Press Releases

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, 

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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,

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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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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, were joined by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) today in raising concerns with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regarding its draft National Coverage Determination (NCD) decision memo for the drug Aduhelm and other similar Alzheimer’s treatments.

In the January 11, 2022 proposed decision memo, CMS groups together an entire class of Alzheimer’s drugs, despite the fact that many are in different stages of the testing and approval pipeline. It also proposes to cover them only if beneficiaries are enrolled in a randomized control trial conducted in an outpatient hospital setting.

“Monoclonal antibody treatments that target amyloid plaques in the brain are the therapies farthest along in their potential for treating certain individuals with Alzheimer’s disease,” the senators wrote. “We are concerned that by including the entire class of drugs in this coverage decision—before final data on safety and efficacy are even released on other therapies in the pipeline—CMS may limit future access to treatments.”

The senators continued, “Although all in the same class, no two drugs work exactly the same for all individuals. Further, the evidence gathered from Aduhelm’s FDA confirmatory trial as well as additional evidence gathered by CMS may inform coverage decisions of potential future drugs. Each new medicine, in our view, should be reviewed on its own merits and not as a class.”

Noting that Black and Latino populations have higher incidences of Alzheimer’s, the Senators also called on CMS to ensure that any clinical trial requirements do not inadvertently limit access to treatments for people of color.

“On behalf of people living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, thank you Senators Warner, Markey and other Senate leaders for sharing your concerns with CMS about the national coverage determination proposed decision and encouraging them to expand coverage of FDA-approved treatments for people living with Alzheimer’s. As it stands, the current draft would sharply limit access to an entire class of drugs. For the individuals living with this fatal disease, delaying and limiting access to treatment could mean further progression of their cognitive decline. We appreciate your continued leadership on issues important to the Alzheimer’s community,” said Robert Egge, Alzheimer’s Association chief public policy officer and Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) executive director.

“It is critically important to the Alzheimer’s community that CMS understand what many members of Congress already do: it’s wrong for Medicare to deny access to FDA-approved Alzheimer’s treatments. This would not happen with cancer, and it must not happen with Alzheimer’s,” said George Vradenburg, chair and co-founder of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. “I applaud the senators for working on behalf of patients to increase access to this class of drugs, particularly among people of color. Every day 1,000 Americans slip from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s and out of the disease stage targeted by this class of drugs. We do not have time to wait. And we will not stop our campaign until this injustice is corrected.”

As Co-Chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease Sen. Warner has been a longstanding advocate in Congress for improving access and quality of medical care for some of our country’s most vulnerable patients. Last week, Sens. Warner and Markey celebrated the addition of $3.5 billion for Alzheimer’s and related dementia research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus spending bill. In 2018, Sen. Warner led colleagues in calling on the Trump administration to continue investing in Alzheimer’s research.  Previously, he introduced bipartisan legislation designed to give people with advanced illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease, new tools to plan for their care and empower them to have those choices honored.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Administrator Brooks-LaSure:

We’re writing to share concerns about the recently proposed National Coverage Determination (NCD) decision memo for Aduhelm and similar drugs, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on January 11, 2022. Although more data is needed on Aduhelm’s impact on Alzheimer’s disease, we urge you not to include in the NCD the whole class of similar drugs that have not yet been considered by the Food and Drug Administration. Further, we ask that CMS work to ensure that in any studies required by CMS, robust and representative participation by communities of color are prioritized.

As CMS notes in its decision memo, more than 6 million people in America have Alzheimer’s disease and this is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060. Monoclonal antibody treatments that target amyloid plaques in the brain are the therapies farthest along in their potential for treating certain individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. We are concerned that by including the entire class of drugs in this coverage decision—before final data on safety and efficacy are even released on other therapies in the pipeline— CMS may limit future access to treatments.

As you know, there is a large unmet need for treatments for those with Alzheimer’s, a devastating and fatal disease. In Aduhelm’s class of drugs, three drugs are working their way through the FDA approval process. Although all in the same class, no two drugs work exactly the same for all individuals. Further, the evidence gathered from Aduhelm’s FDA confirmatory trial as well as additional evidence gathered by CMS may inform coverage decisions of potential future drugs. Each new medicine, in our view, should be reviewed on its own merits and not as a class.

Additionally, CMS should ensure that its final NCD does not make it more difficult for Medicare beneficiaries of color to both obtain these treatments if trials are required by CMS and also for us to obtain needed data on Alzheimer’s treatments in such trials, as Black and Latino populations have higher incidences of Alzheimer’s than non-Hispanic whites. The draft NCD proposes to limit coverage only to drugs administered in hospital outpatient settings. This will make it significantly more difficult, if trials are required, to enroll beneficiaries of color, as aggressive outreach and the use of disparate sites is often needed to meet diversity targets. The draft NCD’s requirement for randomized controlled trials could also limit inclusion of people of color, as these populations are often underrepresented in such trials.

Alzheimer’s patients and their families have been waiting 20 years since the last therapy was approved, and this class of therapies holds the promise that those living with the disease may soon have multiple disease-modifying therapies from which to choose. Time is not on the side of those with Alzheimer’s, and we urge you to issue a final NCD that puts patients and their loved ones first by examining each potential new treatment on its own.

Thank you for your commitment to ending Alzheimer’s disease, and we look forward to continuing our work with you in this crucial area.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) pressed Wells Fargo for answers after a Bloomberg News investigation revealed that the financial services company approved only 47 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications in 2020 – an approval rate significantly below other lenders, who approved about 70 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications.

“I am writing regarding a recent Bloomberg News investigation, which reported that Wells Fargo approved only 47 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications in 2020, an approval rate significantly below other lenders, who approved about 70 percent of Black homeowners’ refinancing applications,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to Wells Fargo CEO and President, Charles Scharf. “I am concerned with the significant differences between Wells Fargo and other lenders and that Wells Fargo was reportedly the only major lender to approve a smaller share of Black homeowners’ refinance applications in 2020 than it did in 2010.”

