Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced a Rural Development investment of $1,932,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition to the grant, a matching 40-year loan has been approved by the USDA to supplement the costs, bringing the project total to $3,864,000.

This funding will go towards the construction and installation of approximately eight miles of water line, a pump station, 92 water meters, 28 fire hydrants, and related accessories.

“It is essential that Virginians have access to safe, clean water,” the senators said. “This project will provide the Wythe County community with the infrastructure to support a safe water system for its residents.”

Currently, residents in the area are served by private wells with both quality and quantity problems. According to water samples, over 60 percent of the wells have tested positive for Coliform and E. coli, posing a health hazard to community members. This project will correct these health hazards and reduce iron and manganese levels in the water for 214 residents.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $500,000 in federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for Wise County. This funding will go towards an existing project to extend sewer service to 44 households and 13 businesses in the Glamorgan community by constructing 13,640 linear feet of new sewer line. By providing sewer service along this section of US Highway 23, the project will improve public health and promote future development.

“This is an investment not only in the health of Virginians, but in the future of a growing community,” the senators said. “By providing Virginians with access to public wastewater services, we are working to safeguard our rivers, our people, and our future.”

In addition to the Glamorgan Sewer Line Project's ARC funds, local sources will provide $254,657, bringing the total for this phase of funding to $754,657. In September of 2020, Sens. Warner and Kaine announced $500,000 in initial funding from ARC for this project.

ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments that innovates and invests to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in 423 counties across the Appalachian region. 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) introduced legislation to formally designate the Blue Ridge Music Center’s outdoor amphitheater the “Rick Boucher Amphitheater” after former Rep. Rick Boucher.

“Congressman Boucher is a pillar of Southwest Virginia,” the Senators said. “We can think of no better way to honor his years of public service than by naming this amphitheater, which celebrates the culture and tradition of Southwest Virginia, after him.”

Former Rep. Boucher, an Abingdon native, represented Southwest Virginia’s ninth congressional district in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 2011. Rep. Boucher was an early supporter of the development of the Blue Ridge Music Center and continued to advocate for the project throughout his tenure. He also served as the Chairman of the U.S. House Energy Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet as well as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality while in Congress.

 Located in Galax, VA, the Blue Ridge Music Center is home to a visitor center, outdoor amphitheater, indoor interpretive center, and museum that highlights the historical significance of the region’s musical culture.

Full text of the legislation is available here.

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $1,000,000 in federal funding for the Appalachian Veterinary Expansion project. The funding will be used to support construction of a new Veterinary Education and Technology (VET) building at Lincoln Memorial University-College of Veterinary Medicine’s (LMU-CVM) DeBusk Veterinary Teaching Center Campus (DVTC) in Ewing. The project will also increase the number of students in the region and attract new sources of investment in the Cumberland Gap region.

“We’re glad this federal funding will be used for the construction of a new building at the DeBusk Veterinary Teaching Center Campus,” said the Senators. “This investment will help train more aspiring veterinarians and spur economic growth in Lee County and the surrounding region.”

LMU-CVM welcomed its inaugural class in 2014 and is the first veterinary school dedicated to serving Appalachia. In August 2014, Kaine visited LMU-CVM's campus to tour the facilities and learn about the school’s programs.

The funding was awarded through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative, which provides federal resources to help create jobs in existing or new industries for communities affected by job losses in the coal industry. The Appalachian Veterinary Expansion project also received a $2 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) applaud the designation of $1,000,000 in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to two projects in Southwest Virginia.

“We applaud this funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission for important projects in Russell and Wise counties. These funds will create jobs, improve public health, and boost local economies,” the Senators said.  

The funds will be broken down as follows:

  • $500,000 for the Russell Theater Restoration Project in the Town of Lebanon to renovate and reopen the 5,590-square-foot Russell Theater. The restored and renovated Russell Theater will attract visitors and residents from across the region to downtown Lebanon and surrounding businesses for live performances, concerts, and other events.
  • $500,000 for the Hamiltontown Sewer Project in the Town of Wise to install 5,540 linear feet of sewer line to the Hamiltontown community located along State Route 758. Currently Hamiltontown community households are served by onsite septic systems, and existing systems are subject to poor performance due to age, lack of maintenance, and soil conditions. This project will update the sewer system and improve public health and the water quality of the Guest River.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) along with Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA-09) today announced $174,458 in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to the United Way of Southwest Virginia, Inc. for the Hurley Disaster Recovery Project following the August 30, 2021 flooding in Hurley, Virginia.

“The Town of Hurley has been left reeling from catastrophic flooding that took place last August,” the lawmakers said. “This funding will provide much-needed relief to the area and help those still dealing with the effects to rebuild.”  

Losses due to the flooding affected 1,000 community members, as 30 residential structures were damaged and more than 40 were completely destroyed. The ARC funds will be used to support a public-private partnership, which is coordinating the long-term recovery efforts from the flooding. The project will support Hurley in its recovery from the August 30, 2021 flood event by assisting 70 households with disaster relief and constructing or rehabilitating 50 homes.

Sens. Warner and Kaine and Rep. Griffith have been pushing for federal assistance since the devastating floods. Earlier this month the lawmakers announced the availability of disaster assistance applications for Southwest Virginia residents and businesses affected by the flooding.

In October 2021, the lawmakers sent a bipartisan letter to President Biden to express their strong support for former Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam's September 30th request for a major disaster declaration for the Commonwealth of Virginia and Buchanan County. On October 26, the President approved Virginia’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration, which provided Public Assistance for Buchanan County and Hazard Mitigation for the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, on October 29, 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a formal denial of Governor Northam’s request for Individual Assistance for Buchanan County.

In December 2021, Sens. Warner and Kaine and Rep. Morgan Griffith sent a letter to President Biden asking his administration to approve an appeal that would grant federal assistance to individual residents in and around Hurley. Despite these efforts, Virginia’s appeal was ultimately denied last month.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $22,790,000 in Fiscal Year 2022 funding to reclaim abandoned mine lands (AML) in Virginia – an effort that will strengthen coal communities by promoting economic opportunity and addressing dangerous hazards that threaten the health of Virginians and the long-term wellbeing of communities. The funding, awarded through the Department of the Interior (DOI), was made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by Sen. Kaine.  

“This investment into Virginia mining communities will not only create good paying jobs, but will also revitalize energy communities by reclaiming abandoned, unsafe lands for new use,” the Senators said. “We are proud to see Virginia’s mining communities continue to reap the benefits of the infrastructure law passed by Congress and signed by President Biden.”

AML reclamation projects supported by this funding will close dangerous mine shafts, reclaim unstable slopes, improve water quality by treating acid mine drainage, and restore water supplies damaged by mining. The projects will eliminate dangerous environmental conditions and pollution caused by past coal mining, including by remediating abandoned mines that are leaking methane – a key contributor to climate change. Through these projects, hazardous lands can be reclaimed into recreational facilities and targeted for other economic redevelopment uses like advanced manufacturing and renewable energy deployment.

These investments will work to supplement traditional annual AML grants, which are funded by coal operators and ensured to be provided through 2034 thanks to language and appropriated funds of $11.3 billion over 15 years in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA-09) announced that following their efforts to secure a major disaster declaration, businesses and residents in Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, and Tazewell County can now file their applications for low-interest disaster relief loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help with their recovery efforts following severe flooding, landslides, and mudslides that occurred in the region on August 30-31, 2021.

