Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), along with Reps. Dean Phillips (D-MN-3) and David Cicilline (D-RI-1) led a number of their congressional colleagues in a bicameral request urging President Biden to form an initiative to coordinate federal policies that will reshape and rebuild the economy so that it works for all. In a pair of letters penned by the three Senators and 18 House Representatives, the lawmakers requested that the proposed White House Initiative on Inclusive Economic Growth – originally envisioned by a coalition of impact-oriented organizations – build on the Administration’s ongoing efforts to address three monumental crises facing the nation: the COVID-19 economic fallout; a widening racial wealth gap; and climate change.

“While we support passing much of your Build Back Better Agenda through a budget reconciliation package, we believe it is also essential that the Administration prioritize executive action to reform capitalism in such a way that short-term profits and shareholder primacy no longer take center stage,” wrote the Senators. “A White House Initiative on Inclusive Economic Growth could play a central coordinating role between policy councils, executive agencies, and independent agencies in promoting equitable economic policy. The Initiative could also serve to convene private sector and civil society organizations that increasingly recognize the critical nature of a transition towards stakeholder capitalism.”

The Senators continued, “By changing the incentives for corporations and investors, we can lessen the disregard too often shown towards workers, environmental harms, or racial and gender inequity. And by renewing focus on community investing, we can work to mitigate the historic harms of disinvestment in Black, brown, tribal, and rural communities.”

In a separate letter, the House Representatives wrote, “The past year has exacerbated existing crises and brought the United States to an existential crossroads. The pandemic and the resulting economic fallout, systemic racial injustice, and the rising threat of climate change call for bold but necessary action: rebuilding our economy so that it works for all Americans. To address these issues, we need to change the underlying structures that have perpetuated them.”

“Several agencies are already beginning to prioritize more inclusive economic growth and community investing, including Treasury, the SEC, the Department of Commerce and others. In order to realize the full potential of these reforms across the federal government, we need coordination and prioritization from the Biden Administration,” they continued. “The principles behind stakeholder capitalism and community investing are increasingly being embraced across industries and in both the public and private sectors. With this new Initiative, we believe the White House can tap into a growing movement and ensure we transform these ideas into lasting, impactful policy.”

This bicameral effort has the support of organizations like B Lab and USIIA.

“We are motivated and excited by the support we are seeing for the White House Initiative on Inclusive Economic Growth. Now, more than ever, we have the momentum to drive inclusive economic growth through a partnership with the White House and Congress, have a say in rules and incentives for many of our decision-makers in corporate boardrooms and on Wall Street, and catalyze new investment for small businesses that line Main Street,” said Andrew Kassoy, co-founder and CEO of B Lab, a global network of organizations transforming the global economic system and one of the more than 50 organizations calling for the proposed White House Initiative.

“We are thankful for the leadership and support we have received from Sen. Warner, Reps. Phillips and Cicilline and many of their colleagues. The proposed initiative is the brainchild of more than 50 organizations that have dedicated their work to driving impact for underserved communities and in turn, building toward a more just and equitable economy. We look forward to partnering with Congress, the Administration and peers in the private sector on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to build back better and ensure that local economies and the capital markets work for all Americans,”said Fran Seegull, president of U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, one of the more than 50 organizations calling for the proposed White House Initiative.

Joining Reps. Phillips and Cicilline in the House letter are U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY-05), Adam Smith (D-WA-09), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ-09), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA-11), Judy Chu (D-CA-27), Betty McCollum (D-MN-04), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), André Carson (D-IN-07), Joe Neguse (D-CO-02), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-09), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-07), Donald Beyer Jr. (D-VA-08), and Kathleen Rice (D-NY-04).

Full text of the Senate letter is available here. Text of the House letter is available here. 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA-02), sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland today requesting that she direct the National Park Service to accept a 40-acre donation of land that would enhance and protect the Fort Monroe National Monument.

“Despite Fort Monroe’s significance to American history and exceptional recreational value, the monument, as it exists today, includes a very small number of historic buildings and fee ownership of less than half the property’s 565 acres. The fortress itself – the largest stone fort constructed in North America – remains in state ownership, while an easement allows the Park Service some control over its use. Virginia retains full responsibility for the fortress and the dozens of historic buildings on the property,” wrote the lawmakers.

“This donation would establish a physical connection between the two sections of Fort Monroe, creating an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay from Old Point Comfort to the northern end of the property,” they continued. “Despite the expected additional modest federal financial responsibility that would be expected from a land donation, we believe the cause of protecting and enhancing Fort Monroe is worth the Park Service’s additional investment. Fort Monroe has a unique and diverse history to tell and a tremendous amount of untapped potential we believe can be unlocked.”

Fort Monroe was built between 1819 and 1834 to protect the entrance to Hampton Roads. During the Civil War, Major General Benjamin Butler issued his famous “contraband decision” at Fort Monroe, ordering that escaped slaves who reached Union lines could not be returned to bondage. It was this consequential decision that earned Fort Monroe the nickname “Freedom's Fortress.”

In 2019, following the Trump Administration’s failure to accept the land donation, Sens. Warner and Kaine introduced legislation to add these 40 acres to Fort Monroe in order to unify the two divided sections and achieve an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below: 

Dear Secretary Haaland:

We write today to request that you direct the National Park Service to accept a pending 40-acre land donation from the Commonwealth of Virginia to the Fort Monroe National Monument. The addition of this land would accomplish a longtime goal of connecting the eastern section of the property and would help protect the monument for future generations.

In 2011, then-President Barack Obama designated Fort Monroe a national monument using his authority under the Antiquities Act. Fort Monroe holds a special place in Virginia and our nation’s history that tells a unique, complicated, and diverse story. Despite Fort Monroe’s significance to American history and exceptional recreational value, the monument, as it exists today, includes a very small number of historic buildings and fee ownership of less than half the property’s 565 acres. The fortress itself – the largest stone fort constructed in North America – remains in state ownership, while an easement allows the Park Service some control over its use. Virginia retains full responsibility for the fortress and the dozens of historic buildings on the property.

In 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia agreed to donate approximately 40 coastal acres including additional land in the Wherry Quarter to Fort Monroe, to enhance and protect the monument. Following a thorough review, the Park Service indicated it could accept a land donation of approximately 40 acres in the eastern section of the Wherry Quarter. This donation would establish a physical connection between the two sections of Fort Monroe, creating an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay from Old Point Comfort to the northern end of the property. The Commonwealth remains committed to donating this property to Fort Monroe and is willing to work with the Park Service to determine the best use for the property.

The approximately 40 acres of coastal land contain several low-rise non-historic buildings, which could be demolished or utilized for alternative purposes. We understand the Commonwealth has continued to negotiate in good faith to lease these buildings to new tenants, which would mitigate any potential costs to the Park Service. Despite the expected additional modest federal financial responsibility that would be expected from a land donation, we believe the cause of protecting and enhancing Fort Monroe is worth the Park Service’s additional investment. Fort Monroe has a unique and diverse history to tell and a tremendous amount of untapped potential we believe can be unlocked.

Acceptance of this land donation would demonstrate to the Commonwealth that the Park Service is a reliable federal partner that can be relied on to follow through on its plans. In recent years, Virginia and the Park Service have endorsed a “One Fort Monroe” concept, which has the goal of elevating Fort Monroe as a national treasure and unlocking the landmark’s vast historical and recreational potential. Recently, the Commonwealth has worked collaboratively with the Park Service to open a new combined visitor center and hosted a successful 400th anniversary commemoration event regarding the arrival of the first Africans in North America. Moving forward with this land donation will help strengthen the relationship between the Commonwealth and Fort Monroe and help the monument move closer to realizing its vast potential.

We respectfully request that the Department of the Interior move forward with accepting this land donation from the Commonwealth of Virginia as quickly as possible. This transfer has been delayed for too long and the time is now for this donation to move forward. We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to Biden Administration officials pushing for increased communication and coordination with Virginia localities and institutions supporting Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), which seeks to resettle vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked on behalf of the United States.

Sens. Warner and Kaine are calling for clearer and more direct lines of communication between the federal government and Virginia localities and entities assisting OAW, to ensure that the operation is running with the safety and the efficiency that it requires.

“We are encouraged by efforts that officials have taken to coordinate at the local level, including Secretary Mayorkas’ call with local officials, outreach from military leaders to the communities around their installations, and the establishment of local coordinating officials on military bases. These efforts facilitate communication and help address concerns that local communities may have, and most critically, help align state and local resources to complement and support the federal government’s efforts,” wrote the Senators.

“We continue to believe, however, that the federal government – specifically the departments and agencies that are coordinating and running OAW on the ground – must do more to develop clear and explicit lines of communication, acknowledge the concerns and questions of local communities, and coordinate the operation so that states and localities can effectively support and backstop the operation with minimal disruption,” they continued.

The Senators, who have heard concerns related to capacity and resources from localities that are supporting the operation, also pose a number of questions for DHS in its role overseeing OAW. These questions touch on the availability of medical resources and personnel, as well as on COVID-19 vaccine administration policies and procedures.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below:

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas

Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.

Senior Response Official

Unified Coordination Group

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Washington, D.C. 20024

Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Mr. Fenton:

We write today to urge increased coordination and improved communication with Virginia localities and institutions that are assisting with Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), and to reiterate concerns that our offices have received about the resources and level of support that the federal government is providing to these local communities and entities.

As we’ve traveled throughout the Commonwealth, we have heard from citizens and local elected officials alike that their communities are honored to participate in this historic and worthy operation. From arrival at Dulles International Airport to housing and processing at the Dulles Expo Center, Fort Lee, Fort Pickett, and Marine Corps Base Quantico, the United States would have been unable to shelter and care for these refugees as quickly without the resources provided by the Commonwealth.

Virginians continue to work to support Operation Allies Welcome at all levels. The Commonwealth and many localities have generously offered resources, and we have no doubt that Virginians will continue to assist however they are able.

We are encouraged by efforts that officials have taken to coordinate at the local level, including Secretary Mayorkas’ call with local officials, outreach from military leaders to the communities around their installations, and the establishment of local coordinating officials on military bases. These efforts facilitate communication and help address concerns that local communities may have, and most critically, help align state and local resources to complement and support the federal government’s efforts.

We continue to believe, however, that the federal government – specifically the departments and agencies that are coordinating and running OAW on the ground – must do more to develop clear and explicit lines of communication, acknowledge the concerns and questions of local communities, and coordinate the operation so that states and localities can effectively support and backstop the operation with minimal disruption. 

We remain concerned about the impacts that insufficient coordination and communication have had so far, especially related to healthcare operations in Northern Virginia. We again urge, to the greatest extent possible, full coordination with local officials and entities who can help manage the logistics and balance resources on behalf of local communities.

We would also like to reiterate concerns related to local capacity to assist the federal government, and in turn, the federal government’s ability to support local communities in these efforts. Our offices have previously raised these concerns with OAW personnel. In particular, we are seeking answers to the following:

  1. Military installation medical capacity. On August 25th, the Department of Defense authorized the use of Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Pickett as part of the Department’s support of this operation, with announced capacities of 5,000 and 10,000 individuals, respectively. This was in addition to the existing capacity at Fort Lee.
    1. What are the current and anticipated medical capabilities and capacities at each of these installations? What degree of care is OAW able to provide entirely on-base, without needing to access health resources in local communities?
    2. What steps is OAW taking to surge these capabilities and capacities, to bring in additional personnel and resources from other installations and locations, and to safely provide as much quality medical care on-base as possible? What efforts is OAW making to offer specialty care, including, in particular, prenatal and obstetric care?
  2. Support for local communities’ medical capacity. Nationwide and in Virginia, hospitals and health centers are struggling due to ongoing challenges related to COVID-19, staffing shortages, and other serious medical capacity concerns. Hospitals and health providers in the areas surrounding these bases have indicated that they are already near capacity, given these pandemic and staffing constraints.
    1. What support or assistance is OAW currently providing to states, localities, and local hospitals and health providers – whether supplies, resources, funding, staffing, or otherwise – to help them manage the additional demands from increased populations in their regions? Is there further assistance available that these entities should be availing themselves of to help meet demand?
    2. What contingency plans are in place for providing appropriate medical care if local hospitals and community health providers reach full capacity? Please include contingencies both for OAW to provide appropriate care to Afghan individuals and families, and for the federal government to help local communities expand their ability to provide appropriate care to members of their communities.
  3. COVID-19 vaccine. Please clarify the official policy with regard to Afghan individuals and families receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, including the timing of the vaccine being required relative to their entering the U.S. What efforts are underway to speed up vaccinations and to administer vaccines earlier with respect to the arrival of Afghans into the U.S.?

