reflect the modern economy, where public firms are increasingly deriving their value from intangible assets.

We applaud the SEC for working on improvements to human capital disclosures as part of its regulatory agenda. In 2018, Senator Warner urged the Commission to focus on the treatment of human capital and noted the significant discrepancy between the treatment of physical investments and spending on human capital and research and development (R&D). A physical investment can be listed on a balance sheet and is often capitalized, whereas human capital and R&D investments are expensed. R&D is disclosed on its own expenditure line – reflective of its importance for firms’ valuation, competitiveness, and long-term performance – so that investors can assess company expenditures on R&D separately from other firm costs.

Human capital does not receive the same treatment as even R&D in this respect, placing spending on workers at a further disadvantage. Unlike R&D, human capital spending is included as part of a company’s administrative expenses and not as a stand-alone item. As a result, investors are not given the information to differentiate between a firm with poor human capital management and one that is making a concerted effort to invest in its workforce to increase worker capability and performance. The strengthened human capital disclosure must be focused on the discrepancy laid out above.

To do so, we respectfully urge the SEC to adopt the Working Group’s recommendations to improve human capital disclosures. Those recommendations include:

  1. Requiring managers to disclose, in the Management’s Discussion & Analysis section of Form 10-K, what portion of investments in workers should be considered as an investment in the firm’s future growth to allow investors to distinguish between labor expenses and value-adding investments, like training or upskilling;
  2. Treating workforce costs similar to investments in R&D by ensuring workforce costs are disclosed; and
  3. Disaggregating labor costs to allow investors to clearly understand employees’ job function, expected value creation, and contributions to their company.

These quantifiable and comparable disclosures would significantly improve investors’ ability to understand firms’ human capital practices. While there are tradeoffs and costs associated with mandating additional disclosures, firms already collect most of this information for tax reporting. In addition, few could argue that these disclosures would be unimportant for investors, particularly at a time when public companies’ value is increasingly determined by intangible assets like its workforce.

We look forward to continued engagement with the SEC on this critical issue, and appreciate your consideration of these recommendations as the Commission moves forward with updating Regulation S-K to strengthen human capital disclosures. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a letter to Mr. Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), asking for a study on supporting the technology modernization needs of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs). This study – part of a suite of efforts by the Senator to support CDFIs and MDIs – would help lay the groundwork for additional measures related to CDFI and MDI technology modernization. Sen. Warner was joined in sending the letter by House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA).

“In the Federal Reserve’s annual survey of CDFIs, more than 75% of CDFIs indicated they were unable to provide all the products or services they would like to offer on a sustained basis. In addition to further federal capital support, increasing access to technology tools will play a critical role as CDFIs and MDIs begin to leverage the historic funding provided by Congress. Technology resources can further empower community-based lenders with deep expertise and an understanding of their communities’ needs,” wrote the lawmakers. “There have been several private-sector and philanthropic efforts and partnerships to support technology investments in CDFIs and MDIs. In addition, several think tanks and policy organizations have highlighted these investments as a critical need for supporting CDFIs, MDIs, and the communities they serve. We are requesting GAO examine the scope of CDFIs and MDIs’ needs in technology and what else the federal government could do to support those needs.”

Beyond capital and staffing constraints, another significant barrier for CDFIs and MDIs is access to technology, because the cost to implement new systems is expensive and difficult to prioritize against the more immediate challenges of raising capital, staffing, and delivering for their communities. However, CDFIs and MDIs’ experience with the Paycheck Protection Program showed that technology investments can increase efficiency, support more lending, and improve the ability of these institutions to serve their communities.

To combat the hemorrhaging of jobs and economic opportunities during the pandemic, Sen. Warner has been a leader in Congress for CDFIs and MDIs. Most recently, Sen. Warner introduced legislation with Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to deliver more long-term patient capital for CDFIs.

Sen. Warner also led successful efforts to secure a historic, $12 billion investment in CDFIs and MDIs in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020. Of that $12 billion, $9 billion was used to create the Emergency Capital Investment Program (ECIP) to make tier one capital investments in depository CDFIs and MDIs. The Department of Treasury began to close on ECIP investments earlier this year and is expected to be finished closing its investments in the coming months. The remaining $3 billion in grant funding is also in the process of being fully distributed. On June 15, 2021, Treasury awarded the first tranche of $1.25 billion through the Rapid Response Program to 863 CDFIs. In addition, this week, Treasury opened the Equitable Recovery Program, the remaining $1.75 billion, up for applications.

A copy of the letter is available here.


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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and his Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg highlighting the skyrocketing rates of motor vehicle fatalities and the need for swift action to reverse this trend.

The United States ranked first among 34 countries for the largest percentage increase in traffic fatalities in 2020. In the letter, the lawmakers note that nearly half of fatal crashes in 2021 can be linked to speeding, alcohol-impaired driving, or failure to use a seat belt. Additionally, the senators point out that dangerous roads also impact those outside the vehicle, with motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists accounting for 34 percent of all traffic fatalities in the past year.

“In May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, up 10.5 percent since 2020 and a shocking 32 percent since 2011,” wrote the senators. “Despite new technology and safety features, roads are becoming more dangerous for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other roadway users. We urge the Department of Transportation to continue to prioritize roadway safety and promptly employ new regulatory authorities Congress provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to reverse this disturbing trend.”

