Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led 17 of his colleagues in sending a letter to the CEOs of eight major internet service providers (ISPs) calling on the companies to take steps to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services.

In the letter, sent to the CEOS of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, the Senators call on companies to suspend restrictions and fees that could limit telepresence options. With disruptions likely to reveal the full extent of the nation’s broadband gaps, they also call on the companies to provide free or at-cost broadband options for students affected by the virus who otherwise lack broadband access for online learning during the outbreak.

“As organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that your company is taking to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services,” wrote the Senators. “Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don’t have access at home.”

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,000 people to date. In the letter, the Senators emphasize the unprecedented demand for telepresence services that will likely occur during the coronavirus outbreak. The letter also highlights data from the Joint Economic Committee that nearly 12 million children live in homes lacking a broadband connection. According to Education Week, over 1.3 million students have already been impacted thus far by the coronavirus outbreak. 

“No one should be penalized or suffer financial duress for following guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or school leaders. Unfortunately, many Americans are subject to restrictive data caps for their home broadband service – caps that could be particularly onerous given the more intensive broadband usage of households practicing social distancing measures and the economic uncertainty for which too many people without paid sick leave are already bracing,” the Senators continued. “While it’s likely that your networks will experience significantly greater traffic as a consequence of social distancing measures, we encourage you to forebear from application of broadband caps and associated fees or throttling as workers and families cope with the effects of this health emergency.”

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

A copy of the letter is found here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

March 12, 2020

Jeff McElfresh

Chief Executive Officer

AT&T Inc.     

Whitacre Tower

208 S. Akard Street

Dallas, TX 75201

Thomas Rutledge

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Charter Communications, Inc.

400 Atlantic Street 10th floor

Stamford, CT 06901

Jeffrey Storey

President and Chief Executive Officer

CenturyLink, Inc.

1025 Eldorado Boulevard

Broomfield, CO 80021

Dave Watson

President and Chief Executive Officer

Comcast Cable Communications, LLC

One Comcast Center

1701 JFK Boulevard

Philadelphia, PA 19103

Pat Esser 

President and Chief Executive Officer

Cox Communications

6205-B Peachtree Dunwoody Road

Atlanta, GA 30328

Michel Combes

President and Chief Executive Officer

Sprint Corporation

6200 Sprint Parkway

Overland Park, KS 66211

John Legere

Chief Executive Officer

T-Mobile

12920 SE 38th Street

Bellevue, WA 98006

Hans Vestberg   

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Verizon Communications Inc.                   

One Verizon Way

Basking Ridge, NJ 07920

Dear Messrs. McElfresh, Esser, Rutledge, Combes, Storey, Legere, Watson, Vestberg:

As organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that your company is taking to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don’t have access at home.

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,000 people to date. While this situation is rapidly evolving, including in the United States and Europe, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high and the spread of the disease in other countries shines a light on the need for a whole-of-society response.

On March 3, 2020, the CDC issued an interim guidance recommending that specific community actions be taken to limit exposure to the virus,[1] on top of previously recommended community-based interventions in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak such as school dismissals, event cancellations, social distancing, and creating employee plans to work remotely.[2] While the spread of COVID-19 is likely to affect different individuals, families, and communities differently, it is increasingly likely that a significant number of Americans will need to practice social distancing in some way.

During this period, it’s likely that we’ll see historic numbers of American students and their teachers relying on data-intensive services such as video teleconferencing, remote learning courses, and virtual mental health services. According to UNESCO, a “record number of school children are not attending school or university because of temporary or indefinite closures mandated by governments.”[3] Selected schools have closed in at least 21 states and that number seems likely to rise as the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 increases. According to Education Week, over 1,300,000 students have been impacted thus far.[4] Millions of workers have already begun teleworking in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19; as evidence of the unprecedented demand for telework that we can expect to continue, videoconferencing software company Zoom has already added more active users this year than it did in all of 2019.[5] To effectively contain the disruptive impact that social distancing measures will have on our economy and on American students, it will be essential that these students, teachers, and workers – including patients and providers using telehealth in place of in-person care – have access to affordable broadband.

No one should be penalized or suffer financial duress for following guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or school leaders. Unfortunately, many Americans are subject to restrictive data caps for their home broadband service – caps that could be particularly onerous given the more intensive broadband usage of households practicing social distancing measures and the economic uncertainty for which too many people without paid sick leave are already bracing. While it’s likely that your networks will experience significantly greater traffic as a consequence of social distancing measures, we encourage you to forebear from application of broadband caps and associated fees or throttling as workers and families cope with the effects of this health emergency.

These disruptions are also likely to acutely highlight the broadband gap that too many American households still face. According to some estimates, nearly one-third of American households lack meaningful broadband access, either because their homes are unserved or because they cannot afford broadband service.[6] Nearly 12 million children, for instance, live in homes lacking a broadband connection— a gap that highlights wider inequities facing rural Americans, American communities of color, and economically disadvantaged communities.[7] Without meaningful broadband access, students from these communities could be set back months in their learning – further exacerbating the socio-economic disparities these communities face. To that end, we encourage you to make efforts to work with local school districts, community colleges, and universities to provide under- and unserved households with free, or at-cost, broadband options, including through the provision of mobile hotspots.

We look forward to hearing swiftly 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. Containing the health impact of COVID-19 will depend on observance of social distancing measures outlined by CDC and 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 workers and students.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.  We are anxious to hear your response.

Sincerely,

###


[1] “Interim US Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Persons with Potential Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Exposures,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 7, 2020), available at:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html

[2] “Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 20, 2020), available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fpreparing-individuals-communities.html

[3] “COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response,” United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (March 11, 2020), available at: https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-emergencies/coronavirus-school-closures

[4] “Map: Coronavirus and School Closures,” Education Week (March 11, 2020), available at: https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html

[5] Jordan Novet, “Zoom Has Added More Videoconferencing Users This Year Than in All of 2019 Thanks to Coronavirus, Bernstein Says,” CNBC (February 26, 2020), available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/26/zoom-has-added-more-users-so-far-this-year-than-in-2019-bernstein.html

[6] Brian Heater, “Nearly A Third of US Households Don’t Have A Broadband Connection,” TechCrunch (July 25, 2019), available at: https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/25/nearly-a-third-of-u-s-households-dont-have-a-broadband-connection/

[7] “America’s Digital Divide,” Democratic Staff of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (September 2017), available at: https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/ff7b3d0b-bc00-4498-9f9d-3e56ef95088f/the-digital-divide-.pdf

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), members of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, were joined by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in sending a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate committees responsible for Congressional administration, calling on them to address the potential financial hardship for Congress’ support workforce if they have to self-quarantine during this time or have their work schedules unexpectedly disrupted as the result of changes to congressional operations.

“Given the Legislative Branch’s extensive reliance on contract workers for a range of functions, including food service and janitorial work, we write to urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for these workers if they have to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 or in the event the Congress adjourns for a prolonged state work period as a social distancing measure,” the Senators wrote.

In the letter, sent to Senate Committee on Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Committee on House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-CA 19), and Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-IL 13), the Senators highlighted the role that janitors, food service workers, and other support contractors play in maintaining the Capitol complex, which hosts three to five million visitors each year.

“We encourage you to consider ensuring any workers who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities—including directives to be tested, self-quarantine, or take other “social distancing” measures—have some financial forbearance,” the Senators continued. “While we are pleased that the Architect of the Capitol has directed contractors to provide paid administrative leave to any worker that has been confirmed to have COVID-19, we believe more expansive accommodations must be established to protect the public health and ensure workers don’t experience significant financial hardship in the wake of guidance from public health authorities.”

