Press Releases

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

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

The following organizations will receive funding as listed below: 

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

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

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

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

Recipient

City/Town

Award Amount

Neighborhood Health

Alexandria

$7,893,875

Blue Ridge Medical Center Inc.

Arrington

$1,861,750

Bland County Medical Clinic Inc. 

Bastian

$1,595,375

Free Clinic of the New River Valley, Inc. 

Christiansburg

$1,492,000

Piedmont Access to Health Services Inc. 

Danville

$3,666,625

Clinch River Health Services Inc. 

Dungannon

$950,375

Harrisonburg Community Health Center, Inc. 

Harrisonburg 

$3,441,625

St. Charles Health Council Inc. 

Jonesville

$3,021,125

Tri-Area Community Health 

Laurel Fork

$1,990,750

Loudoun Community Health Center

Leesburg

$3,976,500

Rockbridge Area Free Clinic 

Lexington

$1,629,000

Johnson Health Center 

Lynchburg

$4,305,625

Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness 

Martinsville

$1,435,875

Highland Medical Center 

Monterey

$822,750

Central Virginia Health Services, Inc. 

New Canton

$8,864,625

Peninsula Institute for Community Health, Inc. 

Newport News

$4,659,500

Eastern Shore Rural Health System, Incorporated 

Onancock

$5,704,750

Portsmouth Community Health Center, Inc. 

Portsmouth

$2,767,125

Daily Planet Inc. 

Richmond

$2,259,375

Richmond, City of 

Richmond

$2,991,625

Kuumba Community Health & Wellness Center, Inc. 

Roanoke

$2,461,625

Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems, Inc. 

Saltville

$3,039,750

Stony Creek Community Health Center 

Stony Creek

$889,500

Southern Dominion Health Systems, Inc.

Victoria

$2,379,875

Horizon Health Services, Inc. 

Waverly

$1,159,250

Greater Prince William Area Community Health Center, Inc. 

Woodbridge

$4,647,375

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full letter can be downloaded HERE or read below

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The Honorable Jessica Rosenworcel

Acting Chairwoman

Federal Communications Commission

45 L Street, NE

Washington, DC 20554

 

Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Dear Acting Secretary Cochran and Director Walensky:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Accomack: 4401

Albemarle: 3765

Amherst: 10217

Augusta: 11919

Bath: 4731

Bland: 3901

Botetourt: 7792

Brunswick: 8041

Buckingham: 8400

Campbell: 8756

Caroline: 3278

Carroll: 4767

Charlotte: 12586

Chesterfield: 38638

Culpeper: 18511

Cumberland: 10052

Dinwiddie: 12196

Essex: 8026

Fairfax: 11213

Floyd: 9102

Franklin: 25439

Grayson: 5277

Halifax: 27851

Hanover: 4243

Henrico: 39618

Henry: 22130

Highland: 2321

James City: 4014

King and Queen: 3881

Loudoun: 3869

Mecklenburg: 17632

Montgomery: 32249

Nelson: 5696

Nottoway: 9783

Orange: 4934

Patrick: 11262

Pittsylvania: 23119

Prince Edward: 10624

Prince George: 8543

Prince William: 55128

Rappahannock: 7373

Rockbridge: 15873

Rockingham: 11530

Scott: 7959

Shenandoah: 9068

Smyth: 3913

Southampton: 7958

Spotsylvania: 21803

Stafford: 12818

Sussex: 6377

Tazewell: 12740

Warren: 14335

Wise: 9566

Wythe: 6773

Bristol: 13982

Buena Vista: 6650

Charlottesville: 6616

Chesapeake: 33605

Covington: 3098

Danville: 15545

Franklin City: 8582

Fredericksburg: 8988

Hampton: 38928

Harrisonburg: 9016

Hopewell: 12120

Lexington: 7042

Lynchburg: 29886

Manassas: 7678

Manassas Park: 6248

Martinsville: 6166

Newport News: 38292

Norfolk: 62583

Petersburg: 22639

Portsmouth: 11862

Radford: 12260

Richmond City: 62381

Roanoke City: 39950

Salem: 10424

Suffolk: 9752

Virginia Beach: 27205

Waynesboro: 5240

Williamsburg: 4138

Total: 1,186,877

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act

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

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

Bill text can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $1,879,967 in federal funding to help Virginians in 19 localities reduce their dependency on federal assistance and rental subsidies. The funding, awarded through the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will help connect Virginia families to public and private resources that help them increase their earned income and transition to more stable housing.