In addition to Sens. Warner and Markey, the letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The lawmakers requested Secretary Buttigieg respond to the letter, specifically to provide:

1. Clarification on the plan to implement the National Roadway Safety Strategy;

2. Explanation of the Department’s use of existing resources and authorities to meet or beat deadlines for issuing auto safety rules;

3. Explanation of lessons the Department has taken from other countries to reduce traffic fatalities.

Sen. Warner has been a national leader on transportation issues as one of the chief authors of the landmark bipartisan infrastructure legislation signed into law by President Biden last year.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Secretary Buttigieg,

We write with grave concerns about the skyrocketing number of motor vehicle fatalities in the United States. In May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, up 10.5 percent since 2020 and a shocking 32 percent since 2011. Despite new technology and safety features, roads are becoming more dangerous for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other roadway users. We urge the Department of Transportation to continue to prioritize roadway safety and promptly employ new regulatory authorities Congress provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to reverse this disturbing trend.

Motor vehicle crashes remain one of the most common causes of death in the United States. Faced with an epidemic of traffic fatalities during the mid-twentieth century, Congress directed regulators to impose new safety requirements on automakers, including mandating that new cars include seatbelts and airbags, among other commonsense changes. Subsequently, motor vehicle fatalities declined, both in absolute figures and relative to total miles driven. Traffic fatalities dropped from more than 50,000 annually during the early 1970s to under 40,000 each year by 2008, and the fatality rate fell from 5 deaths per 100 million miles driven to 1.15 in 2009.

Unfortunately, during the 2010s, this decades-long progress in improving road safety came to a screeching halt and now has gone into reverse. As NHTSA’s data shows, absolute motor vehicle fatalities soared to nearly 43,000 in 2021, and the fatality rate hit 1.33. These trends are even worse for members of minority and low-income communities, who are disproportionately likely to be killed in a motor vehicle crash. Moreover, while traffic fatalities have risen in the United States, they have fallen in other countries. In fact, the United States ranked first among 34 countries for the largest percentage increase in traffic fatalities in 2020, compared with averages from 2017 to 2019. As you have rightfully declared, this is a national crisis.

This crisis has multiple causes. According to NHTSA’s recent report on traffic fatalities, in 2020, 45 percent of passenger vehicles in a fatal crash involved at least one of three behavioral factors: speeding, alcohol-impaired driving, and seat belt non-use. While the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have increased these reckless behaviors, our efforts to reduce them stalled even before COVID struck. For example, the absolute number of fatalities and fatality rate of alcohol-impaired driving stayed roughly flat over the past decade, before rising in 2020. Similarly, the percentage of front-seat passengers using seat belts rose steadily until 2016 — when it finally hit 90 percent — but has flat-lined since then. DOT data on speeding-related fatalities shows similar trends.

This stagnation in reducing risky behaviors masks important shifts in the affected populations. Individuals outside the vehicle — motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists, among others — now make up 34 percent of traffic fatalities, up from 20 percent in the mid-1990s.

This increase is particularly notable in urban locations, where traffic fatalities have risen by 48 percent over the past 10 years while they have declined by 6.2 percent in rural areas. Pedestrian fatalities are up a whopping 61 percent in urban areas during that period. The conclusion is clear: Roads remain extremely dangerous — for those inside and outside the vehicle.

The Department of Transportation took an important first step to address this problem by issuing its National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) in January. In the NRSS, DOT, for the first time, set a goal of zero traffic fatalities or serious injuries and adopted a five-pronged “Safe System Approach.” This document is a laudable effort to recognize the traffic safety crisis and set achievable goals for implementing new safety regulations. Unfortunately, NHTSA’s record in issuing congressionally mandated rules — going back multiple administrations — raises concern that it may not meet the deadlines in the infrastructure law and the NRSS. While many of those deadlines remain over a year away, given last year’s fatality data, we urge DOT to move swiftly to implement these new rules ahead of schedule. There is no time to waste, and proven solutions — including congressionally mandated regulations requiring advanced driver assistance systems, advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention systems, and other safety improvements on new vehicles — are readily available.

Given the urgency of this problem, we ask that you please respond in writing to the following questions by June 29, 2022:

1.         What steps has the Department of Transportation taken since January 2022 to implement the National Roadway Safety Strategy? What processes are in place to ensure all target completion dates are met?

2.         How is the Department of Transportation utilizing existing resources and authorities to meet or even beat the deadlines for issuing auto safety rules as required under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act? How can Congress further support these efforts?

3.         What lessons has the Department taken from efforts by other countries to reduce traffic fatalities and accelerate safety improvements?

We applaud your tenacity in approaching this problem. As you declared on the first page of the NRSS, “We face a crisis on our roadways; it is both unacceptable and solvable.” We agree, and we stand ready to assist DOT and NHTSA as they undertake this critical mission to restart the regulatory engine that delivered such immense improvements in roadway safety during the latter half of the 20th century.

Thank you for your efforts on this important issue.

 

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WASHINGTON – Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) led bipartisan members of the Senate Intelligence Committee in urging the Biden administration to increase sanctions on enablers of Vladimir Putin’s regime amidst its unprovoked and illegal war in Ukraine.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the senators wrote, “While many of the Putin regime’s top figures are already subject to United States, European, and other nations’ sanctions, we believe it is important that lower-tier enablers of the regime’s aggressive policies, including its militarists, propagandists, corrupt officials, public supporters, senior federal officials, and legislators, also be subject to a sanctions regime to ensure that they cannot continue to support Russia’s reprehensible aggression, yet benefit from assets, vacations, or educational opportunities in the West.”

