Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in introducing comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will seek to address the digital divide by investing $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities. The legislation in the House of Representatives is led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force.

“The current health crisis has only underscored what we already know: that too many households across the country lack reliable access to broadband,” said Sen. Warner. “In Virginia alone, it’s estimated that more than 700,000 Virginians lack access to broadband, making it harder for families to access essential services during these unprecedented times. Access to broadband helps communities meaningfully participate in the digital economy. Individuals can apply for a job or submit a college application, families can connect with their health care providers without having to travel long distances, and teachers and students can advance and supplement their online learning. Accessibility to broadband is vital to increasing digital literacy, achieving economic stability, and advancing education, and this critical legislation will help bridge the gap for communities that still need access to this critical technology.” 

“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for every American,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “In 2020, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code — and this legislation is a critical step to help bridge the digital divide once and for all.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent Broadband Deployment Report, 18 million people lack access to broadband – a figure that experts widely agree is understated.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would:

  • Encourage Universal Broadband Access by:
    • including $80 billion to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide;
    • allocating $5 billion for low-interest financing of broadband deployment through a new secured loan program; and
    • establishing a new office within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure efficient use of federal money.
  • Ensure Internet Affordability by:
    • requiring an affordable option for internet service plans offered on the newly-built infrastructure;
    • providing a $50 monthly discount on plans for low-income consumers; and
    • directing the FCC to collect and publicize data on prices charged for broadband service throughout the country. 
  • Promote Internet Adoption by:
    • providing over $1 billion to establish grant programs for states to close gaps in broadband adoption, as well as digital inclusion projects for organizations and local communities to implement;
    • including $5 billion to enable students without internet at home to participate in remote learning; and
    • authorizing funding for Wi-Fi on school buses so students can stay connected, especially in rural areas where longer bus rides are common.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is endorsed by the Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Consumer Law Center, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Consumer Reports, Schools, Health, Libraries, and Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Common Cause, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Leadership Conference, Access Now,  Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Education Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Communications Workers of America, and North America’s Building Trades Union.

“Broadband access is a civil right that we can’t afford to lose, but one that millions of Americans, in rural and urban communities across this country, simply can’t afford. This legislation prioritizes broadband affordability and promises to make a real difference in the fight to close the digital divide,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffery Starks. 

“Broadband is now essential for work, education, healthcare, and so much of modern life. So kudos to Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues for their efforts to develop a plan to connect us all. Working together like this we can solve the digital divide, fix the homework gap, and give everyone a fair shot at internet age success,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. 

“As providers based in the communities they serve, NTCA members are committed to ensuring rural Americans receive reliable broadband to engage with critical activities such as telemedicine, distance learning and remote work. Time and again, Senator Klobuchar has led the charge in highlighting the fundamental significance of broadband in all aspects of Americans’ lives and seeking to promote better connectivity for all Americans,” saidShirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. “We particularly appreciate her acknowledgment here of the need to ensure new networks will be built to meet the challenges of both today and tomorrow, and we look forward to working with the Senator and other policymakers to ensure any new programs to stimulate broadband deployment or make broadband more affordable complement and coordinate with existing deployment commitments and programs aimed at sustaining such efforts.”

“Millions across this country do not have access to broadband -- leaving them struggling to work, learn, access medical care, and connect with loved ones. Closing the digital divide requires funding high-quality broadband deployment, ensuring that broadband service is affordable, and ensuring that individuals have the skills and devices they need to access it. This bill takes action on all of those fronts. By utilizing a comprehensive approach, we believe this legislation will significantly narrow the digital divide. We are glad to see this important legislation introduced in the Senate,” said Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge.

“We commend Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues in the Senate for introducing this landmark legislation to ensure everyone is connected to affordable, high-speed, quality broadband. The Accessible, Affordable, Internet for All Act takes significant steps to address all aspects of the digital divide through provisions that provide robust broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved areas, affordable options to connect low-income communities, and digital equity programs to address systemic disparities in broadband connectivity disproportionately impacting people of color and other marginalized communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fault lines in broadband connectivity our nation has faced for far too long, leaving millions of Americans unable to participate in our democracy and economy. Now is the time to pass this legislation and take significant strides in closing the digital divide,” said Yosef Getachew, Director of Media and Democracy Program, Common Cause.  

“We applaud Senate leaders for introducing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. The legislation represents a comprehensive and targeted approach to closing the digital divide for anchor institutions and the people they serve. In addition to tackling the many obstacles to ubiquitous internet access, the bill recognizes that health clinics and hospitals across the country need more bandwidth to keep up with the increased demand for telemedicine. By embracing broadband solutions for telehealth and remote learning from home, this legislation will lead to a healthier and better educated America,” said John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition.

"Millions of Americans have struggled through the COVID-19 crisis without internet connectivity. Congress needs to do something to help these people, and we applaud Senator Klobuchar for stepping up. Her bill would make internet service more affordable and accessible, which is exactly what is needed right now. The Senate should pass this bill immediately," said Joshua Stager, Senior Counsel, New America's Open Technology Institute.

“Affordable broadband service is essential for access to opportunities. Black, Hispanic, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have lower broadband subscription rates than their White counterparts, and one of the main barriers to broadband service is cost. The Broadband Service for Low-income Consumers program will help close the digital divide by providing low-income households with a $50 broadband benefit ($75 for households on Tribal lands) and the Digital Equity Program will ensure consumers have the digital skills necessary for full participation in our society. On behalf of our low-income clients, we commend the leadership of Senator Klobuchar in introducing this critically important bill," said National Consumer Law Center Staff Attorney Olivia Wein.

“Millions of families in the United States do not have access to affordable, reliable broadband internet connections — totally unacceptable before, but especially unacceptable during a pandemic when many are being asked to stay at home to bend the curve to save lives. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act introduced today includes strong provisions to expand broadband access to rural communities and protect good union jobs across the country,” said Chris Shelton, President, Communications Workers of America (CWA). 

“Free Press Action welcomes Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues’ introduction of this tremendous, comprehensive broadband package in the Senate, linking up with the legislation that Representative Clyburn and the House majority introduced last week and plan to pass as part of the Moving Forward Act. While the deployment and financing strategies will understandably draw attention in an infrastructure bill, its digital equity, affordability and pricing transparency provisions are just as essential or more so for getting everyone online. Lawmakers must recognize, as this bill does, that the vast majority of people disconnected today are offline because they cannot afford the high price for internet, which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people, poorer communities, and exacerbates the digital divide and economic inequities,” said Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel, Free Press Action.

"The Senate version of the “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act” includes all of the critical provisions of the House version, but goes even further to address this country’s gaping digital divide. Like the House bill, it addresses the twin problems of broadband affordability and lack of network infrastructure and seeks to promote competition in a consolidated market by preferencing open access networks and repealing state laws that prohibit communities from building their own broadband networks. In addition, the Senate bill would expand the FCC’s Rural Health Care program to provide funding for telehealth programs in urban as well as rural areas, and would create a fund to ensure that higher education students in need have access to robust broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “The pandemic has laid bare the need for every American to have robust, high speed broadband Internet access at home. Yet over 140 million Americans still are without a service that is essential to full participation in our economy, our education system, our culture and our democracy. It is long past time for Congress to act. Thanks to Senator Klobuchar and her Senate colleagues for co-sponsoring this vital legislation. The Senate should pass this bill without delay.” 

Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth during his tenure as Governor and during his time in the Senate. Earlier this year, he introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during the coronavirus pandemic. He has also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program – the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services. 

In addition to Sens. Warner and Klobuchar, this legislation was cosponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV). 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) expressed concern with the disproportionately small share of food that Virginia has received under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Farmers to Families Food Box program and the lack of approved distributors able to meet the needs of food banks in rural areas. In a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Senators raised a series of questions regarding the implementation of the food purchasing and distribution program, which was authorized by Congress to assist those in need during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“As of today, we understand food banks in the Feeding America network in Virginia are expected to receive approximately 2.3 million pounds of food out of the 264 million pounds of product that are expected to be distributed during the first phase of the Farmers to Families Food Box program,” the Senators wrote. “If this program were allocated in the same manner as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), we would expect Virginia to receive about 5.3 million pounds of product – more than double the current amount anticipated.”

The Senators also raised issue with the lack of contracts awarded to Virginia-based distributors, and noted the trouble that food banks throughout the Commonwealth have had in finding approved distributors able to reach more rural areas.

“Only one Virginia-based distributor – DeLune Corp in Springfield, Virginia – was awarded a contract in the first round of approval. This has made it difficult to get food boxes to all of Virginia’s food banks – especially in Southwest Virginia,” the Senators continued. “We have heard from a number of our food banks that have had difficulty finding approved distributors in the Mid-Atlantic region willing to provide food boxes. As you can imagine, this has put many of our food banks in a difficult position as they continue to experience record demand due to the ongoing public health crisis.”