“These funds will empower Virginia families by providing educational opportunities, job training, and counseling to help them make lasting progress towards economic independence,” said the Senators. “We applaud the Department of Housing and Urban Development for taking this approach to give Virginians the tools they need to increase their income and move up the economic ladder.”

The funding will be distributed as follows:

  • Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $78,659;
  • Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $49,627;
  • Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $167,400;
  • City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $151,470;
  • City of Virginia Beach Department of Housing: $56,347;
  • Loudoun County: $74,080;
  • Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $24,818;
  • Fairfax County Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $152,078;
  • Franklin Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $60,000;
  • Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $60,152;
  • Harrisonburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $35,103;
  • Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $72,000;
  • James City County Office of Housing & Community Development: $28,500;
  • Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $112,031;
  • Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $360,000;
  • Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $226,656;
  • Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $72,000;
  • Suffolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $52,368;
  • Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $48,638.

The FSS program helps HUD-assisted families increase their earned income and reduce their dependency on federal assistance and rental subsidies. Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) work in collaboration with a Program Coordinating Committee (PCC) to secure commitments of public and private resources for the operation of the FSS program, to develop the PHA’s FSS Action Plan (the FSS policy framework), and to implement the program.

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WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Tim Kaine (D-VA) urged the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) to take immediate action to protect miners from excess silica exposure after the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report on the inadequate measures currently in place to protect miners from the harmful carcinogen linked to deadly respiratory diseases such as black lung, silicosis, and progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). 

The Senators said in part, “We urge you to take immediate action on the recommendations included in the recently published U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit report on the inadequate measures being taken by the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) to protect coal miners from exposure to crystalline silica. Our nation’s coal miners have done their jobs, working tirelessly to help win wars, power the nation, and keep the lights on. It’s time for MSHA to do its job and update its regulations to ensure our coal miners have a safe working environment.” 

Read the full letter below or click here.

 

Dear Mr. Zatezalo:

We urge you to take immediate action on the recommendations included in the recently published U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit report on the inadequate measures being taken by the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) to protect coal miners from exposure to crystalline silica. Our nation’s coal miners have done their jobs, working tirelessly to help win wars, power the nation, and keep the lights on. It’s time for MSHA to do its job and update its regulations to ensure our coal miners have a safe working environment. 

The OIG report found that MSHA needs to update its regulations to: 1) lower the legal exposure limit for silica, 2) improve the ability of the agency to issue citations and fines for excess exposure to silica, and 3) increase sampling protocols which it found to be too infrequent to protect miners adequately. These findings are extremely troubling--especially now as our nation continues to grapple with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and your agency has repeatedly refused to issue emergency standards for these essential workers. 

As stated in the audit report, the extraction, refining, and transport of coal produces large quantities of coal dust, of which silica is a component. Although coal dust alone can adversely affect miners' health, silica is classified as a carcinogen and is significantly more harmful. Excess silica exposure has been linked to debilitating lung diseases such as coal workers' pneumoconiosis (most commonly known as black lung disease), silicosis and the most advanced and deadly form of black lung, progressive massive fibrosis (PMF).

This audit report further illustrates the need for urgent action and it illuminates concerns that have been raised relating to the health risks caused by exposure to silica dust for decades. Research from the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) has indicated that the prevalence of black lung in the Appalachian coal fields is worse than previously thought, and the black lung clinics are reporting that younger coal miners are being diagnosed with the disease at increasing rates. The time to tackle this issue is long overdue.

Therefore, because we are committed to MSHA's mission to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and promoting safe and healthful workplaces for U.S. miners, we are asking that you take immediate action to implement the recommendations contained in the OIG report. We further ask that you provide us with a thorough description of the measures currently being conducted by the agency to ensure that our brave and patriotic coal miners are shielded from excess exposure to silica dust on the job site. We look forward to receiving your detailed response.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $3,910,184 in Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) funding for communities in Southwest and Southside Virginia. The funding, awarded through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative, will go towards addressing substance-use disorders, improving broadband connectivity, strengthening rural economies and improving local infrastructure. 