Specifically, the senators urged the administration to take into account the list of 6,000 such Russian officials and regime enablers compiled by the Anti-Corruption Foundation of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Added the senators, “The goal of such sanctions should be to ensure that these individuals do not have access to assets in the United States or ability to travel to the U.S.; force them to leave their posts, thereby hollowing out the Putin regime’s capacity to continue its unjust war; and pressure such officials to denounce publicly Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the corruption of the Putin regime.”

In addition to Sens. Warner and Rubio, the letter was signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jim Risch (R-ID), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Ben Sasse (R-NE).

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Secretary Yellen:

We write to you regarding the need to increase sanctions on enablers of the Putin regime in Russia, including those who provide support for Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine.

While many of the Putin regime’s top figures are already subject to United States, European, and other nations’ sanctions, we believe it is important that lower-tier enablers of the regime’s aggressive policies, including its militarists, propagandists, corrupt officials, public supporters, senior federal officials, and legislators, also be subject to a sanctions regime to ensure that they cannot continue to support Russia’s reprehensible aggression, yet benefit from assets, vacations, or educational opportunities in the West. 

Specifically, we urge you to take into account the list of 6,000 such Russian officials and regime enablers compiled by the Anti-Corruption Foundation of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. 

The goal of such sanctions should be to ensure that these individuals do not have access to assets in the United States or ability to travel to the U.S.; force them to leave their posts, thereby hollowing out the Putin regime’s capacity to continue its unjust war; and pressure such officials to denounce publicly Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the corruption of the Putin regime.

On May 19, 2022, the European Parliament passed a resolution similarly calling for greater sanctions to impose consequences for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including calling “to extend the list of individuals directly targeted by EU sanctions, including Russian oligarchs, taking into account the list of 6,000 individuals presented by Navalny’s Foundation.”

We stand ready to assist you as needed in implementing these targeted sanctions.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and fellow Chesapeake Bay State-sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY), and Chris Coons (D-DE) today announced that they urged Senate leaders to support across-the-board funding sufficient to answer the many threats facing the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“Our states are heavily invested in implementing a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint designed to restore this national treasure. Continued federal partnership to support this complex, regional effort is key to their success,” the senators wrote. “To maintain the trust and collaboration of state and local partners, we have identified essential programs across the federal agency partners in Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23).”

Notably, the senators advocate funding levels of $15 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake WILD program; $10.7 million for the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office; $5.6 million for National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office programs; and more than $17 million for scientific and monitoring services of the U.S. Geological Survey.

“As a testament to the value of this federal-state partnership, all watershed states signed the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Under the Agreement, the jurisdictions and federal agencies have voluntarily committed to work together to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025,” wrote the senators. “We must maintain federal investment in the programs below to support state-led efforts and ensure their continued success.” 

Full text of the letter is available here.   

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and 78 of their colleagues in a letter to President Biden urging him to expedite the Executive Branch’s process to advance Sweden and Finland’s applications for NATO membership and pledging to work with the Administration to ensure swift ratification of the Washington Treaty.

In the letter, the Senators noted that NATO’s expansion will send a clear message to Putin and authoritarian leaders across the globe that the free world stands ready to bolster the alliance and defend our values and sovereignty, including through NATO’s open door policy.

“As Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has proven, NATO, along with our democratic partners around the world, is more united than ever in opposition to the illegal acts of war waged by President Putin. Expanding NATO to include Finland and Sweden will send a clear message to Vladimir Putin, and any leader that attempts to follow in his path, that the free world stands ready to defend its values and sovereignty. We will also continue to support NATO’s open-door policy, which affirms that new members are welcome to the alliance,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators also affirmed their support for Sweden and Finland’s applications as part of the Senate’s role to provide advice and consent for NATO enlargement. During this pivotal moment to our global security, they noted this expansion will further strengthen NATO’s military and diplomatic capabilities to address emerging threats, and that mutual security assurances should extend to these two countries under the alliance.

“Members of the U.S. Senate take seriously our role in advising and consenting to NATO enlargement, a process that must be approved by all NATO member states. We affirm our support for Sweden and Finland’s applications for membership. In addition, we pledge to work closely with you and with our Senate colleagues to ensure that their applications are swiftly considered and approved by the Senate,” the senators concluded. “The transatlantic alliance has never been more crucial to global security and stability. The addition of these two important allies to NATO will ensure the alliance’s resilience and readiness, and we look forward to welcoming Sweden and Finland to NATO.”

The full list of 82 Senators on the letter includes Senators Warner, Kaine, Shaheen, Tillis, Blumenthal (D-CT), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Coons (D-DE), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Hickenlooper (D-CO), King (I-ME), Rosen (D-NV), Wyden (D-OR), Tester (D-MT), Hassan (D-NH), Kelly (D-AZ), Manchin (D-WV), Portman (R-OH), Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), Cramer (R-ND), Graham (R-SC), Sasse (R-NE), McConnell (R-KY), Barrasso (R-WY), Ernst (R-IA), Romney (R-UT), Rounds (R-SD), Thune (R-SD), Grassley (R-IA), Hagerty (R-TN), Toomey (R-PA), Hoeven (R-ND), Cornyn (R-TX), Scott (R-SC), Gillibrand (D-NY), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sinema (D-AZ), Baldwin (D-WI), Feinstein (D-CA), Murphy (D-CT), Hirono (D-HI), Booker (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Bennet (D-CO), Warnock (D-GA), Murray (D-WA), Leahy (D-VT), Brown (D-OH), Klobuchar (D-MN), Markey (D-MA), Lujan (D-NM), Cotton (R-AR), Burr (R-NC), Inhofe (R-OK), Schatz (D-HI), Schumer (D-NY), Van Hollen (D-MD), Fischer (R-NE), Reed (D-RI), Heinrich (D-NM), Peters (D-MI), Whitehouse (D-RI), Padilla (D-CA), Menendez (D-NJ), Ossoff (D-GA), Capito (R-WV), Young (R-IN), Wicker (R-MS), Risch (R-ID), Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Stabenow (D-MI), Blackburn (R-TN), Sullivan (R-AK), Smith (D-MN), Casey (D-PA), Blunt (R-MO), Marshall (R-KS), Daines (R-MT), Crapo (R-ID) and Warren (D-MA).