Earlier today, the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms ordered limited access throughout the U.S. Capitol complex beginning this evening and running through April 1, 2020. The Capitol Visitor Center will be closed to all tours. The U.S. Capitol and Senate office buildings will be limited to Members, Congressional staff, credentialed press, and official business visitors escorted by a staff member.

A copy of the letter is found here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

March 12, 2020

The Honorable Roy Blunt

Chairman

Senate Committee on Rules & Administration

Russell 305

Washington, DC 20510 

The Honorable Zoe Lofgren

Chairperson

Committee on House Administration

Longworth 1309

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Amy Klobuchar

Ranking Member

Senate Committee on Rules & Administration

Russell 305

Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Rodney Davis

Ranking Member

Committee on House Administration

Longworth 1309

Washington, DC 20515

Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Klobuchar, Chairperson Lofgren & Ranking Member Davis:

As the United States mobilizes to respond to the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, we urge you to take into consideration the well-being of all of Legislative Branch employees, including contract workers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a public health response to a potential coronavirus disease outbreak in the United States that included recommendations for social distancing.  The CDC is urging Americans to stay home when ill, work remotely, and seek medical care when infected. Out of an abundance of caution, workers who have had contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients have also been instructed to self-quarantine. In many contexts, employers have reduced operations, encouraging workers to stay at home on special leave prompted by the pandemic. Contract workers are critical to the daily function of the Capitol complex and surrounding buildings – a facility that hosts three to five million visitors each year. Approximately 60% of those visitors come to the Capitol complex between March and July.  

As The New York Times recently noted, however, following the CDC’s recommendations in response to the potential spread of the coronavirus is a luxury some workers can’t afford.  Some workers may simply not be able to follow these recommendations without experiencing some kind of financial hardship. Given the Legislative Branch’s extensive reliance on contract workers for a range of functions, including food service and janitorial work, we write to urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for these workers if they have to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 or in the event the Congress adjourns for a prolonged state work period as a social distancing measure. 

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on benefits provision, service sector workers are likely some of the most vulnerable workers during a potential spread of the coronavirus. We know, for example, that only 44% of service sector workers, 23% of part-time workers, and 37% of workers in the bottom quartile of wages have access to a healthcare plan.   A majority of these workers also tend to work without access to paid leave. Only 43% of service sector workers, 23% of part-time workers, and 56% of workers in the bottom quartile of earnings have access to some type of paid leave.  This last statistic is particularly salient for public health reasons because we know that more than 43% of workers in the bottom quartile needed to take leave in 2018 for their own illness or medical care and didn’t take it.  Over 60% of those part-time and lowest-wage workers felt they did not have enough leave, could not afford the loss of income, feared negative employment repercussions, or simply did not have access.  

We encourage you to consider ensuring any workers who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities—including directives to be tested, self-quarantine, or take other “social distancing” measures—have some financial forbearance. While we are pleased that the Architect of the Capitol has directed contractors to provide paid administrative leave to any worker that has been confirmed to have COVID-19, we believe more expansive accommodations must be established to protect the public health and ensure workers don’t experience significant financial hardship in the wake of guidance from public health authorities. 

Again, we strongly urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for Congress’ support workforce if they have to self-quarantine during this time or have their work schedules unexpectedly disrupted as the result of changes to congressional operations. In order to limit the spread of COVID-19, Congress must lead by example by committing that economic uncertainty will not deter these dedicated public servants from following public health guidance during the response.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to working together on this critical issue moving forward.

Sincerely,

 ###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined Ranking Member Patty Murray and 29 of their Democratic colleagues in urging Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to provide clear guidance for school districts and institutions of higher education, as well as families and students, following widespread school closures across the country due to the spread of the coronavirus. In a letter to Secretary DeVos, the senators stressed that it is crucial that the Department of Education provide direction as schools prepare to make difficult decisions about closures.

“Increasing numbers of K-12 schools and institutions of higher education are considering school closures in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.  We urge the U.S. Department of Education to consider several serious issues related to school closure as it works with school districts, state education agencies, educators, and institutions of higher education, as well as with the President’s Task Force and public health officials,” wrote the senators.

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country, many schools have already closed – including the University of Virginia and Northern Virginia Community College. School districts in Fairfax County, Pulaski County, and Rockingham County are preparing for potential closures, and institutions of higher education including Virginia Tech and James Madison University are considering online classes. School closures particularly affect students who are food or housing insecure, students who cannot access online learning because they do not have a computer or internet access, and students with disabilities. Students on federal financial aid and student loan borrowers may also be affected by school closures.

Specifically, the Senators urged the Department of Education to provide guidance on a number of issues including:

  • How K-12 schools should ensure students can access school lunch programs;
  • How schools using online learning should meet the needs of students without computers or access to internet and students with disabilities;
  • How schools should ensure students receive a high-quality education online;
  • How schools should provide mental health services remotely;
  • How colleges and universities should help students enrolled in programs of study abroad affected by the spread of the virus;
  • How colleges and universities should help students avoid using up their federal financial aid if they have to leave school due to the spread of the virus;
  • How the Department of Education will help federal student loan borrowers if they cannot work due to the spread of the virus;
  • How the Department of Education will adjust financial aid for families affecting by the spread of the virus (including job losses or closures).

Considering the urgency of the crisis, the senators asked for a response no later than March 24. In addition to Senators Warner, Kaine, and Murray, the letter was signed by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Tom Carper (D-DE).

Democrats in the Senate have already pushed for answers from the Department of Education on how they will work to protect students, teachers, and staff during the coronavirus crisis.

The full text of the letter is below and HERE.

 

March 10, 2020

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

We write on the topic of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the impact it is having on schools across the country.  Increasing numbers of K-12 schools and institutions of higher education (IHEs) are considering school closures in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.  We urge the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) to consider several serious issues related to school closure as it works with school districts, state education agencies, educators, and institutions of higher education, as well as with the President’s Task Force and public health officials.

On February 27, 2020, the Department announced it had launched an internal Coronavirus Task Force led by Mick Zais, Deputy Secretary of Education.  On March 4, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights provided guidance about educational institutions’ responsibility to address bullying and harassment of students of Asian descent due to stereotypes related to COVID-19.  On March 5, 2020, the Department provided guidance and flexibility to institutions of higher education impacted by COVID-19 to comply with Title IV of the Higher Education Act, but additional questions remain.[1]  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued interim guidance for IHEs and for K-12 schools.[2]

We do not yet know the scale at which K-12 schools and IHEs across the country may need to close in order to help contain the spread of COVID-19, but we urge you to do everything you can to ensure you are continuing to prepare stakeholders for a variety of scenarios.  To date, over a dozen countries have shut down schools nationwide, and the number grows each day.[3]  As the virus continues to spread throughout the United States, many schools have closed, and it is becoming increasingly likely many more will choose to do so.  For example, on March 6, the University of Washington announced it would cancel in-person classes and move to online classes for its 50,000 students beginning March 9 through the end of the winter quarter on March 20.[4]  Seattle University and Northeastern University’s Seattle campus have also moved to online classes, as have Stanford University and Columbia University.[5]  Some K-12 schools in Washington, New York, California, and Rhode Island have also temporarily closed.[6]  

As schools prepare to make these difficult decisions, they are faced with many legal and practical uncertainties and are looking for clear guidance and direction from the Department.