“We are glad that following our efforts, the Administration has approved disaster assistance to help the residents and businesses of Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, and Tazewell counties impacted by the extreme rainfall in August 2021 and Virginians can now apply for support,” said the Members. “We will continue working to ensure impacted communities have the resources they need to recover from this tragic natural disaster.”

In October, Sens. Warner and Kaine and Rep. Morgan Griffith sent a bipartisan and bicameral letter to President Biden to express their strong support for Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam’s September 30th request for a major disaster declaration for the Commonwealth of Virginia and Buchanan County.

On October 26, the President approved Virginia’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration, which provided Public Assistance for Buchanan County and Hazard Mitigation for the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, on October 29, 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a formal denial of Governor Northam’s request for Individual Assistance for Buchanan County.

In December, Senators Warner and Kaine and Rep. Morgan Griffith sent a bipartisan and bicameral letter to President Biden asking his Administration to approve an appeal that would grant federal assistance to individual residents in and around Hurley. Despite these efforts, Virginia’s appeal was ultimately denied last month. 

Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website here and should apply under SBA declaration # 17332, not for the COVID-19 incident. Homeowners and renters are eligible for loans up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate and for loans up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

Completed applications can also be mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155. Disaster loan information and application forms may also be obtained by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or emailing DisasterCustomerService@sba.gov.

The deadline to apply for physical property damage is April 4, 2022 and the deadline for economic injury applications is Nov. 2, 2022. 

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WASHINGTON – Following a January announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DoL) Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) launching a Miner Vaccine Outreach Program to deliver free vaccinations and provide educational outreach to mining communities in Kentucky and Arizona, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are calling on the DoL to include Southwest Virginia in the plans.

In a letter to the MSHA, the senators highlighted that while the Commonwealth has a high vaccination rate as a whole, many mining counties in Southwest Virginia are vaccinated at much lower rates and would greatly benefit from increased vaccination efforts.

“Virginia’s counties vary widely in terms of vaccinations rates, and mining communities in Southwest Virginia are quite similar to the neighboring counties in Kentucky that the Miner Vaccine Outreach Program is serving. In Virginia, mining communities are centered in Dickenson, Buchanan, Wise, Tazewell, Lee, and Russell counties, where the adult population has a fully-vaccinated rate of less than 57%. It is clear that these communities are in critical need of targeted outreach to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates,” the senators wrote.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been leaders in the push to get Virginians vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes securing $8.8 million in federal funding to support the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

In addition, Sens. Warner and Kaine strongly supported the passage of the American Rescue Plan, which included $7.5 billion in funding for the CDC and public health departments to expand vaccine distribution and administration.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Acting Assistant Secretary Galanis:

Thank you for your work to provide safety protections and health services to our miners in Virginia and nationwide. As the Biden administration continues to ramp up efforts to get more Americans vaccinated, we are writing to request that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) expand its newly launched Miner Vaccine Outreach Program into Southwest Virginia mining communities.

On January 25, 2022, the Department of Labor announced MSHA’s Miner Vaccine Outreach Program to deliver free COVID-19 vaccinations and provide educational outreach to mining communities. In selecting Kentucky and Arizona, MSHA notes the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that vaccination rates are below 60 percent in two states where a substantial number of mining operations exist.”

Mining communities in Virginia are seeing similar challenges increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates. Virginia’s counties vary widely in terms of vaccinations rates, and mining communities in Southwest Virginia are quite similar to the neighboring counties in Kentucky that the Miner Vaccine Outreach Program is serving. In Virginia, mining communities are centered in Dickenson, Buchanan, Wise, Tazewell, Lee, and Russell counties, where the adult population has a fully-vaccinated rate of less than 57%. It is clear that these communities are in critical need of targeted outreach to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates.  

Miners have been essential workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and MSHA’s Miner Vaccine Outreach Program is one critical way to support their health and safety. We urge you to expand this program into Southwest Virginia so that coal miners there receive the medical services and support they need and deserve. Thank you for the consideration of our request.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $500,000 in federal funds for the Town of Dungannon to go towards improvements to its water distribution system.

The improvements include the installation of 13,840 linear feet of waterline at scattered locations to improve water service for 42 households and 25 businesses. The new waterline will also increase water accountability and create hydraulic efficiencies in the distribution system.

“This project is vital for the Town of Dungannon and will provide businesses and households access to reliable and safe water,” the senators said. “These funds will help to finally replace a system that has dangerously allowed for leaks and line breaks to contaminate public water.”

The funds come from the Appalachian Regional Commission and will be combined with $883,563 in state funding allocated to the project.

Replacement of the waterlines will reduce system-wide water loss, replace inoperable valves, lower maintenance costs, and increase pressure. Additionally, households and businesses in the project service area will have access to a more reliable water infrastructure capable of supporting new opportunities for economic development.

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded two grants totaling $2,966,029 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) awarded to Southwest Virginia to strengthen the region’s workforce development initiatives and outdoor recreation economy. The first is a $1,466,029 grant awarded to the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge for the development of workforce training opportunities to help individuals in the region gain key skills for good jobs. The second is a $1,500,000 grant awarded to Russell County for the "Building an Outdoor Recreation Economy in Southwest Virginia" project that will help support increased tourism in the region and create jobs.

“We’re glad to see these grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission go toward education, job training, and economic development opportunities in Southwest Virginia,” the Sens. said. “We will continue to champion policies that create jobs, grow our economy, and provide greater opportunities for families across the Commonwealth."

The grant awarded to Dabney S. Lancaster Community College will go toward the Appalachian Hardwood Training Initiative (AHTI) and will develop training opportunities for people working in sawmills and wood manufacturing facilities throughout the ARC region, as well as underemployed individuals in the region. Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc. members have identified key skills needed by the industry to address current gaps. The program aims to train workers to improve their skills and get jobs.

The grant awarded to Russell County, Virginia will go toward the "Building an Outdoor Recreation Economy in Southwest Virginia" project, which will involve the construction of the Three Rivers Destination Center (TRDC) in the middle of Virginia's coalfield region and serve as a hub to grow tourism in Southwest Virginia. The grant will create 16 new jobs and support $1.4 million in increased revenues for the area's businesses and government. The TRDC will highlight the area's recreational assets, help visitors plan trips, and connect tourists with regional amenities and businesses. The center will be located close to the Clinch River State Park, the Jefferson National Forest, Breaks Interstate Park, and other recreational amenities. The center will also serve as headquarters for area tourism organizations, which promote the 600+ regional tourism assets responsible for employing over 1,900 people with a payroll of $40 million throughout the 7-county region. The investment will help support increased tourism and spending, promote entrepreneurship, and help address the negative economic impacts from the downturn of the coal industry.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA), and U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) asked President Joe Biden to approve an appeal that would grant federal assistance to individual residents in and around Hurley, Va. who were affected by the severe flooding, landslides, and mudslides that occurred on August 30, 2021, causing extensive damage in the area.

Following the extreme rainfall event, Hurley, Va. and surrounding areas suffered extensive damage, including loss of life and destruction to homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure. On October 26, following strong advocacy by the lawmakers, FEMA approved a Major Disaster Declaration for Buchanan County, opening up a range of federal assistance programs for the area. However, it later denied a request for Individual Assistance, which would have allowed individual Virginians in the area to receive financial assistance and direct services.