He continued, “It is clear that disparities in refinance approvals are system-wide and likely reflect a historic and systematic imbalance that has driven the racial homeownership and wealth gaps, where the average Black and Hispanic or Latino household owns just 15 to 20% as much net wealth as the average white household. Wells Fargo is quoted in the article as saying that its lending decisions were ‘consistent across racial and ethnic groups’ and I understand that the imbalance may in part be an outgrowth of historic and longstanding barriers – including greater shares of applicants with lower credit scores and higher loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, which result from longstanding legal, social, and economic inequalities. However, the key question for Wells Fargo, and other lenders, is how lenders can find ways to support communities that have historically been held back from fully participating in the mainstream economy rather than continuing to perpetuate existing disparities, particularly during times of economic crisis.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner highlighted a Federal Reserve analysis that showed borrowers saved significant amounts of money by refinancing their mortgages during the pandemic by taking advantage of record low interest rates. According to this analysis, the typical refinance reduced a borrower’s monthly payments by over $250. The total amount of borrowers who refinanced are expected to see $5 billion in savings per year. However, less than 4 percent ($198 million) of those savings went to Black households, which make up over 9 percent of all homeowners.

Seeking answers on the reported disparities, Sen. Warner asked Wells Fargo to explain in detail why the racial gaps in its refinance approval rates were significantly larger than other lenders, and why its approval rate for refinances for Black homeowners fell in 2020 compared to 2010. He also pressed for answers as to whether the financial services company is considering changes to its evaluations process to ensure equitable outcomes for all homeowners.

Sen. Warner also joined a number of his colleagues in a separate letter today, urging the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to request a review of Wells Fargo’s mortgage loan refinance processes, following the Bloomberg News Investigation.

In Congress, Sen. Warner has been a champion for addressing the racial wealth gap by way of homeownership and entrepreneurship. He is the author of the Low-Income First Time Homebuyers (LIFT) Act – legislation to help first-time, first-generation homebuyers – predominately Americans of color – build wealth much more rapidly. In December of 2020, Sen. Warner successfully negotiated a record $12 billion investment to open the flow of emergency capital to community-based lenders in minority and low- and moderate-income communities.

A copy of Sen. Warner’s letter to Wells Fargo is available here. A copy of the joint letter to HUD and CFPB is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is renewing his push to safeguard the health and welfare of American-trained bomb-sniffing dogs tasked with fighting terrorism abroad.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Sen. Warner today highlighted new language that requires the Department of State to report on the status of dogs in the Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP), which 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.

“I was glad to see that the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on March 15, included language requiring the State Department to report to Congress on the status of dogs currently in, and retired from the program, as well as an update on the policies and procedures that the Department has implemented in response to the Inspector General’s recommendations,” wrote Sen. Warner.

“As you know, the Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to initially train these canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other efforts and expenses meant to ensure the success of the program. Once abroad, these loyal canines play an invaluable role, often risking their lives in support of their security mission, working to keep important assets, their teams, and broader populations safe,” he continued. “For these reasons and more, it is morally wrong and unacceptable for any deployed dog to be subjected to mistreatment, malnutrition, improper care, or unsafe shelter. Congress and the American people deserve to know the steps that the Department has taken and is planning, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not placing dogs in these conditions.”

The Warner-led language – signed into law as part of the government spending bill – requires the State Department to produce a report for Congress that accounts for each of the dogs in the program, including those who are now retired. The report, due to Congress within 90 days, must also provide an update on the policies and procedures that the Department has implemented in response to the Inspector General’s 2019 recommendations.

Sen. Warner, a dog owner, has been an advocate for dogs in Virginia and throughout the country. He previously raised alarm about the 2019 Inspector General (IG) report, which found that the trained dogs who died in the Kingdom of Jordan suffered from various medical problems, including largely preventable illnesses like parvovirus and heat exhaustion. Many of the dogs were trained at a State Department-contracted facility located in Winchester, Va.

The State Department’s antiterrorism assistance program provides Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) to foreign countries to support local law enforcement in deterring and countering terrorism. The program is primarily implemented by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, in partnership with the Bureau of Counterterrorism. Although the State Department previously relied on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to provide and train the bomb-sniffing dogs, in 2016, the State Department established its own canine training center, the Canine Validation Center (CVC) in Winchester, Va., which is responsible for procuring dogs, training foreign students as handlers, and conducting assessments to determine a country’s ability to care for the dogs and operate a canine program. In addition, the CVC is responsible for conducting health and welfare assessments in foreign countries.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Blinken,

I write today regarding efforts by the Department of State to address serious concerns that Congress and the Department’s Inspector General, among others, have raised about the Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP).

In September 2019, the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State (OIG) released a report, Evaluation of the Antiterrorism Assistance Explosive Detection Canine Program – Health and Welfare . As you know, the evaluation of this program resulted from allegations that the U.S. was providing insufficient oversight, resulting in the inadequate health care, mistreatment, and premature deaths of a number of dogs. Months later, in December 2019, OIG issued a subsequent report, in response to another complaint alleging that “additional canines beyond those described in the [September] evaluation had died” from preventable causes.

As part of its evaluations, OIG made a series of recommendations to the Department to address the serious concerns over the health and welfare of the dogs trained and deployed as a part of this program.

I was glad to see that the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on March 15, included language requiring the State Department to report to Congress on the status of dogs currently in, and retired from the program, as well as an update on the policies and procedures that the Department has implemented in response to the Inspector General’s recommendations.

As you know, the Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to initially train these canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other efforts and expenses meant to ensure the success of the program. Once abroad, these loyal canines play an invaluable role, often risking their lives in support of their security mission, working to keep important assets, their teams, and broader populations safe.