Full text of the letter is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was joined by U.S. Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) in urging Senate Committee on Appropriations leadership to include significant funding to modernize federal information technology (IT) systems for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023. This request includes at least $300 million in funding for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), created through a Warner-led bill in 2017.

“It is widely acknowledged that our federal government needs to make significant and urgent investments in replacing outdated and insecure legacy IT systems,” the senators wrote. “Each year, the federal government spends roughly $90 billion on IT systems. Significant portions of this funding go toward the maintenance of older, legacy systems, which over time grow increasingly costly, and often present concerning cybersecurity vulnerabilities.”

“In addition to the urgent security concerns, ignoring these needed modernization efforts hinders the public’s ability to interact with the government in an efficient and responsive way. We saw this issue magnified during the course of the pandemic, as added demands at times overwhelmed our government’s ability to continue providing effective customer service and critical benefits to Americans. We have heard repeatedly from constituents how these strains have slowed the processing of benefits and claims, in many cases hindering their ability to access critical resources and needed assistance that Congress has put in place,” they continued.

Sen. Warner has long pushed for the federal government to improve IT infrastructure. Last year, Sen. Warner applauded the Biden Administration for taking steps to more quickly and effectively help agencies address technology-related issues, after having previously called for them to do so. In 2020, Sen. Warner joined colleagues in calling on the Appropriations Committee to include funding for IT modernization in future COVID-19 relief packages.

A copy of this year’s bipartisan letter is available here and below.

Chairman Leahy, Vice Chairman Shelby, Chairman Van Hollen, and Ranking Member HydeSmith: 

As your committee begins consideration of appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, we write to urge you to include significant and critically needed funding to modernize federal information technology (IT) systems. In particular, we request that you provide funding of at least $300 million for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF).

Congress created the TMF as part of the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, in response to pressing needs for federal agencies to modernize outdated IT systems and address critical vulnerabilities. The TMF – a revolving fund governed by a board of experts with backgrounds in IT, cybersecurity, financial management, and federal acquisition – is unique in its ability to rapidly evaluate agencies’ technology modernization proposals, assign funding in an agile manner that prioritizes high-need and cost-saving projects, and do all of this in a transparent and accountable manner.

In the roughly four years since it was established, the TMF has delivered approximately $400 million in funding to 20 modernization projects across the government, funding projects that the TMF Board identified as having significant impact on agencies’ security, program operability, and ability to efficiently and effectively deliver results for taxpayers. As the TMF is a revolving fund, agencies that receive funding are given repayment terms that vary based on the project, which allows the TMF to recover a portion of the funds – often through direct cost savings.

It is widely acknowledged that our federal government needs to make significant and urgent investments in replacing outdated and insecure legacy IT systems. Each year, the federal government spends roughly $90 billion on IT systems. Significant portions of this funding go toward the maintenance of older, legacy systems, which over time grow increasingly costly, and often present concerning cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In addition to the urgent security concerns, ignoring these needed modernization efforts hinders the public’s ability to interact with the government in an efficient and responsive way. We saw this issue magnified during the course of the pandemic, as added demands at times overwhelmed our government’s ability to continue providing effective customer service and critical benefits to Americans. We have heard repeatedly from constituents how these strains have slowed the processing of benefits and claims, in many cases hindering their ability to access critical resources and needed assistance that Congress has put in place.

In 2021 Congress appropriated $1 billion to the TMF to address government IT challenges. While this served as a sizable investment towards these efforts, the demand for these funds was more than double their availability, and the Administration confirms that the TMF will allocate the majority of these funds by the end of this current fiscal year.

By necessity, efforts to modernize and improve the security of IT systems require ongoing and sustained effort by agencies. Congress has a similar responsibility to continue to fund modernization efforts, so that legacy systems aren’t left to grow increasingly costly and insecure over time. The TMF presents agencies with a funding vehicle that is agile and allows them to amortize modernization costs, and that makes technical experts available to agencies throughout the proposal and implementation phases. It also provides Congress a tool with additional accountability and oversight, in the form of board-review of proposals, incremental funding based on outcome-based milestones, and regular follow-up with funding recipients during funding implementation.

We appreciate your consideration of our request for at least $300 million for the Technology Modernization Fund – the level requested by the Administration – and we look forward to continuing to work with you, and with our other colleagues here in the Senate, to ensure that we are providing necessary investment in our federal government’s IT systems.

Sincerely,

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 WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined HELP Chair Patty Murray and Senator Bob Casey, as well as 28 of their Democratic colleagues, in sending a letter to Mardi Mountford, President of the Infant Nutrition Council of America, calling on infant formula manufacturers to make every effort possible to get parents and families the formula they need to feed their kids. Over the past several months, and particularly in light of the massive recall following contaminated formula from Abbott Nutrition, a major supplier, it has become increasingly difficult for families to access infant formula.