“We write today to express our strong support for Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam’s request for an appeal of the denial of Individual Assistance (IA) for Buchanan County as part of your Major Disaster Declaration that was issued for the county on October 26, 2021,” wrote the lawmakers. “While we appreciate your recent issuance of a Major Disaster Declaration for Buchanan County, we concur with the Commonwealth’s assessment that IA should be made available to our constituents to assist in their recovery from this tragic flood event.”

“As you know, IA is an incredibly important tool for communities that have been devastated by natural disasters. FEMA provides IA directly to individuals and households who have sustained significant losses as a direct result of a natural disaster that received a federal disaster declaration. This assistance can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, emergency home repairs, uninsured and underinsured property losses, and other critical needs,” they continued. “The unlocking of IA for the residents of Hurley would go a long way towards helping this community recover from this extreme weather event.”

In their letter today, the lawmakers stress the need for help at the individual level to ensure a fulsome recovery, and urge the President’s full and fair consideration of Virginia’s appeal for Individual Assistance for our constituents in and around Hurley.

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

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

President

1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20500


Dear Mr. President:

We write today to express our strong support for Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam’s request for an appeal of the denial of Individual Assistance (IA) for Buchanan County as part of your Major Disaster Declaration that was issued for the county on October 26, 2021.

While we appreciate your recent issuance of a Major Disaster Declaration for Buchanan County, we concur with the Commonwealth’s assessment that IA should be made available to our constituents to assist in their recovery from this tragic flood event.

On August 31, 2021, Governor Northam declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia following severe flooding, landslides, and mudslides that occurred on August 30, 2021. On this date, the unincorporated area of Hurley, Virginia, experienced an extreme rainfall event resulting in 8-10 inches of rain being released in a short amount of time. This rainfall event caused heavy floods, landslides, and mudslides that resulted in extensive damage in and around Hurley.

On October 26, 2021, we were pleased that you approved Virginia’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration, which provided Public Assistance for Buchanan County and Hazard Mitigation for the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, on October 29, 2021, we were disappointed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a formal denial of Governor Northam’s request for Individual Assistance for Buchanan County.

As you know, IA is an incredibly important tool for communities that have been devastated by natural disasters. FEMA provides IA directly to individuals and households who have sustained significant losses as a direct result of a natural disaster that received a federal disaster declaration. This assistance can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, emergency home repairs, uninsured and underinsured property losses, and other critical needs. The unlocking of IA for the residents of Hurley would go a long way towards helping this community recover from this extreme weather event.

Again, we thank you for your continued support for the residents of Buchanan County, Virginia, following the August 30, 2021 flood event. To ensure a fulsome recovery for this community, we urge your full and fair consideration of Virginia’s appeal for Individual Assistance for our constituents in and around Hurley.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and please let us know if we can be helpful to you in any way.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $1,558,976 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand access to high-speed internet, health care, and educational services in rural Virginia. 

“Teleservices are essential in today’s world, especially in rural areas where folks have to travel long distances to access resources. These investments will help close the digital divide across our Commonwealth and extend valuable educational and health opportunities to many Virginians,” the Senators said.

The funding will be distributed as follows:

  • Bristol Virginia Public Schools will receive $993,840 in federal funds to purchase interactive video conferencing equipment to deliver distance learning and telehealth services to 21 schools in eight rural Virginia communities.
  • University of Virginia will receive $267,036 in federal funds to purchase telemedicine equipment to serve a Tribal Nation, a Critical Access Hospital, a new Opioid Use Disorder and Substance Use Disorder clinic, and two federally qualified health centers serving the Appalachian region of Virginia. This equipment will help address urgent health needs, including those related to COVID-19, severe respiratory disease, the opioid crisis, and Type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that over 3,000 patients will receive treatment from this project.  
  • Mountain States Health Alliance will receive $298,100 in federal funds to expand virtual access to behavioral health, urgent care, and specialty care in Rural Appalachia. An estimated 33,000 patients will benefit from the telemedical care available facilitated by this project.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded $2,549,875 in federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for communities in Southwest Virginia. The funding, awarded through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative, will go toward three projects in the region to help spur economic diversification.

“We’re proud to see these federal dollars help fund vital economic diversification projects for Virginia’s communities,” said the Senators. “It’s important to ensure no community is left behind and workers have access to good-paying, in-demand jobs. As we continue to build back from the impacts of COVID-19, we will continue supporting policies and investments that improve the lives of all Virginians.” 

The funding will be awarded as below:

  • Appalachian Community Capital will receive $1,500,000 to support a capital access program across Central Appalachia by providing underserved communities with sources of capital. 
  • Virginia Coalfield Coalition will receive $1,000,000 for a broadband program that will benefit Buchanan and Tazewell Counties.
  • LENOWISCO Planning District in Duffield will receive $49,875 to conduct a study to determine the feasibility of creating an agriculture-technology tool to track and report food miles for specific grains cultivated in Lee, Scott, and Wise Counties. This tool will help assess the value-add of Virginia grains to the industry, boost grain market opportunities for Southwest Virginian farmers, and drive additional revenue.

ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments, including Virginia, with a mission to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia and help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation. ARC’s POWER Initiative targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production. 

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ABINGDON— U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner and Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia plans to invest $700 million in American Rescue Plan funding to expedite the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure to unserved areas and close the digital divide within the next three years. This proposal will accelerate the Governor’s 10-year goal for achieving universal internet access from 2028 to 2024, with the majority of connections obligated within the next 18 months. In May, Governor Northam and General Assembly leaders released a joint statement outlining shared priorities for allocating the $4.3 billion in federal funds available to the Commonwealth from the American Rescue Plan.

The Governor made the announcement at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon and was joined by U.S. Senator Mark Warner, State Senator Janet Howell and Delegate Luke Torian, who chair the General Assembly’s money committees, and State Senator Jennifer Boysko and Delegate Roslyn Tyler, who lead Virginia’s Broadband Advisory Council. Governor Northam also reported that the Commonwealth has successfully bridged half of the digital divide, with an estimated 233,500 unserved locations remaining. 

“With telehealth and telework becoming permanent staples across the nation, access to broadband is more critical than ever,” said U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner. “Earlier this year, I was proud to help deliver more than $3.7 billion dollars in direct fiscal relief for the Commonwealth through the American Rescue Plan, including hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband. I’m hopeful that my friends in the General Assembly will use $700 million of that funding to expand access to broadband, thereby creating economic opportunity and ensuring that every Virginian can meaningfully participate in our 21st century economy.”

“It’s time to close the digital divide in our Commonwealth and treat internet service like the 21st century necessity that it is—not just a luxury for some, but an essential utility for all,” said Governor Northam. “The pandemic has reinforced how important high-quality broadband is for the health, education, and economic opportunity, and we cannot afford to leave any community behind. With this historic $700 million investment, universal broadband is now within our reach. I am grateful to Senator Warner for fighting to include this funding in the American Rescue Plan, which will be key to the success of local connectivity efforts and to ensuring every Virginian has affordable, reliable, and equitable access to high-speed internet.”