For these reasons and more, it is morally wrong and unacceptable for any deployed dog to be subjected to mistreatment, malnutrition, improper care, or unsafe shelter. Congress and the American people deserve to know the steps that the Department has taken and is planning, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not placing dogs in these conditions.

I’m glad that the Department under your leadership will be examining this issue, and I look forward to seeing the results from the report within the required 90-day period. To coincide with that report, I would ask that the Department also brief my staff on the current status of the program.

This issue remains very important to me, and I look forward to working with you as needed to continue addressing reforms to this program.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Bob Menedez (D-NJ), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and a bipartisan, bicameral group of colleagues in a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig urging the IRS to provide much needed relief as the agency struggles to address customer service and processing issues. The IRS’s lack of action is causing unnecessary confusion, as the current tax filing season is underway.

“We remain concerned that the IRS does not have a comprehensive plan to remedy the numerous problems affecting taxpayers, despite the fact that this filing season is already well underway,” the lawmakers wrote. “For example, there is continued confusion about which notices may be unilaterally suspended by the IRS, beyond the notices the IRS has already suspended, among other issues.”

In the letter, the lawmakers requested the IRS specifically address which notices are statutorily required to be issued within a specific time, and explain why there are still certain notices that have not yet been suspended.

This letter is supported by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), Padgett Business Services, National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), National Society of Accountants (NSA), National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP), National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA), Latino Tax Pro, Diverse Organization of Firms Advocacy Committee , National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA), Prosperity Now, and National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP).

Sen. Warner first raised concerns over the IRS backlog in January, calling 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. Last month, Sen. Warner continued his push to reduce delays, joining colleagues in another letter to Commissioner Rettig urging for immediate action to be taken to reduce backlogs and improve customer service during the 2022 filing season. Additionally, in a February Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Warner questioned IRS National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins about the IRS backlogs and about the measures being taken to address the situation.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Menendez and Cassidy, the Senate letter was signed by Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), Richard Burr (R-NC), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), James Lankford (R-OK), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tim Scott (R-SC), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Thune (R-SD), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Todd Young (R-IN).

A copy of the Senate version of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Commissioner Rettig,

We appreciate the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)’s ongoing efforts to eliminate the unprecedented backlog at the IRS. We remain concerned that the IRS does not have a comprehensive plan to remedy the numerous problems affecting taxpayers, despite the fact that this filing season is already well underway. For example, there is continued confusion about which notices may be unilaterally suspended by the IRS, beyond the notices the IRS h as already suspended, among other issues.

Given that the IRS has not provided us with any additional information since your last correspondence dated February 8, 2022, we ask for responses to the following questions, no later than the close of business on Monday, March 14, 2022:

1. Which remaining unsuspended notices does the IRS have the authority to suspend? Please explain why the IRS has left these remaining notices unsuspended.
 
2. Is the IRS in the process of working to suspend additional notices? If so, when will that work be completed?
 

3. Which notices are statutorily required to be issued within a specific time? Would the IRS suspend these statutory notices if the IRS had the legal authority to do so?
 
4. Explain why the IRS has not suspended notice CP2000, Notice of Underreported Income? 
 
5. Notwithstanding the publication of Notice 2021-39, widespread controversy surrounding Schedules K-2 and K-3 remains, including recent additional instructions, the inability to electronically file, and lingering uncertainty surrounding many requirements. As such, is the IRS contemplating relief, such as delaying implementation to 2023?
 
6. In early February, the IRS advised Congress that it was considering a systemic process to identify pending penalty abatement requests, and likewise evaluating penalty relief options. Has the IRS determined if it can provide penalty relief for taxpayers as previously offered by the IRS for the 2020 and 2021 tax year? If not, why not?

Thank you for your continued attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as well as a bicameral group of their colleagues, in urging U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack to issue guidance clarifying college students’ eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to address the growing food insecurity crisis among college students.

“College students represent the future of America. Not only is it critical that we don’t saddle students with debt, but the Administration should also use its executive authority to ensure low-income students have the information they need to access SNAP and other federal benefits to help them stay focused and successful in their studies,” the senators wrote. “USDA has the authority to change that.”

“While we work on securing legislation to both make permanent and expand the [Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act] student provisions, we strongly urge USDA to use its authority to expeditiously issue guidance that clarifies the student SNAP eligibility rules, which would expand on the Biden Administration’s actions to ensure students have access to federal nutrition resources to meet their basic needs,” the senators concluded.

The senators specifically call on USDA to issue guidance to clarify that the following groups are eligible for SNAP benefits without work requirements: low-income students who have been approved for federal or state work study; low-income students enrolled in community college and in four-year college programs that are career-focused or in paths resulting in high employability after graduation; and low-income students with disabilities, including students with learning disabilities and serious medical conditions.

Students experiencing hunger have a harder time succeeding in school. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a GAO report found that nearly two million students at risk of going hungry were potentially eligible for SNAP but did not report receiving benefits in 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic has also worsened food insecurity among college students and exacerbated racial disparities in hunger. A 2020 survey conducted by the Hope Center at Temple University found 32 percent of Virginia Community College System’s (VCCS) students had experienced food insecurity in the prior 30 days.

Since the pandemic began, Warner and Kaine have secured federal funding to expand access to food assistance for students, including successfully pushing USDA to make food distribution policies more flexible for Virginia’s families. They also helped secure Virginia’s request to operate a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program to ensure children have access to healthy food while at home.

In addition to Warner, Kaine, and Warren, the letter was also signed by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CO), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Representatives Al Lawson (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), and Norma J. Torres (D-CA).

The full text of the letter is available below:

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We are writing urging you to issue guidance clarifying Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility to address the growing food security crisis among college students. While we appreciate the Biden Administration’s recent actions to support college students during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic1 – particularly given the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on low-income college students, students of color, first-generation college students, and single parents2 – there remains an urgent need to ensure that low-income students are both informed about and have access to critical federal benefits, including nutrition benefits.