In the letter, Sens. Warner and Kaine posed the following series of questions for Sec. Perdue regarding the program’s recent implementation:

  1. In awarding the first round of contracts, did USDA require awardees to demonstrate that they could service certain geographic areas to ensure each state in a region would receive coverage proportional to population and need? In future contract awards, will USDA examine a distributor’s capability to service large and diverse geographic areas?
  1. How does USDA intend to award subsequent contracts under this program in a way that ensures a fair distribution of the national allotment? What information will USDA consider as it makes future contract awards to ensure each state and region is treated equitably?
  1. According to press reports, at least one company that received a contract, Ben Holtz Consulting DBA California Avocados Direct, has had their contract terminated. How will this funding be re-allocated? Have any other contracts been revoked?
  1. Did USDA solicit information from food banks to assess their current needs before the first round of contracts were awarded? Does USDA plan to offer food banks the opportunity to provide information on the type and amount of food they need to feed their respective service areas as the agency considers future rounds of funding?

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Last month, following pressure by Sens. Warner and Kaine, the U.S. Department of Agriculture formally authorized Virginia’s request to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot Program, which allows SNAP recipients to order their groceries online amid the current health crisis. In March, the Senators also successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that needlessly forced children to physically accompany their parent or guardian to a school lunch distribution site in order to receive USDA-reimbursable meals. Additionally, the Senators previously secured Virginia’s USDA Disaster Household Distribution Program designation, which allows food banks to distribute USDA foods directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients.

 

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

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

Secretary Perdue:

We write today concerning the recent implementation of the United Stated Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers to Families Food Box program. We understand the enormous challenges you and your team are facing in combatting the effects of COVID-19, and we appreciate your efforts to assist farmers, food banks, and address food insecurity during this difficult time. However, we are deeply concerned that the Commonwealth of Virginia has received a disproportionately small share of food under this program to date. 

As of today, we understand food banks in the Feeding America network in Virginia are expected to receive approximately 2.3 million pounds of food out of the 264 million pounds of product that are expected to be distributed during the first phase of the Farmers to Families Food Box program. If this program were allocated in the same manner as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), we would expect Virginia to receive about 5.3 million pounds of product – more than double the current amount anticipated.

In addition, only one Virginia-based distributor – DeLune Corp in Springfield, Virginia – was awarded a contract in the first round of approval. This has made it difficult to get food boxes to all of Virginia’s food banks – especially in Southwest Virginia. We have heard from a number of our food banks that have had difficulty finding approved distributors in the Mid-Atlantic region willing to provide food boxes. As you can imagine, this has put many of our food banks in a difficult position as they continue to experience record demand due to the ongoing public health crisis.

In order to better understand this program and how allocations were made, we ask that you please respond to the following questions:

In awarding the first round of contracts, did USDA require awardees to demonstrate that they could service certain geographic areas to ensure each state in a region would receive coverage proportional to population and need? In future contract awards, will USDA examine a distributor’s capability to service large and diverse geographic areas?

How does USDA intend to award subsequent contracts under this program in a way that ensures a fair distribution of the national allotment? What information will USDA consider as it makes future contract awards to ensure each state and region is treated equitably?

According to press reports, at least one company that received a contract, Ben Holtz Consulting DBA California Avocados Direct, has had their contract terminated. How will this funding be re-allocated? Have any other contracts been revoked?

Did USDA solicit information from food banks to assess their current needs before the first round of contracts were awarded? Does USDA plan to offer food banks the opportunity to provide information on the type and amount of food they need to feed their respective service areas as the agency considers future rounds of funding?

Again, we sincerely appreciate your commitment to helping keep families fed during this difficult time. We all want to ensure this program and other USDA programs designed to combat hunger work as effectively and efficiently as possible to maximize the benefits for all Americans. We look forward to continuing to work with you on ways to increase access to healthy and nutritious foods to all Americans.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate voted 80-17 to take up the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill championed by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) that would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at National Park Sites (NPS) across the country. The bipartisan legislation includes Sen. Warner’s Restore Our Parks Act, which would help tackle the $1.1 billion in deferred maintenance at Virginia’s parks and create up to 10,340 jobs in the Commonwealth alone. Today’s procedural vote – known as a “cloture vote on the motion to proceed” – sets up the bill for a final up-or-down vote in the Senate later this week.

“We are one step closer to passing this critical bill that would preserve our cherished national parks and help create jobs in the Commonwealth during this time of economic crisis. For years, I have been sounding the alarm about urgently-needed repairs to our trails, buildings, roads, and bridges that have been ignored for too long,” said Sen. Warner. “If Congress continues to delay addressing these infrastructure challenges, our local communities will be at further risk of losing out on important tourism dollars on top of the economic challenges they are currently facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With Virginia’s national parks supporting more than 16,000 jobs and contributing $953 million dollars in value added to our economy,that’s a loss we just can’t afford. After clearing an important first step on this bipartisan bill today, we’re now closer than ever to making sure our bipartisan solution to the parks backlog becomes law.”

Last week, the National Park Service released a report that estimated that an average of 40,300 direct jobs and 100,100 direct and indirect jobs would be supported nationally by the Restore Our Parks Act if passed as part of the Great American Outdoors Act. In Virginia, where the maintenance backlog currently sits at more than $1.1 billion dollars in overdue projects and surpasses that of every state except for California and the District of Columbia, it is estimated that 10,340 jobs would be created or supported as a result of Sen. Warner’s push to address the national parks backlog.

Today’s vote comes more than three years after Sen. Warner wrote and introduced the first comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to provide relief to national parks across the country. In March 2017, Sen. Warner teamed up with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to introduce the National Park Legacy Act, which would have eliminated the NPS maintenance backlog by creating a thirty-year designated fund to address maintenance needs at visitor centers, rest stops, trails and campgrounds, as well as transportation infrastructure operated by NPS such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Arlington Memorial Bridge. That same year, the U.S. Department of Interior announced its own proposal, drawing heavily on the initial proposal from Sens. Warner and Portman. However, the Administration proposal – which was introduced in the Senate as the National Park Restoration Act by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME) – would not have established a dedicated funding stream for NPS maintenance. (In an attempt to address overdue maintenance needs at national parks nationwide, the Administration has also unsuccessfully pressed to dramatically increase entrance fees.)

In March 2018, after extensive negotiations among Sens. Warner, Portman, Alexander, and King, the bipartisan group introduced the Restore Our Parks Act, a bipartisan consensus proposal endorsed by the Trump Administration, to invest in overdue maintenance needs at NPS sites. The bill would reduce the maintenance backlog by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” and allocating existing revenues from onshore and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury, not exceeding $1.3 billion each year for the next five years. In February 2019, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Restore Our Parks Act and, the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November.

In March 2020, following the President’s announcement that he would back the bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act as well as full and permanent funding for LWCF, Sen. Warner, along with Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Portman, King, Alexander, and Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $9.5 billion over five years to the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education to address the deferred maintenance backlog at these agencies. The legislation would also provide permanent, mandatory funding for the LWCF, which provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve and protect public lands. Virginia has received approximately $368.5 million in LWCF funding over the past four decades to help protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more.

A list of organizations in support of the Great American Outdoors Act can be found here

A full list of deferred maintenance needs at Virginia’s national parks can be found here

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), spoke on the Senate floor about the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill championed by Sen. Warner that would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at National Park Service (NPS) sites across the country. The bipartisan legislation includes Sen. Warner’s Restore Our Parks Act, which would help tackle the $1.1 billion in deferred maintenance at Virginia’s parks and create up to 10,340 jobs in the Commonwealth alone. Yesterday, the bill cleared a key procedural hurdle– known as a “cloture vote on the motion to proceed”  by a vote of 80-17, setting up the bill for a final up-or-down vote in the Senate later this week.

In his remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Warner said: “This represents one of the largest investments in the infrastructure of our national parks in the over 100-year history of the National Park Service. In addition to preserving our national treasures for future generations to enjoy, this legislation will also create tens of thousands of jobs across the country and provide a positive economic impact for gateway communities that depend on our national parks. A recent study by the National Park Service indicates that the Great American Outdoors Act will support over 100,000 jobs and contribute $17.5 billion in total economic output through funding deferred maintenance projects at the Park Service. In Virginia, over 10,000 jobs could be created by eliminating the maintenance backlog at Park Service sites.”

Background on the Great American Outdoors Act: 

Last week, the National Park Service released a report that estimated that an average of 40,300 direct jobs and 100,100 direct and indirect jobs would be supported nationally by the Restore Our Parks Act if passed as part of the Great American Outdoors Act. In Virginia, where the maintenance backlog currently sits at more than $1.1 billion dollars in overdue projects and surpasses that of every state except for California and the District of Columbia, it is estimated that 10,340 jobs would be created or supported as a result of Sen. Warner’s push to address the national parks backlog.