Since 2018, the Commonwealth has awarded approximately $124 million in broadband grants and connected over 140,000 homes, businesses, and community anchors. Governor Northam and the General Assembly made historic investments—$50 million in 2020 and an additional $50 million in 2021—in the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), a public-private partnership that provides targeted financial assistance to extend broadband service to areas currently unserved by a provider. With this $700 million allocation of federal dollars and continued state investment, the Commonwealth has the necessary resources to meet the tremendous demand from localities and broadband providers and close the digital divide in Virginia.

“Localities and broadband providers have stepped up over the past three years and helped the Commonwealth connect thousands of unserved Virginians,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “With today’s announcement, large regional projects that achieve universal service can be funded across the Commonwealth without delay.” 

Because Governor Northam prioritized broadband expansion well before the pandemic, Virginia is on track to be one of the first states in the country to achieve universal broadband service. In 2019, the Governor worked with the General Assembly to establish a pilot program that promotes collaboration between localities, electric utilities, and internet service providers to connect unserved areas to high-speed internet. In just two years of the pilot program, Virginia’s utility companies have helped connect more than 13,000 homes and businesses across the Commonwealth. Earlier this year, Governor Northam signed bipartisan legislation that makes the pilot program permanent.

“The Commonwealth continues to prioritize funding for universal broadband access and I’m encouraged to see these investments coming ahead of schedule,” said Senator Janet Howell, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “This appropriation of federal dollars will go a long way towards supporting the investments that the Commonwealth has already made to bridge the digital divide.” 

“Funding for broadband is more critical now than ever,” said Delegate Luke Torian, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “We must continue to ensure that all citizens of the Commonwealth have access to quality internet access.”

“The Broadband Advisory Council has long prioritized funding to reduce the cost of broadband access and connect unserved Virginians,” said Senator Jennifer Boysko, Chair of the Broadband Advisory Council. “With this investment of American Rescue Plan dollars, we will greatly accelerate our progress.” 

“I have lived in a rural area my entire life and I know that the Commonwealth benefits as a whole when we lift up all communities,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler, Vice Chair of the Broadband Advisory Council. “This investment will have a tremendous impact on countless Virginians and allow our communities to prosper and grow.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, applauded the reopening of the Lee County Community Hospital in Pennington Gap, Virginia. This morning, Senator Warner attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the new Lee County Community Hospital. In April, Kaine toured the construction site of the hospital, which was being renovated by Ballad Health. While there, Kaine met with Ballad Health officials to discuss the reopening and health needs facing the region, including efforts to respond to COVID-19 and strengthen Virginia’s rural health care system. 

“As many rural hospitals across the nation are closing due to lack of resources, we hope Lee County Community Hospital serves as an example of how these vital facilities can reopen and effectively serve their communities,” said the Senators. “We are very pleased to see the hospital fully open, and we will continue working to ensure Virginians have access to reliable and affordable health care services, regardless of their zip code.” 

In 2013, the Lee County Regional Medical Center closed abruptly. Not only did this closure leave the residents of Lee County without access to a nearby hospital, but it also hindered opportunities for economic development in the area. In February of 2019, Lee County Hospital Authority partnered with Ballad Health to begin plans to reopen the hospital.

Senators Warner and Kaine have long supported the reopening of this facility. In March, the senators introduced the bipartisan Save Rural Hospitals Act of 2021 to provide additional financial support for rural hospitals that are already operating on very thin margins. Reporting indicates that rural hospitals are now closing at an alarming rate, with more than 130 rural hospitals across the nation having closed in the last decade. Lee County Community Hospital is rare among these hospitals for having reopened. Warner and Kaine have also introduced the States Achieve Medicaid Expansion (SAME) Act of 2021,legislation to promote health care access for low-income Americans and support Medicaid expansion nationwide. It is estimated that the SAME Act would save Virginia’s hospitals an estimated $300 million per year in the first three years of implementation, according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. 

Flickr photo album of Senator Warner’s visit today can be found here.

Flickr photo album of Senator Kaine’s visit in April can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark Warner, D-Va., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Ben Cardin, D-Md., John Boozman, R-Ark., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., along with U.S. Representatives Terri Sewell, D-Ala. and Jason Smith, R-Mo., today introduced the “Rural Jobs Act,” legislation that would build on the success of the New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) by bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment to some of the most disadvantaged rural communities in America. 

“New Market Tax Credits have had proven success in reviving local economies and creating needed jobs in communities around the country. Unfortunately, less than one in four jobs created by this program have been in rural communities,” Senator Warner said. “This legislation will bridge this job creation gap by earmarking additional tax credits specifically for rural and underserved regions, which are suffering tremendously due to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.”

“Recent jobs reports have shown that our nation is on the path to recovery, but there is more progress to be made,” Senator Wicker said. “The Rural Jobs Act would help boost private investment in rural communities through expanded tax incentives. This legislation would be an important addition to the New Market Tax Credit Program, which has already spurred tens of billions of private investment in distressed communities.”  

“In Maryland, the New Markets Tax Credit has been deployed throughout our state on a diverse range of infrastructure and community development efforts. I am pleased to support this bipartisan legislation, which will further the reach of the program to low-income rural communities, creating jobs and stimulating our economy across Maryland and across America,” Senator Cardin said.

“The Rural Jobs Act builds on the momentum of the New Market Tax Credit to support job creation and economic opportunities in rural communities,” Senator Boozman said. “I’m pleased to advocate for policies that will reinvigorate investment in areas of Arkansas that need it most.”

“Boosting tax credits to encourage investment in rural Arizona communities will help create good-paying jobs and continue fueling Arizona’s economic recovery,” Senator Sinema said.

“The Rural Jobs Act will ensure that rural communities benefit from the New Market Tax Credit program, which provides tax credits to incentivize private investment in communities. Our bipartisan legislation will help to spur additional private investment in North Dakota, and help to create jobs and opportunities in rural communities across the country,” Senator Hoeven said.

“The New Markets Tax Credits program has played a vital role in helping economically distressed communities in West Virginia attract the private capital needed for economic development investments,” Senator Capito said. “The Rural Jobs Act expands upon this already powerful tool by ensuring these investments occur in the communities that need them the most. I’m proud to continue supporting this legislation that I know will go a long way in providing the boost these areas of West Virginia need.”

“By creating Rural Job Zones, more investment will be specifically targeted to areas where it is most needed to lift communities through job creation and development.  For Mississippi, the Rural Jobs Act could be a game changer, and I hope this legislation gets the attention it deserves as we work to build a strong post-pandemic economy,” Senator Hyde-Smith said.

“The New Market Tax Credit is a lifeline for rural communities across the country and right here in Alabama’s 7th District, spurring much needed investment and creating good-paying jobs in regions that need them most,” Representative Sewell said. “By expanding the NMTC, the Rural Jobs Act recognizes the promise and the potential of some of our most underserved communities, which is why I am proud to introduce this critical legislation. This is one more step toward ensuring that our rural, underserved communities like many in the Black Belt are not left behind.”

“Too often, federal programs reward big cities, leaving rural areas behind. The Rural Jobs Act targets investment to our most overlooked communities, helping to ensure opportunities for working-class Americans,” Representative Smith said.

The Rural Jobs Act would expand upon the NMTC program, which provides a modest tax incentive to private investors to invest in low-income communities. NMTC projects have spurred over $42 billion in private investment and generated over one million jobs since 2000. However, less than one in four NMTC jobs have been created in rural communities.