“We write to express our concern about the infant formula supply shortage which is making it harder for parents and caregivers nationwide to get their children the nourishment they need. Formula is a critical source of nutrition for newborns and infants, and this supply shortage has put their health and development at risk. We are calling on you and your member companies to take immediate action and ensure that infant formula manufacturers are making every effort to mitigate this dangerous shortage and get children the nourishment they need,” wrote the senators.

In the letter to the Infant Nutrition Council of America today, the senators stressed how dire the situation is for families, and urged formula manufacturers to take action to increase infant formula production and distribution, and prevent future supply chain disruptions.

“This shortage has placed an unacceptable burden on parents and caregivers and has put the health of babies and infants at risk. For many families, infant formula is critical for ensuring their children receive the nutrition they need to grow healthy and well-nourished,” the letter continued. “This shortage has been especially challenging for some of the most vulnerable infants, with particularly acute shortages of specialty formulas to address health needs such as allergies, gastrointestinal issues, or metabolic disorders.  There is no easy substitute for infant formula, and this shortage has left families across the nation scrambling to figure out how they will safely care for their children.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear President Mountford:

We write to express our concern about the infant formula supply shortage which is making it harder for parents and caregivers nationwide to get their children the nourishment they need. Formula is a critical source of nutrition for newborns and infants, and this supply shortage has put their health and development at risk. We are calling on you and your member companies to take immediate action and ensure that infant formula manufacturers are making every effort to mitigate this dangerous shortage and get children the nourishment they need.

Over the past several months—and particularly in light of the massive recall following contaminated formula from Abbott Nutrition, a major supplier—it has become increasingly difficult for families to access infant formula. According to a recent report, between November 2021 and early April 2022, the national out-of-stock rate for infant formula rose to 31 percent—an 11 percent increase. These numbers varied significantly across the country, with some metropolitan areas seeing out-of-stock rates of over 50 percent. In several states, more than half of their infant formula supply was sold out by the last week of April] Major retailers are implementing nationwide restrictions on infant formula purchases.

This shortage has placed an unacceptable burden on parents and caregivers and has put the health of babies and infants at risk. For many families, infant formula is critical for ensuring their children receive the nutrition they need to grow healthy and well-nourished. This shortage has been especially challenging for some of the most vulnerable infants, with particularly acute shortages of specialty formulas to address health needs such as allergies, gastrointestinal issues, or metabolic disorders. There is no easy substitute for infant formula, and this shortage has left families across the nation scrambling to figure out how they will safely care for their children.

We urge the Infant Nutrition Council of America and your member companies to do all you can to increase infant formula production and distribution, and prevent future supply chain disruptions.

Sincerely,

 

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U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in sending a letter urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power to press international donors at the United Nations pledging conference to fulfill the current $3.8 billion funding gap for humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and to ensure that aid can reach the Afghan people in need.

“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is deepening, with more than half the population - 23 million people - in need of assistance. In response, the UN has released an appeal to international donors for $4.4 billion to meet the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan - the largest single country appeal in history. In advance of the high-level pledging event for the country scheduled for March 31, we urge the administration to work closely with our international partners to generously commit and rapidly deliver funds that will help save lives in Afghanistan,” the senators wrote.

The senators continued: “As the economy craters, the suffering of the Afghan people deepens. Today, 95% of households in Afghanistan don’t have enough food to eat. By this summer, 97% of Afghans will be living below the poverty line—trying to survive on less than two dollars a day. With nine million people just one step away from famine, this humanitarian crisis could kill more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.”

“We understand that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is driving unprecedented levels of suffering of the Afghan people, and urge robust oversight to ensure that all assistance gets to the people of Afghanistan. Without the full participation of female humanitarian staff in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all humanitarian services, aid will not be delivered in a manner that upholds humanitarian principles, and will be unable to reach the most vulnerable Afghan women and girls in the hardest to reach areas. The Taliban must allow unhindered humanitarian access, safe conditions for humanitarians, independent provision of assistance to all vulnerable people, and freedom of movement for aid workers of all genders,” the senators wrote.

The senators concluded: “Amid crises in Yemen, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Syria, and elsewhere, the international community must not lose focus on Afghanistan. We encourage you to press key international donors to make up the current $3.8 billion funding deficit for humanitarian programs and to expediently deliver such funds. These include countries in the region and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as likeminded partners who have generously supported Afghanistan in years past. Finally, we encourage you to work closely with our allies in the region to ease any restrictions on humanitarian access in Afghanistan to enable humanitarian partners to reach people in need.”

The letter led by Senator Murphy was signed in addition to Senator Warner by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-VA) Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR.), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Full text of the letter is available below.

Dear Secretary Blinken and Administrator Power,

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is deepening, with more than half the population - 23 million people - in need of assistance. In response, the UN has released an appeal to international donors for $4.4 billion to meet the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan - the largest single country appeal in history. In advance of the high-level pledging event for the country scheduled for March 31, we urge the administration to work closely with our international partners to generously commit and rapidly deliver funds that will help save lives in Afghanistan. 

Even prior to the Taliban’s takeover, Afghanistan’s economy suffered from longstanding structural problems. The country was highly dependent on external aid, which financed 75% of public expenditures and were equal to about 40% of the country’s GDP. The Taliban’s takeover caused a pullback in foreign aid and strained the liquidity and solvency of Afghanistan’s financial sector. The IMF estimates that the country’s economy will contract up to 30% this year, and many of the senior officials and technical experts needed to provide sound economic management have fled the country. While humanitarian aid is critical to saving lives in the short-term, it cannot replace a functioning economy in Afghanistan. These underlying structural economic problems will take years to solve. 