COVID-19 has worsened food insecurity among college students and exacerbated racial disparities in hunger. A nationwide survey of students in fall 2020 by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 70% of Black and 70% of American Indian or Alaska Native students experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness—rates substantially higher than their white peers.3 Overall, 3 in 5 students do not have enough to eat or a stable place to live.4 The setbacks will be even more significant for students who are low-income, the first in their families to attend college, and parenting students.

The Biden Administration has taken critical steps to support college students’ basic needs during the pandemic, including by providing nearly $200 million in American Rescue Plan funds through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds.5 We also applaud the use of financial aid data to communicate with students about SNAP and federal benefits for which they may be eligible.6 This builds on the important interagency work that the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Education (ED) started to better coordinate implementation of the temporary student provisions authorized under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA) title of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.7

Yet even after the public health emergency ends, the economic repercussions of the pandemic will be felt for years. College students represent the future of America. Not only is it critical that we don’t saddle students with debt, but the Administration should also use its executive authority to ensure low-income students have the information they need to access SNAP and other federal benefits to help them stay focused and successful in their studies.

In December 2018, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a detailed report analyzing 31 studies that identified widespread food insecurity among students.8 The GAO report concluded that college students experiencing hunger have a harder time succeeding in school and found that nearly two million students at risk of going hungry were potentially eligible for SNAP but did not report receiving benefits in 2016.9 Given that the GAO report and related studies were conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are deeply concerned that significantly more college students may struggle in accessing SNAP benefits after the temporary CRRSAA provisions sunset.10

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the public messaging around SNAP for college students routinely suggested that college students must show they “work at least 20 hours a week”11 to qualify for benefits and failed to highlight the additional statutory exemptions under 7 U.S.C. § 2015 (e) that expand eligibility for students who do not satisfy these work requirements. As the GAO report found, thousands of low-income students who should qualify for SNAP never accessed these benefits, in large part because of the very complex SNAP eligibility rules.12 USDA has the authority to change that under 7 U.S.C. § 2015 (e).

While we acknowledge and appreciate the additional effort USDA and ED have taken to encourage states to reach potentially eligible students by using financial aid data while the temporary CRRSSA provisions are in place,13 this does not resolve the importance of clarifying the long-standing student eligibility rules, given the well-documented barriers students face to accessing SNAP benefits. Specifically, we urge USDA to issue guidance to states that clarifies, in accordance with the exemptions listed under 7 U.S.C. § 2015 (e), that students under the following circumstances, at a minimum, are not required to satisfy any work requirements to access SNAP benefits:

Low-income students approved for federal or state work study are eligible for SNAP benefits while they search for available work study positions or funding, whether or not their college is able to secure them a position. Cash-strapped colleges may not have the requisite matching funds for federal work study grants awarded to students, but students should not be denied SNAP benefits simply because their financial aid awards are not fulfilled.

Low-income students are SNAP eligible when enrolled in community college and in four-year college programs that are career-focused and/or in paths resulting in high employability after graduation. All states should be afforded the discretion to exempt students at community colleges, and in such four-year college programs, from the work requirement and should be encouraged to use this discretion to broadly expand SNAP access. Students’ academic success should not be delayed or derailed because they need to take on additional work responsibilities to access nutrition benefits.

Low-income students with disabilities, including students with learning disabilities as well as serious medical conditions, are eligible for SNAP under the “physical or mental unfitness” exemption. Many students qualify for accommodations at their colleges based on their disabilities or health conditions, including tutoring, extra time on exams and projects, and mental health services as well as students enrolled through their state’s Rehabilitation Act or veterans rehabilitation program.14 Burdening these students with an additional 20 hours per week of work effectively undermines successful completion of their education.

While we work on securing legislation to both make permanent and expand the CRRSAA student provisions, we strongly urge USDA to use its authority to expeditiously issue guidance that clarifies the student SNAP eligibility rules, which would expand on the Biden Administration’s actions to ensure students have access to federal nutrition resources to meet their basic needs.

Sincerely,

###

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter today urging the Ukrainian government to ensure that Africans in Ukraine are not blocked from evacuating the country or seeking safety amid Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

 This letter comes on the heels of reports that individuals from Africa and Asia have been discriminated against while attempting to flee Ukraine. According to online videos and first-hand reporting, individuals from Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt and India, as well as other nations seeking to escape the war in Ukraine, have been physically abused, barred from boarding trains and buses, and denied entry into border nations, among other things.

 “Regarding the refugee crisis that President Putin has created through his violent invasion – which so far, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, has seen more than one million men, women, and children flee their homes to safety in neighboring countries – I will continue supporting efforts to ensure that Ukraine and its neighboring countries are resourced appropriately to address this challenge,” wrote Sen Warner in a letter to Oksana Markarova, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States.

 “In the meantime, I want to call attention to a growing body of disturbing reports along Ukraine’s western borders, which allege discriminatory treatment and processing of certain non-Ukrainian individuals – in particular, individuals from African nations,” he continued. “Many of these individuals are students studying in Ukraine. As you well know, at least 20 percent of the more than 80,000 international students studying in Ukraine come from an African nation, with sizable populations of Moroccan, Nigerian, and Egyptian students. These students and other individuals must be able to seek safety, and any discriminatory treatment or actions that deny them that ability are unacceptable. I echo the sentiments of the African Union, the US Department of State, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and highlight this right of all people who are fleeing conflict.”

Acknowledging the challenging circumstances being navigated by Ukrainian security personnel who are rapidly working to facilitate historic refugee flows, Sen. Warner stressed the importance of affording all individuals the ability to seek safety, regardless of race, religion, or nationality.

He further stated this point in letters to the ambassadors of neighboring nations – Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova – who are working with Ukraine to process and provide refuge in response to the mass migration spurred by Russia’s aggression. He also stated he will continue to monitor the conditions relating to the African diaspora and other forcibly displaced persons at the Ukrainian borders.