We appreciate the efforts that you and the dedicated men and women of your workforce have made during this historic operation. We also commend states and localities around the country for their efforts to support this mission, and the pride with which they have done so.

So that this operation can run with the safety and efficiency that it requires, and that all associated individuals and families deserve, we urge you to ensure that OAW is operating as a constructive partner to states and localities, and to make sure these states and localities have the support and resources that they require to meet both their needs, and the extraordinary aims of this operation. Should your agency have any questions or an immediate response to the concerns outlined, please contact our staff at Zach_Lewis@warner.senate.gov and Ausan_AlEryanI@kaine.senate.gov.

Cc:

The Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III

Secretary of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

 

The Honorable Xavier Becerra

Secretary of Health & Human Services

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

 

WASHINGTON – As Labor Day weekend approaches, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ) are pressing product safety regulators to include beach umbrellas in their testing protocols as they work to develop new safety standards for umbrellas sold to consumers. It’s the latest push in the senators’ continued effort to protect beachgoers following multiple accidents involving wind-swept beach umbrellas, including in 2016, when Lottie Michelle Belk of Chester, Va. was struck in the torso and killed while vacationing in Virginia Beach with her family. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have previously pushed for increased safety measures in a 2019 letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In addition, the senators have called for a public safety campaign to educate the public about the dangers of beach umbrellas.  

“Given the grave danger posed by beach umbrellas we feel it is imperative that ASTM include beach umbrellas in any new test methods,” the senators wrote to ASTM International Subcommittee Chair Ben Favret. “Summer is in full swing, and as millions of newly vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes to spend time at the shore, we must do all we can to ensure the safety of beach umbrellas.”

ASTM International—a nonprofit that often partners with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to develop technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services—last year began testing the safety and durability of market umbrellas in various wind conditions. Unfortunately it has continued to exclude beach umbrellas from this testing regimen, instead limiting it to patio and weighted-base umbrellas. 

Assessing the risks associated with using certain products under specific conditions is a critical step towards developing new product safety standards, recommendations, and best practices to mitigate the risk.    

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 2,800 people sought treatment at emergency rooms for beach umbrella-related injuries from 2010-2018

 Full text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here:

Ben Favret

Subcommittee Chair, ASTM F15.79

ASTM International

100 Barr Harbor Drive

West Conshohocken, PA 19428

 

Dear Mr. Favret:

We write to urge ASTM International to update its testing method standard to account for wind speed as it relates to beach umbrellas.

As you note on your website, “[t]he deleterious effects of a Market Umbrellas [sic] being blow[n] over or broken by wind forces can range from acute injury, such as cuts or bruises to blunt force trauma, such as concussions or broken bones and in some cases death.”  Further, you state that “[t]he lack of any voluntary standard for the safe performance of Market Umbrellas puts millions of consumers and employees around the world at risk unnecessarily.”  Indeed, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) stated in a June 2019 letter to the Senate, over the nine-year period from 2010-2018, an estimated 2,800 people sought treatment in emergency rooms for injuries related to beach umbrellas.  A majority of those injuries were caused by a wind-blown beach umbrella. 

In March 2021, the CPSC wrote to ASTM requesting that it “expand the standard to address fully the hazards of injuries and death due to beach umbrellas implanted in the sand.”  In addition, the agency suggested “mentioning the known fatality in the introduction of the standard, along with the injury data already there”.  We could not agree more. Given the grave danger posed by beach umbrellas we feel it is imperative that ASTM include beach umbrellas in any new test methods.

Summer is in full swing, and as millions of newly vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes to spend time at the shore, we must do all we can to ensure the safety of beach umbrellas. We appreciate ASTM’s willingness to consider this issue.  Should you have further questions please contact Shelby Boxenbaum in Senator Menendez’s office at 202-224-4744.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to the Virginia District Manager of the United States Postal Service (USPS) urging him to address the widespread delivery delays across Virginia in recent months. In their letter, the Senators called on Virginia District Manager Gerald Roane to create additional contingency plans to address existing staff shortages and capacity challenges and ensure that Virginians do not miss mail deliveries for days or weeks at a time.

We write to share great concern regarding the continued widespread delivery delays across Virginia in the recent months. We have heard from hundreds of constituents, specifically in the Central Virginia region, who have shared stories about severe delivery delays adversely impacting their lives. Additionally, we continue to seek answers about staffing shortages and other circumstances that have led to such delays and actions that are being taken to prevent future issues,” the Senators wrote to Virginia District Manager Gerald Roane.

In their letter, Sens. Warner and Kaine cite the concerns of one Charlottesville resident, who shared that she has not had a mail carrier assigned to her delivery route since January, leaving her “virtually no first class mail delivery” for more than eight monthsThe same constituent shared that she is missing bills and tax documents, among other things, due to this lack of postal service.

This troubling decline in on-time mail is causing constraints to many Virginians who are now receiving unexpected late fees due to delayed payments, missed paychecks, late prescriptions on critical medications, and much more,” they continued. “Deborah’s story is among countless others that we have received. Additionally, despite numerous requests, USPS officials have not provided relevant and updated data and mail delivery times. However, the outpour of constituent outreach demonstrates the substantial decline in on-time delivery in recent months and the devastating impact that it has had on millions of Americans. We urge you to review and implement processes to fill vacant postal positions and expedite the delivery of mail.”

In February, the Senators pressed U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on continued widespread mail service delays throughout the Commonwealth. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been vocal about reversing any changes to USPS that have affected the reliability of mail delivery. In August 2020, they joined their colleagues in a letter asking  Postmaster General DeJoy not to take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Additionally, last summer, the Senators raised concerns regarding the operational and structural changes implemented by Postmaster General DeJoy and the impact they would have on timely mail delivery. In response to these concerns, U.S. Postmaster DeJoy temporarily halted some, though not all, of the operational changes planned until after the November 2020 election. 

Full text of the letter is here and below.

Mr. Gerald Roane

Virginia District Manager

United States Postal Service

1801 Brook Road

Richmond, VA 23232

 

Dear Mr. Roane:

We write to share great concern regarding the continued widespread delivery delays across Virginia in the recent months. We have heard from hundreds of constituents, specifically in the Central Virginia region, who have shared stories about severe delivery delays adversely impacting their lives. Additionally, we continue to seek answers about staffing shortages and other circumstances that have led to such delays and actions that are being taken to prevent future issues. 

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has played a critical role in keeping Virginians connected and safe. Whether it is the delivery of groceries, household necessities, or medications, countless Virginians continue to depend on USPS as a critical link to vital resources. For this reason, we are deeply troubled to see that timely mail delivery has precipitously continued to decline in Virginia.

While we seek a general explanation of the factors contributing to substandard delivery rates, we specifically seek explanations with respect to two primary issues raised by our constituents:

1.      USPS government liaisons have cited temporary staff shortages and capacity challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic as contributing factors to recent delays. Constituents have shared stories about USPS’s inability to replace postal carriers who are temporarily out due to illness, injury, or on leave.[1] Insufficient staffing has had profound impacts on our constituents.

2.      Many of our constituents in Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and surrounding jurisdictions are reporting that they are not receiving any mail for days or weeks at a time.[2]

We understand that many of these challenges could be due to staffing shortages, but implore you to create additional contingency plans to ensure that delivery routes do not miss mail deliveries for days at a time because a letter carrier is out.

This troubling decline in on-time mail is causing constraints to many Virginians who are now receiving unexpected late fees due to delayed payments, missed paychecks, late prescriptions on critical medications, and much more.[3] Specifically, I would like to direct your attention to one of our constituents, Deborah from Charlottesville, who recounts her firsthand frustration with recent USPS service.

Deborah shares that, “In addition to the nationwide problems with mail and the post office, those of us living in … Charlottesville, Virginia, have a special, additional difficulty hinging on the failure … to assign a mail carrier to our route. The person assigned our route went on maternity leave, as I understand it, in October, 2020, and as this is a new year, her additional 12 weeks maternity leave means she will stay off until approximately April 2021. During 2020, we had a wonderful substitute … But, starting in January, it seems we have had no person assigned this route. Hence, starting in January, we have had virtually no first class mail delivery … I personally have received none of my “informed delivery”, [and] have received in the last few weeks a total of approximately 5 pieces of first class mail, though I would normally get at least 3-5 times that much. Two of the 5 pieces were received on Friday January 29, but had been mailed Dec 28, and Jan 4. There are important items I need which cannot be emailed, and which have been remailed due to the apparent loss, and neither mailing has been received. I am also missing bills, tax documents and who know[s] what else. The rest of the community is in the same boat. Most urgently, I was contacted last night by an elderly neighbor who is desperate because she and her husband are not getting their pension checks. She visits the local P.O. regularly, she told me, pleading for her mail, but she says no one seems to care…” 

Deborah’s story is among countless others that we have received. Additionally, despite numerous requests, USPS officials have not provided relevant and updated data and mail delivery times. However, the outpour of constituent outreach demonstrates the substantial decline in on-time delivery in recent months and the devastating impact that it has had on millions of Americans. We urge you to review and implement processes to fill vacant postal positions and expedite the delivery of mail. 

Americans depend on the Postal Service for high-quality, reliable service, especially during the extraordinarily difficult times that they have experienced due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

To that end, we ask that you answer the following questions by September 3, 2021: 

1.      To what does USPS attribute the rapid decline in on-time delivery rates of mail in the Charlottesville region? 

2.      Since December 2020, has USPS pursued any changes to remedy these drastic delays in mail and significant personnel shortages needed to meet the demand in mail? Please describe, in detail, if there were any efforts to surge resources and staffing in Charlottesville.

3.      Please describe, in detail, the steps you have taken to respond to customers who have been harmed by these mail delays. Has USPS pursued initiatives to locate packages and mail that are significantly delayed (more than two weeks beyond expected delivery) and to expedite their processing and delivery? 

4.      Please provide monthly staffing numbers for postal carriers and mail handlers in all of the USPS offices in Charlottesville, Virginia since December 2020. How many postal carrier positions are currently vacant? How many positions need to be filled to meet capacity needs and ensure that the mail delivery division is properly staffed?

5.      Please share any data that you have on the delivery rates of mail-order medications in Charlottesville and the Virginia district. What action has USPS taken and does it plan to take to prioritize mail-order medications in light of mounting mail delays? 

6.      Please share any data on mail delivery performance in Charlottesville and the Virginia district.  

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to working with the United States Postal Service during the 117th Congress to ensure that it remains a working institution for all Americans.

Sincerely,

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Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), joined Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) in a bipartisan letter urging the Biden Administration to address the quickly-deteriorating situation in Afghanistan that threatens the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan partners.    

In the letter, the Senators call for the urgent evacuation of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families. They urge the Administration to enforce strategic agency coordination and hold the Hamid Karzai International Airport to ensure the safety of Afghan partners and their families, as well as U.S. citizens. The letter marks the latest congressional response to the danger posed by the Taliban to Afghan allies who aided the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. 