“We are thrilled that these federal dollars will go help fund some of the top priorities for communities in Southwest and Southside Virginia,” said the Senators. “As the COVID-19 crisis continues, it’s essential that we keep bolstering rural economies, ensuring internet reliability, and supporting some of the most vulnerable Virginians.”

“POWER grants are playing a critical role in supporting coal-impacted communities in the Appalachian Region as they recover from COVID-19 by building and expanding critical infrastructure and creating new economic opportunities through innovative and transformative approaches,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas. “Projects like this are getting Appalachia back to work.”

The funding will be awarded as below:

  • $1,494,000 for the New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Development Area Consortium Board in Radford, Va. to tackle the substance-use disorder problem by coordinating the healthcare sector and the economic development and workforce sector to build a recovery ecosystem.
  • $793,500 for St. Mary’s Health Wagon in Wise County, Va. to establish a substance-use disorder treatment program using medication-assisted treatment.
  • $50,000 for LENOWISCO to develop a strategic plan to establish a fiber network in a 13-county region throughout Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
  • $39,744 for the Center for Rural Development to create a Rural Leaders Institute for Southwest Virginia.
  • $32,940 for the New River Valley Regional Commission to develop a plan to boost tourism and job growth by cultivating the natural assets around the New River.
  • $1,500,000 for Henry County, Va. to make utility improvements to provide a natural gas pipeline to the Commonwealth Crossing Business Center.

ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian region. Its mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia and help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation. ARC’s POWER Initiative targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the Town of Wise and the Town of Pennington Gap will receive $550,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

“We’re pleased to announce these investments to strengthen Virginia’s workforce and wastewater infrastructure,” said the Senators. “This funding aims to support projects that will help expand economic opportunity in the region and improve health and water quality.”

The funding will be awarded as follows:

  • The Town of Wise will receive $500,000 to make water infrastructure improvements for the Glamorgan community. Currently, the Glamorgan community does not have access to public waste water service. The funding will be used for 13,640 linear feet of sewer line to serve 62 households and 18 commercial properties.
  • Town of Pennington Gap will receive $50,000 for a feasibility study to build a workforce development workspace. The Pennington Gap Center for the Trades will help address the shortage of skilled trades, such as plumbers, HVAC technicians, welders, and fabricators.

In addition to the Glamorgan Sewer Line Project's ARC funds, state sources will provide $1,289,132, and local sources will provide $74,180, bringing the total project funding to $1,863,312. In addition to the Pennington Gap Center for the Trades ARC funds, local sources will provide $25,000, bringing the total project funding to $75,000.

Since its inception in 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has invested with local, regional, and state partners to transform Appalachian communities, create jobs, and strengthen the regional economy. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for a fully funded ARC so that it can continue to increase employment and economic opportunities for those living in Appalachia.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), demanded answers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regarding reports of troubling conditions at Virginia facilities amid the COVID-19 crisis. Expressing frustration with Director Michael Carvajal’s failure to respond to a letter from earlier this year, the lawmakerspressed for answers concerning an ongoing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and diminished quality of life for incarcerated individuals. 

“Nearly four months ago, we sent you a letter detailing the significant risks and challenges COVID-19 posed to the health and safety of staff, incarcerated individuals at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities. We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated,” the lawmakers wrote. “One area of particular concern is the continued lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). According to employees at FCC Petersburg, both staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to re-use supplies and masks, which presents serious health and safety risks. Given the close quarters and frequent person-to-person interaction, correctional staff and incarcerated individuals are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Lack of PPE also creates additional risk of community spread outside the facilities. Relatedly, we have learned from facility staff that showers are restricted for individuals incarcerated at FCC Petersburg, a policy which further exacerbates sanitation and hygiene issues during a global pandemic.”

“We have also received numerous reports related to other declining conditions at FCC Petersburg. It is our understanding that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis,” they continued. “We have also heard disturbing reports that the food the incarcerated individuals are receiving has declined significantly in both quantity and quality, including being served spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.” 