The Rural Jobs Act would help close the job creation gap by designating $500 million in NMTC investments for “Rural Job Zones,” which are low-income communities that have a population smaller than 50,000 inhabitants and are not adjacent to an urban area. Under this new definition, Rural Job Zones would be established in 342 out of the 435 congressional districts across the country.

The bill would also require that at least 25 percent of this new investment activity be targeted to persistent poverty counties and high migration counties. There are approximately 400 persistent poverty counties in the United States, 85 percent of which are located in non-metro or rural areas.

Read the full text of the Rural Jobs Act here.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) along with Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Shelley Capito (R-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Boozman (R-AR), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) today reintroduced legislation to encourage greater private investment in rural and underserved areas, which have been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. Seeking to build on the proven success of the New Markets Tax Credit (NTMC) program, the bipartisan Rural Jobs Act would increase the flow of capital to rural areas and will serve as an important tool in U.S. economic recovery efforts. Companion legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Jason Smith (R-MO).

“The New Market Tax Credit program has a proven track record of reviving local economies and creating needed jobs in communities around the country. Unfortunately, less than one in four jobs created by this program have been in rural communities,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation will bridge this job creation gap by earmarking additional tax credits specifically for rural and underserved regions, which are suffering tremendously due to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.” 

The NMTC program currently provides a modest tax incentive to private investors to invest in low-income communities. The Rural Jobs Act would build on the success of this program by designating, for two years, $500 million in NMTC investments for “Rural Job Zones” – low-income communities that have a population smaller than 50,000 inhabitants and are not adjacent to an urban area. Under this new definition, Rural Job Zones would be established in in 342 out of the 435 congressional districts across the country, including communities in the following Virginia localities: Accomack, Albemarle, Alleghany, Appomattox, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Brunswick, Buchanan, Buckingham, Buena Vista, Campbell, Caroline, Carroll, Charlotte, Covington, Culpeper, Cumberland, Danville, Dickenson, Dinwiddie, Emporia, Essex, Fauquier, Floyd, Franklin, Frederick, Galax, Giles, Gloucester, Grayson, Greene, Greensville, Halifax, Henry, Highland, Isle of Wight, King and Queen, King William, Lee, Lexington, Louisa, Lunenburg, Madison, Martinsville, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, Montgomery, Nelson, Northampton, Northumberland, Norton, Nottoway, Orange, Page, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Pulaski, Rappahannock, Richmond, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Russell, Scott, Shenandoah, Smyth, Southampton, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Surry, Sussex, Tazewell, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland, Wise, and Wythe. 

Since the creation of the NMTC, a total of 77 businesses and economic revitalization projects in Virginia have received financing, contributing to $1.5 billion in total project investments. 

“The Rural Jobs Zones initiative will drive more resources to projects such as the OnePartner/HMG Medical Center in Duffield, Virginia. Hampton Roads Ventures used the New Markets Tax Credit to finance a new facility that expanded medical services to residents in this medically underserved area. Rural Jobs Zones will benefit from billions in private sector financing for health centers, manufacturing businesses, broadband expansions, and Main Street revitalization efforts. We applaud Senator Warner for his continued commitment to rural economic development,” said Jennifer Donohue, CEO of Hampton Roads Ventures, LLC. 

“Senator Warner’s bill, the Rural Jobs Act, will create a powerful new tool for economic and community development in rural communities across Virginia and across the nation, it will lead to more quality jobs and better futures in rural America,” said Rob Goldsmith, President and CEO, People Incorporated Financial Services.

Under this legislation, Virginia would have more qualified census tracts than almost any other state, providing greater investment opportunity to support and grow businesses and create jobs in communities across the Commonwealth. The bill would also require that at least 25 percent of this new investment activity be targeted to persistent poverty counties and high-migration counties. There are approximately 400 persistent poverty counties in the United States, 85 percent of which are located in non-metro or rural areas. 

Bill text is available here. A bill summary is available here.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner joined U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in announcing that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.1 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to the County of Alleghany, Covington, Virginia, for trail improvements along the Jackson River and to bolster the local tourism economy. This EDA grant, to be matched with $600,000 in state funding, is expected to create more than 30 jobs.

“Virginia’s abundance of outdoor recreation activities such as hiking and fishing are at the heart of the Commonwealth’s tourism industry,” said Senator Mark Warner. “With the weather getting warmer and more families taking trips to visit the Commonwealth’s scenic views, I’m pleased to announce these funds to make necessary improvements that will help create jobs and attract more tourism dollars to our communities.” 

“President Biden is committed to getting our tourism sector back up to speed and Americans back to work,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “This EDA investment in the County of Alleghany will aid in the reopening of the local tourism economy and will retain critical tourism, hospitality, and manufacturing jobs in the state.”

“The Economic Development Administration plays an important role in supporting community-led economic development strategies designed to boost coronavirus recovery and response efforts,” said Dennis Alvord, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “This EDA investment will allow for completion of the Jackson River Scenic Trail and the addition of outdoor amenities, which will bolster tourism in Virginia, providing new jobs and economic opportunities.”

“Virginia is home to some of the nation's most beautiful parks, trails, and rivers,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “I’m grateful for this investment in Alleghany County, which will support tourism in the region and boost our quickly-recovering economy.” 

“I am pleased to see this CARES Act funding go toward improvements along the Jackson River,” said Senator Tim Kaine. “This vital investment will help tourism rebound and spur economic activity in Alleghany County.”

This project is funded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (Public Law 116-136), which provided EDA with $1.5 billion for economic assistance programs to help communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance, which is being administered under the authority of the bureau’s flexible Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) program, provides a wide range of financial assistance to eligible communities and regions as they respond to and recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. 

About the U.S. Economic Development Administration (www.eda.gov)
The U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) mission is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation’s regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA makes investments in economically distressed communities to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $1,169,961 in federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for three organizations across Southwest and Southside Virginia that are supporting individuals suffering from substance use disorder. 

“Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen an increased demand for substance abuse treatment,” said the Senators. “We are glad to announce that this funding will provide increased support to those struggling with addiction in Southwest and Southside Virginia.”

The following organizations will receive funding as listed below: 

  • Piedmont Regional Community Services Board in Martinsville, Virginia will receive a grant of $498,961 to increase the number of recovering individuals in Martinsville and Henry County and expand the program that currently serves Patrick County.
  • LENOWISCO in Duffield, Virginia will receive a grant of $371,000 to develop a substance abuse recovery ecosystem and remove barriers to obtaining employment.
  • Western Virginia Workforce Development Board in Roanoke, Virginia will receive a grant of $300,000 to develop and enhance the recovery ecosystem in Alleghany, Craig, and the City of Covington.

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Virginia will receive $79,907,625 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support 26 community health centers across the Commonwealth. The funding – which was made possible through the American Rescue Plan – will be awarded beginning in April by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

“For the past year, our community health centers have been on the front lines of providing care to our most vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis,” said the Senators. “Thanks to the congressional passage and eventual signing of the American Rescue Plan, we are now able to provide these critical federal dollars so that our community health centers can continue to provide lifesaving care to the folks who need it the most.”