“The Taliban’s rapid ascendancy across Afghanistan and takeover of Kabul should not cause us to break our promise to the Afghans who helped us operate over the past twenty years and are counting on us for assistance. American inaction would ensure they become refugees or prime targets for Taliban retribution,” the Senators wrote.  

“Specifically, we urge continued coordination between the Departments of State and Defense to secure and hold Hamid Karzai International Airport, including to allow for the continuation of military flights and the resumption of commercial and charter flights. We also urge your Administration to assist with the passage of individuals to the airport to safety – both those within Kabul and those outside of the capital – as well as to consider cases where Afghans fleeing quickly may not have been able to collect or gather appropriate documents,” the Senators added. “We were pleased that you immediately signed [our]…legislation to make extensive improvements to the SIV program into law three weeks ago, and now ask that you move just as quickly to ensure it is properly and fully implemented ensuring applicants and their families can get out of harm’s way.” 

Joining Senators Warner, Kaine, Shaheen, and Ernst in signing the letter were Senators Durbin (D-IL), Romney (R-UT), Reed (D-RI), Collins (R-ME), Leahy (D-VT), Graham (R-SC), Peters (D-MI), Rounds (R-SD), Menendez (D-NJ), Lummis (R-WY), Coons (D-DE), Sasse (R-NE), Warnock (D-GA), Cornyn (R-TX), Van Hollen (D-MD), Daines (R-MT), Duckworth (D-IL), Moran (R-KS), Gillibrand (D-NY), Marshall (R-KS), Markey (D-MA), Cardin (D-MD), Murphy (D-CT), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Stabenow (D-MI), Warren (D-MA), Manchin (D-WV), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Bennet (D-CO), Hassan (D-NH), Rosen (D-NV), Blumenthal (D-CT), Klobuchar (D-MN), Padilla (D-CA), Murray  (D-WA), King (I-ME), Heinrich (D-NM), Merkley (D-OR), Whitehouse (D-RI), Feinstein (D-CA), Schatz (D-HI), Sanders (I-VT), Hirono (D-HI), Carper (D-DE), Lujan (D-NM), Smith (D-MN), Ossoff (D-GA), Tester (D-MT), Brown (D-OH), Kelly (D-AZ), and Booker (D-NJ).

Senators Warner and Kaine are in close communication with the Administration and U.S. allies on the ground to ensure the safety and quick evacuation of U.S. personnel, Afghan partners, journalists, women leaders, activists, human rights defenders, and others. Their offices are working to help with the evacuation of Americans, as well as SIV-eligible and other at risk Afghans, to get them to safety as quickly as possible.

Earlier this week, Warner and Kaine joined their Senate colleagues in a bipartisan letter calling on the Administration to take swift, robust action to protect and support Afghan women leaders facing unparalleled danger following the Taliban’s violent sweep across Afghanistan and seizure of Kabul.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below

Dear Mr. President,   

We write to urge the immediate and full implementation of recently-passed legislation amending the process and eligibility for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and for the urgent evacuation of SIV applicants whose service to the U.S. mission has put their lives in jeopardy. As you know, this critical program provides safety for the brave Afghans who served alongside United States troops in support of the U.S. missions in Afghanistan. As the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, these individuals face increased danger at the hands of the Taliban that has sworn retribution. For this reason, Congress provided additional authorities to improve and expedite the application process while maintaining the program’s security and integrity. We implore your Administration to expeditiously implement these changes and immediately evacuate our Afghan allies to safety.  

The United States led coalition forces in Afghanistan for nearly twenty years following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Our mission safeguarded the American homeland safe from terrorist attacks, eliminated Osama bin Laden, and delivered freedom and education to a generation of Afghan women and children. At every step of the way, our mission was supported by Afghans who fought alongside us for a better future for their country. They risked their safety and the well-being of their families to work with the United States. With the departure of U.S. forces and Taliban rule in place, the safety and security of our Afghan allies who put their lives on the line to help our service members and diplomats must be a top priority.   

For this reason, we urge you to continue the expeditious evacuation of SIV applicants and their families. At your direction, on July 17 the United States launched Operation Allies Refuge in order to evacuate SIV applicants in danger from the Taliban’s advances. We appreciate that this effort has already brought 2,000 Afghans, including primary SIV applicants and their families, to the United States. However many more remain. The Taliban’s rapid ascendancy across Afghanistan and takeover of Kabul should not cause us to break our promise to the Afghans who helped us operate over the past twenty years and are counting on us for assistance. American inaction would ensure they become refugees or prime targets for Taliban retribution.   

Specifically, we urge continued coordination between the Departments of State and Defense to secure and hold Hamid Karzai International Airport, including to allow for the continuation of military flights and the resumption of commercial and charter flights. We also urge your Administration to assist with the passage of individuals to the airport to safety – both those within Kabul and those outside of the capital – as well as to consider cases where Afghans fleeing quickly may not have been able to collect or gather appropriate documents.?    

Additionally, the support and protection of our Afghan allies is why Congress recently passed, with broad bipartisan support, legislation to make extensive changes to the SIV program. We did so with the goal of improving the process for applicants while maintaining our national security. We were pleased that you immediately signed this legislation to make extensive improvements to the SIV program into law three weeks ago, and now ask that you move just as quickly to ensure it is properly and fully implemented ensuring applicants and their families can get out of harm’s way.  

To this end, we respectfully request that your Administration immediately implement all aspects of the statute as Congress intended, including:   

1.       Updating internal and external guidance to reflect the change in the employment requirement for eligibility from two years of service to one. This adjustment of eligibility must be applied to all pending applications, including those on appeal which have been denied on the basis of insufficient duration of service but whose appeal is still eligible to be re-adjudicated. To ensure that this change is fully implemented, we ask that all staff who are charged with processing applications receive training to apply the 12 month standard to all pending applications and appeals.   

2.       The issuance of special immigrant visas to all applicants and their qualified family members that have passed all steps of the visa process and only await a medical exam. The adjustment of status conferred by a SIV is preferable both to the processing of visas and to the applicants than paroling evacuated individuals into the country, thus requiring additional filings to confer the statuses included in a SIV.   

3.       Full and immediate repeal of the “sensitive and trusted” requirement for individuals employed by or on behalf of the NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan, as required by the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, as well as those employed by or on behalf of the United States government. Congress repealed the “sensitive and trusted” requirement from U.S. government employment in December 2019, but as of this date we are not satisfied that it has been fully implemented. We expect the Department of State to implement the removal of “sensitive and trusted” activities from NATO-led forces support immediately, re-open the cases of any U.S. government employees who have been denied Chief of Mission approval for lack of “sensitive and trusted employment” since December 2019, and expeditiously update internal and external guidance to reflect this change.  

4.       The process for appeals of denials. As newly amended, the law now allows that, if an appeal is denied for a reason not listed in the initial denial, the applicant must be allowed an opportunity to address the new denial ground. This allowance is due to the high success rate for appeals when the cause of denial is known to the applicant. As with other changes to the law, we request that your Administration ensure that this change applies to all applications within the appeal period. This spares applicants the time and effort of re-applying and conserves the precious processing resources of the U.S. government.  

5.       Prioritization of applications based on date of the initial application. We once again clarify that the “prioritization” scheme that was introduced in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 is no longer law. In addition, all application processing must comply with the Congressionally-mandated nine month processing requirement.   

6.       Full transparency and adequate guidance for applicants. This includes, but is not limited to, updating all public websites maintained by the relevant U.S. government authorities to provide applicants with complete information about eligibility and process for applying. Most applicants do not have access to legal counsel for the sake of understanding the current process. All changes in program eligibility must be readily accessible and all changes that impact current applicants must be communicated directly to applicants.   

We appreciate the efforts that you and your Administration have made on behalf of Afghans who worked in support of the U.S. in Afghanistan. We must now concentrate all U.S. efforts on supporting and protecting our Afghan allies. Anything short of full implementation results in grave security implications. You have the strong support of both chambers of Congress to ensure that no additional Afghan lives are needlessly lost.   

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights; and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg asking about Facebook’s decision to terminate the ability of researchers at New York University’s Ad Observatory Project’s to access its platform.  

The independent researchers were studying political advertising on Facebook. Their research has produced several key discoveries including highlighting a lack of transparency in how advertisers target political ads online on Facebook. 

“We were surprised to learn that Facebook has terminated access to its platform for researchers connected with the NYU Ad Observatory project. The opaque and unregulated online advertising platforms that social media companies maintain have allowed a hotbed of disinformation and consumer scams to proliferate, and we need to find solutions to those problems,” the senators wrote.

The senators continued later in the letter: “...independent researchers are a critical part of the solution. While we agree that Facebook must safeguard user privacy, it is similarly imperative that Facebook allow credible academic researchers and journalists like those involved in the Ad Observatory project to conduct independent research that will help illuminate how the company can better tackle misinformation, disinformation, and other harmful activity that is proliferating on its platforms.”

The full text of the letter can be found below and HERE.

 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,  

As you know, we are committed to protecting privacy for all Americans while eliminating the scourge that is disinformation and misinformation, particularly with regard to elections and the COVID-19 pandemic.

We were surprised to learn that Facebook has terminated access to its platform for researchers connected with the NYU Ad Observatory project. The opaque and unregulated online advertising platforms that social media companies maintain have allowed a hotbed of disinformation and consumer scams to proliferate, and we need to find solutions to those problems. The Ad Observatory project describes itself as “nonpartisan [and] independent…focused on improving the transparency of online political advertising.” Research efforts studying online advertising have helped inform consumers and policymakers about the extent to which your ad platform has been a vector for consumer scams and frauds, enabled hiring discrimination and discriminatory ads for financial services, and circumvented accessibility laws. Such work to improve the integrity of online advertising is critical to strengthening American democracy.

We appreciate Facebook’s ongoing efforts to address misinformation and disinformation on its platforms. But there is much more to do, and independent researchers are a critical part of the solution. While we agree that Facebook must safeguard user privacy, it is similarly imperative that Facebook allow credible academic researchers and journalists like those involved in the Ad Observatory project to conduct independent research that will help illuminate how the company can better tackle misinformation, disinformation, and other harmful activity that is proliferating on its platforms.