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Warner has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine and has repeatedly condemned Russia’s aggression and invasion of the sovereign nation. Last week, he urged major social media companies to prevent misuse of their platforms by Russia and Russia-linked entities.

A copy of the letter to Ambassador Markarova is available here and below.

Dear Ambassador Markarova:

I write to you today at a moment of great tragedy for your nation, as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his violent, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, in violation of your country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The United States stands firmly with the people of Ukraine, and you have my commitment that, as the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I will continue pressing the United States Government to share as much intelligence support as possible with Ukraine. I will also continue advocating for punishing sanctions and economic costs against President Putin and Russia, security assistance for the Ukrainian military, and robust economic and humanitarian assistance for the Ukrainian people.

Regarding the refugee crisis that President Putin has created through his violent invasion – which so far, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, has seen more than one million men, women, and children flee their homes to safety in neighboring countries – I will continue supporting efforts to ensure that Ukraine and its neighboring countries are resourced appropriately to address this challenge.

In the meantime, I want to call attention to a growing body of disturbing reports along Ukraine’s western borders, which allege discriminatory treatment and processing of certain non-Ukrainian individuals – in particular, individuals from African nations. Many of these individuals are students studying in Ukraine. As you well know, at least 20 percent of the more than 80,000 international students studying in Ukraine come from an African nation, with sizable populations of Moroccan, Nigerian, and Egyptian students. These students and other individuals must be able to seek safety, and any discriminatory treatment or actions that deny them that ability are unacceptable. I echo the sentiments of the African Union, the US Department of State, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and highlight this right of all people who are fleeing conflict.

I certainly acknowledge the incredibly challenging circumstances that Ukrainian security personnel are under as they work to quickly and effectively facilitate historic refugee flows in response to dire and urgent circumstances. I also recognize the stated commitments that Ukraine’s neighbors have made to take in people fleeing to safety. I urge all governments and authorities to ensure that all individuals – regardless of race, religion, or nationality – are afforded equal access to their right to seek safety. Please know that I am also writing to officials of neighboring countries to ensure that their authorities are not the cause of further allegations. I will continue to monitor conditions related to forcibly displaced persons at the borders – including the African diaspora – and I will continue to support resources for Ukraine to aid in these efforts.

I thank you for your government’s attention to this matter, and I reiterate my earnest support for the Ukrainian people in this conflict. The strength and resolve that they have shown in the face of this violent invasion has inspired and rallied so many in the international community to stand with Ukraine.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, as the Beijing Winter Olympic Games near their conclusion, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee focused on democracy and human rights, sent a letter urging the Biden Administration to press the Chinese government to halt the harassment of their constituents — Ziba Murat from Reston, Adalet Sabit from Alexandria, and Subi Yuksel from Manassas — and seek the release of their Uyghur family members who have been forcibly and wrongfully detained in China’s Xinjiang region. For years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has forcibly detained more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang, a devastating assault on individual freedoms and basic human rights.

“We write to urge you to seek the immediate release of the Uyghur family members of our constituents, including Ziba Murat, Adalet Sabit, and Subi Yuksel, whose family members are detained forcibly or otherwise targeted by the CCP in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), and who may be targets of harassment themselves,” wrote the Senators. “We also ask that the Department of State raise each of these cases at the highest levels of the Chinese government.

“Virginia is home to one of the largest Uyghur American diasporas in the United States, and we will continue to advocate on behalf of these named cases, as well as those of other constituents. These are citizens and residents who are our neighbors and friends,” concluded the Senators. “While China attempts to whitewash its horrific crimes against Uyghur Muslims, including presently during the Olympics in Beijing, we must ensure that the world does not forget that one of worst atrocities of our era remains ongoing.”

Last year, Kaine held a joint hearing, where Dr. Rushan Abbas of Herndon was a witness, to highlight China’s atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province and discuss additional ways to pressure China to end this horrific genocide.

In June 2021, Kaine’s bipartisan amendment, co-sponsored by Senator Romney, to diplomatically boycott the Beijing Olympics as a way to highlight human rights issues in Hong Kong and with China’s Uyghur population passed as part of the bipartisan Endless Frontiers Act. Following Kaine and Romney’s urging, the Biden Administration announced a diplomatic boycott in November.

In March 2021, Kaine helped introduce a bipartisan Senate resolution condemning China’s human right abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and calling for an international investigation into the abuses and crimes committed there. In January 2021, Warner and Kaine co-sponsored the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, legislation to ensure that goods made with Uyghur forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) do not enter the United States. A version of this legislation was ultimately passed through the Senate on a unanimous basis, and signed into law by the President in December 2021.

In December 2019, as a response to the Chinese Community Party (CCP)’s mass internments, Warner introduced the UIGHUR Protection Act, which would place export controls on critical technologies to China, such as facial recognition software, that can be used to facilitate mass surveillance and detention.

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

Dear Secretary Blinken:

We write to urge you to seek the immediate release of the Uyghur family members of our constituents, including Ziba Murat, Adalet Sabit, and Subi Yuksel, whose family members are detained forcibly or otherwise targeted by the CCP in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), and who may be targets of harassment themselves. We also ask that the Department of State raise each of these cases at the highest levels of the Chinese government.

For years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has forcibly detained more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang – a devastating assault on individual freedoms and basic human rights. The U.S. government and countless human rights organizations have documented the tools of oppression the Chinese government has deployed against Uyghur Muslims, including: abduction from third countries and forced disappearances within China, mass detentions, secret trials, forced labor, forced sterilization, separating families, banning the use of Uyghur language in schools, banning many religious practices, and political indoctrination.