The Senate’s action on this bill comes more than three years after Sen. Warner wrote and introduced the first comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to provide relief to national parks across the country. In March 2017, Sen. Warner teamed up with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to introduce the National Park Legacy Act, which would have eliminated the NPS maintenance backlog by creating a thirty-year designated fund to address maintenance needs at visitor centers, rest stops, trails and campgrounds, as well as transportation infrastructure operated by NPS such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Arlington Memorial Bridge. That same year, the U.S. Department of Interior announced its own proposal, drawing heavily on the initial proposal from Sens. Warner and Portman. However, the Administration proposal – which was introduced in the Senate as the National Park Restoration Act by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME) – would not have established a dedicated funding stream for NPS maintenance. (In an attempt to address overdue maintenance needs at national parks nationwide, the Administration has also unsuccessfully pressed to dramatically increase entrance fees.)

In March 2018, after extensive negotiations among Sens. Warner, Portman, Alexander, and King, the bipartisan group introduced the Restore Our Parks Act, a bipartisan consensus proposal endorsed by the Trump Administration, to invest in overdue maintenance needs at NPS sites. The bill would reduce the maintenance backlog by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” and allocating existing revenues from onshore and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury, not exceeding $1.3 billion each year for the next five years. In February 2019, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Restore Our Parks Act and, the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November.

In March 2020, following the President’s announcement that he would back the bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act as well as full and permanent funding for LWCF, Sen. Warner, along with Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Portman, King, Alexander, and Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $9.5 billion over five years to the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education to address the deferred maintenance backlog at these agencies. The legislation would also provide permanent, mandatory funding for the LWCF, which provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve and protect public lands. Virginia has received approximately $368.5 million in LWCF funding over the past four decades to help protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more.

A list of organizations in support of the Great American Outdoors Act can be found here.  

A full list of deferred maintenance needs at Virginia’s national parks can be found here.

  

The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below: 

Mr./Madam President, I rise today to join my colleagues in support of the Great American Outdoors Act.

This historic legislation represents the most significant investment in our public lands in a generation… and a job-creating investment in our outdoor economy.

The Great American Outdoors Act will provide up to $9.5 billion over five years to address the deferred maintenance backlogs at the National Park Service, and other federal land agencies. This bill also finally provides full and mandatory for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). It has been a long road getting to this point, but I am thrilled we are finally considering this important, job-creating legislation.

Years of chronic underfunding has forced the Park Service to defer maintenance on countless trails, buildings, and historic structures – as well as thousands of miles of roads and bridges. Today, the National Park Service faces a deferred maintenance backlog of $12 billion. Over half of all Park Service assets are currently in desperate need of repairs. In Virginia alone, the deferred maintenance backlog sits at over $1.1 billion… more than any other state but California and the District of Columbia. 

To address this growing problem in Virginia and across the country, Sens. Portman, King, Alexander, and I introduced legislation – the Restore Our Parks Act – that would provide $6.5 billion to the Park Service to reduce its maintenance backlog utilizing unobligated energy revenues. In March, our bill was combined with Sen. Gardner and Sen. Manchin’s LWCF legislation to form the Great American Outdoors Act.

This bill on the floor today will provide up to $6.65 billion over five years to repair our national parks. That’s enough to address more than half of the current deferred maintenance backlog and completely fund the highest-priority deferred maintenance projects within the agency. This represents one of the largest investments in the infrastructure of our national parks in the over 100-year history of the National Park Service.

In addition to preserving our national treasures for future generations to enjoy, this legislation will also create tens of thousands of jobs across the country and provide a positive economic impact for gateway communities that depend on our national parks.

A recent study by the National Park Service indicates that the Great American Outdoors Act will support over 100,000 jobs and contribute $17.5 billion in total economic output through funding deferred maintenance projects at the Park Service. In Virginia, over 10,000 jobs could be created by eliminating the maintenance backlog at Park Service sites. And I want to give a few examples of how this legislation will create jobs and help preserve our natural heritage in my home state.

Here in the National Capital Region, the George Washington Memorial Parkway—which is managed by the National Park Service—has over $700 million in deferred maintenance. Matter of fact, anyone who travels on that road knows that north of the T.R. Bridge, we actually had a sinkhole appear in the parkway within the last year—an enormous safety threat as well as an inconvenience to the traveling public. Our legislation would help rebuild this critical transportation route between Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland… reducing traffic and creating jobs.

In Virginia, we’re blessed with a number of historic battlefields. The Richmond National Battlefield Park has over $5 million in deferred maintenance. And the nearby Petersburg National Battlefield has nearly $9 million in deferred maintenance. Our legislation would help preserve these important pieces of our heritage, while also supporting the local economies.

At Shenandoah National Park, one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service, the maintenance backlog sits at $90 million. Our legislation will put people to work on these overdue repairs…including to Skyline Drive and stretches of the Appalachian Trail… which are at the heart of Virginia’s outdoor tourism industry.

As you head Southwest, the Blue Ridge Parkway has accumulated over $508 million in deferred maintenance needs. That’s over $1 million per mile of the Parkway. The Great American Outdoors Act will put Virginians to work on these repairs… so visitors can continue to appreciate the beauty of the Appalachian Highlands and support the local economy.

I’ll give one final example: Colonial National Historical Park, which is home to Historic Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield. At this park containing some of our country’s most significant sites, there are deferred maintenance needs totaling over $433 million. With this legislation, the wait on these repairs is over. We’re going to create jobs and make sure this important part of our history is around for years to come.  

In addition to securing up to $9.5 billion to address the maintenance backlog at our public land agencies, the Great American Outdoors Act provides full, mandatory funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF is the most important tool the federal government and states have to conserve natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage, and to expand recreation opportunities to all communities.

Over the past four decades, Virginia has received over $368 million in LWCF funding that has been used to protect critical places in the Commonwealth like Rappahannock River Valley and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuges and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. With full funding for LWCF, we will be able to conserve additional critical lands in the Commonwealth and provide more recreation opportunities for Virginians from the coalfields to the Chesapeake Bay and everywhere in between.

In closing, I urge my colleagues to support this historic legislation that will help restore our national parks and public lands, create tens of thousands of jobs across the country, and expand recreation opportunities for millions of Americans.

Thank you, Mr./Madam President. I yield back. 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded $6,914,080 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help support health centers across the Commonwealth as they combat the COVID-19 crisis. 

“We are glad to see this funding go towards helping support these health centers as they continue to work around the clock to provide crucial care for members of the community during this pandemic,” said the Senators.  

The funding for health centers was awarded as follows:

  • $1,021,822 for Portsmouth Community Health Center
  • $1,205,773 for Eastern Shore Rural Health System
  • $2,573,599 for Central Virginia Health Services
  • $1,026,353 for Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems
  • $1,086,533 for Piedmont Access to Health Services (PATHS)

This funding was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Health Center Program, which provides funds to community-based health care providers that provide primary care services in underserved areas. These health centers must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients.

Additionally, $2,648,079 was awarded to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association for COVID-19 preparedness and response activities. This funding was awarded through HHS’ Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), which seeks to promote a consistent national focus to improve patient outcomes during emergencies and disasters and enable rapid recovery.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure rural hospitals in Virginia can keep up with the cost of providing care amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The Fair Medicare Hospital Payments Act would help curb the trend of hospital closures in rural areas by making sure hospitals are fairly reimbursed for their services by the federal government. This legislation comes at a crucial time as hospitals in Virginia continue to lose needed revenue despite playing an essential role in serving their communities and providing lifesaving care during the biggest public health crisis in a century.

“The current payment policy has long placed some of Virginia’s most rural hospitals at a disadvantage and made it more difficult to provide quality care in communities that need it most,” said Sen. Warner. “The COVID-19 public health emergency has made it more important than ever to do everything we can to support our rural hospitals and this legislation is absolutely critical in doing that.” 

“Last year, the Trump Administration updated the formula that determines how much Medicare will reimburse hospitals for patient care, taking into account, among other things, the cost of labor in that geographic area – called the Medicare Area Wage Index. And because of this change, Alan Levine, who leads Ballad, announced a $10 million investment in pay increases to nurses. However, these changes are temporary and will expire in three years, and many hospitals are concerned that hospital reimbursements could revert to the lower rates,” said Sen. Alexander. “Given COVID-19 impacts on rural hospitals, any changes that lower reimbursement would have significant impact. Tennessee has the second highest rate of hospitals closures in the country, with 13 hospitals having closed since 2010, and this is, in large part, due to lower reimbursements. This legislation will help keep up with the cost of providing care and help curb the trend of Tennessee rural hospital closures by setting an appropriate national minimum for the Medicare Area Wage Index.” 