We therefore ask that you provide written answers to the following questions by August 20, 2021:

  1. How many accounts of researchers and journalists were terminated or otherwise disabled during 2021, including but not limited to researchers from the NYU Ad Observatory?
  2. Please explain why you terminated those accounts referenced in question 1. If you believe that the researchers violated Facebook’s terms of service, please describe how, in detail.
  3. If the researchers’ access violated Facebook’s terms of service, what steps are you taking to revise these terms to better accommodate research that improves the security and integrity of your platform?
  4. Facebook’s public statement about its decision to terminate the Ad Observatory researchers’ access said that research should not “compromis[e] people’s privacy.” Please explain how the researchers’ work compromised privacy of end-users.
  5. The Ad Observatory project asked Facebook users to voluntarily install a browser extension that would provide information available to that user about the ads that the user was shown. Facebook’s public statement says that the extension “collected data about Facebook users who did not install it or consent to the collection.” Were these non-consenting “users” advertisers whose advertising information was being collected and analyzed, other individual Facebook users, or both?
  6. Facebook has suggested that the NYU researchers potentially violated user privacy because the browser extension could have exposed the identity of users who liked or commented on an advertisement.  However, both researchers at NYU and other independent researchers have confirmed that the extension did not collect information beyond the frame of the ad, and that the program could not collect personal posts.  Given these technical constraints, what evidence does Facebook have to suggest that this research exposed personal information of non-consenting individuals?
  7. Facebook’s public statement explaining its decision to revoke access for the NYU researchers states that Facebook made this decision “in line with our privacy program under the FTC Order.” FTC Acting Bureau Director Samuel Levine sent you a letter dated August 5, 2021 in which he noted that “Had you honored your commitment to contact us in advance, we would have pointed out that the consent decree does not bar Facebook from creating exceptions for good-faith research in the public interest. Indeed, the FTC supports efforts to shed light on opaque business practices.”
    1. Why didn’t Facebook contact the FTC about its plans to disable researchers’ accounts?
    2. Does Facebook maintain that the FTC consent decree or other orders required it to disable access for the Ad Observatory researchers? If so, please explain with specificity which sections of which decree(s) compel that response.
    3. Are there measures Facebook could take to authorize the Ad Observatory research while remaining in compliance with FTC requirements?
    4. In light of Mr. Levine’s statement that the FTC Order does not require Facebook to disable the access of the Ad Observatory researchers, does Facebook intend to restore the Ad Observatory researchers’ access?
  8. In its public statement, Facebook highlighted tools that it offers to the academic community, including its Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) initiative.  However, public reporting suggests that tool only includes data from the three month period before the November 2020 election, and further that it does not include ads seen by fewer than 100 people.
    1. Why does Facebook limit this data set to the three months prior to the November 2020 election?
    2. Why does Facebook limit this data set to ads seen by more than 100 people?
    3. What percentage of unique ads on Facebook are seen by more than 100 people?

 We look forward to your prompt responses.

# # #

WASHINGTON —Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the White House recommending Ms. Juval Scott and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou to fill the upcoming vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division, which will be created when Judge James P. Jones assumes senior status on August 30, 2021.  

Ms. Scott is currently the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Virginia. She has also served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and Southern District of Indiana. As an Attorney Advisor at the Administrative Office of Courts, Defender Services Office, Training Division, she worked to develop and implement national, state, and local training programs for public defenders. As a public defender, Ms. Scott has represented hundreds of indigent clients. If nominated and confirmed, Ms. Scott would be the first African American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. 

Judge Ballou has served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Western District since 2011. Prior to joining the bench, he spent twenty-three years in private practice. He tried fifty cases before juries over that period of time. On the bench, he has overseen a wide variety of federal civil and criminal matters, conducted dozens of misdemeanor criminal trials, and several civil jury trials. He has also dedicated time and attention to the Veterans Court and the prisoner pro se docket. 

“Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation,” said the senators. “Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench.”

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia is based in Roanoke. Appeals from the Western District of Virginia are taken to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. President Biden will nominate one individual for the position, which is subject to confirmation by the full Senate. 

The full text of today’s letter appears here and below:

 

Dear Mr. President:

We are pleased to recommend Ms. Juval Scott and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou for the vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division, following the decision by Judge James P. Jones to take senior status effective August 30, 2021. Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation. 

Ms. Scott is currently the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Virginia. In this position, she manages three offices of the Federal Public Defender in Roanoke, Charlottesville, and Abingdon, Virginia. She has also served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Southern District of Indiana. As an Attorney Advisor at the Administrative Office of Courts, Defender Services Office, Training Division, she worked to develop and implement national, state and local training programs for public defenders. She also initiated a federal program to diversify public defender offices. Ms. Scott has represented hundreds of indigent clients in the Western District of Virginia, Eastern District of Wisconsin, and Southern District of Indiana. This experience gives us confidence that Ms. Scott would make an excellent nominee for this seat.

We also recommend Judge Ballou, who has served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Western District since 2011. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Ballou spent 23 years in private practice and became well-acquainted with federal court practice in general and the Western District in particular. He tried 50 cases before juries over that period of time. On the bench, he has overseen a wide variety of federal civil and criminal matters, conducted dozens of misdemeanor criminal trials and several civil jury trials. He has also dedicated time and attention to the Veterans Court and the prisoner pro se docket. He has proven himself to be a jurist who is able to understand the salient points of arguments and render fair decisions. Together, these experiences qualify Judge Ballou for this nomination and we are honored to recommend him.

Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench. We are honored to recommend them to you.                                                    

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to Senate Leadership urging them to provide critical relief to restaurants, bars, and other small businesses in the food and beverage industries severely impacted by the pandemic. In their letter, the Senators point to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), established by the American Rescue Plan, and the help it provided to tens of thousands of establishments across the nation before funding ran out. The Senators call on Senate Leadership to bring up legislation that provides the RRF with additional funding to meet the outstanding demand for the program. In July, the Small Business Administration announced the RRF program received over 278,000 eligible applications requesting over $72 billion in funds – exceeding the $28.6 billion included in the American Rescue Plan.

“We write to you regarding the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), which was established by the American Rescue Plan to provide critical relief to restaurants, bars, and other small businesses in the food and beverage services sector. In light of the extraordinary demand for the program, we urge you to replenish the Fund to meet the current need among eligible applicants,” wrote the Senators.

“We urge you to bring up legislation that provides the RRF with additional funding to meet the outstanding demand for the program. Virginia’s restaurants play a major role in the Commonwealth’s economy, employing over 300,000 people prior to the pandemic. Ensuring that restaurants and similar small businesses in Virginia and across the country have the resources they need to stay solvent will facilitate a speedy economic recovery,” concluded the Senators.

Senators Kaine and Warner were both co-sponsors of the bipartisan Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act of 2020, legislation that led to the creation of the RRF but would have included $120 billion in funding to help independent restaurants deal with the long-term structural challenges facing the industry because of COVID-19.

A copy of the letter text can be found here and below:

Dear Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell:

We write to you regarding the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), which was established by the American Rescue Plan to provide critical relief to restaurants, bars, and other small businesses in the food and beverage services sector. In light of the extraordinary demand for the program, we urge you to replenish the Fund to meet the current need among eligible applicants.

The food and beverage industries have been among the hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with restaurant and food service sales down $280 billion from expected levels and restaurant jobs down 1.7 million from pre-pandemic levels. Even as restrictions are being lifted and the economy slowly rebounds, restaurants are only just beginning to recover from the devastating economic impact of the pandemic. In Virginia and across the country, restaurants continue to experience decreased sales, crippling staffing shortages, and significant debt burdens. Hundreds of Virginia restaurant owners have told us that they may have to close their doors permanently if they do not receive additional federal relief.

The $28.6 billion RRF has already started working to keep tens of thousands of these establishments across the nation open. However, demand has far outstripped the available funding. On July 2, 2021, Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabel Guzman announced the closure of the RRF program. SBA reported that they had received more than 278,000 eligible applications requesting a total of $72.2 billion in funding. As of June 30, 2021, approximately 101,000 of those applications had been approved.

We urge you to bring up legislation that provides the RRF with additional funding to meet the outstanding demand for the program. Virginia’s restaurants play a major role in the Commonwealth’s economy, employing over 300,000 people prior to the pandemic. Ensuring that restaurants and similar small businesses in Virginia and across the country have the resources they need to stay solvent will facilitate a speedy economic recovery. 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) joined Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and 13 of their colleagues in calling on Senate Leadership to address the needs of Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories in ongoing infrastructure efforts. The network of 17 National Laboratories across the United States advance critical missions for the Department and additional investments in restoring and modernizing National Lab infrastructure will support scientific and economic competitiveness while creating thousands of new, good-paying jobs.  

Joining Senator Luján in the letter are Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J).

“As we turn to infrastructure we respectfully request that you include investments in the nation’s scientific infrastructure, including the Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories. Funding for maintenance, repairs, and the modernization of National Lab infrastructure will ensure our nation's continued scientific and economic competitiveness; create thousands of high-quality, well-paying construction jobs; and attract the best and brightest scientists to national service.” the Senators wrote. 

“Modern, reliable infrastructure at the National Laboratories is critical to support world-class science that provides a strong foundation for the nation’s economic competitiveness, prosperity, and security,” the Senators continued. “Unfortunately, our National Lab network suffers from a maintenance backlog from decades of underfunding that puts the labs’ successful and efficient execution of this mission at risk.”  

Full text of the letter is available HERE and below: 

 

Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell,

We appreciate your efforts to advance our nation’s competitiveness, address pressing infrastructure needs, and jumpstart the economy and put people back to work in the aftermath of the current COVID-19 pandemic. As we turn to infrastructure we respectfully request that you include investments in the nation’s scientific infrastructure, including the Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories. Funding for maintenance, repairs, and the modernization of National Lab infrastructure will ensure our nation's continued scientific and economic competitiveness; create thousands of high-quality, well-paying construction jobs; and attract the best and brightest scientists to national service. As part of DOE National Laboratory modernization efforts, we also urge you to fund the construction and upgrades of DOE-approved, shovel-ready world-class scientific, advanced energy, and national security facilities at our National Labs.

The DOE maintains a network of 17 National Laboratories that advance the science, technology, energy, environmental, and national security missions of the Department. Although the labs are managed by the DOE, they help find solutions to a broad set of challenges of national importance, ranging from the use of artificial intelligence to improve health services and outcomes for our nation’s veterans to advancing quantum information science that will lead to next-generation communications networks and computers.

Located at National Laboratories and universities across the country are world-class research facilities, including particle accelerators, experimental reactors, isotope reactor, X-ray synchrotron and free-electron laser light sources, fusion and pulsed power facilities, multi-axis X-ray machines that create 3D images of high density explosions, leadership-class supercomputers, and other high precision instrumentation. Modern infrastructure is also needed to support advanced nuclear demonstration projects; the modernization of the electric grid, including energy storage; and nonproliferation, counter proliferation, and counter terrorism missions.

More than 40,000 researchers from academia, industry, and other federal agencies use these unique, world-leading facilities to support their scientific pursuits. During the COVID-19 crisis, our National Labs have provided their expertise and facilities to help overcome the COVID-19 challenge, including the use of DOE’s supercomputers to search for treatments and vaccine therapies, X-ray light sources to understand the virus and identify potential vulnerabilities, unique characterization methods to develop more effective N95 mask filter media, and advanced manufacturing expertise to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.

Modern, reliable infrastructure at the National Laboratories is critical to support world-class science that provides a strong foundation for the nation’s economic competitiveness, prosperity, and security. General-purpose infrastructure, such as office space, laboratory space, storage space, and utilities, forms the backbone of the National Laboratory enterprise and enables DOE’s mission. Unfortunately, our National Lab network suffers from a maintenance backlog from decades of underfunding that puts the labs’ successful and efficient execution of this mission at risk. The average age of DOE facilities is currently 37 years and the average age of the systems that support these facilities (e.g., water, sewage, electrical, roads) is 40 years. 

Across the DOE National Laboratory complex, there are shovel-ready infrastructure projects – from utility upgrades to new state-of-the-art research facilities – that could be dramatically accelerated through investment aimed at stimulating the economy and restoring critical infrastructure. As an example, utility systems across several laboratories are failing and require frequent, often costly, repairs. Many utilities and support buildings are rated substandard or inadequate. When necessary maintenance on a facility or utility system that is scheduled or should be performed is postponed, it is referred to as deferred maintenance. DOE’s deferred maintenance backlog has continued to grow. A dedicated, focused investment would go a long way toward recapitalizing and modernizing National Lab infrastructure and would immediately support thousands of high-quality, well-paying jobs. Maintaining, repairing, upgrading, and replacing general-purpose infrastructure would foster safe, efficient, reliable, and Environmentally responsible operations; boost morale of the scientific and engineering workforce at the National Laboratories; and demonstrate our nation’s continued commitment to maintaining the world’s best scientific infrastructure. 