The funding for the 26 community health centers will be awarded as follows:

Recipient

City/Town

Award Amount

Neighborhood Health

Alexandria

$7,893,875

Blue Ridge Medical Center Inc.

Arrington

$1,861,750

Bland County Medical Clinic Inc. 

Bastian

$1,595,375

Free Clinic of the New River Valley, Inc. 

Christiansburg

$1,492,000

Piedmont Access to Health Services Inc. 

Danville

$3,666,625

Clinch River Health Services Inc. 

Dungannon

$950,375

Harrisonburg Community Health Center, Inc. 

Harrisonburg 

$3,441,625

St. Charles Health Council Inc. 

Jonesville

$3,021,125

Tri-Area Community Health 

Laurel Fork

$1,990,750

Loudoun Community Health Center

Leesburg

$3,976,500

Rockbridge Area Free Clinic 

Lexington

$1,629,000

Johnson Health Center 

Lynchburg

$4,305,625

Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness 

Martinsville

$1,435,875

Highland Medical Center 

Monterey

$822,750

Central Virginia Health Services, Inc. 

New Canton

$8,864,625

Peninsula Institute for Community Health, Inc. 

Newport News

$4,659,500

Eastern Shore Rural Health System, Incorporated 

Onancock

$5,704,750

Portsmouth Community Health Center, Inc. 

Portsmouth

$2,767,125

Daily Planet Inc. 

Richmond

$2,259,375

Richmond, City of 

Richmond

$2,991,625

Kuumba Community Health & Wellness Center, Inc. 

Roanoke

$2,461,625

Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems, Inc. 

Saltville

$3,039,750

Stony Creek Community Health Center 

Stony Creek

$889,500

Southern Dominion Health Systems, Inc.

Victoria

$2,379,875

Horizon Health Services, Inc. 

Waverly

$1,159,250

Greater Prince William Area Community Health Center, Inc. 

Woodbridge

$4,647,375

Health centers will be able to use these funds to support and expand COVID-19 vaccination, testing, and treatment for vulnerable populations; deliver needed preventive and primary health care services to those at higher risk for COVID-19; and expand health centers’ operational capacity during the pandemic and beyond, including modifying and improving physical infrastructure and adding mobile units. 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urging the Commission to administer the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) in a way that helps address the longstanding digital divides that block too many Americans from securing a reliable, affordable broadband connection. In their letter, the Senators encourage the FCC to design the program in a way that helps to establish a “durable, scalable model for future digital equity efforts,” and lays out specific steps to ensure that all Americans can access this essential 21st century tool.

“As communities across the country continue to grapple with connectivity challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen unprecedented reliance on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services,” wrote the Senators. “Unfortunately, the already-existing digital divide has been further exacerbated by these disruptions, which have highlighted and furthered the broadband gap that too many American households still face. While Congress continues to work with the FCC and other Federal agencies on expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas through a number of programs, affordability remains a significant barrier to connectivity for far too many Americans. According to Pew Research, approximately half of non-broadband users’ given reason for lack of connectivity is prohibitive cost, and 44 percent of households earning $30,000 or less do not have broadband. With the establishment of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, and with proper, forward-looking implementation, we believe we can make a substantial difference in supporting broadband affordability for the most vulnerable Americans.

“First, while the EBBP will sunset after the end of the coronavirus pandemic, it presents a unique opportunity for the FCC to look at how to address the broadband affordability issue long-term and starting to think now about the longevity of cost support well beyond this program,” the Senators continued. “As we know, the ultimate end to the pandemic will not signify the end to the digital divide, and the efforts that we put forth now toward encouraging digital equity must represent a durable, scalable model for future digital equity efforts.

The letter from Senators Warner, King, and Hassan goes on to lay out additional steps that the FCC should take in order to maximize the reach and impact of the EBBP both during this crisis and in the long-term. Specifically, the Senators highlight the value of collaborating, with state and community partners, urge the commission to set the eligibility criteria as broadly as reasonably possible, and emphasize the importance of supporting newer or smaller broadband services, many of which operate in historically underserved areas.

“Finally, it is important to make access to the EBBP benefits streamlined and accessible - both for providers and households, including subscribers of newer broadband service. The program will be most successful when eligible households are readily able to participate without overly cumbersome or restrictive requirements,” added the Senators.

“Closing the digital divide is of critical importance to our economic future and we look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure every American has access to affordable high-speed broadband, regardless of one’s household income or the zip code of where one lives,” the Senators concluded. “We appreciate your history of leadership on connectivity issues and working to close the digital divide. We believe that the EBBP presents an exciting opportunity to address the digital divide and affordability barriers to broadband access. With proper implementation and collaboration with state and local partners, it can allow all members of our communities to better participate in a 21st century society and economy, both during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.”

The full letter can be downloaded HERE or read below

+++

The Honorable Jessica Rosenworcel

Acting Chairwoman

Federal Communications Commission

45 L Street, NE

Washington, DC 20554

 

Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel,

We write to you today regarding the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) invitation for public comment on how to administer the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP). As you know, the EBBP was created by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (P.L. 116-260) and offers eligible households discounts on broadband service during an emergency period related to the coronavirus pandemic. We appreciate the opportunity to share our input and perspective on this vital issue to ensure that the program is utilized to its fullest potential.

As communities across the country continue to grapple with connectivity challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen unprecedented reliance on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. Unfortunately, the already-existing digital divide has been further exacerbated by these disruptions, which have highlighted and furthered the broadband gap that too many American households still face. While Congress continues to work with the FCC and other Federal agencies on expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas through a number of programs, affordability remains a significant barrier to connectivity for far too many Americans. According to Pew Research, approximately half of non-broadband users’ given reason for lack of connectivity is prohibitive cost, and 44 percent of households earning $30,000 or less do not have broadband.[1] With the establishment of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, and with proper, forward-looking implementation, we believe we can make a substantial difference in supporting broadband affordability for the most vulnerable Americans.

First, while the EBBP will sunset after the end of the coronavirus pandemic, it presents a unique opportunity for the FCC to look at how to address the broadband affordability issue long-term and starting to think now about the longevity of cost support well beyond this program. As we know, the ultimate end to the pandemic will not signify the end to the digital divide, and the efforts that we put forth now toward encouraging digital equity must represent a durable, scalable model for future digital equity efforts.

Second, it is important to collaborate closely with state/local partners and anchor institutions—first to provide education and outreach about the programs’ availability and incentivize participation within underserved communities, but also to ensure that the FCC can work in tandem with existing digital inclusion efforts on the state level. Community awareness of the program’s benefits and encouraging community partnerships are key to successful implementation, and will pair well with existing state-based programs promoting digital inclusion through adult education, equipment lending, and telehealth initiatives. 

Third, the intention of Congress in providing the EBBP benefits was to reduce consumer broadband costs to address the affordability barriers to wider broadband access. We all share the goal of ensuring that families facing difficult financial circumstances during the pandemic are not forced to choose between housing, food, and other necessities and internet service. In order to accomplish that objective, the FCC should set eligibility criteria as broadly as reasonably possible, including looking at how to incorporate newer providers and newer customers, while taking every appropriate measure to ensure that the full value of the program reaches the families that it is intended to benefit. It is incumbent on the Commission to ensure that participating providers are honestly and in good faith passing the full value of the benefit on to their customers.