In Virginia, there are two federal correctional institutions in operation, including the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex. Correctional officers at Virginia’s facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 incarcerated individuals. 

In their letter, the four members of Congress also raised concern with reports that correctional staff at FCI Petersburg continue to be denied a lunch break despite working shifts as long as sixteen hours – an issue originally raised in the lawmakers’ May 21st letter. Calling this “unacceptable and dangerous,” they encouraged Director Carvajal to institute a nation-wide break policy in order to address correctional staff’s basic needs.

Additionally, they expressed dismay regarding the transfer of incarcerated individuals between facilities, highlighting that at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 was transferred to USP Lee. The lawmakers noted that this this lapse in judgment could result in an entirely preventable COVID-19 outbreak inside the prison, endangering staff, inmates and local communities. 

The members of Congress have advocated for vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Earlier this year, they requested answers from Director Carvajal regarding issues at the Virginia facilities. Sen. Warner also joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to BOP and the three largest private prison operators inquiring about any policies and procedures in place to manage a potential spread of COVID-19.

Additionally, Sen. Warner and Kaine have urged the Trump Administration time and time and time again to cease the inter-state transfer of people held at immigration detention facilities during the public health crisis. 

Full text of today’s letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Director Carvajal:

We write to reiterate our serious concerns about the health and safety of staff and individuals incarcerated at Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, the two federal correctional facilities in Virginia, and to express our severe frustration at your failure to respond to our letter from May 21, 2020. After speaking with employees and the families of individuals incarcerated at both facilities, it is clear that the situation is worsening. According to figures shared with our offices, there are over 200 incarcerated individuals and at least 12 staff who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at FCC Petersburg. 

Nearly four months ago, we sent you a letter detailing the significant risks and challenges COVID-19 posed to the health and safety of staff, incarcerated individuals at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities. We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated.  

One area of particular concern is the continued lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). According to employees at FCC Petersburg, both staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to re-use supplies and masks, which presents serious health and safety risks. Given the close quarters and frequent person-to-person interaction, correctional staff and incarcerated individuals are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Lack of PPE also creates additional risk of community spread outside the facilities. Relatedly, we have learned from facility staff that showers are restricted for individuals incarcerated at FCC Petersburg, a policy which further exacerbates sanitation and hygiene issues during a global pandemic. 

We have also received numerous reports related to other declining conditions at FCC Petersburg. It is our understanding that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis. We have also heard disturbing reports that the food the incarcerated individuals are receiving has declined significantly in both quantity and quality, including being served spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.   

Further, as we detailed in our letter nearly four months ago, correctional staff at FCC Petersburg continue to be denied a lunch break, despite reportedly working shifts as long as sixteen hours. This is unacceptable and dangerous. We once again encourage you to institute a break policy—not only at the Petersburg facility, but at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) facilities across the nation—that more appropriately responds to correctional staff’s basic needs. 

Additionally, we are particularly dismayed to learn that, despite our concerns, BOP is transferring individuals to facilities without a record of COVID-19 cases. A group of individuals was recently transferred to USP Lee, which included at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia, and not only could this transfer result in an entirely preventable outbreak inside the prison, it is also dangerous for the public health of local community members.   

Finally, your failure to respond to our serious concerns is further heightened by the recent announcement from the BOP that facilities will allow visitations to resume in early October. While we agree that resuming visitations is incredibly important for incarcerated individuals and their families, proper protocols must be in place and followed to ensure the health and safety of the incarcerated individuals, their families, and the surrounding communities. We urge you to take all available steps to ensure vitiations can resume as soon as possible while preserving the health and safety of visitors, staff, and incarcerated individuals.

Given the magnitude of the worsening conditions at USP Lee and FCC Petersburg, we demand an immediate response to how BOP is addressing our concerns by no later than October 5, 2020. As COVID-19 continues to present a significant health challenge at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities, we are committed to working with you to address the needs of incarcerated individuals and correctional staff. 

We appreciate your attention to these important issues impacting our constituents and look forward to your prompt response. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that Virginia Fire Departments will receive $9,571,649.04 in federal funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program. The AFG program supports local fire departments by providing funds for new equipment and training.