We are especially concerned by the adverse impact of school closures on certain students and families.  In K-12 schools, many families rely on the Federal School Lunch Program and may experience food insecurity if they can no longer access meals at school.  Few school districts have experience providing wide-scale educational services online for all students, and not all families have access to home computers and high-speed internet to take advantage of such online options.  Online learning cannot substitute for a number of services provided in the school setting, and it raises particular challenges to ensuring equity in access to education for all students.

COVID-19 also could severely impact many students in higher education, as well as federal loan borrowers.  Students rely on their colleges for on-campus food and housing services.  American students enrolled abroad in foreign colleges face barriers to continuing their education, whether online or at other colleges and universities in other countries and the United States.  Depending on the spread of economic effects across the country, federal student loan borrowers affected by the impacts of COVID-19 may experience difficulty in repaying their loans.  Finally, online education is not the best or preferred method of learning for many students, including students who may be the first in their families to go to college or come from low-income families.  If IHEs move to providing education online, we urge the Department to prioritize and ensure students continue to receive a high-quality education, including live, face-to-face, synchronous instruction between students and faculty as much as possible.

We urge you to consider these issues and provide us, and the public, answers to the following questions by no later than March 24, 2020:

  1. What communication has the Department had with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) about the school lunch program to ensure students in schools that have closed or will close continue to have access to meals?
  1. What communication has the Department had with the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about school-based health centers (SBHC) to ensure students and families who rely on health care services provided by SBHCs will continue to have access to such services in schools that have closed or will close?
  1. Can the Department provide assistance to families without home computers or access to high-speed internet so they can take advantage of online educational options provided by either their school districts or IHEs if they need to?
  1. What guidance will the Department provide about meeting the educational needs of students who need to stop attending school, including based on the recommendation of a doctor, because they are sick, due to school closure, or for other reasons?
  1. If school districts and IHEs elect to provide online classes, they must ensure access is available for all students, including students with disabilities.  What guidance is being provided to support school districts and IHEs in providing accessible instructional material, including ensuring websites are accessible, documents are compatible with screen readers, videos include closed captioning, students can participate in online video discussions, and, as applicable, accommodations for testing are provided remotely?
  1. CDC guidance recommends IHEs ensure continuity of mental health services for students feeling overwhelmed with COVID-19 and associated events.  What supports and assistance will the Department give to IHEs and school districts in providing remote services to all students? 
  1. While flexibility for colleges to use online education was addressed in the Department’s guidance, this guidance did not address issues of quality.  How does the Department plan to monitor and ensure students receive regular and substantive interaction by their instructor(s) in higher education online programs?
  • What additional specific guidance is being provided to institutions on what “regular” and “substantive” interaction looks like?
  • The Department’s guidance from the Office of Postsecondary Education from March 5, 2020 states that “instructors must initiate substantive communication with students, either individually or collectively, on a regular basis,” and gave examples of instructors emailing instructional materials and using chat features and conference calls to communicate to students.  Will the Department issue additional guidance that reflects the concepts found in the consensus draft regulatory definition for distance education (34 CFR 600.2), in that interaction must be proactive, prompt, predictable, and responsive to students on the basis of student monitoring and request?[7] 
  1. Will the Department advise or encourage IHEs to establish broader academic leave of absence policies for the purposes of relieving them from SAP restrictions?
  1. How will the Department plan to encourage or require IHEs to provide proactive warnings to students regarding “Return of Title IV” procedures so that, if they leave mid-term due to COVID-19, they do not incur a surprise loan bill or use up their federal financial aid?
  1. Will the Department clarify that loss of a job due to illness or closure of an employer is a qualifying event for purposes of professional judgment?
  1. Will the Department provide loan deferment or forbearance opportunities for borrowers, including waiving accrued interest, if their ability to work or earn income is disrupted?
  1. Will the Department issue any guidance on whether IHEs need to report withdrawal dates that may trigger the one-time student loan “grace period” or if they can delay to keep students enrolled for a temporary absence?
  1. How does the Department plan to address current regulatory limits placed on a foreign college’s program of study to take place in the United States or at an accredited foreign institution that is ineligible for Title IV aid?
  1. What limits does the Department plan to enforce regarding an institution’s partnership with institutions or organizations ineligible for Title IV aid?

We also look forward to reading your response to the letter sent by Senator Murray and several members of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on March 2, 2020, regarding how the Department is preparing for the potential spread of the outbreak and working with other federal agencies and key stakeholders.  Thank you for your consideration of these issues and your timely response.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to the Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) urging them to issue clear guidance that ensures the security clearances of intelligence community personnel and contractors will not be jeopardized due to the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I write to ask you to issue guidance directing agencies to exercise appropriate leniency in considering how the coronavirus (COVID-19) may be negatively impacting adjudications for a security clearance or determination of trust,” wrote Sen. Warner.

A key element of the background investigation that supports a security clearance or a determination of trustworthiness is an individual’s financial stability. In his letter, Sen. Warner raised concerns that COVID-19’s impact could not only lead to financial duress for employees with security clearances, but that this financial duress could lead to delays in renewing security clearances. It could even result in personnel losing their positions in the event that they must heed the advice of health professionals and subsequently lose out on a paycheck in order to self-quarantine. The problem is particularly true for younger workers who lack a long credit history.

“While I understand that departments and agencies may already have certain discretion to consider broader contextual factors that may affect personnel vetting decisions, I ask you to issue clear and public guidance that departments and agencies may in no way penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with coping with COVID-19. This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation, or a continuous evaluation program,” continued Sen. Warner.

Earlier this week, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) issued a statement that supports Sen. Warner’s recommendation for the DNI Acting Director to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus by issuing guidance that acknowledges that “financial difficulties incurred as a result of a work stoppage should not be treated as derogatory factors affecting workers’ security clearances.”

A copy of the letter is found here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

The Honorable Dale Cabaniss

Director, Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street, NW

Washington, D.C.  20415

Ambassador Richard Grenell

Acting Director of National Intelligence

Washington, D.C.  20511

Dear Director Cabaniss and Acting Director Grenell:

I write to ask you to issue guidance directing agencies to ensure that the coronavirus (COVID-19) does not negatively impact adjudications for government or contractor employees’ security clearances or determinations of trust.

COVID-19 may have many effects on our workforce, to include financial difficulty and psychological stress.  Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may require government and contractor personnel to self-quarantine or tend to family members, which in may cause them miss payments on things like rent, mortgage, credit cards, or other forms of debt.  The impact may be particularly acute for hourly workers.  This could impact their credit scores and jeopardize their ability to secure or maintain a clearance or hold a position of trust.  The problem is particularly acute for younger workers who lack a long credit history.  Psychological strain can naturally accompany such circumstances, exacerbating the situation.

While I understand that departments and agencies may already have certain discretion to consider broader contextual factors that may affect personnel vetting decisions, I ask you to issue clear and public guidance to ensure that departments and agencies do not penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with COVID-19.  This guidance should apply to any information used in an initial clearance, a periodic reinvestigation, or a continuous evaluation/vetting program.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged the Department of Labor to start collecting information on access to essential benefits for all workers in the economy, including contingent workers and those in alternative work arrangements, such as gig workers. This request comes after the Centers for Disease Control issued social distancing guidance for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, recommending that Americans work remotely, stay home when ill, and seek medical care when infected – underscoring the vulnerability of many Americans working without access to basic safety net protections traditionally provided by full-time employment.

“As The Washington Post recently wrote, gig workers – and contingent workers more broadly – are likely the most vulnerable workers to a potential spread of the coronavirus,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. “They may be working without access to a healthcare plan or paid sick leave. As a consequence, they’re not likely to follow the CDC’s coronavirus recommendations. They may not go to the doctor when they are sick for lack of insurance and they may not stay home due to loss of income.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 10.1 percent of the labor force – roughly 15 million workers in the U.S. – are engaged in alternative employment arrangements as their primary form of occupation. Currently, there is no BLS data detailing what percentage of those workers have access to benefits that can be essential during an outbreak, such as paid sick leave, access to health care and the ability to work remotely.