Finally, it is important to make access to the EBBP benefits streamlined and accessible - both for providers and households, including subscribers of newer broadband service. The program will be most successful when eligible households are readily able to participate without overly cumbersome or restrictive requirements. Similarly, it is vital to include small, local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in cost-sharing efforts. Many states across the country rely heavily on the efforts of regional ISPs for broadband expansion, especially to rural, historically unserved areas, and ensuring that program entry and reporting is accessible to all providers will contribute greatly to the success of the EBBP in areas with the most need.

Closing the digital divide is of critical importance to our economic future and we look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure every American has access to affordable high-speed broadband, regardless of one’s household income or the zip code of where one lives. We appreciate your history of leadership on connectivity issues and working to close the digital divide. We believe that the EBBP presents an exciting opportunity to address the digital divide and affordability barriers to broadband access. With proper implementation and collaboration with state and local partners, it can allow all members of our communities to better participate in a 21st century society and economy, both during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Thank you for your attention to these matters.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter urging the Biden administration to take the necessary steps to ensure that residents in rural communities have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The letter follows reporting that there are no pharmacies in Southwest Virginia participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, a program that aims to expedite COVID-19 vaccine distribution by shipping vaccine doses directly to retail pharmacy locations.

“We have heard from a number of providers, community leaders, and other stakeholders expressing their concerns about a lack of adequate vaccine access in rural areas of Virginia. We understand that current vaccine doses are limited in every community and do believe that you are working in good faith to best distribute and administer a limited number of vaccine supplies. However, we are particularly concerned with recent reports that there are zero Southwest Virginia pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program,” wrote the Senators to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Norris Cochran and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky.

While the CDC lists CVS Pharmacy as the only retail partner in the program for Virginia, there are no CVS pharmacies in Southwest Virginia that are currently participating in the program. In their letter, the Senators applauded the program to help get more Americans vaccinated to better combat the COVID-19 health crisis, while underscoring the need for the program to include providers in Southwest Virginia.

“As you know, Americans in rural and underserved communities are more likely to be older or otherwise at-risk for developing severe infection from COVID-19. This reality makes it all the more important to appropriately expedite available vaccine doses to these communities. We appreciate that by launching the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, HHS and CDC have taken deliberate steps to implement a national vaccination strategy, but we must make sure this national strategy appropriately includes rural communities,” they continued. “We urge you to work with stakeholders in Virginia to expand the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to include providers in Southwest Virginia. Additionally, we ask that you further examine the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and your national vaccination strategy to ensure that it includes a plan for equitable vaccine distribution and administration in rural communities.”

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Dear Acting Secretary Cochran and Director Walensky:

Thank you for your work thus far to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia and nationally. As the Biden administration continues to ramp up efforts to get more Americans vaccinated, we are writing to request that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work closely with states and local governments to ensure the equitable distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccine doses in rural and medically underserved communities. Specifically, we ask that you take the necessary steps of ensuring the newly launched Federal Retail Pharmacy Program has a sufficient number of participating pharmacy partners in rural Southwest Virginia communities.

We have heard from a number of providers, community leaders, and other stakeholders expressing their concerns about a lack of adequate vaccine access in rural areas of Virginia. We understand that current vaccine doses are limited in every community and do believe that you are working in good faith to best distribute and administer a limited number of vaccine supplies. However, we are particularly concerned with recent reports that there are zero Southwest Virginia pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

As you know, Americans in rural and underserved communities are more likely to be older or otherwise at-risk for developing severe infection from COVID-19. This reality makes it all the more important to appropriately expedite available vaccine doses to these communities. We appreciate that by launching the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, HHS and CDC have taken deliberate steps to implement a national vaccination strategy, but we must make sure this national strategy appropriately includes rural communities.

We urge you to work with stakeholders in Virginia to expand the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to include providers in Southwest Virginia. Additionally, we ask that you further examine the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and your national vaccination strategy to ensure that it includes a plan for equitable vaccine distribution and administration in rural communities.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to hearing back from you. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions or need additional information from us or our staff.

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), joined by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), introduced the Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act. The legislation aims to expand access to affordable and nutritious food in areas designated as “food deserts” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).                                                                                       

“Today, too many Americans lack access to fresh nutritious and healthy foods. Unfortunately, that reality has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, which has made it even more difficult for working families to seek out and afford healthy foods,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that will serve as an important tool to combat food insecurity in our communities.”

“Over the past year, we have seen unprecedented need at food banks as Kansans line-up seeking access to nutritional food,” said Sen. Moran. “Even while living in the breadbasket of our nation, food insecurity affects far too many Kansans, a need that has only increased during COVID-19. This bipartisan legislation, which would incentivize food providers to establish and renovate grocery stores, food banks and farmers markets in communities that traditionally lack affordable, healthy and convenient food options, is now more important than ever during this pandemic.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made routine tasks like going to the grocery store difficult for millions of Americans—especially for families who live in a food dessert and have to travel an extended distance to access healthy foods.” said Senator Casey. “No one in America should be burdened by a simple trip to the grocery store. The bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would provide critical support to expand access to healthy food in underserved communities,” said Sen. Casey.

“Many Americans living in rural communities—including those in West Virginia—have difficulty accessing fresh and nutritious foods. I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation, which will go a long way in helping to improve access to groceries and healthy foods across West Virginia and make it easier for businesses and non-profit organizations to serve our rural communities,” said Sen. Capito.

According to recent data from USDA, nearly 40 million Americans live in food deserts, areas defined to be without grocery stores within one or more miles in urban regions, and ten or more miles in rural regions. In Virginia alone, there are more than one million individuals living in food deserts. Studies have shown that Americans who live in communities with low-access to healthy food options are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Additionally, according to USDA’s own study, people of color are more likely to reside in a food desert.

In an effort to eliminate food deserts in the U.S., the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would provide incentives to food providers to expand access to healthy foods in these underserved communities and reduce the number of food deserts nationwide.

Specifically, the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act, which defines a grocery market as a retail sales store with at least 35 percent of its selection (or forecasted selection) dedicated to selling fresh produce, poultry, dairy, and deli items – would spark investment in food deserts across the country that have a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, or a median family income of less than 80 percent of the median for the state or metro area. It would grant tax credits or grants to food providers who service low-access communities and attain a “Special Access Food Provider” (SAFP) certification through the Treasury Department. Incentives would be awarded based on the following structure:

  • New Store Construction – Companies that construct new grocery stores in a food desert will receive a onetime 15 percent tax credit after receiving certification.
  • Retrofitting Existing Structures – Companies that make retrofits to an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a onetime 10 percent tax credit after the repairs certify the store as an SAFP.
  • Food Banks – Certified food banks that build new (permanent) structures in food deserts will be eligible to receive a onetime grant for 15 percent of their construction costs.
  • Temporary Access Merchants – Certified temporary access merchants (i.e. mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks) that are 501(c)(3)s will receive grants for 10 percent of their annual operating costs.

The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act boasts the support of numerous organizations, including Feeding America, the National Grocers Association, Share Our Strength, and Bread for the World.