The Medicare Area Wage Index, a formula used by Medicare to reimburse hospitals, is much lower for states like Virginia and Tennessee, due to the fact that the formula is based on labor costs, which vary across the country. This flawed formula often results in disproportionately low Medicare reimbursement payments to hospitals in rural and low-wage areas.

Specifically, the legislation would establish an appropriate national minimum (0.85) for the Medicare Area Wage Index and ensure that rural hospitals are paid for the care they provide, while preserving the existing reimbursements for urban hospitals. This legislation would also help ensure fairness in reimbursements for hospitals across the country – including the many hospitals that are facing closures in rural areas – and fix severe and disproportionate disadvantages that unfairly penalize hundreds of communities and hospitals across the United States.

At a minimum, 14 Virginia hospitals would benefit from this legislation, with the number of beneficiaries growing in future years. The 14 hospitals that would immediately benefit include:

Locality:

Hospital:

Buchanan County

Buchanan General Hospital

Franklin

Southampton Memorial Hospital

Galax

Twin County Regional Hospital

Halifax County

Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital

Mecklenburg County

Community Memorial Hospital

Norton

Norton Community Hospital

Pulaski County

Lewisgale Hospital Pulaski

Russell County

Russell County Hospital

Smyth County

Smyth County Community Hospital

Tazewell County

Clinch Valley Medical Center

Tazewell County

Carilion Tazewell Community Hospital

Washington County

Johnston Memorial Hospital

Wise County

Lonesome Pine Hospital

Wythe County

Wythe County Community Hospital

According to the American Hospital Association, Medicare accounts for about 43 percent of reimbursements for hospitals nationally, underscoring the role that Medicare payments play in keeping hospitals open and functioning – particularly in Virginia’s underserved and economically-struggling regions.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Alexander, the legislation was introduced by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Doug Jones (D-AL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), David Perdue (R-GA) and Richard Shelby (R-AL).

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Lee and Wise Countieswill receive $259,000 and $22,500 in federal funds, respectively, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for water improvement projects.

“We are pleased to announce these federal dollars to improve water infrastructure in these communities,” said the Senators. “These projects aim to improve water quality for Virginia families.” 

The Wise County Public Service Authority in Wise, Va. will receive $22,500 from the USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Predevelopment Planning Grant program to prepare and evaluate a solids-handling system and an upgrade of the raw water pumps at the Carfax Water Treatment Plant. The report will also study the replacement of the oldest section of water line along Coeburn Mountain at Pole Bridge Road and the hydraulics of the Bond Gap tank system to ensure the two tanks are operating as designed.

The USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Predevelopment Planning Grant program assists low-income communities with initial planning and development of applications for the USDA’s Rural Development Water and Waste Disposal direct loan/grant and loan guarantee programs.

The Woodway Water and Sewer Authority in Pennington Gap, Va. will receive $259,000 from the USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program to make improvements to the Authority's water system, which includes replacing approximately 103,000 linear feet of 3/4-inch to 8-inch water line, installing 96 gate valves and 64 fire hydrants, and associated equipment. The existing Woodway water storage tank will be abandoned, and the water system will be reconfigured so that the Twin Prison tanks will supply the Woodway community. In addition, the project will correct the high risk of cross-contamination with groundwater in the surrounding area and meet the Virginia Department of Health's Ten-State Regulations – which are used as a standard for the minimum number of valves that should be provided on water mains to minimize inconvenience and sanitary hazards during repairs. 

The USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program provides funding for clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal, and storm water drainage to households and businesses in eligible rural areas.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded $309,729,392 in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide economic relief to 47 airports across the Commonwealth. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has affected every aspect of our economy and our airports are no exception. In fact, the necessary precautions we have taken to slow the spread of the virus have hit our airports especially hard,” said the Senators. “That’s why we’re glad to know that airports across Virginia will be able to count on some economic relief so that they can continue critical safety projects. These funds will also help make sure that once this crisis is over, airports can safely resume serving Virginians and individuals traveling in and out of the Commonwealth.”

The CARES Act, which was supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine, includes $10 billion in funds for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) to provide relief for eligible U.S. airports affected by the prevention, preparation, and response surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding will be distributed as follows:

 

Locality

Airport Name

Funding Amount:

Abingdon

Virginia Highlands

$69,000

Arlington

Ronald Reagan Washington National

$85,708,037

Ashland

Hanover County Municipal

$30,000

Blacksburg

Virginia Tech/Montgomery Executive

$69,000

Brookneal

Brookneal/Campbell County

$1,000

Charlottesville-Albemarle 

Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport

$6,279,972

Chesapeake

Chesapeake Regional

$69,000

Chesapeake

Hampton Roads Executive

$69,000

Chesterfield

Richmond Executive-Chesterfield County

$69,000

Culpeper

Culpeper Regional

$30,000

Danville

Danville Regional

$69,000

Dublin

New River Valley

$30,000

Dulles

Washington Dulles International

$143,395,227

Farmville

Farmville Regional

$30,000

Front Royal

Front Royal-Warren County

$30,000

Halifax

William M Tuck

$20,000

Highland Springs

Richmond International

$18,814,584

Hillsville

Twin County

$20,000

Hot Springs

Ingalls Field

$20,000

Isle of Wight

Franklin Regional

$30,000

Jonesville

Lee County

$20,000

Leesburg

Leesburg Executive

$69,000

Louisa

Louisa County/Freeman Field

$30,000

Luray

Luray Caverns

$30,000

Manassas

Manassas Regional/Harry P Davis Field

$157,000

Mattaponi

Middle Peninsula Regional

$30,000

Melfa

Accomack County

$30,000

Moonlight

Emporia-Greensville Regional

$1,000

Newport News

Newport News/Williamsburg International

$4,135,878

Norfolk

Norfolk International

$19,847,270

Orange

Orange County

$30,000

Quinton

New Kent County

$30,000

Richlands

Tazewell County

$20,000

Roanoke

Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional/Woodrum Field

$20,709,748

Smyth (County)

Mountain Empire

$30,000

South Hill

Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional

$30,000

Spencer

Blue Ridge

$69,000

Stafford

Stafford Regional

$30,000

Suffolk

Suffolk Executive

$30,000

Sutherland

Dinwiddie County

$30,000

Tangier

Tangier Island

$20,000

Tappahannock

Tappahannock-Essex County

$30,000

Timberlake

Lynchburg Regional/Preston Glenn Field

$6,647,475

Warrenton

Warrenton-Fauquier

$69,000

Weyers Cave

Shenandoah Valley Regional

$2,652,201

Winchester

Winchester Regional

$69,000

Wise

Lonesome Pine

$30,000

CARES Act funding will allow airports to meet ongoing needs including retaining workers, managing operation and maintenance, and paying for cleaning supplies in the midst of severe financial challenges brought on by COVID-19. Sens. Warner and Kaine have long fought for increased investments to infrastructure, including for Virginia’s airports, and have pushed back against the Trump Administration’s suggested budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed his support for a proposed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that would clear regulatory barriers and support greater utilization of TV white space (TVWS) technology to bring affordable and reliable internet to millions of Americans, such as the estimated 770,000 Virginians who lack access to broadband. In a letter, Sen. Warner commended the FCC for itsNotice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and encouraged the Commission to swiftly adopt final rules as more Americans are forced to rely on the internet for telehealth and distance learning, among other things, in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“This digital divide impacts nearly every aspect of life for Virginians living without access to broadband, as broadband has become a precondition to meaningful participation in the digital economy. This contrast has become worryingly more stark in the last month, with an unprecedented number of Americans now heavily reliant on broadband access for telework, telehealth, and online education,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Even in normal times, this lack of broadband access prevents students from achieving their full potential, denies seniors and veterans access to telemedicine solutions that can improve care and reduce costs, prevents farmers from accessing innovative precision agriculture tools, and limits the economic potential of too many rural communities.” 

According to an analysis of usage data, as many as 3.3 million Virginians do not use the internet at broadband speeds.

“In order to swiftly eliminate the digital divide, we must support sound policy that maximizes the use of innovative technologies and promotes efficient spectrum use in rural areas,” he continued. “The Commission’s NPRM will permit higher transmit power and higher antennas for fixed white space devices throughout rural areas. It also permits higher power mobile operations within geofenced areas and rule revisions to allow for the development of new Internet of Things-based services.”

TVWS – the inactive white space channels between active television channels – were originally created to provide a buffer between channels to prevent broadcasting interference. However, with additional capacity created by the transition to digital television and in the wake of the broadcast television incentive auction, these channels can also be used by internet service providers to provide broadband internet access in areas with scarce internet connectivity, such as rural communities.