“Our firefighters put themselves in harm’s way every day. It’s critical that the federal government provides them with the tools necessary to carry out their duties safely and effectively,” the Senators said. “These grants will strengthen Virginia fire departments’ abilities to protect communities across the Commonwealth from fire and other hazards.”

The funding was awarded as follows: 

  • Warren County Fire and Rescue will receive $1,216,724.04;
  • Albemarle County Fire Rescue will receive $1,939,680.00;
  • Roanoke County Fire & Rescue will receive $2,916,945.00;
  • City of Charlottesville Fire Department will receive $3,498,300.00.

The primary goal of FEMA’s AFG program is to enhance the safety of the public and firefighters with respect to fire-related hazards by providing direct financial assistance to eligible fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations and State Fire Training Academies for critically-needed resources to equip and train emergency personnel, recognize standards, enhance operations efficiencies, foster interoperability, and support community resilience. 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $5,115,615 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault in Charlottesville, Norfolk, Marion, and Richmond.  

“Community-based intervention programs are an invaluable tool in the fight against violence against women,” said the Senators. "We are pleased to announce these critical funds to support communities across the Commonwealth in their effort to end domestic violence.”

The funding was awarded as follows:

·       $340,313 for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency’s Engaging Men Program in Charlottesville, VA.

·       $369,340 for the Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Program to YWCA South Hampton Roads in Norfolk, VA.

·       $744,326 for the Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Program to Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society in Marion, VA.

·       $3,661,636 for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services STOP (Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors) Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program in Richmond, VA. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have worked to secure funding that better supports victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In April, the senators wrote a letter to Congressional leadership requesting that any future legislation to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) provides funding to support victims and survivors, including programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In December, the Senators also joined their colleagues in introducing companion legislation to the House-passed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act that would reauthorize VAWA through 2024.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $35,719,247 in federal funding to support access to safe and affordable housing throughout Virginia, particularly in communities whose households face a higher rate of eviction. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded the funding through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. The funding is part of the $5 billion in supplemental CDBG funding authorized by the CARES Act in March.

 “Too many Virginians are in danger of losing their homes due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus,” said the Senators. “We’re pleased to see significant funding go directly towards supporting affordable housing, and we will continue fighting to ensure people across the Commonwealth get the federal assistance they need.”

 The CDBG program offers 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.

 The following localities will receive funding through the CDBG program:

 

Recipient                      Amount

Alexandria

$943,356

Blacksburg

$210,594

Bristol

$116,003

Charlottesville

$335,024

Chesapeake

$876,358

Christiansburg

$111,118

Colonial Heights

$104,710

Danville

$228,845

Fredericksburg

$205,866

Hampton

$688,562

Harrisonburg

$326,630

Hopewell

$125,506

Lynchburg

$389,143

Newport News

$971,659

Norfolk

$1,250,901

Petersburg

$189,765

Portsmouth

$426,191

Radford

$74,893

City of Richmond

$1,362,346

Roanoke

$546,786

Staunton

$125,136

Suffolk

$323,149

Virginia Beach

$2,069,846

Waynesboro City

$117,476

Winchester

$182,191

Arlington County

$1,348,826

Chesterfield County

$1,216,799

Fairfax County

$4,850,209

Henrico County

$1,417,098

Loudoun County

$1,448,141

Prince William County

$2,145,011

Virginia Nonentitlement

$10,991,109

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in calling on the seven largest internet service providers (ISPs) to do their part to limit the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and help ensure that children are able to meaningfully participate in their education. These letters come as unprecedented numbers of students rely on remote learning to kick off the fall semester due to the ongoing public health crisis. 

In a letter sent to the CEOs of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, T-Mobile, and Verizon, the Senators called on companies to take concrete measures to suspend limits and fees associated with increased broadband use, which is needed to participate in online courses or remote work. They also called for the companies to expand coverage areas, as the public health emergency has highlighted the devastating impact of the nation’s lingering broadband gaps.

“As a new school year commences, the need to accommodate an unprecedented reliance on data services to provide education continues. We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households,” the Senators wrote. “In many situations, online learning activities require additional data allowances beyond plans readily available for students. We kindly request that you again take immediate action to help students connect to the online resources they need to learn, including expanding coverage areas and rolling out new service plans that better meet the needs of these families.” 