Equally important, the U.S. faces increasing competition from our counterparts in Europe and Asia, as they race to build their own state-of-the-art facilities to attract the best minds and lead the world in science and technology. This does not just pose an economic threat to the United States, but also a national security threat. An infrastructure investment would accelerate the construction of world-class facilities and scientific instruments to stay ahead of this competition and make sure the U.S. remains the most secure and most attractive country in the world for scientific discovery and innovation. Thank you for considering these important investments. We look forward to working with you to invest in our nation’s competitiveness and put people back to work by addressing these critical infrastructure needs.

Sincerely,

 ###

WASHINGTON – As many Virginians adapt to life with a new pet in the wake of the pandemic, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) is requesting more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding a recent decision to temporarily suspend the importation of dogs from countries with heightened risk for rabies. In a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, the senator commended the CDC for working to keep animals and people safe, while also encouraging the agency to develop eventual plans to lift the ban, which has placed a strain on military and U.S. diplomatic families who own dogs.

“I understand this decision was prompted by several factors relevant to the pandemic, including a recent lack of facilities for quarantining dogs safely and a disruption to vaccination programs for animals and people. I applaud the agency for acting quickly to ensure that the canine rabies virus variant—which has been eradicated in the U.S. since 2007—is not reintroduced,” wrote Sen. Warner. “While I believe the decision was necessary, as reported cases of COVID-19 continue to decline with vaccination efforts underway, I also encourage the agency to develop plans to eventually lift the importation ban while still ensuring the health and safety of dogs in the aftermath of the public health emergency.”

“The temporary ban has been a cause for concern for the many U.S. diplomatic and military families who live in Virginia. While I know these families can be considered for a waiver, your agency’s website says these approvals are advanced ‘on an extremely limited basis,’ and this onerous application process has left pet owners scrambling to find a solution,” he continued. “I respectfully ask that the CDC work with Congress to find long-term solutions to this problem, specifically focusing on the following areas: the pandemic’s disruption on vaccination programs for animals and people, the lack of safe animal quarantine facilities in the U.S., the surge in breeders cutting corners due to the increasing demand for pets brought on by the pandemic, and the unique impact the ban has had on diplomatic and military families.” 

On July 14, the CDC temporarily suspended the importation of dogs from 113 countries classified as high risk for dog rabies. This was due, in part, to a significant 2020 increase in the number of imported dogs that were denied entry into the United States from high-risk countries. Due to reduced flight schedules, dogs denied entry are facing longer wait times to be returned to their country of departure, leading to illness and even death in some cases.

In the letter, Sen. Warner also asked the CDC to proactively engage in conversations and listening sessions with stakeholders that will be impacted by this ban, including rescue groups, representatives of U.S. diplomatic and military families, and other interested parties.  

Sen. Warner, a dog owner, has been an advocate for dogs in Virginia and throughout the country. In 2019, he wrote to the Department of State, raising alarm about reports that the Department sent highly-trained bomb-sniffing dogs to foreign partner nations without proper follow-up, resulting in the death of at least ten dogs from largely preventable illnesses.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

 

Dear Director Walensky: 

I write today regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recent decision to suspend the import of dogs from high-risk countries for canine rabies and inquire about the agency’s future plans related to this suspension.  

I greatly respect the CDC’s acute attention toward keeping both animals and people safe in its decision to limit the importation of dogs as the deadly COVID-19 virus continues to spread throughout the United States. I also appreciate the temporary nature of the suspension, and I hope to work with the CDC to limit the threat of rabies spreading in the U.S. while still protecting the rights of responsible pet owners.

I have, however, heard from many of my constituents with questions and concerns about the CDC’s decision to suspend dogs from 113 countries with heightened risk for rabies, which went into effect on July 14, 2021. I understand this decision was prompted by several factors relevant to the pandemic, including a recent lack of facilities for quarantining dogs safely and a disruption to vaccination programs for animals and people. I applaud the agency for acting quickly to ensure that the canine rabies virus variant—which has been eradicated in the U.S. since 2007—is not reintroduced.

While I believe the decision was necessary, as reported cases of COVID-19 continue to decline with vaccination efforts underway, I also encourage the agency to develop plans to eventually lift the importation ban while still ensuring the health and safety of dogs in the aftermath of the public health emergency. The temporary ban has been a cause for concern for the many U.S. diplomatic and military families who live in Virginia. While I know these families can be considered for a waiver, your agency’s website says these approvals are advanced “on an extremely limited basis,” and this onerous application process has left pet owners scrambling to find a solution.

I respectfully ask that the CDC work with Congress to find long-term solutions to this problem, specifically focusing on the following areas: the pandemic’s disruption on vaccination programs for animals and people, the lack of safe animal quarantine facilities in the U.S., the surge in breeders cutting corners due to the increasing demand for pets brought on by the pandemic, and the unique impact the ban has had on diplomatic and military families. I would also encourage that, in finding long-term solutions to this problem, the CDC proactively engages in conversations with stakeholders that will be impacted by this ban, including rescue groups, representatives of U.S. diplomatic and military families, and other interested parties.  In this vein we would recommend that the agency holds listening sessions with stakeholders impacted by the ban to better understand the needs of these communities and to ensure that any long-term solutions best serve the needs of both the CDC and the impacted communities.  

For years, the U.S. had strict quarantine and rabies vaccination procedures in place that proved highly effective in keeping animals in the U.S. safe from rabies. As we continue to adapt our ways of life in the aftermath of the pandemic, I look forward to your partnership in tackling these issues.

I appreciate your time and attention to this matter. I look forward to working together to ensure the health and safety of Americans and their pets.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Vice Chairman of the Committee, today sent a letter to President Biden, asking the administration to ensure the safety of Afghans who have worked closely with U.S. intelligence in the country.  

“For two decades, thousands of Afghans have risked their lives to work with intelligence professionals from the United States and other NATO countries to fight Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, ISIS and other terrorist groups. Their efforts contributed to the decimation of Al Qaeda and its ability to attack the U.S. homeland,” the Senators wrote. “Given the increasingly precarious security situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s direct targeting of Afghan partners to the United States, we ask that you pursue a set of options to keep these Afghans safe, including approving Special Immigrant Visas, evacuations to a third country, and/or priority admission under the U.S. Refugee Admissions program.”

“Currently the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program offers one avenue for our Afghan allies, but its timeline – a years-long process with thousands in the pipeline – does not align with the pace of withdrawal and the rapid deterioration in security. While we urge you to expedite this program and stand ready to provide additional resources for a faster processing timeline, we also ask that you consider the other evacuation options listed above,” the Senators added. “Further, we ask that you consider whether there is sufficient capacity at U.S. facilities to process applications from those Afghan personnel who have made our efforts possible over the last two decades, or whether there is – given the rapid pace of withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan – sufficient capacity to evacuate our Afghan partners quickly as needs arise.” 

Concluded the Senators, “Abandoning these individuals, who have provided essential support to our intelligence community in Afghanistan, would send a damaging message to our allies and potential partners about the United States’ reliability and trustworthiness. It would also be a stain on our national conscience.”

A copy of the letter is available here, and the full text appears below. 

                                                            

Dear President Biden:

As your administration conducts its withdrawal of military personnel from Afghanistan, we ask that you ensure the safety and security of Afghans who have worked closely with our intelligence agencies and partners.   

For two decades, thousands of Afghans have risked their lives to work with intelligence professionals from the United States and other NATO countries to fight Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, ISIS and other terrorist groups.  Their efforts contributed to the decimation of Al Qaeda and its ability to attack the U.S. homeland.    

Given the increasingly precarious security situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s direct targeting of Afghan partners to the United States, we ask that you pursue a set of options to keep these Afghans safe, including approving Special Immigrant Visas, evacuations to a third country, and/or priority admission under the U.S. Refugee Admissions program.  

Currently the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program offers one avenue for our Afghan allies, but its timeline – a years-long process with thousands in the pipeline – does not align with the pace of withdrawal and the rapid deterioration in security. While we urge you to expedite this program and stand ready to provide additional resources for a faster processing timeline, we also ask that you consider the other evacuation options listed above.  

Further, we ask that you consider whether there is sufficient capacity at U.S. facilities to process applications from those Afghan personnel who have made our efforts possible over the last two decades, or whether there is – given the rapid pace of withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan – sufficient capacity to evacuate our Afghan partners quickly as needs arise.

Abandoning these individuals, who have provided essential support to our intelligence community in Afghanistan, would send a damaging message to our allies and potential partners about the United States’ reliability and trustworthiness. It would also be a stain on our national conscience.

We stand ready to support your effort to ensure these Afghan partners are protected. 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Ahead of the ninth anniversary of Cuban political reformer Oswaldo Payá’s suspicious death, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA), along with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) urged the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to advance its efforts on this case without further delay.  In 2013, Durbin sent a letter to previous Commission Executive Secretary Emilio Icaza originally urging the Commission investigate Payá’s suspicious death.  Subsequent letters urging continued attention were sent in 2014 and 2016.       

“We hope the Commission’s unique role in such matters will help advance such an accounting and continue to stand ready to assist with this important matter,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Tania Reneaum Panszi, newly appointed Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

In 2002, Payá started the Varela Project that sought greater political freedom in Cuba through a peaceful petition drive and referendum process as allowed for in the Cuban constitution.  Not only did the Cuban government reject the historic effort and brazenly change the constitutional provision allowing such public avenue for change, but also began a decade of shameful harassment of Payá and his movement.   

In July 2012, this persecution culminated in his car being rammed from behind by a tailing government vehicle, resulting in the death of Payá and fellow passenger and youth activist Harold Cepero.  The Cuban government has yet to provide a credible explanation, accounting, or justice for this tragic incident.  

Full text of the letter is available here and below: 

Dear Secretary Panszi:

Congratulations on your recent appointment to lead the Commission – a timely selection amid troubling democratic and human rights backsliding in Latin America.  In 2013, several of us sent the included letter to previous Commission Executive Secretary Emilio Icaza urging the Commission investigate the suspicious death of Cuban political reformer Oswaldo Payá.  With the ninth anniversary of this troubling event soon approaching and a refusal of the Cuban government to allow or provide for a credible investigation into the matter, we once again urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to advance its efforts on this case without further delay.

As you likely recall, in 2002 Payá started the Varela Project that sought greater political freedom in Cuba through a peaceful petition drive and referendum process as allowed for in the Cuban constitution.  Not only did the Cuban government reject the historic effort and brazenly change the constitutional provision allowing such public avenue for change, but also began a decade of shameful harassment of Payá and his movement.   

In July 2012, this persecution culminated in his car being rammed from behind by a tailing government vehicle, resulting in the death of Payá and fellow passenger and youth activist Harold Cepero.  The Cuban government has yet to provide a credible explanation, accounting, or justice for this tragic incident.  In fact, shortly after his death the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution honoring Payá’s work which also called on the “Government of Cuba to allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.”

We hope the Commission’s unique role in such matters will help advance such an accounting and continue to stand ready to assist with this important matter.   

Sincerely,

 ###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner, Tim Kaine (both D-Va.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging him to reopen Howard Bailey’s immigration proceedings and grant him humanitarian parole. Bailey is a U.S. Navy veteran who lives in exile in Jamaica after being deported in 2012 for a conviction that has since been pardoned.

“The Biden administration has committed to honoring family unity and redressing racial injustices where possible. Returning Mr. Bailey to the U.S., in light of his overwhelming positive equities and the injustice of his deportation, honors these priorities and is a small step toward restoring humanity to the U.S. immigration system,” wrote the Senators. “We urge you to join his motion to reopen his immigration proceedings and grant his application for humanitarian parole.”

Last week, Bailey was invited to testify at an Immigration Subcommittee hearing to examine how we can better honor the promises made to our brave military members, veterans, and their families in our immigration policy. At the conclusion of the hearing Padilla stated, “Mr. Bailey fought for our country and I am happy to fight for him.” Padilla also raised this issue directly to Robert Silvers, the Nominee for DHS Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans during a Homeland Security Committee hearing. 