In the letter, Sen. Warner noted that TVWS has already proven to be an effective tool in the Commonwealth. The Senator pointed to a TVWS pilot program in Claudville, Va. that connected small businesses, homes, schools and even the local post office to broadband internet. He also highlighted efforts by the Southern Virginia Homework Network, which utilized a TVWS solution to bring free broadband internet access to students in parts of Charlotte and Halifax counties.

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

 

Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary

Federal Communications Commission

Office of the Secretary

445 12th Street, SW

Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Pai and Commissioners Rosenworcel, O’Rielly, Carr and Starks: 

Eliminating the digital divide is the 21st century extension of the Federal Communications Commission’s original universal service mandate. The importance of this effort – and the extent of remaining work to be done – has only been magnified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A key component of this mission in recent years has been the embrace of non-traditional broadband access technologies to close the gap in rural areas. To that end, I commend the Commission for the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to clear regulatory barriers to greater deployment of TV white space (TVWS) technology.

According to the latest figures from the FCC, there are at least 770,000 Virginians who lack access to broadband.  In addition, as many as 3.3 million Virginians do not use the Internet at broadband speeds according to an analysis of usage data.  This digital divide impacts nearly every aspect of life for Virginians living without access to broadband, as broadband has become a precondition to meaningful participation in the digital economy. This contrast has become worryingly more stark in the last month, with an unprecedented number of Americans now heavily reliant on broadband access for telework, telehealth, and online education.

Even in normal times, this lack of broadband access prevents students from achieving their full potential, denies seniors and veterans access to telemedicine solutions that can improve care and reduce costs, prevents farmers from accessing innovative precision agriculture tools, and limits the economic potential of too many rural communities. Under the current circumstances, this lack of broadband access threatens to greatly – and potentially lastingly – exacerbate disparities in health, education, and economic equity. 

In order to swiftly eliminate the digital divide, we must support sound policy that maximizes the use of innovative technologies and promotes efficient spectrum use in rural areas. As providers deploy hybrid networks and leverage all relevant technologies to serve rural areas, it is important to update our policies to leverage the capabilities of rural solutions like TVWS technology. The Commission’s NPRM will permit higher transmit power and higher antennas for fixed white space devices throughout rural areas. It also permits higher power mobile operations within geofenced areas and rule revisions to allow for the development of new Internet of Things-based services. In short, updated rules will support greater utilization of TVWS technology and help to bring affordable, reliable broadband to millions of Americans stuck behind the digital divide. Progress on this front has never been more important.

The application of TVWS broadband access technologies to close the rural broadband gap is not remote or speculative; in the Commonwealth of Virginia, TVWS has already proven to be an effective and important tool for hybrid network deployments. Claudville, Virginia was home to a TVWS pilot program that connected small businesses, homes, schools and even the local post office to broadband Internet. The Southern Virginia Homework Network, an initiative established through a partnership of Microsoft, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) and the SOVA Innovation Center, used Adaptrum’s TVWS solution to bring free broadband Internet access to students in parts of Charlotte and Halifax counties. These deployments leveraged the fiber infrastructure crisscrossing Southside and Southwest Virginia – investments I oversaw as Governor nearly two decades ago.   

By clearing regulatory barriers, the Commission can enhance the pace, scale, and cost-effectiveness of broadband deployments in unserved and underserved rural communities, including through the use of TVWS technology. An innovative, ‘all-the-above’ approach to eliminating broadband gaps has never been more vital.

I commend the Commission for the adoption of the NPRM and respectfully encourage the Commission to move swiftly to adopt final rules in coming months before the end of the year.  

Thank you for your consideration and the Commission’s efforts to eliminate the digital divide.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) was joined by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jon Tester (D-MT) in announcing a path forward for the Restore Our Parks Act – legislation championed by Sen. Warner to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at national parks across the country. Yesterday, the President announced that he would back the bipartisan legislation, as well as full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For nearly three years, Sen. Warner has led the effort to provide relief to national parks in Virginia, where the increasing maintenance backlog currently sits at more than $1.1 billion dollars and surpasses that of every state except for California and the District of Columbia.

“We’ve been working on the parks legislation for the last four-plus years, and as Rob mentioned, it has broad bipartisan support,” said Sen. Warner. “We’ve got a nearly $12 billion backlog. In my state, Virginia, it is more than $1 billion dollars of that backlog. And we’re not only talking about trails and bridges. Anybody who lives in the national capital region – you commute on G.W. Parkway, you can see the deteriorated state of that road. That is one of those assets that we have deferred maintenance on.”

He continued, “Deferred maintenance is simply a bill put off. We’re going to provide in this legislation $6.5 billion dollars – so about 50 percent of those needs we’ve met. Once this bill gets implemented and put into law, it will put 100,000 Americans to work on this restoration – 10,000 in Virginia.”

The Restore Our Parks Act, which has been praised by key stakeholders, would reduce the maintenance backlog by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” and allocating existing revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury, not to exceed $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.

In November, the Restore Our Parks Act was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and sent to the Senate floor, where it awaits approval.

A full list of deferred maintenance needs at Virginia’s national parks can be found here.

A link to the full press conference is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) received an award from the United Mine Workers of America recognizing his successful years-long effort to save the pension and healthcare benefits for thousands of retired coal miners and their families. A group of Southwest Virginia miners presented Sen. Warner with the coal-shaped award, celebrating the passage of Sen. Warner’s Bipartisan American Miners Act, which the President signed into law in December.

“With President Trump’s signature, the Bipartisan American Miners Act is now the law of the land, protecting healthcare and pension benefits for thousands of Southwest Virginia miners,” said Sen. Warner. “This award represents years of bipartisan work in Washington and the tireless efforts of the UMWA miners who advocated to protect the benefits they earned. I’m proud to have played a role in passing this legislation that officially honors America’s commitment our miners.”

The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 was introduced by Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and a bipartisan group of Senators from mining states. It shores up the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan – which was headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis – and ensures that at-risk miners do not lose their healthcare due to the 2018 and 2019 coal company bankruptcies. The legislation amends the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer excess funds from the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency. It also amends the Coal Act to include 2018 and 2019 bankruptcies in the miners’ healthcare fix that passed in 2017. These actions will secure the pensions of 92,000 coal miners and protect healthcare benefits for 13,000 miners.

Sen. Warner has been a longtime advocate for Virginia’s coal miners and their families. In 2017, Sen. Warner passed legislation securing healthcare benefits for more than 22,000 miners. In August 2018, he introduced and passed into law legislation to improve early detection and treatment of black lung disease among coal miners.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) welcomed news that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced long-awaited plans to improve patient access to substance use disorder treatment via telehealth. Yesterday, the DEA announced a proposed rule that will ensure health care providers can effectively use telehealth to diagnose and treat patients suffering from substance use disorders.

“The opioid and addiction epidemic has had a devastating impact on communities in Virginia and across the country,” said Sen. Warner. “We need to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that individuals struggling with addiction can access the treatment they need, and telehealth is an important part of that. I am pleased the DEA has finally issued proposed rulemaking that will improve telehealth access for these patients and I hope they will work quickly to finalize this rulemaking once stakeholders have had an opportunity to weigh in.”

In January, Sen. Warner sent a letter to the DEA urging the agency to finalize this long-delayed rule that will ensure providers can successfully use telehealth to treat individuals with substance use disorders. The proposed rulemaking released yesterday is an important step in the right direction that gives stakeholders an opportunity for review and comment before a final rule is issued.

Sen. Warner helped draft and pass the Senate’s comprehensive substance abuse treatment bill, which included a provision directing the Department of Justice, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services, to create a process for exempting certain health care providers for the purpose of providing telehealth services for substance use disorder. In addition – that legislation included four other provisions led by Sen. Warner that use telehealth to expand access to treatment for individuals suffering from substance use disorder. The bipartisan legislation was signed into law in 2018; however, the Attorney General failed to finalize a rule by the October 2019 deadline. For provisions of this legislation to be most effective, the DEA must complete its rulemaking process.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $94,523,140 in federal funding to support access to safe and affordable housing throughout Virginia. This funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was awarded through four grant programs – the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program, the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program, and the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program.

“We are very glad to see nearly $95 million dollars go towards supporting access to affordable housing for folks with the highest need in localities throughout Virginia,” said the Senators. “We will continue fighting for grant opportunities that help promote accessible housing in the Commonwealth, including the Community Development Block Grant Program, which the President has proposed eliminating in next year’s budget.”