“With many schools closed and students now relying on the internet to connect with their teachers, instruction materials, and assignments, sufficient data allowances are even more essential for students’ success now and throughout their future. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, increasing their monthly broadband usage,” they continued. “For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home. These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories. Working with school administrations to facilitate qualification for discounts based on the schools’ personal knowledge may be especially helpful. For example, students qualifying for free/discounted lunches may also prequalify for free/discounted broadband services as well.”

According to findings from a Pew Research study, the “homework gap” of students lacking reliable access to internet connectivity or a computer at home is more pronounced among Black, Hispanic and lower-income households. In addition to the toll it takes on individual students and their families, the economic cost of this gap has been identified by McKinsey and Company as having deprived the economy of at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019.

In their letter, the Senators noted numerous complaints that have come in to their offices from parents and educators who are grappling with usage caps and limited bandwidth, which prevent daily video calls needed to learn and work from home. The Senators also stated they’ve heard of families being deemed ineligible for the new services offered for low-income families due to previous missed payments. 

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. In March, Sen. Warner led 17 of his colleagues in urging major internet service providers to take steps to accommodate the incoming unprecedented reliance on telepresence services. After this effort, a number of major internet service providers announced the adoption of practices to better accommodate the use of remote technologies. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner also introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during COVID-19. 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. 

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

 

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic requires returning students across the United States to rely on remote learning and online courses, we write to ask for your assistance to help ensure students can take full advantage of essential education opportunities this fall. In March, we were thankful that your company answered our request to make a range of accommodations and service changes to help Americans shifting to unprecedented levels of online education and telework, including suspending some broadband data limits on a temporary basis. Your decisive and timely actions helped cushion the impacts to families across the nation during the spring months. 

As a new school year commences, the need to accommodate an unprecedented reliance on data services to provide education continues. We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households. In many situations, online learning activities require additional data allowances beyond plans readily available for students. We kindly request that you again take immediate action to help students connect to the online resources they need to learn, including expanding coverage areas and rolling out new service plans that better meet the needs of these families. Unprecedented numbers of students now rely on remote access for education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remote education is only as effective as available internet service. 

Effective remote learning requires capable devices and adequate broadband internet access. The Pew Research Center found in March the “homework gap” of students lacking reliable access to a computer at home is a significant challenge for many students, and even more pronounced for Black, Hispanic and lower income households. With many schools closed and students now relying on the internet to connect with their teachers, instruction materials, and assignments, sufficient data allowances are even more essential for students’ success now and throughout their future. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many parents to work from home, increasing their monthly broadband usage.

Our offices have fielded numerous complaints from parents and educators frustrated by usage caps and limited bandwidth, which prevent daily video calls needed to learn and work from home. And those who have no other option find themselves buried in overage fees. In some cases, we’ve learned that eligibility for new services announced for low-income households is barred if that household has missed monthly payments in the past. These predicaments shine a light on our growing digital divide and threaten the education and subsequent futures of our students. In June, McKinsey and Co. reported that this education achievement gap limited the growth of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019. The necessary closing of schools during the public health crisis and transition to remote education has exacerbated these gaps.

For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home. These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories. Working with school administrations to facilitate qualification for discounts based on the schools’ personal knowledge may be especially helpful. For example, students qualifying for free/discounted lunches may also prequalify for free/discounted broadband services as well. 

We look forward to promptly hearing from you about what steps you will take to help limit the economic and social disruption that COVID-19 is posing at this challenging time. We recognize that many broadband providers have experienced significant business growth since the onset of this crisis. We ask that you identify ways to give back to the communities you serve through deployment of expanded service and additional service plans and policies that respond to the concerns we’ve heard from constituents about access, affordability, and data rates.

Containing the health impact of COVID-19 will depend on observance of social distancing measures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health authorities. But containing the economic and social impact of COVID-19 requires a whole-of-society effort. At this time of great strain on our economic and education systems, we encourage you to do everything you can to cushion the impacts on American families and students. Our offices would be happy to connect you with local education officials and administrators to facilitate this effort.