The United States has rightly labeled the Chinese government’s attempts to essentially erase the Uyghur identity as genocide and has sanctioned various Chinese officials who have perpetrated these crimes. Even so, the CCP’s desire to punish those who speak against the crimes being committed in Xinjiang goes beyond the country’s borders. As a 2021 Freedom House report notes, “China conducts the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world.” For our constituents here in Virginia, the CCP’s campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslims is personal and has often come as direct retaliation for their advocacy in support of the Uyghur community.

In September 2018, Ziba Murat’s mother, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, a medical doctor who had spent her career caring for patients in Xinjiang, was detained, secretly tried, and then sentenced to 20 years in prison on phony charges. Dr. Abbas’ detention occurred after Ms. Murat’s aunt, Rushan Abbas – a former Radio Free Asia journalist – publicly denounced China’s use of detention camps in Xinjiang. For more than three years after Dr. Abbas’ imprisonment, the Chinese government refused to answer any questions about her whereabouts. To this day, the CCP refuses to disclose details about her physical well-being. Dr. Abbas is unjustly suffering the consequences of her family’s public advocacy against the Chinese government’s brutal treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.                         

On April 29, 2017, Ms. Subi Yuksel’s father, Mamat Abdullah, was arbitrarily detained on the day of his expected departure to the U.S. to visit his newborn grandchild. Mr. Abdullah, who is nearly 80 years old and was the Chief of the Xinjiang Forestry Department, had retired in 2008. During his trial in 2019, Mr. Abdullah was convicted – without evidence – of “bribery, two-facedness, and separatism,” and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Ms. Yuksel notes that Chinese officials told her family that they are at fault for Mr. Abdullah’s detention because they live in the U.S. near “politically active communities.” Ms. Yuksel contends that in reality, in the eyes of the Chinese government, prominent and well-educated Uyghurs like her father are considered a threat to the regime.

The Chinese government has also targeted Ms. Adalet Sabit’s husband, Abulimiti Abuliz, who is a Uyghur living in Xinjiang. Although Mr. Abuliz is not in an internment camp, the CCP has effectively banned him from travel. Following their marriage in 2017, Ms. Sabit left for the United States, and Mr. Abuliz expected to follow soon after. However, Chinese authorities seized his passport before his departure and never returned it, essentially barring him from leaving China for the last four years. CCP officials have also threatened Mr. Abduliz and told him that he would never see his wife again and never meet his now four-year-old daughter. The Chinese government has even threatened Ms. Sabit’s family here in the U.S., signaling the CCP’s desire to once again reach beyond China’s borders to silence dissent.

The heartbreak these detentions and harassment have caused is immeasurable. We applaud the State Department’s efforts to raise the plight of Uyghurs both publicly and with Chinese government officials directly. Similarly, we recognize that the agency continues to engage with our constituents on their respective cases. Still, it is vital that the U.S. maintain strong pressure on China to ensure that our constituents’ family members are free and that their basic human rights are respected.

Virginia is home to one of the largest Uyghur American diasporas in the United States, and we will continue to advocate on behalf of these named cases, as well as those of other constituents. These are citizens and residents who are our neighbors and friends. While China attempts to whitewash its horrific crimes against Uyghur Muslims, including presently during the Olympics in Beijing, we must ensure that the world does not forget that one of worst atrocities of our era remains ongoing.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, joined Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Chris Murphy, and Jeanne Shaheen, as well as 35 of their Senate colleagues, in a letter urging Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra to limit the sale and availability of short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI) plans, also known as “junk plans.” These plans fail to provide adequate, comprehensive health insurance coverage and weaken provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable and comprehensive health care coverage. In order to strengthen that commitment, HHS must act quickly to limit the proliferation and promotion of STLDI plans, and undue the sabotage caused by the previous administration,” said the Senators.

In 2018, the Trump Administration made junk plans more widely available to consumers in an effort to sabotage the ACA. Since then, the plans have continued to proliferate. However, they are not required to adhere to important standards, including prohibitions on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, coverage for the 10 essential health benefit (EHB) categories, and annual out-of-pocket maximums.

The letter was also signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Angus King (I-ME), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Charles Schumer (D-NY), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long fought to protect the ACA and expand access to quality health care. In 2020, they sent a letter led by Kaine calling on the Trump Administration to end efforts to sabotage the ACA. In 2019, they introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution  led by Warner, which would have prevented the Trump Administration from pushing junk health plans to 3 million Virginians with pre-existing conditions. Later that year, Sen. Warner successfully filed a discharge petition to force the Senate to vote on the CRA, which was ultimately defeated by Senate Republicans.  

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

Dear Secretary Becerra:

This year, 14.5 million Americans signed up for comprehensive health insurance coverage during Open Enrollment, a new record. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, four out of five consumers who receive health insurance from the marketplace are finding quality coverage for less than $10 per month, and a majority of those enrollees are also receiving subsidies to decrease their co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket spending. We write to congratulate you and your entire department for this significant achievement and encourage you to take additional steps to ensure that even more Americans are protected from substandard plans that do not provide coverage for pre-existing conditions. Now is the time to issue new regulations limiting the sale and availability of short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI) plans, also known as “junk plans” because of their failure to provide adequate coverage.

Despite the important gains that we have made in providing comprehensive and affordable coverage for more Americans, STLDI plans continue to sow confusion and cause harm to patients. These plans, which are not required to adhere to important standards, including prohibitions on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, coverage for the 10 essential health benefit (EHB) categories, and annual out-of-pocket maximums, have continued to proliferate. In 2018, the Trump administration issued a rule to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by promoting STLDI plans and that same year all Senate Democrats and one Republican Senator voted to block the rule. Unfortunately, this effort to undermine critical patient and consumer protections has yet to be undone.