“Feeding America commends Senator Warner for confronting the unfortunate fact that the burdens faced by the 40 million Americans living with hunger are even worse for those who live in food deserts. Our network of 200 member food banks understands that areas without affordable, healthy food options have higher rates of food insecurity exacerbated by the lack access to adequate transportation to the nearest food pantry or grocery market. Feeding America supports the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and believes it is a critical step to give nonprofits and retailers support to increase food access in underserved areas,” said Kate Leone, Chief Government Relations Officer at Feeding America. 

“The National Grocers Association embraces Senator Warner’s efforts to remove the obstacles faced by grocers looking to expand access to nutritious food for rural and urban communities without a supermarket,” said Molly Pfaffenroth, Senior Director of Government Relations at National Grocers Association. “Independent community grocers are the heartbeat of the areas they serve and historically are leaders in reaching out to those most in need of better food options. Communities are stronger both physically and economically when they have better access to healthy food, so we look forward to working with Congress on this important bipartisan legislation.”

“To end childhood hunger in America, we must ensure that low-income families, have equitable access to healthy, affordable food options no matter their zip code or circumstances. Ending food deserts will help more families put food on the table and help children get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong. Share Our Strength supports The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and thanks Sens. Warner, Moran, Casey, and Capito for their leadership on this issue,” said Billy Shore, Founder and Executive Chair of Share Our Strength. 

“Bread for the World is once again excited to see a bipartisan effort to address food deserts and improve access to nutritious food in low-income areas across America.  With 1 in 6 Americans and 1 in 4 children experiencing food insecurity during this pandemic, this legislation is desperately needed. Bread for the World thanks Senators Warner, Moran, Casey and Capito for introducing this bill to reduce hunger in communities and improve health across the country,” said Heather Valentine, Director of Government Relations of Bread for the World. 

Companion legislation will soon be introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and A. Donald McEachin (D-VA).

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 crisis. He has put pressure on the USDA to formally authorize Virginia’s request to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot Program, successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that made it more difficult for families to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, and secured a USDA designation that allows food banks to distribute food directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. In August, Sen. Warner also successfully pushed for USDA to extend critical food waivers to help make sure students have access to nutritious meals while school districts participate in distance learning. The COVID-19 relief package signed into law in December provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits. Last month, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that allows federal government to pay all costs to states to partner with restaurants and provide food to vulnerable populations.

Bill text for the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act can be found here. A summary of the bill can be found here.

 

Population of Virginians by city or county living in food deserts as defined in this bill*

Accomack: 4401

Albemarle: 3765

Amherst: 10217

Augusta: 11919

Bath: 4731

Bland: 3901

Botetourt: 7792

Brunswick: 8041

Buckingham: 8400

Campbell: 8756

Caroline: 3278

Carroll: 4767

Charlotte: 12586

Chesterfield: 38638

Culpeper: 18511

Cumberland: 10052

Dinwiddie: 12196

Essex: 8026

Fairfax: 11213

Floyd: 9102

Franklin: 25439

Grayson: 5277

Halifax: 27851

Hanover: 4243

Henrico: 39618

Henry: 22130

Highland: 2321

James City: 4014

King and Queen: 3881

Loudoun: 3869

Mecklenburg: 17632

Montgomery: 32249

Nelson: 5696

Nottoway: 9783

Orange: 4934

Patrick: 11262

Pittsylvania: 23119

Prince Edward: 10624

Prince George: 8543

Prince William: 55128

Rappahannock: 7373

Rockbridge: 15873

Rockingham: 11530

Scott: 7959

Shenandoah: 9068

Smyth: 3913

Southampton: 7958

Spotsylvania: 21803

Stafford: 12818

Sussex: 6377

Tazewell: 12740

Warren: 14335

Wise: 9566

Wythe: 6773

Bristol: 13982

Buena Vista: 6650

Charlottesville: 6616

Chesapeake: 33605

Covington: 3098

Danville: 15545

Franklin City: 8582

Fredericksburg: 8988

Hampton: 38928

Harrisonburg: 9016

Hopewell: 12120

Lexington: 7042

Lynchburg: 29886

Manassas: 7678

Manassas Park: 6248

Martinsville: 6166

Newport News: 38292

Norfolk: 62583

Petersburg: 22639

Portsmouth: 11862

Radford: 12260

Richmond City: 62381

Roanoke City: 39950

Salem: 10424

Suffolk: 9752

Virginia Beach: 27205

Waynesboro: 5240

Williamsburg: 4138

Total: 1,186,877

*The most recent year for which data is available is 2017.

 

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Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), as well as Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA), in introducing the bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act which would require the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to issue an emergency temporary standard requiring mine operators to establish a plan to tackle occupational COVID-19 exposure and provide miners with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). Additional information on the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act can be found here.

“COVID-19 is a very real threat for Virginia’s coal miners, who are often unable to practice social distancing as they work in confined spaces for extended periods of time,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to ensure that miners in Southwest Virginia and throughout the country have the resources they need to properly protect themselves and limit their exposure to this dangerous and increasingly contagious virus.”

“Our miners risk their lives every day to power our nation and during the COVID-19 pandemic, that risk is even greater for our brave miners,” said Senator Manchin. “The bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act will instruct DOL to create safeguards and provide PPE to ensure our miners are protected from exposure to COVID-19 in the mines. I will continue to work with my bipartisan colleagues, DOL and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to pass this commonsense legislation to help our miners stay safe during the pandemic as they continue to provide Americans with the power we need every day.”

“For centuries, our miners have worked tirelessly to power America and keep the lights on. It is vital that we take the necessary steps to provide them safety and job security as we continue to battle COVID-19,” said Senator Capito.


“Our nation’s miners have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to supply our energy needs at greater risk to themselves,” Senator Durbin said. “I am proud to help introduce the bipartisan COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act with my colleagues. This bill will ensure that our hard working miners are provided with proper PPE and that safeguards are put into place to decrease the risk of workplace exposure to this deadly virus.”

“Coal miners have worked tirelessly in dangerous conditions to power our communities, and now we must help ensure they can stay safe amidst the risks of COVID-19,” said Senator Kaine. “We must pass this bipartisan legislation to provide our nation’s miners with the necessary tools to limit their exposure to COVID-19.”

“Throughout a pandemic that has cost more than 440,000 Americans their lives, our Nation’s miners have continued to bravely go to work every day,” said Senator Casey. “We need to put in place enforceable workplace safety standards to protect miners from COVID-19 exposure on the job and to keep them, their families and their communities safe.”

“Ohio miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country,” said Senator Brown. “And now they’re facing more danger, as working conditions put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. MSHA needs to issue an enforceable safety standard to protect these miners from infectious disease, and we need to ensure these workers have the personal protective equipment they need to prevent exposure.”

“In Northeastern Pennsylvania, where mine workers’ organizing is a time-honored tradition, we know how important it is to ensure they are protected. As they continue to work in close quarters and tough conditions, miners remain at high risk for COVID-19 infection. This is a bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans that would implement responsible safety guidance and deliver personal protective equipment so that miners can continue to work, stay healthy and provide for their families during this health crisis,” said Representative Cartwright.  

 

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act would direct the Secretary of Labor to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires mine operators to:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect miners from COVID-19 exposure at the mines;
  • Provide personal protective equipment to miners;
  • Incorporate guidelines from the CDC, NIOSH, and relevant scientific research;
  • In coordination with CDC and NIOSH, track, analyze, and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infections data in order make recommendations and guidance to protect miners from the virus.

Bill text can be found here.

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