We appreciate your time and consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) applauded $9,000,000 in federal funding to expand broadband infrastructure and service in rural communities in Virginia. The funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was awarded through theReConnect Program. The funding will be used to install a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network that will connect 7,496 people, 416 farms, 97 businesses, a fire station, a town hall, and two educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Scott County. 

“In our evolving economy, broadband isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity,” said the Senators. “That is why we’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward helping connect people in rural Virginia.”

Senators Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia as Governors and Senators. In 2018, both Warner and Kaine fought to secure funding for the ReConnect Program, and other federal programs that are critical to improving broadband access across rural Virginia. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Kaine introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during the coronavirus pandemic. They have also pushed the FCC to ensure that millions of Americans are made aware of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program. Most recently, Sen. Warner introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $4,138,947 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help support health centers across the Commonwealth as they continue battling the COVID-19 crisis. 

“We’re thrilled to announce that these federal dollars will go towards supporting Virginia’s health centers as they continue to provide essential care during this pandemic,” said the Senators. 

The funding for health centers was awarded as follows:

  • $280,654 for Eastern Shore Rural Health System in Accomack County, Va.
  • $353,441 for Neighborhood Health in Alexandria, Va.
  • $222,750 for Johnson Health Center in Amherst County, Va.
  • $75,905 for Bland County Medical Clinic in Bland County, Va.
  • $335,491 for Central Virginia Health Services in Buckingham County, Va.
  • $215,250 for Tri-Area Community Health in Carroll County, Va.
  • $222,750 for Portsmouth Community Health Center in Portsmouth, Va. 
  • $224,446 for St. Charles Health Council in Lee County, Va.
  • $282,459 for Rockbridge Area Free Clinic in Lexington, Va.
  • $126,094 for Loudoun Community Health Center in Loudoun County, Va.
  • $40,000 for Southern Dominion Health Systems in Lunenburg County, Va.
  • $240,953 for Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness in Martinsville, Va.
  • $207,750 for Free Clinic Of The New River Valley in Montgomery County, Va.
  • $220,818 for Blue Ridge Medical Center in Nelson County, Va.
  • $317,485 for Greater Prince William Community Health Center in Prince William County, Va.
  • $227,936 for Daily Planet Health Services in Richmond, Va.
  • $217,856 for Kuumba Community Health and Wellness Center in Roanoke, Va.
  • $222,750 for Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems in Smyth County, Va.
  • $104,159 for Horizon Health Services in Southampton County, Va. 

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.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $8,978,420 in federal funding to help Virginians access affordable housing across the Commonwealth. The funding was awarded through the Housing Choice Voucher Program and authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Warner and Kaine.

“As housing insecurity continues to rise for many Virginians, now more than ever, Congress needs to offer critical assistance to those in need,” the Senators said. “We’re pleased to announce these federal funds that will go directly towards supporting some of the most vulnerable communities right now.”  

Through the CARES Act, Congress provided $1.25 billion for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, which funds the Housing Choice Voucher program that helps lower-income families, the elderly, and disabled individuals afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing. This funding includes $400 million for increased subsidy costs and $850 million for administrative and other expenses incurred by public housing authorities (PHAs), including activities to support or maintain the health and safety of assisted individuals and families, and costs related to retention and support of participating owners.

The funding will be awarded as below:

Recipient                                                                                          City                            Amount

Abingdon Redevelopment and Housing Authority                                 Abingdon                  14,067

Accomack-Northampton Regional Housing Authority                            Accomack                  70,053

Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                  Alexandria                384,750

Arlington County Dept. of Human Services                                         Arlington                   382,489

Big Stone Gap Redevelopment and Housing Auth.                               Big Stone Gap           14,895

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                        Bristol                       44,015

Buckingham Housing Development Corp. Inc.                                     New Canton              12,112

Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority                             Charlottesville           60,969

Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                Chesapeake              273,293

County of Albemarle/Office of Housing                                               Charlottesville           68,308

Covington Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                   Covington                 6,188

Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                      Danville                    202,837

Fairfax County Redevelopment & Housing Authority                             Fairfax                      1,343,712

Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority                                   Franklin                     39,053

Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                    Hampton                   546,358

Harrisonburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority                              Harrisonburg              118,122

Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                   Hopewell                    83,304