We were pleased to see the Biden administration include amending regulations concerning STLDI plans in the Fall 2021 Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan, and are proud of the historic coverage gains that we have seen as a result of President Biden’s and your leadership. However, it is past time for us to take action. STLDI plans undermine the integrity of the ACA and put those with pre-existing conditions at risk. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should immediately restore the three-month duration limit for plans, limit plan renewability, and reduce the ability to purchase back-to-back STLDI plans. We also urge you to consider additional efforts to protect patients and consumers such as banning sales during Marketplace Open Enrollment, limiting internet and phone sales, establishing a prohibition on retroactive coverage rescissions, and requiring additional consumer disclosures about plan coverage.

It is our responsibility to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable and comprehensive health care coverage. In order to strengthen that commitment, HHS must act quickly to limit the proliferation and promotion of STLDI plans, and undue the sabotage caused by the previous administration.

Sincerely,

 

###

 

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led the entire Virginia Congressional Delegation in requesting that the Biden administration continue its support of the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project by including at least $76.9 million in federal funding for the project in President Biden’s FY23 budget request.

In a letter to President Biden, the members stressed the importance of securing these funds in FY23 to ensure that the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project remains on schedule to be completed by early 2025. This critical project is expected to expand Norfolk Harbor’s shipping channels and ensure that larger commercial and military vessels can continue to pass through Norfolk Harbor safely, especially in light of the rapid growth of vessels entering maritime trade.

“Allocating the remaining $76.9 million of the Federal share to Norfolk Harbor in Fiscal Year 2023 is essential to keep this nationally significant project on track for completion by early 2025 and allow the Norfolk District to award the Inner Harbor segment in a timely manner,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“The Port of Virginia is one of the Commonwealth’s most powerful economic engines. On an annual basis, the Port is responsible for more than 400,000 jobs and $100 billion in spending across our Commonwealth and generates more than eight percent of our Gross State Product. However, the Port’s true reach extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and into the Midwest and Ohio Valley. The Port maintains a balanced portfolio of container and bulk trade, and it serves a robust rail market to and from the American farmers and manufacturers throughout the Midwest and Ohio Valley,” they continued. 

The Norfolk Harbor project was included in President Biden’s FY22 budget request as a construction New Start. The proposed funds for the project were subsequently included in the FY22 House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee spending bills that are currently pending before Congress.

Last year, Sen. Warner led the Virginia Congressional Delegation in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) requesting a New Start designation for the project in the USACE Fiscal Year 2021 Work Plan – a request that was also made in 2020. In December, Sen. Warner led members of the Virginia Congressional Delegation in requesting funding for Norfolk Harbor through the resources made available to USACE by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was granted by USACE on January 19, 2022. In July 2021, Sen. Kaine advocated for the project to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor as part of his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Furthermore, in 2018, Sens. Warner and Kaine successfully fought for the inclusion of the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project, in addition to other coastal resiliency programs, in the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), and Bob Good (R-VA).

Full text of the letter is here and below.

Dear President Biden:

As representatives from the Commonwealth of Virginia, home to the Port of Virginia – the fifth largest and fastest growing port in the nation – we write today concerning the Norfolk Harbor and Channels Widening and Deepening project and your FY23 budget request. We respectfully request that you include $76.9 million in funding for the Norfolk Harbor project in your FY23 budget request to ensure this nationally significant project continues to move forward on schedule.

The Port of Virginia is one of the Commonwealth’s most powerful economic engines. On an annual basis, the Port is responsible for more than 400,000 jobs and $100 billion in spending across our Commonwealth and generates more than eight percent of our Gross State Product. However, the Port’s true reach extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and into the Midwest and Ohio Valley. The Port maintains a balanced portfolio of container and bulk trade, and it serves a robust rail market to and from the American farmers and manufacturers throughout the Midwest and Ohio Valley.

The deepening and widening of Norfolk Harbor is essential to continue safe and timely passage of ever-increasing commercial and military vessels through the harbor. Deepening Norfolk Harbor to 55 feet from its current 50 feet depth and widening Thimble Shoal Channel to 1,400 feet will enable safe, two-way traffic in and out of the harbor and will help prevent delays to commercial and military vessels – a necessity in today’s global trading landscape. Expanding Norfolk Harbor to allow for two-way traffic will also help prevent backlogs of commercial vessels that could cause costly delays and supply chain disruptions that are currently affecting some port facilities across the U.S.

We are pleased that the Norfolk Harbor project recently received a New Start designation and an initial tranche of Federal funding that will allow the Port and USACE to initiate a Project Partnership Agreement. As the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations process continues, the additional $83.7 million, which was originally included in the President’s FY22 Budget request and has been carried forward in both the House and Senate’s Fiscal Year 2022 Energy and Water Appropriations bills, will allow the Norfolk District to advertise the Atlantic Ocean Channel segment this summer.

The Commonwealth of Virginia provided full funding of $20 million for Preconstruction Engineering and Design and $330 million for construction in its FY19-20 biennial budget. The deepening of Thimble Shoal Channel – West as well as the deepening and widening of Thimble Shoal Channel – East are both currently under construction with scheduled completion by August 2022. Both contracts are funded and administered by the Port and are in full compliance with Federal standards under a Memorandum of Understanding with USACE in July 2017. Further, the construction work is eligible as Work-In-Kind once a Project Partnership Agreement is signed, which may happen as soon as this month now that Federal funds have been received.

However, a recent Army Corps cost estimate update and approval of the previously authorized widening of Thimble Shoal Channel – West as a cost-shared element of the project have increased the projected Federal share of the project to $235.9 million. Allocating the remaining $76.9 million of the Federal share to Norfolk Harbor in Fiscal Year 2023 is essential to keep this nationally significant project on track for completion by early 2025 and allow the Norfolk District to award the Inner Harbor segment in a timely manner

The Port of Virginia is a commercial and economic engine for the United States and continues to play an integral role in American foreign and domestic commerce and trade. Completion of this project will allow the Port to remain a prominent economic hub for the nation and a key player in domestic and international trade by generating more than $3.9 billion in net national economic development benefits. 