The funding will be awarded as below.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program provides annual grants on a formula basis to states, cities, and counties to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons:

Recipient

Amount

 

Alexandria

$1,141,608

Arlington County

$1,410,969

Blacksburg

$534,243

Bristol

$270,304

Charlottesville

$419,367

Chesapeake

$1,173,205

Chesterfield County

$1,464,122

Christiansburg

$105,791

Colonial Heights

$105,797

Danville

$880,085

Fairfax County

$5,960,799

Fredericksburg

$196,004

Hampton

$999,391

Harrisonburg

$534,269

Henrico County

$1,729,959

Hopewell

$210,670

Loudoun County

$1,414,208

Lynchburg

$714,865

Newport News

$1,308,649

Norfolk

$4,510,021

Petersburg

$632,301

Portsmouth

$1,614,295

Prince William County

$2,695,308

Radford

$179,253

Richmond

$4,561,838

Roanoke

$1,795,505

Staunton

$352,891

Suffolk

$480,588

Virginia Beach

$2,056,051

Virginia Nonentitlement

$18,711,859

Waynesboro city

$193,941

Winchester

$227,149

 

Total CDBG:

 

$58,585,305

The HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program helps to expand the supply of decent, affordable housing to low- and very low-income families by providing grants to states and local governments to fund housing programs that meet local needs and priorities:

Recipient

Amount

 

 

Alexandria

$585,127

Arlington County

$763,647

Blacksburg

$616,181

Charlottesville

$644,752

Chesapeake

$541,217

Chesterfield County

$603,376

Danville

$268,392

Fairfax County

$2,141,854

Hampton

$535,029

Henrico County

$919,624

Lynchburg

$424,288

Newport News

$768,487

Norfolk

$1,271,867

Portsmouth

$429,589

Prince William County

$939,588

Richmond

$1,609,365

Roanoke

$676,053

Suffolk

$386,943

Virginia Beach

$1,071,400

Virginia Nonentitlement

$10,662,286

Winchester

$594,194

 

Total HOME:

 

$26,453,259

The Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program provides annual grants to state, local, and private entities to assist people in quickly regaining stability in permanent housing after experiencing a housing crisis and/or homelessness. In addition to rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention, the ESG program also provides limited funding for street outreach as well as for improving the quality and number of emergency homeless shelters:

Recipient

Amount

 

 

Fairfax County

$492,880

Henrico County

$147,484

Norfolk

$385,289

Prince William County

$229,582

Richmond

$392,068

Roanoke

$152,376

Virginia Beach

$175,778

Virginia Nonentitlement

$3,008,913

 

Total ESG:

 

$4,984,370

 

The Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program provides housing assistance and related supportive services to local units of government, states and non-profit organizations for projects that benefit low-income persons medically diagnosed with HIV/AIDS:

 

Recipient

Amount

 

 

Richmond

$1,336,130

Virginia Beach

$1,939,442

Virginia Nonentitlement

$1,224,634

 

Total HOPWA:

 

$4,500,206

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $47,220,892 in federal funding to support public housing and workforce development programs in 26 localities across Virginia. The funding was awarded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Job Plus Initiative and Public Housing Capital Fund programs.

“It’s important for every Virginian to have the opportunity to secure stable housing and employment,” the Senators said. “We’re pleased that these federal funds will help ensure more Virginians have access to affordable homes and upward mobility.”

The Jobs Plus Initiative program develops locally-based, job-driven approaches to advance employment outcomes and increase earnings for residents of public housing.

The Capital Fund provides federal funding for the development, financing, and modernization of public housing developments.

The Virginia housing authorities that received funding from the Jobs Plus Program are listed here: 

City                                                          Virginia Housing Authority Recipient                                Amount

PORTSMOUTH

Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority

$2,300,000

 

The Virginia housing authorities that received funding from the Capital Fund are listed here:

 

City                                                          Virginia Housing Authority Recipient                                Amount

ABINGDON

ALEXANDRIA

Abingdon Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$70,754

$1,907,939

BRISTOL

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$930,998

CHARLOTTESVILLE

Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$960,618

CHESAPEAKE

Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,261,470

COEBURN

Wise County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$459,136

DANVILLE

Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,202,845

DUFFIELD

Scott County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$219,382

FRANKLIN

Franklin Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$168,040

HAMPTON

Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,583,634

HOPEWELL

Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$888,611

JONESVILLE

Lee County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$146,191

LEBANON

Cumberland Plateau Regional Housing Authority

$615,483

LYNCHBURG

Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$926,987

MARION

Marion Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$573,088

NEWPORT NEWS

Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$4,295,157

NORFOLK

Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$7,978,621

NORTON

Norton Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$515,977

PETERSBURG

Petersburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$930,090

PORTSMOUTH

Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,628,891

RICHMOND

Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$11,547,123

ROANOKE

Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$3,702,478

SUFFOLK

Suffolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,161,115

WAYNESBORO

Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$453,879

WILLIAMSBURG

Williamsburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$263,260

WYTHEVILLE

Wytheville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$529,125

 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed concern with repeated delays by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that are preventing providers from being able to properly treat their patients via telehealth. In a letter, Sen. Warner urged the DEA Acting Administrator to finalize a long-delayed rule that will ensure providers can successfully use telehealth to treat individuals with substance use disorders.

“Providers across the country have been frustrated in their inability to provide adequate care as they wait for Congressionally-mandated guidance from your agency to clarify the process whereby health care professionals can legally use telehealth to better treat patients suffering from substance use disorder,” wrote Sen. Warner. “The DEA’s failure to promulgate the rule has meant that – despite Congress’ best efforts – many patients suffering from substance use disorders remain unable to access treatment via telehealth. These patients cannot afford to wait and we are concerned the DEA is standing in the way of treatment for individuals that cannot access a provider in person – particularly those in rural and underserved areas.”

“The opioid and addiction epidemic has devastated communities nationwide, with a particularly devastating impact on rural and medically underserved areas,” he continued. “Expanding telehealth services to individuals suffering from substance use disorder can bridge the distance between patients and care and ensure increased access to services they need.”

In order to crack down on the online proliferation of dangerous controlled substances online, the Ryan Haight Act of 2008 prohibited the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance by means of the internet without a prior in-person exam. However, this prevented providers from properly using telehealth to treat individuals – particularly those in rural communities who rely on this service to obtain timely access to health care.

Sen. Warner helped draft and pass the Senate’s comprehensive substance abuse treatment bill, which included a provision directing the Department of Justice, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services, to create a process for exempting certain health care providers for the purpose of providing telehealth services for substance use disorder. In addition – that legislation included four other provisions led by Sen. Warner that use telehealth to expand access to treatment for individuals suffering from substance use disorder. The bipartisan legislation was signed into law in 2018; however, the Attorney General failed to finalize a rule by the October 2019 deadline. For provisions of this legislation to be most effective, the DEA must complete its rulemaking process.

In the letter to Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon, Sen. Warner emphasized the wide disparity in opioid deaths between urban communities and rural communities, which have a 45 percent higher rate of deaths by opioids. Sen. Warner also requested that the DEA provide an explanation if it does not intend to promulgate rulemaking on this issue in a timely manner.

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

 

Mr. Uttam Dhillon

Acting Administrator

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

U.S. Department of Justice

800 K Street NW Suite 500

Washington, D.C. 20001

Acting Administrator Dhillon,

I am writing regarding the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) implementation of critical provisions in the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (Ryan Haight Act) (Public Law 91-513) and the recently passed SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act) (Public Law 115-271) that ensure individuals with substance use disorders can successfully access medical treatment via telehealth.

As you likely know – the Ryan Haight Act prohibits the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance online without first conducting an in-person exam. The intent of this law is to prevent illegitimate entities from selling dangerous controlled substances online while maintaining the ability for legitimate healthcare providers to treat patients in need.

The Ryan Haight Act also directed the DEA to promulgate rules exempting certain health care professionals from this requirement with the goal of ensuring patients have access to care via telehealth. However, in the 10 years since passage, the DEA has not promulgated rules to this effect. Congress further expressed its intent in passing the SUPPORT Act in 2018, which allows Medicare-eligible individuals suffering from substance use disorder to be diagnosed and treated via telehealth. The SUPPORT Act – similar to the Ryan Haight Act – mandated rulemaking by October 2019. Another deadline that has been missed.

Providers across the country have been frustrated in their inability to provide adequate care as they wait for Congressionally-mandated guidance from your agency to clarify the process whereby health care professionals can legally use telehealth to better treat patients suffering from substance use disorder. The DEA’s failure to promulgate the rule has meant that – despite Congress’ best efforts – many patients suffering from substance use disorders remain unable to access treatment via telehealth. These patients cannot afford to wait and we are concerned the DEA is standing in the way of treatment for individuals that cannot access a provider in person – particularly those in rural and underserved areas.

The opioid and addiction epidemic has devastated communities nationwide, with a particularly devastating impact on rural and medically underserved areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in 2017 – a 9.6 percent increase from 2016.   Furthermore, the CDC cites opioid deaths as 45% higher in rural areas, compared to urban communities. 

Expanding telehealth services to individuals suffering from substance use disorder can bridge the distance between patients and care and ensure increased access to services they need.