Howard Bailey moved to the U.S. when he was around 17-years-old after obtaining lawful permanent residence status through his U.S. citizen mother. He joined the U.S. Navy after high school and served for nearly four years, including two tours in Operation Desert Storm. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and honorably discharged. After Mr. Bailey’s service to the U.S. Navy, he devoted himself to his wife and two U.S. citizen children, purchased a home, and started two small businesses including a thriving trucking company employing seven people. 

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

 

Dear Secretary Mayorkas:

We write to request that the Department of Homeland Security join U.S. veteran Howard Bailey’s motion to reopen his immigration proceedings and grant him humanitarian parole so that he can return to the United States.

Mr. Bailey joined the U.S. Navy after high school. During his subsequent four years of service, he served on a critical supply ship often in danger zones as a part of Operation Desert Storm and Project Comfort. After he left the Navy, he started a trucking business, purchased his home with a V.A. loan, and built a stable life for his family. He was living the American Dream in every sense of the phrase. Mark Warner

Soon after his honorable discharge, Mr. Bailey was arrested after a package of marijuana was mailed to his home for a friend. Despite not knowing the contents of the package, he pled guilty to a marijuana charge based on counsel from his attorney, who also failed to advise him of the immigration consequences of his plea. Fifteen years later, when Mr. Bailey applied for citizenship, he disclosed that he had a marijuana conviction from 1995. ICE learned of his conviction only when Mr. Bailey himself brought it to the agency’s attention as he applied for U.S. citizenship. ICE then initiated deportation proceedings against him on the basis of this sole marijuana conviction—arresting him on his front lawn with his daughter, son, and wife as witnesses.

In the years after his deportation to Jamaica, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such convictions no longer render people like Mr. Bailey deportable or make them ineligible for discretionary relief from deportation. More recently, in 2017, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe issued a pardon for Mr. Bailey’s marijuana conviction in light of his service to the U.S. Navy and the increasing decriminalization of marijuana nationwide. Today, the conviction that led to his deportation is no longer a part of his record, and the law makes clear that he is eligible for relief from deportation.

On May 27, 2021, a memorandum was issued by DHS headquarters to ICE OPLA attorneys explicitly encouraging DHS to join motions to reopen cases like Mr. Bailey’s where “an individual is eligible for relief under the law and merits relief as a matter of discretion.” The memo lists factors that should be taken into account in joining a motion and that weigh in favor of his case. These include his prior military service, his prior lawful permanent residence status, decades of residency in the U.S. with significant family ties, the length of time since his conviction (26 years) and the compelling humanitarian circumstances in his case such as the severe mental health challenges suffered by his daughter.

As the Secretary of Homeland Security, you have the authority under current law to grant humanitarian parole for cases like Mr. Bailey’s where urgent humanitarian considerations and significant public benefit apply. In addition to the public benefit of bringing home a U.S. veteran who has proudly served his country, paroling Mr. Bailey into the United States is also an appropriate next step to address the profoundly devastating impact of his deportation on his two U.S. citizen children. His daughter, only 11-years-old at the time ICE officers took her father away, continues to face significant mental health challenges and has been unable to attend college, a dream both her and her father shared for her. His son—traumatized by the loss of his father and the subsequent economic challenges including suffering from hunger—has had trouble with the criminal legal system.

The Biden administration has committed to honoring family unity and redressing racial injustices where possible. Returning Mr. Bailey to the U.S., in light of his overwhelming positive equities and the injustice of his deportation, honors these priorities and is a small step toward restoring humanity to the U.S. immigration system. We urge you to join his motion to reopen his immigration proceedings and grant his application for humanitarian parole.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA) Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Marco Rubio (R-FL) Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai, highlighting the importance of reconvening trade agreement talks with Taiwan. 

“We respectfully request that you prioritize these talks and take steps to begin laying the groundwork for negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA), or other preliminary agreement, with Taiwan,” the Senators wrote

“Taiwan is the tenth largest trading partner of the United States—surpassing more populous nations such as India, France, and Italy—and the eighth largest market for American agricultural products. It embraces high standards of labor rights and environmental protection. We can all be confident that an agreement negotiated with Taiwan could serve as a model for what a high-standard FTA should look like,” the Senators continued.

“Beyond commerce and investment, Taiwan has proven itself to be a true friend to the United States and a model of a vibrant democracy. While Chinese authorities denied American companies operating in China the ability to send personal protective equipment (PPE) back home during the pandemic, Taiwan stood up production lines of PPE for the United States when we were most in need,” the Senators concluded

Joining Warner and Rubio in sending the letter were Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), John Boozman (R-AR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Todd Young (R-IN), Steve Daines (R-MT), Rick Scott (R-FL), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), Tim Scott (R-SC), Mike Braun (R-IN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mike Lee (R-UT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mike Rounds (R-SD), James Lankford (R-OK), Rand Paul (R-KY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Hoeven (R-ND), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Bill Hagerty (R-TN).

 

Dear Ambassador Tai:

As you move to establish your early priorities, we are pleased to see that the resumption of talks with Taiwan under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) is among your areas of focus. The last TIFA meeting was held in October 2016, which is far too long ago when one considers Taiwan’s importance as a trade partner to the United States. For this reason, we were gratified to see reports that you held a virtual meeting with Taiwan’s top trade official, John Deng, on June 9, 2021 and committed to reconvene TIFA talks in the coming weeks. We respectfully request that you prioritize these talks and take steps to begin laying the groundwork for negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA), or other preliminary agreement, with Taiwan. 

In August 2020, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen announced her intention to remove, and later removed, what had been a major obstacle to the pursuit of a FTA: import restrictions on certain U.S. beef and pork products. It is now time for the United States to reciprocate and begin negotiations. It is clear that the United States stands to gain much in doing so. 

Taiwan is the tenth largest trading partner of the United States—surpassing more populous nations such as India, France, and Italy—and the eighth largest market for American agricultural products. It embraces high standards of labor rights and environmental protection. We can all be confident that an agreement negotiated with Taiwan could serve as a model for what a high-standard FTA should look like. It will facilitate free trade under fair conditions that allow American workers, producers, and companies alike to flourish. Advanced economies such as Singapore and New Zealand have paved the way by signing their own FTAs with Taiwan. 

Beyond commerce and investment, Taiwan has proven itself to be a true friend to the United States and a model of a vibrant democracy. While Chinese authorities denied American companies operating in China the ability to send personal protective equipment (PPE) back home during the pandemic, Taiwan stood up production lines of PPE for the United States when we were most in need. Despite Beijing’s endless efforts to isolate and bully, Taiwan remains everything we want the Indo-Pacific region to be: a democratic, free market economy that is a reliable partner to the United States. Lastly, trade talks with Taiwan are also of great strategic importance. Maintaining U.S. economic influence in the region and reducing Taiwan’s dependence on China is essential to ensuring that the region remains free and open. 

Thank you again for committing to resume TIFA talks with Taiwan in the coming weeks. We appreciate your continued attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – With Congress preparing to take up this year’s government funding legislation, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have formally requested robust funding to ensure the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. This alert system was authorized through the Ashanti Alert Act, a law authored and championed by Sen. Warner to help save lives. 

“As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401), and that this effort is fully funded in FY 2022,” wrote the senators in a letter to Congressional leaders in charge of distributing funding. “It is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives full funding and the Department fully implement it in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Full funding ensures that DOJ, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to implement the Ashanti Alert network effectively at the soonest possible date.”

The Ashanti Alert Act is named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old woman who was abducted on her way to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in September 2017, and whose body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. Due to her age, Ashanti did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert – tools utilized by law enforcement that allow the public to assist in locating missing children or senior citizens. The law requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, that would notify the public about missing or endangered adults through radio and television broadcast systems. The law also requires the Attorney General to designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states and territories should use in creating their networks. 

In their letter, the senators also praised recent progress by the DOJ, including its efforts to encourage states, territories, and tribes to adopt Ashanti Alert plans, and to assist various states in ensuring that their existing alert programs for missing adults are consistent with national Ashanti Alert guidance. 

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this national alert system in December of 2018, has long led the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. In August 2019, he reiterated the need for the swift implementation of the alert during a meeting with Katherine Sullivan, the then-Ashanti Alert Coordinator and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice (DOJ). In July 2020, Sen. Warner sent a letter to Governors across the country inviting their law enforcement officials to participate in a DOJ webinar to help states learn how they can begin to implement this critical program. Most recently, he helped secure $1 million in federal funding in the December 2020 emergency government funding legislation to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system.

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

 

 Dear Chairman Shaheen and Ranking Member Moran:

As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401), and that this effort is fully funded in FY 2022.  We appreciate that the Subcommittee included $1 million for Ashanti Alert Network funding in the FY21 spending bill, and we were pleased that President Biden, too, has recognized the importance of the Ashanti Alert in his proposed budget for FY22.

On December 31, 2018, the Ashanti Alert Act was signed into law, after it passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. The law requires DOJ to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults. In addition, the Ashanti Alert Act requires the Attorney General to designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states (as well as territories) should use in creating their networks.

In the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-93), Congress directed DOJ to report on both the status of its Ashanti Alert Act implementation efforts, as well as establish a deadline for final implementation no later than March 19, 2020.[1]  While DOJ has not yet fully implemented the program, we are glad to see recent progress.  The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which administers the Ashanti Alert program, is assisting various states with their existing alert programs for missing adults in an effort to ensure the programs are consistent with national Ashanti Alert guidance.  Additionally, BJA is encouraging all other states, territories, and tribes to adopt Ashanti Alert plans and has identified states and tribes to serve as possible pilot sites for enhancing Ashanti alerting capabilities.  Two states, including Virginia, have adopted formal Ashanti Alert programs.

This law was borne out of the tragic death of Ashanti Billie, a 19 year old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia and whose body was discovered 11 days after she was first reported missing. Because Ashanti was too old for an Amber Alert to be issued and no similar network for adults existed at the time, her parents, family, and friends struggled to get word out of her disappearance in a timely fashion.

Thus, it is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives full funding and the Department fully implement it in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Full funding ensures that DOJ, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to implement the Ashanti Alert network effectively at the soonest possible date. 

We appreciate the Subcommittee’s past support for the Ashanti Alert Act, and efforts made by Subcommittee staff to ensure implementation.  We hope the Subcommittee will continue to demonstrate strong support for the Ashanti Alert Act for FY 2022. 

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after the Acting Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, John P. Roth, approved Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE) in Hampton as the final location for the F-22 Formal Training Unit (FTU): 

“After years of advocating alongside the Virginia congressional delegation, we’re pleased that the U.S. Air Force has confirmed what we already knew: Hampton Roads is the ideal location to permanently house the F-22 training squadron. We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force and the Virginia Air National Guard to make sure the relocation process is a smooth one for the servicemembers and their families that will now make the Commonwealth their new home.”

Senators Warner and Kaine have long championed making Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE) the final location for the F-22 Formal Training Unit (FTU). In February 2019, Warner and Kaine were joined by every member of the Virginia congressional delegation in a letter urging then-U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to relocate the F-22 Flight and Maintenance Formal Training Units (FTU) to Joint Base Langley-Eustis. Originally located at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael in October of 2018, the squadron was temporarily held at Eglin Air Force Base, awaiting a decision as to where it would be housed permanently.

Built to accommodate three squadrons, Joint Base Langley-Eustis was underutilized, housing only two F-22 squadrons and supporting maintenance units. Warner and Kaine urged the Air Force to move the F-22 FTU to JBLE to advance an important recommendation put forward by the Government Accountability Office, which has emphasized the need for improving aircraft availability by consolidating the fleet into larger squadrons or wings. 