“Our American system of social insurance should not be a benefit we offer to the most privileged of workers. The entire premise of the Affordable Care Act was to solidify that basic access to healthcare should not be conditional on worker status, sector of employment, or take-home pay – every American should have access to affordable healthcare,” he continued. “In the U.S. Congress, I have advocated for experimentation of a portable benefits system for independent workers that would include a broader set of worker benefits. It seems increasingly clear that – for certain workers – not having access to benefits that are portable, that they can take from job to job and gig to gig, is a public health issue for the rest of American society.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner also noted the lack of access to benefits for traditional, low- to middle-wage workers, who are less likely to take leave even if they need it, because they cannot afford the loss of income or fear negative employment repercussions. According to a March 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, only 44 percent of service sector workers, 23 percent of part-time workers, and 37 percent of workers in the bottom quartile of wages have access to a healthcare plan. Additionally, only 43 percent of service sector workers, 23 percent of part-time workers, and 56 percent of workers in the bottom quartile of earnings have access to some type of paid leave.

Sen. Warner has led the effort in Congress to try to prepare workers for shifting nature of work, particularly as it pertains to access to benefits. Last year, he reintroduced four pieces of legislation to support Americans in our evolving workforce. This included two bills to encourage employers to invest in worker training and education, a bill to expand access to mortgages for those with non-traditional work arrangements, and a bill to allow states, localities and nonprofit organizations to experiment with portable benefits for the growing independent workforce.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

The Honorable Eugene Scalia

Secretary of Labor

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Scalia,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently put out a public health response to a potential coronavirus disease outbreak in the United States that included recommendations for social distancing.  The CDC is urging Americans to stay home when ill, work remotely, and seek medical care when infected. As The New York Times recently noted, however, following the CDC’s recommendations in response to the potential spread of the coronavirus can often be a luxury some workers can’t afford.  Some workers may simply not be able to follow these recommendations without experiencing some kind of financial hardship. I write to urgently ask that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) start collecting information on the extent to which all workers in the economy – including contingent workers and those in alternative work arrangements – have access to these kinds of benefits.

Based on what we know from the BLS’s current data collection efforts, 10.1% of the labor force is engaged in alternative employment arrangements as their primary form of occupation.  That translates to roughly 15 million workers in the United States. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many of those workers are working without access to a broader worker benefits system.

As The Washington Post recently wrote, gig workers – and contingent workers more broadly – are likely the most vulnerable workers to a potential spread of the coronavirus.  They may be working without access to a healthcare plan or paid sick leave. As a consequence, they’re not likely to follow the CDC’s coronavirus recommendations. They may not go to the doctor when they are sick for lack of insurance and they may not stay home due to loss of income.

From the information we do know about worker benefits provision in the United States – thanks to the BLS’s current data collection efforts – access to healthcare and other benefits is already a problem for low to middle wage workers. Your most recent March 2019 Employee Benefits Survey results suggest we’re facing a worker benefit polarization problem in the United States. We know, for example, that only 44% of service sector workers, 23% of part-time workers, and 37% of workers in the bottom quartile of wages have access to a healthcare plan.  

A majority of these workers also tend to work without access to paid leave. Only 43% of service sector workers, 23% of part-time workers, and 56% of workers in the bottom quartile of earnings have access to some type of paid leave.  This last statistic is particularly salient for public health reasons because we know that more than 43% of workers in the bottom quartile needed to take leave in 2018 for their own illness or medical care and didn’t take it.  Of those workers that needed to take leave, your surveys tell us that over 60% of part-time and lowest wage workers didn’t do so either because they did not have enough leave, could not afford the loss of income, feared negative employment repercussions, or simply did not have access.

The other important piece of information we know as a result of current data collection efforts is that the ability to work from home is a benefit concentrated among those with higher levels of education. Your surveys note that roughly 12% of workers with a high school degree worked at home on an average day, while nearly 42% of workers with an advanced degree did.  This same trend holds true for full-time workers making the lowest weekly earnings – less than 8% work from home on an average day – while almost 35% of workers with the highest earnings do.  Similarly, less than 10% of workers in the service, construction and extraction, production, and transportation and material moving sectors seem to work from home. 

Our American system of social insurance should not be a benefit we offer to the most privileged of workers. The entire premise of the Affordable Care Act was to solidify that basic access to healthcare should not be conditional on worker status, sector of employment, or take-home pay – every American should have access to affordable healthcare. In the U.S. Congress, I have advocated for experimentation of a portable benefits system for independent workers that would include a broader set of worker benefits. It seems increasingly clear that – for certain workers – not having access to benefits that are portable, that they can take from job to job and gig to gig, is a public health issue for the rest of American society.

Again, I strongly urge that the Department of Labor start collecting information about access to worker benefits for all workers, including those in alternative work arrangements. Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter. I look forward to working with you on your next steps.

Sincerely,

MARK R. WARNER

Cc: Commissioner William W. Beach

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA joined Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and a group of Senate colleagues in urging Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig to extend the April 15, 2020 tax-filing deadline to provide taxpayers greater flexibility amid challenges caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus. Currently, there are more than 1,000 cases of coronavirus in 38 states, with 35 deaths so far.  

“Given the growing nationwide concerns regarding the potential spread and the resulting economic and public health impact of such an outbreak, we urge you to act quickly and remove one source of stress that individuals face during this crisis,” the senators wrote to Commissioner Rettig. “The American people should not have to worry about filing IRS forms in the middle of a public health emergency.”  

The deadline to file tax returns with the IRS for the 2019 tax year falls on Wednesday, April 15. The IRS began processing tax returns on January 27, 2020.

“While providing penalty relief is insufficient to address this crisis alone, it would at least lift one burden off the backs of taxpayers, who are trying to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” they added. “If the Trump Administration can grant flexibility to multinational corporations armed with droves of accountants and tax attorneys, then surely it can provide similar relief to hard-working American families.”

Joining Sens. Menendez and Murray in sending the letter were Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J ), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

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

Dear Commissioner Rettig:

In light of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we are writing to urge you to provide significant flexibility on the April 15 tax filing season deadline for individual taxpayers.  Families need to focus on making sure they are prepared for this public health threat rather than expending time and energy to comply with this deadline.

As you know, taxpayers must file their 2019 tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) no later than April 15, 2020.  While a short-term extension of this deadline is available, a taxpayer must estimate their outstanding tax liability and must remit a payment in order to avail themselves of the additional time.  They would also be responsible for interest payments that accrued during the extension period on their outstanding tax liability, which could deter people from seeking an extension.  Given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has projected the spread of COVID-19 in the United States is “inevitable” and “disruptions to everyday life may be severe,” we should be doing everything within our power to help taxpayers prepare for this crisis.   It is unreasonable to insist on strict adherence during this perilous time, particularly in light of the widespread confusion that has persisted for the past two years as a result of the new tax law and W-4 withholding table issues.

As of [date of sending], the coronavirus has spread to every continent on the globe with the exception of Antarctica,  and there were over 1,000 cases in 38 states, with public health officials predicting additional cases in the coming weeks.   Because the IRS taxpayer assistance and processing centers are located across the country – some of which are in areas that have already reported a number of cases – the operations of the IRS itself are likely to be affected because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.  Additionally, taxpayers may need to meet in-person with their accountants, lawyers, or other advisors, and such in-person meetings may be impossible given quarantines, self-quarantines, and social distancing protocols.  Indeed, the IRS recently suspended all non-essential work travel for a month as it seeks to prevent the spread of the disease within its workforce. 