As the economy craters, the suffering of the Afghan people deepens. Today, 95% of households in Afghanistan don’t have enough food to eat. By this summer, 97% of Afghans will be living below the poverty line—trying to survive on less than two dollars a day. With nine million people just one step away from famine, this humanitarian crisis could kill more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.

Robust international commitments to support humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan are more critical now than ever. Last year, Afghanistan faced a 40% loss of wheat production due to drought and economic deterioration related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past month, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further raised the price of wheat in the global food market. The World Food Programme had previously depended on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of the wheat it provides to countries such as Afghanistan.  

We understand that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is driving unprecedented levels of suffering of the Afghan people, and urge robust oversight to ensure that all assistance gets to the people of Afghanistan. Without the full participation of female humanitarian staff in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all humanitarian services, aid will not be delivered in a manner that upholds humanitarian principles, and will be unable to reach the most vulnerable Afghan women and girls in the hardest to reach areas. The Taliban must allow unhindered humanitarian access, safe conditions for humanitarians, independent provision of assistance to all vulnerable people, and freedom of movement for aid workers of all genders.

In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Congress passed a supplemental appropriations bill that included $915 million in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. With that funding, Congress sent a strong signal that the United States must lead a robust response by the international community to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. We support the administration’s initial 2022 contribution of more than $308 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan on January 11th. At the upcoming pledging event on March 31st, we urge the administration to commit additional, substantial funding to the Afghanistan response as soon as possible to ensure vital assistance programs are not reduced or cancelled. A significant U.S. pledge is vital to encourage other countries to follow suit. Generous and timely investments, delivered to the right agencies on the front lines, are instrumental to saving lives and staving off famine in Afghanistan.

Amid crises in Yemen, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Syria, and elsewhere, the international community must not lose focus on Afghanistan. We encourage you to press key international donors to make up the current $3.8 billion funding deficit for humanitarian programs and to expediently deliver such funds. These include countries in the region and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as likeminded partners who have generously supported Afghanistan in years past. Finally, we encourage you to work closely with our allies in the region to ease any restrictions on humanitarian access in Afghanistan to enable humanitarian partners to reach people in need.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this crisis, as the people of Afghanistan deserve our unwavering support.

Sincerely,

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) expressed horror and demanded immediate and aggressive action by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) following more than 70 animal welfare violations at an Envigo breeding and research facility based in Cumberland, Virginia. In a letter to APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea, the Senators urged APHIS to immediately suspend Envigo’s Cumberland facility license, condemning “persistent and egregious” abuses that led to distress, injury, and death in dogs and puppies.

Today’s letter comes just days after the release of two new inspections from November 2021 and March 2022 that detailed how the facility performed unnecessarily painful medical procedures on dogs and puppies – including euthanasia without a sedative – in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Medical records indicate that 196 dogs were euthanized and many were not provided any anesthetic.

“It is clear to us that Envigo has been derelict in its duty to provide for the humane care of its dogs, and is unable to abide by the basic standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act,” wrote Sens. Warner and Kaine. “The role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in ensuring humane treatment of animals extends beyond routine and focused inspections. Congress has provided USDA with broad authority to apply penalties to violators of the Animal Welfare Act. To our knowledge, APHIS has not yet exercised such authority despite Envigo’s repeated failures in providing adequate care to the 5,000 dogs entrusted to its care.”

They continued, “APHIS could suspend Envigo’s license for 21 days, and upon notice and opportunity for hearing, move to revoke the facility’s license outright. Additionally, APHIS could initiate formal administrative action by the USDA Office of General Counsel to seek civil penalties. APHIS is authorized in statute to seek civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation of the AWA, meaning that it could seek up to $730,000 in penalties from Envigo for its repeated noncompliance.  In the face of repeated, serious violations by the facility, it is our strongly-held belief that USDA must pursue aggressive enforcement actions.”

Over the course of nine months, four inspections – including a July inspection, and subsequent October, November, and March inspections – revealed 73 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the Envigo Cumberland facilities. Specifically, these inspections found that puppies and dogs were held in shelters with temperatures exceeding 85 degrees Fahrenheit for more than five hours, and that research conducted at the facility caused distress to nursing mothers and their puppies after food was intentionally withheld for 48 hours. The inspections also found that housing violations led to the injury of dozens of dogs, including 71 who were injured when a body part was pulled through the wall of the kennel by a dog in an adjacent kennel, and 50 who were injured or killed due to incompatible groupings.

In their letter, the Senators also raised concern with USDA delays in publishing the horrific findings of these inspections.

They wrote, “While APHIS inspection reports have proven an invaluable resource in uncovering the breadth and depth of mistreatment occurring at the Envigo facilities, we are concerned with delays in publishing such reports. Advocates, legislators, and the public have waited months after inspections to review inspection report findings. The July report was not publicly released until 118 days after the inspection, while the October and November inspection reports took 94 and 128 days, respectively, to be published. We appreciate the complexity of these reports and the immense care that animal care specialists take in preparing them. We also understand that Envigo made it consistent practice to appeal each report in its 21-day window from initial receipt. Even still, it strikes us as unacceptable that the public and elected officials were not privy to the horrific violations of the AWA until months after the inspections while animals suffered in the interim.”

Additionally, the Senators posed a series of questions for APHIS, requesting an answer by April 20. Among other questions, they inquired whether APHIS plans to take any enforcement actions against Envigo, and whether inspectors will return to the facility for a fifth time to monitor progress on corrective actions.  