In March 2019, Warner and Kaine released a statement applauding the U.S. Air Force announcement that it had recommended relocating the F-22 Flight and Maintenance Formal Training Unit (FTU) to Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

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WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) in sending a bipartisan letter calling on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts for the nine million Americans living abroad. 

The senators urged the administration to donate supplemental doses to U.S. embassies and consulates in coordination with the Department of Defense, prioritizing the vaccination of Americans living in countries where they are considered ineligible or in those that are not distributing vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also signed the letter to Secretary Blinken. 

“While the country is quickly approaching its target of vaccinating 70 percent of adults based in the U.S., vaccination rates around the world vary significantly. Around 85 percent of shots administered so far have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while only 0.3 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries. While Americans abroad are eligible to receive vaccines in some countries, in others, Americans are ineligible as non-citizens,” the senators wrote.

The senators continued, “Should Americans living abroad wish to travel to the U.S. to receive the vaccine, the financial burden of travel as well as lengthy quarantine requirements upon return to their host country may be prohibitive. As a result of these complicating factors, millions of Americans abroad worry they may not have access to a vaccine for months or even years.”

“The administration has made remarkable progress in vaccinating Americans at home and U.S. officials overseas. As the attention shifts to global vaccination efforts, we urge you to explore all viable options to support vaccination of the millions of Americans living abroad,” the senators concluded.

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

 

Dear Secretary Blinken,

We commend the administration’s ongoing efforts to tackle the COVID-19 global pandemic in coordination with our partners and allies. In particular, the United States is leading the world by announcing the donation of more than 500 million vaccines overseas. In addition to this important effort, we urge you to take concrete steps toward vaccinating the nine million Americans living abroad. 

While the country is quickly approaching its target of vaccinating 70 percent of adults based in the U.S., vaccination rates around the world vary significantly. Around 85 percent of shots administered so far have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while only 0.3 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries. While Americans abroad are eligible to receive vaccines in some countries, in others, Americans are ineligible as non-citizens. Should Americans living abroad wish to travel to the U.S. to receive the vaccine, the financial burden of travel as well as lengthy quarantine requirements upon return to their host country may be prohibitive. As a result of these complicating factors, millions of Americans abroad worry they may not have access to a vaccine for months or even years.

We welcome the administration’s sharing of 500 million vaccines with 92 low- and lower middle-income countries. In addition, we urge you to donate supplemental doses to U.S embassies and consulates to support vaccinating American citizens living in those countries as well. To optimize distribution of those additional doses, we urge you to prioritize countries where Americans are deemed ineligible or low priority in national vaccination deployment plans as well as countries that presently are not distributing a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-authorized vaccine or vaccine authorized by the World Health Organization.

The State Department’s success in vaccinating tens of thousands of Foreign Service personnel and their families was a heroic undertaking by medical units at posts around the world. The Defense Department has also succeeded in administering more than one million doses across more than 80 international facilities around the world. In recognition of the challenge of vaccinating up to nine million private citizens overseas, we urge you to explore coordination with the Defense Department to maximize U.S. government capacity.

The administration has made remarkable progress in vaccinating Americans at home and U.S. officials overseas. As the attention shifts to global vaccination efforts, we urge you to explore all viable options to support vaccination of the millions of Americans living abroad.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) today sent a letter urging congressional appropriators to include $2 million in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mobile Testing Units, which offer free and confidential health screenings to coal miners at risk of developing black lung disease. Specifically, the funding would go towards the purchase of a new NIOSH Mobile Testing Unit and towards needed maintenance for the two existing units that serve the Appalachian region – one of which is nonoperational and the other of which is set to be retired in the next few years. 

“Black lung disease is a debilitating, potentially fatal disease caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. Recently, researchers have documented a rise in the advanced state of black lung disease, known as complicated black lung or progressive massive fibrosis. Complicated black lung encompasses the worst stages of the disease, which causes miners to gradually lose their ability to breathe. If black lung is caught early, steps can be taken to help prevent it from progressing to the most serious forms of the disease. The screenings offered through NIOSH Mobile Testing Units typically take 30 minutes and the results are confidential by law. The accessibility of the mobile units enable and potentially motivate action towards reducing miners’ exposure to coal dust if testing positive for black lung,” wrote the Senators to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Related Agencies. 

A 2019 report by the CDC – commissioned by Sens. Warner, Kaine, Manchin, Casey, Brown, and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – identified that a lack of accessibility to health screenings and fear of discrimination or retribution prevents many miners from being screened for black lung disease. Currently, the national participation rate in the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program (CWHSP) is approximately 35 percent among active miners and even lower among retirees. In their letter, the Senators underscore that providing this critical funding to activate more screening units will make it easier for Americans to access this free health screening program in an effort to detect black lung disease early. 

“The NIOSH-operated Mobile Testing Units travel to convenient community locations, easing time and accessibility concerns. Additionally, screenings through mobile units are sometimes offered through third party locations, possibly reducing miners’ fear of discrimination. To improve public health and increase participation in CWHSP screenings, we are asking the committee to provide $2 million dollars for a new NIOSH Mobile Testing Unit and needed maintenance on existing units,” they concluded.

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Dear Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray:  

As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education & Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, we are writing to urge you to provide at least $2 million in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mobile Testing Units, which offer confidential health screenings to coal miners as part of the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program (CWHSP). 

NIOSH mobile testing units offer confidential and accessible screenings that improve public health by providing early detection of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), commonly referred to as black lung disease. Unfortunately, there are only two NIOSH Mobile Testing Units in the Appalachian region. One of these units is not currently operating and one unit is expected to be defunct within a couple of years.  

Black lung disease is a debilitating, potentially fatal disease caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. Recently, researchers have documented a rise in the advanced state of black lung disease, known as complicated black lung or progressive massive fibrosis. Complicated black lung encompasses the worst stages of the disease, which causes miners to gradually lose their ability to breathe. If black lung is caught early, steps can be taken to help prevent it from progressing to the most serious forms of the disease. The screenings offered through NIOSH Mobile Testing Units typically take 30 minutes and the results are confidential by law. The accessibility of the mobile units enable and potentially motivate action towards reducing miners’ exposure to coal dust if testing positive for black lung. 

In June 2019, your committee was sent a report prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detailing that only about 35% of active coal miners participate in the CWHSP program because of several concerns. These concerns included: 

1. Lack of confidentiality and fear of discrimination resulting from participation, and 

2. Costly travel expenses and using limited time off to access screenings at black lung clinics. 

The NIOSH-operated Mobile Testing Units travel to convenient community locations, easing time and accessibility concerns. Additionally, screenings through mobile units are sometimes offered through third party locations, possibly reducing miners’ fear of discrimination. 

To improve public health and increase participation in CWHSP screenings, we are asking the committee to provide $2 million dollars for a new NIOSH Mobile Testing Unit and needed maintenance on existing units. Thank you for your consideration of our request. Should you have any questions for need additional information please do not hesitate to reach out to us.  

Sincerely,

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Secretary Cardona: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and James Inhofe (R-OK) and a bipartisan group of 38 senators in urging the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to include robust funding for the EDA in fiscal year 2022 appropriations legislation.

The EDA is designed to create jobs and stimulate the economy in areas of the country that need the most help—both rural and urban—and has played an integral role so far in America’s recovery from the economic fallout of the pandemic. 

“With a modest budget, EDA programs have developed a record of making strategic investments and building community and regional partnerships to expand business in areas such as advanced manufacturing, science, health care, and technology. Between FY12 and FY19, EDA has invested over $2.283 billion in 5,471 projects to help build the capacity for locally-driven economic development projects. These projects are expected to create and/or retain 335,620 jobs and attract over $47.1 billion in private investment,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Many communities, especially those in rural areas, have benefited from EDA grants to support the job skills training, technical assistance, and infrastructure improvements needed to attract new businesses and ensure existing businesses have the opportunity to adapt to changing market circumstances. EDA has invested nearly 60 percent of its funds in rural areas since FY12, which has leveraged over $13.7 billion in private investment in these communities,” the senators continued.

In addition to Warner, Merkley, and Inhofe, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Robert Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Tammy Duckworth (D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), James Risch (R-ID), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Full text of the letter is available here and follows below.

 

Dear Chair Shaheen and Ranking Member Moran,

As you begin work preparing the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, we urge you to include robust funding for the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and its vital grant programs.

Since 1965, EDA has helped local and regional stakeholders address the economic and infrastructure needs of communities across the country, focusing on private-sector job creation and economic growth in distressed areas.

With a modest budget, EDA programs have developed a record of making strategic investments and building community and regional partnerships to expand business in areas such as advanced manufacturing, science, health care, and technology. Between FY12 and FY19, EDA has invested over $2.283 billion in 5,471 projects to help build the capacity for locally-driven economic development projects. These projects are expected to create and/or retain 335,620 jobs and attract over $47.1 billion in private investment. 

Many communities, especially those in rural areas, have benefited from EDA grants to support the job skills training, technical assistance, and infrastructure improvements needed to attract new businesses and ensure existing businesses have the opportunity to adapt to changing market circumstances. EDA has invested nearly 60 percent of its funds in rural areas since FY12, which has leveraged over $13.7 billion in private investment in these communities.

EDA is useful in supporting job creation and innovation, particularly in distressed and disadvantaged communities. This aligns with the Administration’s goals of building back stronger, more resilient economies. The agency is also a great tool that helps small businesses recover and communities rebuild critical infrastructure and economic development assets following natural disasters or public health emergencies. 

As Congress has done in past fiscal years, we encourage you to include robust funding for the Economic Development Administration and its grant programs in the FY22 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. We look forward to working with you to ensure the success of the EDA, which has an exceptional record of supporting local communities across the nation to cost-effectively promote economic development.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – On the 9th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program being announced, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA.) joined Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in leading their colleagues in calling on the Biden administration to address the extreme backlog for DACA applicants and reduce wait times for DACA renewals. Current delays are a result of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies and the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to negatively impact the immigrant community. 

“As you know, access to DACA provides a vital lifeline to hundreds of thousands of young people. Many DACA recipients are essential workers in health care and other critical industries and are playing an important role in helping our economy recover from the ongoing pandemic. Delays in granting benefits to DACA applicants and recipients therefore affect not just their own employment and stability, but the social and economic welfare of us all,” the Senators wrote.

They continued, “DACA processing delays have significant consequences, not just for individuals depending on the status for their livelihoods and security, but for their families and for the businesses and workplaces that employ them. As we work to build back our economy from the effects of the pandemic, reducing backlogs and processing delays for DACA cases is of the utmost importance.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).    

A copy of the Senators’ letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can be found here and below. 

 

June 15, 2021

 

Ms. Tracy Renaud

Acting Director

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

20 Massachusetts Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20529

 

Dear Director Renaud:

We write to express our concerns regarding processing delays for immigration benefits at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These delays—a legacy of the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policies and the COVID-19 pandemic—continue to negatively impact immigrants, our communities, and our nation as a whole. As the Biden Administration and USCIS work to rebuild and strengthen our nation’s immigration system, we hope that reducing processing delays will continue to be a priority. 

While we are aware that processing times for many different forms of immigration benefits have been unusually high for several years, we are particularly concerned about delays impacting applications related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, including initial, first-time DACA requests, DACA renewal requests, and related employment authorization applications. As you know, access to DACA provides a vital lifeline to hundreds of thousands of young people. Many DACA recipients are essential workers in health care and other critical industries and are playing an important role in helping our economy recover from the ongoing pandemic. Delays in granting benefits to DACA applicants and recipients therefore affect not just their own employment and stability, but the social and economic welfare of us all.