While we all hope that transmission will slow and this outbreak will dissipate, hope alone is not a strategy.  The Administration needs to take this growing crisis seriously and implement immediate steps to help the American people prepare for the worst.  While providing penalty relief is insufficient to address this crisis alone, it would at least lift one burden off the backs of taxpayers, who are trying to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have already provided relief to corporations by granting filing extensions in response to the coronavirus.   If the Trump Administration can grant flexibility to multinational corporations armed with droves of accountants and tax attorneys, then surely it can provide similar relief to hard-working American families.

Given the growing nationwide concerns regarding the potential spread and the resulting economic and public health impact of such an outbreak, we urge you to act quickly and remove one source of stress that individuals face during this crisis.  The American people should not have to worry about filing IRS forms in the middle of a public health emergency.  Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your response no later than March 20, 2020.

Sincerely,

 

 ###

WASHINGTON – Today in a letter to President Trump, 34 Senate Democrats led by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) called for an economic stimulus package focused on helping working Americans and their families who will be most harmed by the outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus in the United States.

“The spread of COVID-19 will create economic ramifications that will affect individuals, families, and regions differently.  While following social distancing guidelines may be important to mitigate the spread of the virus, it creates potentially grave economic challenges for American workers who are not easily able to telework or who do not have access to paid leave.  Further limitations on travel, access to more common general services, and cancellation of major events will potentially hurt a large number of Americans who work or depend upon hospitality, travel, tourism, and retail businesses,” wrote the Senators.

The Senators continued, “Thus the goal of any economic stimulus should be directly aimed at the two types of workers who will be most harmed.  First, any proposed relief should directly target workers who may have followed medical guidance to self-quarantine because of potential exposure, or those who are required to care for a family member.  Second, it should also ensure that workers whose employment or income is significantly jeopardized by industries who may experience the economic slowdown as a consequence of the spread of the virus are appropriately protected. Further, any mechanism to provide relief must predominately be done as a pass through to workers. Our focus should not be on boosting company returns; instead, our focus should be on helping workers, including hourly workers and those workers at small or retail businesses who often don’t have access to short term savings or paid time off.”

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The letter is available here and below.

 

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

Office of the President

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Trump:

We welcome the conversation on the impact of the economic consequences of the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus in the United States.  Unfortunately, many of the ideas that have been raised thus far have skewed towards more traditional stimulus measures, such as tax benefits for wealthier individuals and corporations.  However, in light of this unique public health crisis, we believe any economic relief package must be crafted to predominately target economic relief for the most affected American workers and their families.

To date, the current U.S. response – while too slow – has been appropriately focused on access to testing and medical care, including the passage of an emergency supplemental that allocates substantial resources to health professionals and communities who are fighting this virus.  To address any macroeconomic impact, the Federal Reserve recently made a decision to cut interest rates. And to date, some large businesses have assured their workers that they will not be economically penalized for following the appropriate guidance from public health authorities.

However, the spread of COVID-19 will create economic ramifications that will affect individuals, families, and regions differently.  While following social distancing guidelines may be important to mitigate the spread of the virus, it creates potentially grave economic challenges for American workers who are not easily able to telework or who do not have access to paid leave.  Further limitations on travel, access to more common general services, and cancellation of major events will potentially hurt a large number of Americans who work or depend upon hospitality, travel, tourism, and retail businesses.

Thus the goal of any economic stimulus should be directly aimed at the two types of workers who will be most harmed.  First, any proposed relief should directly target workers who may have followed medical guidance to self-quarantine because of potential exposure, or those who are required to care for a family member.  Second, it should also ensure that workers whose employment or income is significantly jeopardized by industries who may experience the economic slowdown as a consequence of the spread of the virus are appropriately protected. Further, any mechanism to provide relief must predominately be done as a pass through to workers. Our focus should not be on boosting company returns; instead, our focus should be on helping workers, including hourly workers and those workers at small or retail businesses who often don’t have access to short term savings or paid time off.

Again, we welcome the conversation about federal fiscal relief, and look forward to supporting measures that will put the American worker first and truly help ease the burden of this crisis for the many Americans who continue to be impacted. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged Vice President Mike Pence to take steps to both combat online misinformation related to the coronavirus outbreak and to correct false and misleading statements by the President and other members of the Administration, in the interest of public health. This letter follows reports of widespread misinformation on social media about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) – from conspiracies about the virus’ inception, to false claims about products that were said to provide immunity or cures.

“I am deeply concerned that despite the seriousness of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, your coronavirus taskforce and members of the Administration have failed to consistently counter the significant amount of misinformation conveyed to the American public. In many instances, we have seen misinformation spread by those seeking to profit from untested and potentially dangerous products misrepresented as effective treatments for the virus,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Of even greater concern, false or misleading information has also come directly from prominent members of the Administration, up to and including the President.”

“The President’s injudicious and false statements could gravely undermine ongoing public health efforts to contain the outbreak. His statements directly conflict with the advice and recommendations of your own coordinated federal response and leading public health experts and will likely exacerbate economic uncertainty and discourage individuals from seeking needed care. To date, I am not aware of any steps your Administration has taken to publicly correct this false narrative,” he continued. “Simply put – this conflicting messaging and misinformation will weaken our ability to respond to COVID-19 and significantly undermine ongoing public health efforts. I strongly encourage you to publicly withdraw and correct President Trump’s statements and other false statements made by members of the Administration. In addition I ask that, moving forward, the coronavirus taskforce proactively monitor and develop a comprehensive strategy to counter widespread misinformation, including campaigns by foreign actors or parties seeking to profit from fraudulent health treatments. Information conveyed to the public must accurately reflect the latest guidance from public health experts and other authorities.”

Around the world, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people and killed more than 4,000 people to date. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone, there have been nine identified cases of the virus. 

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that the President’s false statements “stoke and legitimize already widespread online misinformation concerning the virus.”  He also highlighted indications “that at least some of the misinformation is derived from, or at least amplified by, malicious foreign actors.”

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

The Honorable Michael R. Pence

Vice President of the United States of America

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Vice President Pence:

I am deeply concerned that despite the seriousness of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, your coronavirus taskforce and members of the Administration have failed to consistently counter the significant amount of misinformation conveyed to the American public. In many instances, we have seen misinformation spread by those seeking to profit from untested and potentially dangerous products misrepresented as effective treatments for the virus.[1] Of even greater concern, false or misleading information has also come directly from prominent members of the Administration, up to and including the President. I believe that, left unaddressed, this misinformation and conflicting messaging will undermine our ability to respond to COVID-19 by reducing public confidence in ongoing public health efforts, creating economic uncertainty and causing the public to respond in counterproductive ways.

As you know, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has sickened more than 118,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,200 people to date.[2] While this situation is rapidly evolving in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high.[3] It is essential that the Administration communicate timely and accurate information to the American public. This should include a coordinated effort to address potentially harmful misinformation spread through social media and other sources.

On March 4, 2020, during a phone call televised to millions of viewers, President Donald J. Trump indicated that Americans who fear they may have COVID-19 should continue going to work and not seek medical care, and told viewers that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) estimates of the virus’ deadliness were false.[4] In addition, on February 26, 2020 the President carelessly downplayed the seriousness of this outbreak by telling the American public that COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were “going very substantially down, not up” and that the existing 15 cases in the U.S. “is going to be down to close to zero” in two days.[5] As you know, cases have increased exponentially since that time.