Sen. Warner, a dog owner, has been an advocate for dogs in Virginia and throughout the country, earning a 100% on the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane Scorecard for 2021. Most recently, Sen. Warner secured the passage of new language requiring the Department of State to report on the status of dogs in the Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP). This program came under scrutiny in 2019 after an Inspector General (IG) report found that the Department failed to conduct proper follow-up after sending highly-trained dogs to foreign partner nations, resulting in the death of at least ten dogs from largely preventable illnesses.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been  consistent cosponsors of the Puppy Protection Act, which would amend the Animal Welfare Act to include additional care and safety standards for dog breeders like Envigo. Under the bill, breeders would be required to house dogs in appropriately sized enclosures with solid ground and keep them on a regular diet and exercise routine. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine signed a law that imposed stricter legal penalties for dogfighting offenses.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Administrator Shea:

We write to urge the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to pursue aggressive enforcement actions against Envigo RMS LLC and Envigo Global Services Inc.’s (hereafter, Envigo) operations in Cumberland, Virginia. Over the course of the last nine months, APHIS inspectors visited Envigo’s Cumberland facilities four times and cited the company’s licensed breeding and research facilities for 73 violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), 35 of which were classified as ‘Direct’ or ‘Critical.’ APHIS has an obligation under the AWA to ensure the “humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals” within its purview.  In light of persistent and egregious violations of the AWA, we believe that APHIS should immediately suspend the license of the Envigo breeding facility in Cumberland and initiate formal administrative proceedings through the USDA Office of General Counsel.

In recent months, we have been horrified to learn of the abuses at Envigo’s facilities in Virginia. Namely, the abuses have occurred at the dog breeding facility in Cumberland, though APHIS also documented violations of the AWA at the adjacent research facility operated by Envigo. Research conducted at the facility caused distress to nursing mothers and their puppies after food was intentionally withheld for 48 hours within the course of a study, which itself was the subject of several AWA violations. AWA violations at the breeding facility have been even worse. Perhaps most galling is the fact that from January – July 2021, over 300 puppy deaths were attributed to unknown causes, and the facility was found to have “not taken additional steps to determine the causes of death in order to prevent similar deaths” in the future. The July 2021 inspection report also detailed widespread issues with the maintenance of Envigo’s housing facilities that recurred in each of the subsequent three inspections. Housing violations included enclosures lacking solid walls which led to at least 71 dogs being injured when a body part was pulled through the wall of the kennel by a dog in an adjacent kennel, incompatible groupings that led to the death of at least two dogs and injured 48 others, holding puppies and adult dogs in shelters with temperatures exceeding 85 degrees Fahrenheit for more than five hours, and insufficient cleaning and sanitation procedures which led to “a large accumulation of feces, urine, standing water, insects (both dead and alive) and uneaten food” under kennel floors. The July 2021 inspection report also highlighted that current staffing levels were insufficient to provide appropriate care, a violation that recurred in subsequent inspections.

The October 25, 2021 inspection report of Envigo’s Cumberland breeding facility found 13 more violations, seven of which were categorized as ‘Direct’ or ‘Critical,’ and eleven of which were repeat violations. It was clear then that the facility was not making progress in caring for the puppies and dogs. Violations cited in this October report included failure to identify medical conditions requiring treatment and failure to handle animals carefully which led to the death of a newborn puppy in a drain after he fell through a gap in the flooring.

APHIS’ inspection reports from its November 16, 2021 inspections led to 29 more violations of the AWA, 14 of which were classified as ‘Direct’ and 17 were repeat violations. Despite the facility being more than four months past its initial inspection which documented vast noncompliance, inspectors found continued, horrific mistreatment of animals. For example, the facility was found to have ignored the appropriate authority of the attending veterinarian and performed unnecessarily painful medical procedures, including euthanasia without a sedative, in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Inspectors reviewed medical records that showed 196 dogs were euthanized and many were not provided any anesthetic. And just three days ago, APHIS released a fourth inspection report detailing five more repeat AWA violations of the Envigo breeding facility found on March 8, 2022. It is clear to us that Envigo has been derelict in its duty to provide for the humane care of its dogs, and is unable to abide by the basic standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act.

While APHIS inspection reports have proven an invaluable resource in uncovering the breadth and depth of mistreatment occurring at the Envigo facilities, we are concerned with delays in publishing such reports. Advocates, legislators, and the public have waited months after inspections to review inspection report findings. The July report was not publicly released until 118 days after the inspection, while the October and November inspection reports took 94 and 128 days, respectively, to be published. We appreciate the complexity of these reports and the immense care that animal care specialists take in preparing them. We also understand that Envigo made it consistent practice to appeal each report in its 21-day window from initial receipt. Even still, it strikes us as unacceptable that the public and elected officials were not privy to the horrific violations of the AWA until months after the inspections while animals suffered in the interim. In particular, it is unclear to us why APHIS’ undertakes a second 21-day hold period after a licensee’s appeal is reviewed and the report is duly modified. In an ‘Explanatory Statement’ of the recently-passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, Congress instructed APHIS to address “long and inexplicable delays in acting against blatant violations of the Animal Welfare Act.”  We share this concern and hope you will take all prudent steps to expedite the public release of AWA inspection reports moving forward.

The role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in ensuring humane treatment of animals extends beyond routine and focused inspections. Congress has provided USDA with broad authority to apply penalties to violators of the Animal Welfare Act. To our knowledge, APHIS has not yet exercised such authority despite Envigo’s repeated failures in providing adequate care to the 5,000 dogs entrusted to its care. APHIS could suspend Envigo’s license for 21 days, and upon notice and opportunity for hearing, move to revoke the facility’s license outright. Additionally, APHIS could initiate formal administrative action by the USDA Office of General Counsel to seek civil penalties. APHIS is authorized in statute to seek civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation of the AWA, meaning that it could seek up to $730,000 in penalties from Envigo for its repeated noncompliance.  In the face of repeated, serious violations by the facility, it is our strongly-held belief that USDA must pursue aggressive enforcement actions.