As detailed above, Congress passed the SUPPORT Act in 2018 and instructed the Attorney General – in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – to promulgate rules on health care professional exemptions for prescribing controlled substances via telemedicine. This rule will ensure providers can successfully use telehealth to treat patients with substance use disorders. HHS has previously published suggestions on the potential uses of telehealth to diagnose and treat substance use disorder, but until the DEA takes action, providers will continue to face significant barriers in using telehealth to treat patients with substance use disorders. 

I strongly urge the DEA to promulgate rulemaking on this issue as soon as possible so that patients suffering from substance use disorders can receive the care they need. Furthermore, I ask that if you do not intend to promulgate this rule in a timely manner you respond in writing with an explanation of your decision. Thank you for your consideration of this request and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $306,492 in federal funding through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to support two new AmeriCorps VISTA projects in Lynchburg and Abingdon. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a national service program dedicated to reducing poverty in America.

“We’re pleased to announce these grants to strengthen valuable volunteer work in these regions,” the Senators said. “This funding will help local organizations support vulnerable communities and extend crucial opportunities to those in need.”

  • In Lynchburg, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg will receive $95,392 to increase access to services for low-income youth. The funding will also help VISTA members develop a volunteer management system at three non-profit organizations to better recruit volunteers. Sen. Warner visited the Boys & Girls club in March 2018.
  • In Abingdon, the Friends of Southwest Virginia will receive $211,100 to boost job readiness by supporting job training and community development programs. The funding will help VISTA volunteers build stronger community partnerships, helping foster economic growth in the community.

AmeriCorps VISTA works with non-profit organizations, schools, or local government agencies to support anti-poverty efforts. Volunteers focus on reducing homelessness, increasing access to job opportunities, and improving students’ academic performance for communities in need.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $286.9 million in federal funds from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete long-standing projects in Buchanan and Dickenson counties. The funding is made available through the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, a bipartisan bill supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine that was signed into law on June 6, 2019 to help communities construct flood and storm damage reduction projects.

“We’re pleased to announce these federal funds to support the completion of critical flooding mitigation projects in Dickenson and Buchanan counties,” said the Senators. “Once completed, these projects will better protect schools, local businesses, and homes from potential flood damage.”

Buchanan County will receive $235.6 million in supplemental funding to complete the Hurley High School Floodproofing Agreement as well as the Buchanan County Career and Technical Center Relocation Agreement. Funds will also be used to implement voluntary floodproofing and acquisition actions for up to 730 residential and commercial structures.

Dickenson County will receive $51.3 million in supplemental funding that will be used to relocate the Haysi Municipal Building and implement voluntary floodproofing and acquisition actions for up to 218 residential and commercial structures.

As a result of the 1977 flood that caused roughly $257 million in damages across Dickenson and Buchanan counties and several states, Congress authorized flood-protection measures in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations (WRDA) Act of 1981. Section 202 of the bill directed the Secretary of the Army to begin the design and construction of flood damage reduction measures of the Tug and Levisa Forks of the Big Sandy River Basin that stretches into Southwest Virginia. Today’s announcement will help Buchanan and Dickenson counties fully fund their long-awaited projects.

In the Senate, Sens. Warner and Kaine have long supported legislation that makes water infrastructure rehabilitation projects like these possible. In 2018, the Senators voted to reauthorize WRDA to support critical water-related projects across the Commonwealth.

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Doug Jones (D-AL), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced S. 3172, the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act of 2020 which would extend the black lung excise tax through December 31, 2030 to ensure that coal miners suffering from the disease have access to the medical care that they desperately need. Without the revenue from this tax, the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is at risk of future insolvency at a time when the nationwide prevalence of black lung is increasing.

“Every day our coal miners risk their lives to provide America with the energy we need to be the most powerful nation in the world and as a result, many of these brave miners have Black Lung Disease. Now, it’s our turn to support them and ensure that they receive the treatment and medical care they need. That is why I am proud to introduce the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act of 2020 with my fellow colleagues to extend the black lung excise tax and secure the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund for our coal miners across America who have given so much. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this legislation and send it to the President’s desk,” said Senator Manchin.

“Alabama has nearly 3,000 coal miners, and we need to make sure that they are able to receive the care they need if they develop Black Lung disease. This bill is an important step towards making sure they have the resources they need in order to receive treatment for this disease,” said Senator Jones.

“Last year, we were proud to help secure miners’ health care and pension benefits in the annual government spending bill. This bill also extended funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund through December 2020, providing some temporary relief for coal miners. However, as these miners and their families know, a one-year extension is not enough,” said Senator Warner. “Our coal miners have sacrificed so much in order to fuel our nation and they deserve to know that this critical funding won’t run out at the end of the year. Our legislation would further extend this funding through 2030 and provide peace of mind for miners who rely on the fund to get the care they need.”

“Miners put everything on the line to help power this nation each and every day. This disability trust fund is an effort to support their tireless work and help ensure those suffering from black lung can get much needed treatment,” Senator Kaine said.

“Ohio miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country,” said Senator Brown. “Congress must now do its part and extend the black lung tax, so we can ensure these minors have access to the care and resources needed to prevent and treat black lung disease.”

Coal miners have done some of most difficult work there is to power our country. The Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act of 2020 would ensure the continuity of the trust fund, especially given the resurgence of Black Lung Disease, so the fund can continue to provide miners with Black Lung Disease the health and disability benefits they need,” said Senator Bob Casey.  “I will keep fighting to make sure that Congress keeps its promise to take care of our miners.”

 

Background on the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund:

  • The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is financed primarily by an excise tax on coal produced and sold domestically. This tax was first established in 1978 at $0.50 per ton on underground-mined coal, and $0.25 per ton on surface-mined coal. The funding was later raised to $1.10 per ton for underground-mined coal and $0.55 per ton for surface-mined coal.
  • Due to congressional inaction, on December 31, 2018, the tax rate reverted back to $0.50 per ton on underground-mined coal and $0.25 per ton on surface-mined coal, representing a 55% reduction.
  • In December of 2019, Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed into law, an end-of-year spending package that included a one-year extension of the 2018 tax rates. These rates are set to expire on December 31, 2020.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded $1,197,247 in rural development funding to further telemedicine at the University of Virginia, George Mason University, VCU Health’s Community Memorial Hospital in Mecklenburg County, Va. and the Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens in Tazewell County, Va. This funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program.

“Telehealth services have the power to decrease travel time and increase access to specialized health care in some of Virginia’s most underserved communities,” said the Senators. “We are thrilled to see these grants go to boosting telemedicine services and provider training at the University of Virginia, George Mason University, VCU’s Community Memorial Hospital, and the Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens.”

The funding will be awarded as below:

  • $154,600 for the Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens to provide telemedicine services to low-income elderly and disabled individuals who will attend the adult day care facility located in Falls Mills. The facility will provide medical care, nutrition services, and day care and care coordination, while also providing economic development for the community and educational opportunities for the public. This rural investment will benefit approximately 25,000 residents at nine sites across a four-county area.
  • $397,668 for the University of Virginia to enable the Rector and Visitors Center to implement the Virginia Telemedicine Network for Cardio-metabolic disease, Opioid Use Disorder, Ophthalmology, Black Lung Disease and Cancer. The University of Virginia Health System (UVAHS) will serve as the hub site to deliver health care services and training to 19 community health care providers in 12 counties, including federally qualified health centers (FQHC) and free clinics that serve economically distressed regions of Virginia. This project will reach 750,000 rural residents.
  • $500,000 for George Mason University to implement a telemedicine project to provide training of medical professionals in the area of opioid dependency and treatment. This program will serve a population of almost 177,000 residents across Virginia and West Virginia.
  • $144,979 for Community Memorial Hospital to create the Rural Center for Integrated Telemedicine. This center will provide medical services via interactive video conferencing equipment, to four sites in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and will benefit approximately 11,000 residents.

The USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density. Applicants eligible for Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants include most State and local governmental entities, federally-recognized tribes, nonprofits, for-profit businesses and consortia of eligible entities.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for rural communities and health care access in the Commonwealth. Last year, the Senators saw through the passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which included a provision by Sen. Warner to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment. Additionally, Sen. Warner introduced legislation – cosponsored by Sen. Kaine – last month to expand telehealth services through Medicare, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers. Sen. Kaine also introduced legislation to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in June as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019. And in 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $391,400 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for rural business development and public safety.

“We’re pleased to announce these grants to strengthen local businesses and public safety in the Commonwealth,” the Senators said. “This federal assistance will go directly towards supporting local entrepreneurs and law enforcement in Virginia.”