The President’s injudicious and false statements could gravely undermine ongoing public health efforts to contain the outbreak. His statements directly conflict with the advice and recommendations of your own coordinated federal response and leading public health experts and will likely exacerbate economic uncertainty and discourage individuals from seeking needed care. To date, I am not aware of any steps your Administration has taken to publicly correct this false narrative.

In addition, such remarks stoke and legitimize already widespread online misinformation concerning the virus. There are indications that at least some of the misinformation is derived from, or at least amplified by, malicious foreign actors.[6] Additional misleading statements from members of the Administration, combined with intentional falsehoods pushed by these malicious actors, will only make matters worse.

Successfully combatting COVID-19 will require that public officials, health care providers and the American public act in a coordinated and responsible manner and, should the need arise, follow recommendations of public health experts to social distance, self-quarantine and take additional safety measures. This will not be possible if the Administration does not take proactive steps to counter false information and consistently relay trusted, accurate and timely information to the American public.

Simply put – this conflicting messaging and misinformation will weaken our ability to respond to COVID-19 and significantly undermine ongoing public health efforts. I strongly encourage you to publicly withdraw and correct President Trump’s statements and other false statements made by members of the Administration. In addition I ask that, moving forward, the coronavirus taskforce proactively monitor and develop a comprehensive strategy to counter widespread misinformation, including campaigns by foreign actors or parties seeking to profit from fraudulent health treatments. Information conveyed to the public must accurately reflect the latest guidance from public health experts and other authorities. Thank you for your attention to this request and I look forward to your response.                                               

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sounded the alarm regarding America’s overreliance on Chinese- and foreign-made pharmaceutical products and supplies, and highlighted the dangerous consequences of this dependence on the wellbeing of Americans and on U.S. national security. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sen. Warner requested that HHS develop a short-term strategy to ensure Americans have access to necessary medical products, and a long-term plan to reduce reliance on foreign supply chains.

“For millions of Americans, access to their drug supply can mean life or death. Yet increasingly, the United States produces very few of these products domestically,” wrote Sen. Warner. “For example, the active ingredients for medicines treating breast and lung cancers and the antibiotic Vancomycin are made almost exclusively in China.  China is also the largest supplier of medical devices, such as MRI equipment, surgical gowns and other equipment that measures oxygen levels in the blood.”

“As the outbreak for COVID-19 has occurred, the risks of our dependence are growing.  Our reliance on Chinese and other foreign API manufacturing facilities during this crisis is already beginning to compromise the U.S. drug supply, creating drug shortages and manufacturing quality problems. Some countries have increased restrictions on the export of their pharmaceuticals to the United States and other countries as they work to protect their own populations. For example, India recently decided to place restrictions on exporting Tylenol and the common antibiotic metronidazole to ensure Indian citizens have the pharmaceuticals they need,” he continued. “The nation’s dependence on foreign countries for medical products points to a much larger challenge that the United States must be prepared to address: China’s growing dominance in the health sector, including the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, and its collection of vast amounts of biomedical and other data, with potential long-term privacy risks for Americans.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner cited the testimony of Janet Woodcock, the Director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research who testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about the growing U.S. reliance on foreign sources of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). According to Director Woodcock, only 28 percent of manufacturing facilities making APIs for the U.S. market are in the United States, and three of the “essential medicines” identified by the World Health Organizations have API manufacturers that are based only in China.  

Additionally, Sen. Warner requested a briefing and a written response to the following questions:

  1. What actions has HHS taken to address the dependence on Chinese or other foreign manufacturers of drugs, APIs, or other pharmaceutical products and medical supplies and equipment since the outbreak of the COVID-19?
  2. What is your strategy to ensure that Americans get the pharmaceuticals they need if significant shortages occur? 
  3. As the coronavirus continues to spread, what actions has HHS taken to ensure that patients can still access the drugs they need without access to drug components manufactured overseas?
  4. What is your analysis of what drugs or ingredients cannot be made without supplies from China and other foreign countries?
  5. What is your plan to ensure that medical facilities, medical personnel and first responders have a reserve of necessary medical supplies and equipment as they continue to be on the front lines of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
  6. Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which includes more than $2 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to invest in platform-based technologies with U.S-based manufacturing for vaccines and therapeutics. How will HHS ensure these funds effectively reduce our short and long-term reliance on foreign manufacturers of drugs, APIs, or other pharmaceutical products and medical supplies and equipment?

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

Secretary Alex Azar

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Azar:

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread globally, I write to convey my significant alarm over American overreliance on Chinese – and foreign-manufactured pharmaceutical products and medical supplies and the consequent dangerous impacts – both for the health and well-being of Americans and for U.S. national security.  I ask the Department of Health and Human Services to monitor the potential impact of this overreliance, and develop a strategy to ensure Americans have access to these medical products in the short-term while determining a longer-term plan to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign supply chains for these products.

As you are well aware, the COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan, China and has now spread to more than 104 countries. There have been more than 109,000 cases confirmed and more than 3,800 deaths. For some time, experts both in and outside of the government have expressed serious concerns about the United States outsourcing medical products to foreign companies and the vulnerabilities resulting from this dependence. The outbreak of COVID-19 has put in stark relief the health, economic, and strategic risks of the current approach. 

For millions of Americans, access to their drug supply can mean life or death. Yet increasingly, the United States produces very few of these products domestically.  For example, the active ingredients for medicines treating breast and lung cancers and the antibiotic Vancomycin are made almost exclusively in China.  China is also the largest supplier of medical devices, such as MRI equipment, surgical gowns and other equipment that measures oxygen levels in the blood. 

During her October 30, 2019 testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Janet Woodcock, asserted that the U.S. reliance on Chinese and other foreign sources of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) was only growing. She described a set of startling statistics— while the United States has become a world leader in drug discovery and development over the past decade, it is no longer in the forefront of drug manufacturing.  In particular, manufacturers of APIs, including statins and penicillin are increasingly foreign-made– with only 28 percent of the manufacturing facilities making APIs for the U.S. market in the United States; thirteen percent of these manufacturers are located in China.   The U.S. pharmaceutical sector relies on China for components, materials, and finished products.   In fact, three World Health Organization (WHO) “Essential Medicines” have API manufacturers that are based only in China.   For drugs used to combat biological threats, China has 37 API manufacturing facilities, while the U.S. has 19, compared to 117 facilities in the rest of the world.  

As the outbreak for COVID-19 has occurred, the risks of our dependence are growing.  Our reliance on Chinese and other foreign API manufacturing facilities during this crisis is already beginning to compromise the U.S. drug supply, creating drug shortages and manufacturing quality problems. Some countries have increased restrictions on the export of their pharmaceuticals to the United States and other countries as they work to protect their own populations. For example, India recently decided to place restrictions on exporting Tylenol and the common antibiotic metronidazole to ensure Indian citizens have the pharmaceuticals they need.

The nation’s dependence on foreign countries for medical products points to a much larger challenge that the United States must be prepared to address: China’s growing dominance in the health sector, including the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, and its collection of vast amounts of biomedical and other data, with potential long-term privacy risks for Americans.

It is essential that the United States develop strategies to reduce U.S. reliance on China and other countries for drugs critical to American patients. I appreciate your willingness to work with Congress to further strengthen our response capabilities and emergency preparedness.

I respectfully request a briefing [and a written response] with answers to the following questions no later than March 23, 2020.