In light of ongoing violations of the AWA at Envigo facilities in Virginia, we respectfully request that by April 20, 2022, you provide detailed responses to the following questions:

 

1.                  Has APHIS taken any enforcement actions against the Cumberland, Virginia Envigo facilities (breeding facility: Certificate 32-A-0774, site 005 and research facility: Certificate 23-R-0187, site 002), or does it plan to do so?
2.                  What number and type of AWA violations would typically be sufficient to warrant various types of enforcement actions, including regulatory correspondence, stipulated penalties, license suspension or revocation, confiscation of animals, and formal administrative proceedings?
3.                  Over the last three years, has APHIS cited any single facility for more than violations of the AWA in a nine-month span than Envigo has received (73 violations)?
4.                  APHIS outlines in its Animal Care Inspection Guide that “inspection reports are to be finalized… within 5 business days of the date of the inspection.” Was that the case in the inspections at Envigo’s Cumberland facilities in July, October, and November 2021? 
a.                  If so, did the appeals process account for the remainder of the delay before reports were posted or were there other causes for delay?
5.                  What is the median time between the date of an APHIS inspection and the publication of the inspection report in instances where licensed facilities appeal the inspection report?
6.                  Given that APHIS’ most recent inspection of the Envigo facility on March 8, 2022 uncovered five repeat AWA violations, will APHIS inspectors return to the facility for a fifth time to monitor progress on corrective actions?

We appreciate APHIS’ continued attention to this important issue, and look forward to a prompt response. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our staff.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in a letter to the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, National Credit Union Administration, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, urging them to work with banks and credit unions to ensure small businesses have access to safe and sound credit as Main Street recovers from COVID-19.

“Recent research by the Federal Reserve System found that less than one-third of small businesses that applied for traditional financing in 2021 received all the funding they sought compared to recent years,” the lawmakers wrote. “…Banks are choosing to lend to bigger firms, and smaller businesses are suffering the consequences in an already restrictive environment.”

The lawmakers also highlighted racial and gender disparities in small business lending. “About 14% of Black and Asian business owners, and 19% of Hispanic business owners, received all the financing they sought in 2021, compared to 34% of white small business owners. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened pre-existing inequalities in our economy for businesses owned by entrepreneurs from historically underserved communities,” they wrote. “A driving force behind the nation’s economy, businesses owned by people of color, women, and veterans need access to financing opportunities by banks and credit unions.”

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) also signed the letter.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Chair Pro Tempore Powell, Acting Chair Gruenberg, Chair Harper, and Acting Comptroller Hsu:

As small businesses across the U.S. work toward economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, access to financing is vital to continuing the current rate of small business growth. As new business formation continues, we must ensure small businesses are receiving the credit they need.  As such, we write to encourage your agencies to work with banks and credit unions in their communities to offer safe and sound financing access to small businesses.

Recent research by the Federal Reserve System found that less than one-third of small businesses that applied for traditional financing in 2021 received all the funding they sought compared to recent years. Additionally, the research also found that more than half of firms were in fair or poor financial condition at the time of the survey, and nearly all firms faced at least one operational or financial challenge in the prior 12 months. The difficulty small businesses are experiencing in getting access to financing is a significant concern for the economy as small businesses comprise 99.9% of U.S. businesses and employ 46.8% of U.S. employees.

Many small businesses have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels in terms of revenue and employment, and this is especially true for small businesses owned by people of color. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank found racial differences in financing sought among small business owners. About 14% of Black and Asian business owners, and 19% of Hispanic business owners, received all the financing they sought in 2021, compared to 34% of white small business owners. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened pre-existing inequalities in our economy for businesses owned by entrepreneurs from historically underserved communities. A driving force behind the nation’s economy, businesses owned by people of color, women, and veterans need access to financing opportunities by banks and credit unions.

Banks are choosing to lend to bigger firms, and smaller businesses are suffering the consequences in an already restrictive environment. The data reported by the Federal Reserve Banks show that underwriting standards for commercial clients are diverging primarily based on business size. In a separate survey conducted by the Fed earlier this year, senior loan officers reported easing standards for large and medium-sized businesses than for smaller ones.

The strong deposit growth at banks and credit unions should be used to support increased lending opportunities to small businesses by banks and credit unions in their communities. The latest financial performance data released by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) shows total assets in federally insured credit unions rose by $215.8 billion, or 11.7 percent, to $2.06 trillion over the year ending in the fourth quarter of 2021, and insured shares and deposits grew $166.8 billion, or 11.4 percent, to $1.63 trillion. Likewise, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) total assets on insured commercial banks and savings institutions rose by $1.9 trillion, or 8.5 percent, to $23.7 trillion over the year ending in the fourth quarter of 2021, and insured deposits grew $1.9 trillion, or 10.5 percent, to 19.7 trillion.

As new business formation rose to record highs in 2021, there is a clear and important economic need for small business to have access to financing. Numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021, exceeding the record set in 2020 of 4.4 million.

We urge the banking agencies to work with banks and credit unions to encourage more lending to small businesses in a safe and sound way. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure small businesses across the U.S. are receiving access to financing to continue to rebuild their Main Street communities.

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