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions regarding this request. We look forward to continue working with you to support this critical project for Virginia and our nation’s ports

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME) in urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with the Department of Labor (DOL) to quickly make available an additional 44,716 H-2B visas, the maximum number of Congressionally-authorized visas in order to ensure that seafood processors and other businesses in Virginia have the workforce they need ahead of the seasonal start date on April 1.

“American businesses from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries,” the senators wrote. “Without meaningful H-2B cap relief, many seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking action to release and process additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences and instead help contribute to the American economy.”

“Given the growing demand for H-2B workers as our economy continues to reopen and employers continue to struggle with staffing shortages, we urge DHS to promptly make available all 64,716 additional H-2B visas authorized under law and urge DOL to allow employers to utilize emergency procedures for their applications to expedite processing times,” they continued. “These vital American businesses depend on access to a sufficient number of seasonal H-2B workers on April 1.”

The H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Visa Program allows U.S. employers to hire seasonal, non-immigrant workers during peak seasons to supplement the existing American workforce. In order to be eligible for the program, employers are required to declare that there are not enough U.S. workers available to do the temporary work, as is the case with the seafood industry, which relies on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs. 

Along with Sens. Warner, Kaine, Rounds, and King the letter was signed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jim Risch (R-ID), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Tom Carper (D-DE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Thune (R-SD), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), John Barasso (R-WY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Tim Scott (R-SC).    

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for the seafood processing industry – a community largely made up of rural, family-owned operations. Last year, the Senators urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release additional H-2B visas needed to support local seafood businesses in Virginia and Maryland. In December 2021, Sen. Warner applauded the release of an additional 20,000 H-2B visas for seasonal workers.

Sens. Warner and Kaine are committed to providing long-term relief for seasonal seafood processors through reform of the H-2B program. The release of these additional visas is an important step in ensuring that seafood processors in Virginia are able to meet their staffing needs in the upcoming season.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Secretary Walsh:

We write on behalf of seasonal businesses in our states to urge you to provide expeditious H-2B cap relief to address the seasonal labor shortages caused by the inadequate H-2B visa cap. Specifically, we urge that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Department of Labor (DOL), utilize the authority provided by Congress to release the maximum allowable number of additional H-2B visas for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22).  We further request that your agencies take steps to process pending H-2B applications in advance of the start of the April 1 hiring period for the second half of FY22, including by instituting emergency procedures previously used by DOL to address labor certification processing delays. 

American businesses from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries. Without meaningful H-2B cap relief, many seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking action to release and process additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences and instead help contribute to the American economy.

As Congress has allowed in each of the past five fiscal years, the current FY22 Continuing Resolution continues to provide the Department of Homeland Security the authority to lift the existing annual 66,000 H-2B visa cap.  In the past year, DHS has provided supplemental cap relief in the amounts of 22,000 in May 2021 and 20,000 in January 2022. While these supplemental visas helped some employers, they were not sufficient to satisfy the total need for H-2B workers. Additionally, the release of these visas did not occur until well into many businesses’ peak seasons, which caused significant harm to these employers.

We urge you to release all allowable additional visas as soon as possible to make certain workers can begin working on April 1, 2022, the start date for the second half of FY22. According to your Departments’ January 28, 2022 temporary final rule titled “Exercise of Time-Limited Authority to Increase the Fiscal Year 2022 Numerical Limitation for the H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker Program and Portability Flexibility for H-2B Workers Seeking To Change Employers,” DHS is authorized to release a total of 64,716 additional visas this fiscal year.

As you know, the first half H-2B visa cap for FY22 was reached on September 30, 2021, almost two months earlier than previous years. The urgency and high level of need for nonagricultural worker visas prompted your agencies to announce, for the first time ever, the release of an additional 20,000 H-2B visas in the first half of the fiscal year. This leaves tens of thousands of additionally authorized visas available for the remainder of FY22. 

As a result, we encourage you to release and process the authorized 44,716 additional visas in a manner that will make certain all H-2B workers can begin work on the April 1, 2022 start date for the second half of FY22. These additional visas are imperative, as evidenced by the Office of Foreign Labor Certification announcement that between January 1-3, 2022, the Foreign Labor Application Gateway System for the peak filing season received 7,875 applications from employers for more than 136,555 worker positions with an April 1, 2022 or later work start date. This is more than quadruple the number of H-2B visas currently available for the second half of the fiscal year.

In a December 20, 2021 press release, DHS outlined the agency’s intention to “implement policies that will make the H-2B program even more responsive to the needs of our economy.” It is clear from the number of applications received during the filing period for the second half of FY22 that the release of the remaining H-2B worker visas would be responsive to the needs of our economy.

We are also concerned that the unprecedented demand for the program has led to delays in processing labor certifications at DOL that, without emergency procedures, will prevent employers from completing the H-2B application process before the April 1, 2022 start date for the second half of FY22. In the second half of FY21, employers assigned to the final review group did not receive a first action from DOL until late February and a labor certification until March. This year, DOL is already running a week behind compared to last year, with a larger group of total applications to process. At this rate, it appears DOL may not finish processing labor certifications for the final review group until late March, making it impossible for employers to complete the full H-2B process before April 1. In 2016, due to similar processing delays, DOL instituted emergency procedures to allow employers to begin U.S. worker recruitment prior to receiving their first actions from DOL. We request that DOL again institute these emergency procedures, which will allow employers to submit their recruitment reports immediately upon receiving a Notice of Acceptance from DOL, saving two weeks.

Given the growing demand for H-2B workers as our economy continues to reopen and employers continue to struggle with staffing shortages, we urge DHS to promptly make available all 64,716 additional H-2B visas authorized under law and urge DOL to allow employers to utilize emergency procedures for their applications to expedite processing times. These vital American businesses depend on access to a sufficient number of seasonal H-2B workers on April 1. We thank you in advance for your attention to this pressing matter.

Sincerely,

 

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