  1. What actions has HHS taken to address the dependence on Chinese or other foreign manufacturers of drugs, APIs, or other pharmaceutical products and medical supplies and equipment since the outbreak of the COVID-19?
  2. What is your strategy to ensure that Americans get the pharmaceuticals they need if significant shortages occur? 
  3. As the coronavirus continues to spread, what actions has HHS taken to ensure that patients can still access the drugs they need without access to drug components manufactured overseas?
  4. What is your analysis of what drugs or ingredients cannot be made without supplies from China and other foreign countries?
  5. What is your plan to ensure that medical facilities, medical personnel and first responders have a reserve of necessary medical supplies and equipment as they continue to be on the front lines of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
  6. Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which includes more than $2 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to invest in platform-based technologies with U.S.-based manufacturing for vaccines and therapeutics. How will HHS ensure these funds effectively reduce our short- and long-term reliance on foreign manufacturers of drugs, APIs, or other pharmaceutical products and medical supplies and equipment?

I appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.  I look forward to working together on this critical issue moving forward.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the three largest private prison operators – GEO Group (GEO), CoreCivic, and Management and Training Corporation (MTC) – asking about the policies and procedures in place at federal prisons to manage a potential spread of the novel coronavirus.

In Virginia, there are three federal correctional facilities in operation, which includes the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the low- and medium-security institutions located at the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex. Correctional officers at these three Virginia facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 inmates.

In their letter, the Senators underscore that correctional staff and the prison population are particularly vulnerable amid the coronavirus threat.

“Given the spread of the virus in the U.S.—and the particular vulnerability of the prison population and correctional staff—it is critical that [you] have a plan to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus to incarcerated individuals and correctional staff, along with their families and loved ones, and provide treatment to incarcerated individuals and staff who become infected,” the Senators wrote.

Over 175,000 individuals are incarcerated in federal prisons and jails, and thousands of incarcerated people, their family and friends, and correctional staff move in and out of federal prisons every day. As a result, the potential uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus endangers federal correctional staff, their families, inmates, and the general public.

In order to get more information on the policies and procedures in place to prepare for and mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus, the Senators requested responses to their letters no later than March 16, 2020.  

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Tina Smith (D-MN).

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged the Trump Administration to work with the European Commission and other European aviation officials to address the negative economic and environmental impacts of a rule that is forcing airlines to fly nearly empty “ghost flights” in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“Amid the spread of the coronavirus, airlines around the world have seen passenger levels drop dramatically. This month, the International Air Transport Association said that global revenue losses for passenger business could be between $63 and $113 billion,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “With demand dropping, there have been reports of air carriers flying “ghost flights” – in many cases with less than 40% of the aircraft occupied – in order to meet their slot requirements at European airports. In addition to the costs to airlines of running these flights, we should be concerned about the environmental impact of running undersold and empty flights for the sole purpose of maintaining global slots.”

“Some slot regulations have been relaxed around the world, in particular with regard to flights to and from mainland China. However, I urge European officials to make similar moves to provide flexibility around slot allocation rules,” he continued. “The response to this virus is truly a global concern, and we must recognize that certain norms need to be reviewed, as the world takes appropriate measures to slow the outbreak.”

The current “use-it-or-lose-it” rule requires that airlines fill 80 percent of the slots allocated to them at major European airports in order to keep the same slots in the next season. However, as demand for flights has fallen due to the coronavirus outbreak, airlines have been forced to fly nearly empty flights in order to keep their European airport slots.  

Around the world, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people and killed more than 4,000 people to date. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone, there have been eight identified cases of the virus.

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that the regulation governing the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule allows for non-use of the slots in “unforeseeable and irresistible cases outside the air carrier's control.” He also highlighted that this exemption has been previously used, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and amid the SARS outbreak in 2003.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. A list of Sen. Warner’s work on coronavirus is available here.

 

March 10, 2020

The Honorable Elaine Chao

Secretary of Transportation

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE

Washington, D.C. 20590

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Chao and Secretary Pompeo:

As the United States and governments around the world react to the outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, I write to urge you to work with the European Commission and other European aviation officials to address the potential negative impacts of the so-called “use-it-or-lose-it” rule at European airports as a result of COVID-19. 

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,000 people to date.  While this situation is rapidly evolving around the world, including in the United States and Europe, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high and the spread of the disease in other countries shines a light on the need for a whole-of-society response.

The EU’s slot regulation rule, or “use-it-or-lose-it,” requires that airlines fill 80 percent of the slots allocated to them at major European airports in order to keep the same slots in the next season.  Amid the spread of the coronavirus, airlines around the world have seen passenger levels drop dramatically.  This month, the International Air Transport Association said that global revenue losses for passenger business could be between $63 and $113 billion.  With demand dropping, there have been reports of air carriers flying “ghost flights” – in many cases with less than 40% of the aircraft occupied – in order to meet their slot requirements at European airports.  In addition to the costs to airlines of running these flights, we should be concerned about the environmental impact of running undersold and empty flights for the sole purpose of maintaining global slots.

Some slot regulations have been relaxed around the world, in particular with regard to flights to and from mainland China.  However, I urge European officials to make similar moves to provide flexibility around slot allocation rules.  The regulation governing the rule allows for non-use of the slots for “unforeseeable and irresistible cases outside the air carrier's control.”  The Commission has invoked this exemption before, in 2002 following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in 2003 amid the SARS outbreak, and in other cases of global financial stress on airlines.

The response to this virus is truly a global concern, and we must recognize that certain norms need to be reviewed, as the world takes appropriate measures to slow the outbreak.  I encourage you to work with stakeholders to ensure the stability of passenger-travel industries.  I ask that you keep me apprised of your efforts in this matter – I stand ready to help in any way I can.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) was joined by several members of the Senate Banking Committee in a pair of letters to financial regulators and trade groups urging our nation’s financial sector to prepare for the likely impacts of the coronavirus and take steps to protect consumers who may suffer financially as a result of a coronavirus outbreak.  

In a letter to leaders of the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHDA), and Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS), the Senators called on the regulators to provide financial institutions with guidance to help assist individuals and communities affected by coronavirus.

“As Americans seek to comply with CDC guidance and protect the well-being of their families, many consumers may face negative shocks to household finances, including challenges with paying their day-to-day bills, credit cards, student loans, small business loans and mortgage payments, among other financial obligations. Accordingly, we urge you to issue guidance to financial institutions encouraging them to work with consumers and businesses affected by the virus and to recognize that they may have difficulty accessing affordable credit and face temporary hardship in making payments on their credit obligations.  This guidance should encourage financial institutions to make efforts to modify terms on existing loans or extend new consumer-friendly access to credit to help consumers and businesses affected by the virus, consistent with safe-and-sound lending practices.  The guidance should also encourage financial institutions to take steps to prevent adverse information from being reported to the credit bureaus and utilized in any manner that harms consumers affected by the virus. We look forward to hearing swiftly from you about what steps you will take to provide regulatory clarity for financial institutions seeking to assist customers during this challenging time,” wrote Sen. Warner along with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ranking Member of the Committee, and Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

A copy of the letter to financial regulators is available here.

 

In a separate letter, Sen. Warner and his colleagues urged trade associations representing the nation’s bankers and credit unions to work with their members to prioritize their employees’ health and safety in the event of coronavirus outbreak, and to offer flexibility and forbearance to customers whose finances may be negatively impacted as a result of following recommended Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance to limit exposure and spread of the virus.

“We encourage your member institutions to commit to ensure that any employees or contractors who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities can count on basic protections like preservation of their employment status and basic financial forbearance,” wrote Sens. Warner, Menendez, Warren, Schatz, Van Hollen, Cortez Masto, Jones and Jack Reed (D-RI).