$277,200 in funding comes from USDA’s Rural Business Development Grants program, which seeks to support targeted technical assistance, training, and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging businesses in rural areas:

  • In Bedford, $76,000 will go towards a revolving loan fund to support small and emerging businesses in the area. The fund aims to expand local businesses to create new jobs and stimulate the local economy.
  • In Charlotte County, $126,200 will go towards the purchase of a refrigerated truck and a walk-in cooler for Southside Virginia Fruit and Vegetable Producers. The purchase would help distribute locally grown fresh produce to the community, while supporting the local farmers and assisting 12 businesses.
  • In Roanoke, $75,000 will go towards a revolving loan fund at The Advancement Foundation to assist small and emerging businesses located in Alleghany, Botetourt, and Buchanan Counties. The fund aims to expand local businesses to create new jobs and stimulate the local economy.

$114,200 in assistance comes from USDA’s Economic Impact Initiative Grant, which seeks to help further the development of essential community facilities in rural areas with extreme unemployment or severe economic depression:

  • In Craig County, $25,000 will go towards the purchase of a sheriff's vehicle and equipment. Craig County currently has a patrol car that is no longer deemed be safe or reliable. This purchase will benefit 1,016 people.
  • In Clintwood, $21,000 will go towards the purchase of 10 sets of new turnout gear and related equipment to meet the safety requirements for the fire department. The department’s current equipment no longer meets safety requirement and needs to be replaced to ensure the safety of volunteers. This purchase will benefit 1,414 people.
  • In Grayson County, $19,200 will go towards the purchase of a new properly equipped sheriff's vehicle. Several of the county’s current vehicles are no longer deemed to be safe or reliable. This purchase will benefit 15,533 people.
  • In Lebanon, $25,000 will go towards the purchase of a new properly equipped police vehicle. A number of the county’s current vehicles are no longer deemed to be safe or reliable. This purchase will benefit 3,424 people.
  • In Tazewell, $24,000 will go towards the purchase of a police vehicle. The current vehicles are no longer deemed to be safe or reliable. This purchase will benefit 4,627 people.

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WASHINGTON – Following years of efforts to try to safeguard benefits for mine workers, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), today introduced bipartisan legislation along with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to secure pensions for our nation’s retired miners. The legislation would shore up the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan – which is currently headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis – ensuring that at-risk miners do not lose their healthcare due to the 2018 and 2019 coal company bankruptcies.

“After working for so long to get miners the benefits they deserve, this bipartisan legislation is an encouraging step in the right direction,” said the Senators. “Our mine workers have worked extremely hard to power our nation, often at great risk to themselves. The least we can do is make sure they are able to get their hard-earned benefits and pensions, and that once they retire, they can do so with peace of mind. We are proud to introduce this legislation along with our colleagues to help us keep our nation’s promise to miners in the Commonwealth and all across the country.”

The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 will amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer excess funds from the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency. It will also amend the Coal Act to include 2018 and 2019 bankruptcies in the miners’ healthcare fix that passed in 2017. These actions will secure the pensions of 92,000 coal miners and protect healthcare benefits for 13,000 miners.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates for coal miners and their families. In August 2018, they introduced and passed into law legislation to improve early detection and treatment of black lung disease among coal miners.

The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 is also co-sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

A copy of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded the acquisition of a significant property by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service. The addition of this land to the Forest Service will help preserve a local historic asset, enhance Virginians’ access to recreation, and protect the water quality of Craig Creek, a tributary to the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. This move follows strong support by Sens. Warner and Kaine, who previously urged the Forest Service to consider the acquisition of this property.

“We are glad to have played a part in helping safeguard this valuable piece of land and make sure it’s protected for years to come,” said the Senators. “We look forward to seeing Virginians take advantage of the increased recreation opportunities presented by this acquisition, and we trust that the Forest Service will work towards the long-term success of the land and its many natural resources.”

The 4,664.5-acre land, located in Botetourt County within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, boasts the historic Grace Furnace, a 19th century iron-ore furnace, as well as 14 freshwater springs, 10 miles of trout streams, and borders 1,000 feet of Craig Creek. The tract contains potential aquatic habitat for the federally listed endangered ‘James spiny-mussel’ and two State-listed threatened species – the ‘Atlantic pigtoe mussel’ and ‘Orange madtom fish.’

This land addition comes as a result of efforts by the Open Space Institute (OSI), which purchased Grace Furnace in December 2016 and conveyed it to the Forest Service earlier this month, and the Chesapeake Conservancy, which coordinated the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) proposal that helped fund the acquisition.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime supporters of preserving Virginia’s natural treasures. Earlier this year, both Senators supported the permanent reauthorization of the LWCF to help preserve and protect Virginia’s public lands. Additionally, Sen. Warner sponsored bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Sen. Kaine, to address the $12 billion National Park Service (NPS) maintenance  backlog, which has delayed the upkeep of visitor centers, rest stops, trails, campgrounds and transportation infrastructure operated by NPS in the Commonwealth and across the country.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $593,056 in federal funding for a Virginia Tech project to increase the impact of the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition (ABFFC) by increasing membership and improving opportunities and capabilities among forest farmers. This funding follows a strong push by Sen. Warner, who has urged continued investment in this project by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The funding was awarded through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) at NIFA, which provides grants to support education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers.

“Through the conversations I’ve had with forest farmers in Southwest Virginia, I know the importance of forest farming for both our economy and our ecosystems. That’s why I was glad to have been able to help secure this funding, which will foster leadership and further strengthen our forest farming industry,” said Sen. Warner.

“I’ve traveled across Virginia to hear from farmers about challenges they face and how I can support their work at the federal level. One big concern I heard was about barriers to entry for young people who want to farm. I’m excited that this federal funding will help train the next generation of forest farmers in Virginia,” said Sen. Kaine.

Forest farming is an agroforestry practice that cultivates herbal, edible, decorative, and handicraft non-timber forest products (NTFP) under a forest canopy modified or maintained to provide shade levels and habitats that favor growth and enhance production. Forest farming allows farmers to produce and sell raw material that is traceable, unadulterated, and sustainable. In 2016, consumers spent an estimated $7.45 billion on herbal supplements, an increase of approximately $530 million from 2013. 

ABFFC is a network of forestland owners, universities, and governmental and non-governmental organizations that share a common goal of improving agroforestry production opportunities and farming capabilities among forest farmers. The project, "Seeded and Growing: Sustaining Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Education and Engagement," aims to recruit 400 new and beginning Appalachian forest farmers to ABFFC, increasing membership to more than 1,400. It also seeks to provide advanced training and technical assistance to farmers, as well as promote mentorships, partnerships and networking for new and beginning forest farmers.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $504,450 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the Mount Rogers Health District in Southwest Virginia, which oversees eight localities at the epicenter of the addiction crisis. The funding will allow the district to partner with researchers across the country on solutions to address the addiction crisis in Southwest Virginia. 

“The drug addiction crisis has hurt every region of Virginia. We need to invest in more resources to better understand how to prevent and combat substance use disorders,” the Senators said. “This funding will help expand services for families impacted by addiction and support studies that explore how early exposure to substance abuse affects young people.”

The Mount Rogers Health District serves Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Smyth, Washington, and Wythe counties, and the cities of Bristol and Galax. The first round of this project will build capacity at partner sites. The second round will support a ten-year longitudinal study.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded $23,979,453 in federal funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand broadband to nearly 7,000 unserved homes and businesses in seven counties across Southwest Virginia.

 “The lack of broadband infrastructure continues to affect folks in rural Virginia, from business owners to students,” said the Senators. “In our evolving economy, broadband isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. That is why we’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward helping connect nearly 7,000 homes and businesses in Southwest Virginia.”

The funding will be distributed over ten years to support Sunset Digital Communications in providing minimum download speeds of 1 Gbps and minimum upload speeds of 500 Mbps. It will be awarded as listed below:

  • Buchanan County – $3,485,482 to serve 626 locations.
  • Dickenson County –$5,623,553 to serve 1617 locations.
  • Lee County – $3,351,835 to serve 1018 locations.
  • Russell County – $7,258,590 to serve 2556 locations.
  • Tazewell County – $2,900,697 to serve 714 locations.
  • Washington County – $57,143 to serve 9 locations.
  • Wise County – $1,302,153 to serve 404 locations.

The funding will be awarded as part of the Connect America Fund (CAF)’s Phase II – the second phase of an FCC program that seeks to expand access to voice and broadband services. CAF provides funding to providers to subsidize the cost of building new network infrastructure or performing network upgrades to expand voice and broadband service in areas where it is lacking. Across the Commonwealth, the FCC has authorized more than $108.5 million to expand broadband to 39,658 rural homes and businesses. 

Under this subsidy, providers are required to build out to 40 percent of the assigned homes and businesses within three years. Buildout must increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year of support.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia as Governors and Senators, and have encouraged President Trump to include broadband as part of any bipartisan infrastructure initiative.

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