Despite the change in Administration and ongoing efforts at USCIS to expand processing capacity, current wait times for DACA requests continue to be high. The average processing time for new DACA requests is between four and nine months, depending on the USCIS service center.[1] Despite the fact that hundreds of initial DACA requests were submitted when the process reopened at the end of last year, nonprofit legal service providers report that only a handful of initial requests nationwide have been approved. Reportedly, some requestors who applied in December 2020 or January 2021 have not yet been contacted to schedule their biometrics appointment. Delays for new initial DACA requests are particularly concerning because these individuals need DACA to access employment that will allow them to sustain themselves and their families, and to pursue higher education opportunities. Additionally, many of these individuals need deferred action to stop accruing unlawful presence and gain protection from deportation, and have been waiting to apply for over three years since the Trump Administration stopped accepting new requests on September 5, 2017 and attempted to eliminate the DACA program entirely.

It also appears that some DACA renewal requests continue to be processed at an unacceptably slow rate, with certain applications taking an estimated full year to process, depending on the USCIS service center.[2] These processing times are occurring despite USCIS’s stated goal of processing DACA renewal requests within 120 days.[3] Constituents have resorted to contacting our offices for assistance because, in addition to experiencing delays, the USCIS case tracker provides insufficient information to requestors and their attorneys.[4] Furthermore, some service centers are telling congressional caseworkers that expedited processing requests for DACA renewals will not be granted and that no information on case status can be shared at this point in time. Applicants need to know where their requests are in the adjudication process to better estimate how much longer they have to wait and to assess whether there are any issues with the processing of their requests.

DACA processing delays have significant consequences, not just for individuals depending on the status for their livelihoods and security, but for their families and for the businesses and workplaces that employ them. As we work to build back our economy from the effects of the pandemic, reducing backlogs and processing delays for DACA cases is of the utmost importance.

In order for us to better serve our constituents, we respectfully request that the following information be provided to our offices by July 1, 2021:

1.     How many initial, first-time DACA requests were received from January 1, 2021 to May 31, 2021?

2.     How many biometrics appointments have been scheduled for initial, first-time DACA requests received from January 1, 2021 to May 31, 2021?

3.     How many initial, first-time DACA requests have been fully adjudicated between December 2020 and May 31, 2021?

4.     How many DACA renewal requests are currently awaiting adjudication beyond the 120 day processing goal?

5.     How many requests for advance parole from DACA recipients are currently pending adjudication?

6.     How does USCIS account for the highly varied processing times for DACA-related requests at its California, Nebraska, and Vermont service centers?

7.     What steps has USCIS taken to address processing delays at its California, Nebraska, and Vermont service centers?

8.     In light of changing pandemic-related guidelines, what steps has USCIS taken to adjust COVID-19 related policies and procedures that impact request processing times? 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to working with you to address these concerns as soon as possible.   

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in a letter to Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman urging her to disburse Shuttered Venue Operator Grant funding to struggling live entertainment venues as soon as possible. The legislation that created this program, the Save Our Stages Act, was signed into law more than six months ago, and event venues are going out of business while waiting for these grants.

They wrote, “The Save Our Stages Act, now the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, was created to prevent widespread closures of venues that have been devastated by the loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As supporters of the SVOG program, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure that the relief reaches eligible applicants without further delay.”

“It has been nearly six months since Congress passed the Save our Stages Act, nearly two months since the second launch of the program, and 51 days since the Small Business Administration (SBA) began receiving applications.” 

“Bureaucratic process cannot stand in the way of getting these desperately needed funds out the door.”

They were joined on the letter by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), James Risch (R-ID), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Angus King (I-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Bill Haggerty (R-TN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), John Thune (R-SD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Steve Daines (R-MT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), John Boozman (R-AR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Braun (R-IN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bob Casey (D-PA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Chris Coons (D-DE).

Full text of the letter is here and below. 

 

June 15, 2021

 

The Honorable Isabella Casillas Guzman

Administrator, Small Business Administration

409 3rd Street, SW

Washington, DC 20416

 

Dear Administrator Guzman:

The Save Our Stages Act, now the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, was created to prevent widespread closures of venues that have been devastated by the loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As supporters of the SVOG program, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure that the relief reaches eligible applicants without further delay.

With each passing day, more independent businesses are forced to shutter permanently or file for bankruptcy. Landlords and banks are no longer permitting deferrals and are pressing for immediate payment of past due accounts; businesses are receiving eviction notices; mom-and-pop businesses are being forced to sell. 

It has been nearly six months since Congress passed the Save our Stages Act, nearly two months since the second launch of the program, and 51 days since the Small Business Administration (SBA) began receiving applications. We urge you to immediately take steps to ensure the funds are distributed to qualified applicants.

The SVOG program is unique, with necessary restrictions built in to ensure taxpayer funding goes only to eligible applicants in need. Under the terms of the law, the SVOG program requires the award of funding to eligible applicants who meet the simple requirements of the program. In this context, the insistence on strict compliance with competitive grant rules has created unnecessary delays in funding. Similarly, restrictions that SBA has placed on communication with grant applicants are unnecessary and have prevented the agency from providing administrative support to individual applicants that could have streamlined the application review process. Bureaucratic process cannot stand in the way of getting these desperately needed funds out the door. 

Further delays are unacceptable and would have irreversible consequences for these industries. In an effort to keep our constituents informed and ensure our small businesses receive the support they were promised, we respectfully request you provide us with the following information: 

1.       The number SVOG awards that have been approved;

2.       The number of SVOG grants that have been disbursed to recipients;

3.       The amount of SVOG funding that has been disbursed;

4.       The number of applications with holds;

5.       The number of first-priority applicants that have received an award notice;

6.       What SBA is doing to update small business owners on the status of their applications;

7.       What SBA is doing to ensure applicants are not incorrectly associated with similar-named individuals and entities on the List of Excluded Individuals/Entities (LEIE);

8.       What SBA is doing to correct false DNP designation notices sent to thousands of applicants;

9.       SBA’s justification for breaking grant awards, regardless of size, into multiple disbursements; and 

10.   SBA’s timeline for subsequent disbursements and what grantees need to do to receive them.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON -- Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and a bipartisan group of 37 senators in calling for $500 million to fully fund U.S.-Israel cooperative missile defense programs in the Defense Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022. Israel’s missile defense system is made up of four operational layers: Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow 2 and now Arrow 3. In addition to contributing to ballistic missile defense, the funding will support crucial work on research, development and test activities to counter hostile unmanned aerial systems.  

The bipartisan group of senators wrote, “the U.S.-Israeli cooperation has resulted in a system that can, and has, countered numerous missile threats from state and non-state actors from adversaries in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and elsewhere. This system provides Israel with the ability to protect lives at home and on the battlefield, keeping its citizens and soldiers out of harm’s way.”

In addition to Senators Warner, Gillibrand, and Rounds, the letter was signed by Senators Bennet (D-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Casey (D-PA), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cramer (R-ND), Daines (R-MT), Duckworth (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Fischer (R-NE), Hassan (D-NH), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Kaine (D-VA), Kelly (D-AZ), Klobuchar (D-MN), Lankford (R-OK), Markey (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Padilla (D-CA), Peters (D-MI), Rosen (D-NV), Rubio (R-FL), Schatz (D-HI), Sinema (D-AZ), Smith (D-MN), Stabenow (D-MI), Thune (R-SD), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warnock (D-GA), Wyden (D-OR) and Young (R-IN).

The text of the letter appears below:

 

Dear Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Shelby: 

Thank you for this committee’s strong support of U.S.-Israel collaborative defense programs, including Iron Dome, David's Sling, and Arrow as well as our continued cooperative work on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). As you begin work on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Defense Appropriations bill, we write seeking $500 million for continued support for these in order to meet the United States’ and Israel's national security needs.

Joint U.S.-Israel missile defense collaboration on Israel’s multilayer missile defense system has been foundational to the defense of Israel since the 1980s. Congress has consistently supported this project. Israel’s missile defense system is made up of four operational layers: Iron Dome (short-range), David’s Sling (medium-range), Arrow 2 (longer range), and now Arrow 3 (very long range). The U.S.-Israeli cooperation has resulted in a system that can, and has, countered numerous missile threats from state and non-state actors from adversaries in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and elsewhere. This system provides Israel with the ability to protect lives at home and on the battlefield, keeping its citizens and soldiers out of harm’s way.

This cooperative program has also created an important flow of data and invaluable insight to support vital U.S. missile defense technology while safeguarding our strategic ally Israel and our service members in the region. This program synergizes with our ongoing operations in the area increasing interoperability between U.S. and Israeli systems and forces. Moreover, the program supports critical elements of the industrial base and important jobs here in the United States through co-development and co-production agreements. 

Another area of critical importance to both the United States and Israel, is in the field of UAS, and perhaps just as importantly, counter-UAS. In February 2020, the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit announced it had selected Israeli firm D-Fend Solutions to field a counter-drone system for the FBI and U.S. military. This technology was co-developed with the U.S. Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office. CTTSO has played a crucial role in U.S.-Israel cooperation and innovation.  

For FY 2022, in addition to ballistic missile defense, $500 million will continue critical work on research, development and test activities to counter hostile unmanned aerial systems. This funding will further development of a range of systems designed to handle the imminent threats American and Israeli forces face. 

Together, these programs confront the compelling challenges facing both Israel and the United States and form a strong foundation of the enduring friendship of our nations. We look forward to working with you on these important programs. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and a bipartisan group of their colleagues in urging U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, to fully fund the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program for fiscal year (FY) 2022. PILT provides payments to counties with non-taxable federal land within their borders to offset the lost property tax revenue. 

“Without full funding for the PILT program, counties across the nation will be unable to provide essential services such as law enforcement, education, search and rescue, road maintenance and public health to their residents and millions of visitors to our public lands,” wrote Warner, Bennet, Crapo, and the senators. “Moving forward, we look forward to working with you to enact a fiscally responsible, long-term solution to fully fund PILT and eliminate the uncertainty that counties face each year. As cash strapped counties across the country work to address budget cuts exacerbated by the pandemic, full-funding and a long-term solution for PILT is essential to provide certainty that the federal government will continue to uphold its long-standing commitment to public lands counties.”

PILT funding is critical for communities in Colorado and across the country that use these funds for essential services like infrastructure maintenance and law enforcement. Across the country, PILT provides critical resources to nearly 1,900 counties across 49 states. Counties have used these payments for more than 40 years to fund law enforcement, firefighting, emergency response, and other essential county services. As communities continue to rebuild in the aftermath of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, this funding is needed now more than ever. Bennet and the senators will continue working toward a long-term solution for PILT that will provide counties and local governments sustained funding and more predictability.

In addition to Bennet and Crapo, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

The text of the letter is available HERE and below.

Dear Chairman Leahy and Vice Chairman Shelby:

As Members of Congress representing counties with federal public lands within their boundaries, we write to request that you work to ensure the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program is fully funded in fiscal year (FY) 2022.

PILT provides critical resources to nearly 1,900 counties across 49 states to offset lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal lands within their jurisdictions. It supports the many critical services that counties provide on federal public lands. Without full funding for the PILT program, counties across the nation will be unable to provide essential services such as law enforcement, education, search and rescue, road maintenance and public health to their residents and millions of visitors to our public lands.

Moving forward, we look forward to working with you to enact a fiscally responsible, long-term solution to fully fund PILT and eliminate the uncertainty that counties face each year. As cash strapped counties across the country work to address budget cuts exacerbated by the pandemic, full-funding and a long-term solution for PILT is essential to provide certainty that the federal government will continue to uphold its long-standing commitment to public lands counties.

We look forward to working with you and other Congressional leaders to resolve this pressing issue facing our communities by fully funding PILT in FY 2022 and ensuring long-term predictable funding for this important program.

Sincerely,

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