James City County Office of Housing                                                 Williamsburg               26,718

Lee County Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                 Jonesville                   60,122

Loudoun County Department of Family Services                                Leesburg                   141,428

Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                 Lynchburg                102,166

Marion Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                     Marion                       32,611

Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority                          Newport News           457,534

Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                    Norfolk                      670,205

Norton Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                    Norton                       13,554

People Inc. of Southwest Virginia                                                   Abingdon                  18,907

Petersburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority                              Petersburg                120,138

Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority                             Portsmouth               332,279

Prince William County Office of HCD                                              Woodbridge               467,993

Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority                               Richmond                  506,406

Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                 Roanoke                    250,704

Scott County Redevelopment & Housing Authority                           Duffield                     28,438

Staunton Redevelopment & Housing Authority                                Staunton                   26,821

Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority                                Suffolk                      158,077

Virginia Beach Dept. of Housing & Neighborhood Pres.                     Virginia Beach          363,274

Virginia Housing Development Authority                                         Richmond                 1,381,408

Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority                           Waynesboro              46,973

Wise County Redevelopment & Housing Authority                            Coeburn                    90,291

Wytheville Redevelopment & Housing Authority                               Wytheville                17,848

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $1,787,477 in federal funding for fire departments in Virginia through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program. The AFG program supports local fire departments by providing funds for new equipment and training.

“We are pleased to announce this critical funding to support Virginia’s firefighters. We must ensure they are always equipped with the tools and training necessary to keep them safe as they protect us from fires and other dangers in the community,” the Senators said. 

The following Virginia fire departments will receive funding for operations and safety under the AFG program:

  • The Wintergreen Fire Department will receive $203,809;
  • The Warren County Fire and Rescue will receive $725,454;
  • The Fries Volunteer Fire Department will receive $34,077;
  • The Stephens City Fire & Rescue Company will receive $94,285;
  • The Lynchburg Fire Department will receive $88,941
  • Richmond County Fire and Emergency Services will receive $640,909.

The primary goal of FEMA’s AFG program is to enhance the safety of the public and firefighters with respect to fire-related hazards by providing direct financial assistance to eligible fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations and State Fire Training Academies for critically-needed resources to equip and train emergency personnel, recognize standards, enhance operations efficiencies, foster interoperability, and support community resilience.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded the House passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill he championed that would address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at National Park Service (NPS) sites across the country and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). With the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this bipartisan bill will help create more than 100,000 jobs across the country and stimulate local economies that rely on outdoor tourism industry. In June, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan legislation and with today’s passage in the House of Representatives, the bill will now head to President Trump’s desk for his signature.

“In passing the Great American Outdoors Act, the House has reaffirmed Congress’ bipartisan commitment to preserving America’s irreplaceable natural and historic resources for future generations. The House vote clears the final hurdle to getting this bill to the President’s desk, closing a years-long effort to address the mounting deferred maintenance costs that have accumulated at national parks across the Commonwealth and the country,” said Sen. Warner. “After the economic devastation we’ve seen come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is another tool in the toolbox to help stimulate our nation’s struggling economy and create up to 110,000 additional infrastructure-related jobs. I am grateful for all those who contributed to this process. I look forward to the President quickly signing this momentous legislation into law, which could create 10,000 new jobs in the Commonwealth, help preserve vital tourism for communities, and ensure that future generations of Americans will continue to experience and take advantage of America’s historical and natural treasures.”

Congressional passage of the bill comes nearly three years after Sen. Warner’s initial effort to provide relief to national parks in Virginia, where the maintenance backlog currently sits at $1.1 billion dollars.

In June, 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, 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. 

In addition, a recent NPS study highlighted the financial impact national parks sites have on Virginia’s economy. Last year, 22.8 million individuals from around the world visited national parks in Virginia, spending $1.2 billion. Additionally, national parks in Virginia helped support 17,300 jobs and contributed over $1.7 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy. Because of the economic impact national parks have on communities across the country, more than 800 organizations have pledged their support for the Great American Outdoors Act.

Sen. Warner’s effort to address the maintenance backlog began in March 2017, when he worked 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 take care of 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 the 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 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.

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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 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, 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. 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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