Added the Senators in the letter, copies of which were sent to the Consumer Bankers Association, Bank Policy Institute, American Bankers Association, Financial Services Forum, Credit Union National Association, National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, and Independent Community Bankers of America, “Further, we urge you to work with your customers to ensure they are not financially penalized as they seek to comply with CDC guidance and protect the safety and wellbeing of their families.  Many of your customers may face shocks to household finances, including challenges with paying their day-to-day bills, credit cards, small business loans and mortgage payments, among other financial obligations.  Accordingly, we urge you to consider waiving overdraft and monthly service fees for affected customers, suspending or modifying student loan, mortgage and business loan payments as necessary, providing affordable, short-term credit, and encouraging customers to contact your institution’s special care line so that you may work with them individually to help them avoid the negative consequences of this unique health emergency.”

A copy of the letter to bankers is available here.

 

In a separate letter, Sen. Warner and Sen. Brown urged the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to provide servicers with guidance in order to help facilitate access to affordable mortgage credit to affected borrowers, consistent with safety and soundness of the housing finance system. 

“As Americans seek to comply with CDC guidance and protect the well-being of their families, many borrowers may face negative shocks to household finances, including challenges with mortgage payments, among other financial obligations.  Accordingly, we urge you to issue guidance to mortgage servicers in order to help borrowers navigate the broader financial effects of the coronavirus.  This includes authorizing servicers to suspend or reduce a homeowner’s mortgage payments immediately if the servicer believes the homeowner’s financial circumstances are affected by the virus, waiving late fees, and suspending credit bureau reporting, foreclosures and other legal proceedings as necessary, in order to help families cope with the effects of this health emergency,” wrote Sens. Warner and Brown.

A copy of the housing finance letter is available here.

 

Lastly, Sen. Warner also fired off a letter to the nation’s credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, urging them to ensure that consumer credit scores aren’t negatively impacted because of financial shocks related to coronavirus.  

A copy of the letter to the credit reporting bureaus is available here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on today’s announcement that a Marine at Fort Belvoir in Virginia has tested positive for the coronavirus:

“We are carefully monitoring the case of the coronavirus announced in Virginia today and are committed to doing everything we can to ensure the Commonwealth is getting the federal support it needs to respond. This week, we voted to pass a bipartisan emergency funding bill that directs needed resources to Virginia and other states – including funding for diagnostic testing, vaccine development, and additional resources for responders who are combating this outbreak. We will be staying in close touch with state officials on the frontlines, and we are prepared to act if it is determined that additional federal resources are needed to respond to the spread of this virus. We encourage all Virginians to check the Virginia Department of Health website for valuable updates and information on COVID-19 and heed the calls of public health professionals to protect against its spread.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner led a group of seven Senators in urging the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to commit that federal workers and contractors will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

In a letter sent to OPM Director Dale Cabaniss, the Senators wrote, “As the largest employer in the nation, it is paramount that the federal government lead by example and prioritize the health, economic well-being, and security of its employees and contractors as we mobilize to respond to the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19. In addition to sharing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about when employees exhibiting systems should stay home, we urge you to clarify that federal employees and contractors who follow such guidance will not be at risk of income insecurity, disciplinary action, or any other adverse employment actions.”

The Senators continued, “We worry that OPM’s guidance to date does not demonstrate to our nation’s hardworking public servants that the federal government is prioritizing their health, well-being, and economic security. We urge you to swiftly develop and circulate guidance that does more to reassure them that they will not be penalized for heeding public health guidance, they will continue to receive pay while doing so, and they will not be expected to work while sick.” 

Specifically, the Senators called on OPM to:

  • Clarify that federal employees and contractors who follow CDC guidance will not be at risk of income insecurity, disciplinary action, or any other adverse employment actions;
  • Issue guidance immediately assuring federal employees and contractors that they will not be asked to choose between their ability to meet their financial obligations and their sense of duty to follow guidance that protects the public health;
  • Direct agencies to take a generous and public health-facing position on expanding telework availability;
  • Make clear that federal employees and contractors will not be expected to work while they or a loved one are ill and in need of rest, treatment, and/or recuperation—even if they have exhausted all of their available paid leave;
  • Take proactive and ongoing steps to educate agencies and human resources officials on applicable categories of paid leave that workers may access;
  • And work with health insurance providers to ensure federal employees can affordably access the preventive care and treatment they may need as a result of COVID-19. 

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with U.S. Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), urged the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to protect airport employees and travelers amid reports of the first cases of the coronavirus in the national capital region. MWAA is the entity that manages Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport, with 48.8 million travelers passing through both airports in 2019. 

“As many organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is taking to protect travelers in its facilities,” wrote the members of Congress. “Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport are two of the busiest airports in the region, serving as a gateway that connects the Washington D.C. area with the rest of the country and the world.  Each day, on average, more than 66,000 and 64,000 travelers pass through Dulles and Reagan National, respectively.” 

As of February 3, 2020, Dulles International Airport was one of eleven airports across the country tapped by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to institute enhanced health screenings for all passengers traveling to the United States from China. Recently, DHS expanded that travel screening list to include individuals who have recently traveled to Iran.   

With the first confirmed cases of the virus in the Washington, D.C. region in the last 24 hours, the members of Congress urged MWAA to take critical safety measures to prevent an outbreak from spreading to travelers at these major airports.  

“As are many Americans, we are concerned by the fast-paced spread of the virus we have seen so far. We want to make sure that every effort is being made to slow the spread of the virus through our travel centers – most importantly our airports, which connect the region with countries that have had widespread outbreaks of the virus. While many Americans will need to practice social distancing in some way, we recognize that air travel, for many, is still very much a necessary part of their lives, whether for personal or business reasons,” they continued. “That is why we hope that our two large airport facilities in the area will do everything possible to ensure the safety of travelers who use Dulles and Reagan National in the coming weeks and months. The more we can slow the spread of the virus, the more time it gives healthcare professionals in our area to prepare, which will result in better care for those potentially affected.” 

The letter is available here and below.

 

John E. Potter

President and Chief Executive Officer

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

1 Aviation Circle

Washington, D.C. 20001

 

Dear Mr. Potter:

As many organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is taking to protect travelers in its facilities.  Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport are two of the busiest airports in the region, serving as a gateway that connects the Washington D.C. area with the rest of the country and the world.  Each day, on average, more than 66,000 and 64,000 travelers pass through Dulles and Reagan National, respectively.

Beginning in late January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) required flights with passengers arriving from or having stayed in China to arrive only at specific airports with enhanced public health services and protocols.  On February 3, 2020, DHS expanded this list of airports to include Dulles.  DHS has now expanded travel restrictions to people who have recently traveled to Iran. 

As stated by DHS in its directive: “[e]ntry screening is part of a layered approach used with other public health measures already in place to detect arriving travelers who are exhibiting signs of illness, reporting of ill travelers by air carriers during travel, and referral of ill travelers arriving at a U.S. port of entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to appropriate public health officials to slow and prevent the spread of communicable disease into the United States.” In addition to these DHS arrival protocols, the State Department has also issued “Level 3” travel advisories for other countries – Italy and Korea – advising people to reconsider travel due to recent outbreaks of COVID-19.

The first cases of COVID-19 in the Washington D.C. region were confirmed in the last 24 hours.  As are many Americans, we are concerned by the fast-paced spread of the virus we have seen so far.  We want to make sure that every effort is being made to slow the spread of the virus through our travel centers – most importantly our airports, which connect the region with countries that have had widespread outbreaks of the virus.  While many Americans will need to practice social distancing in some way, we recognize that air travel, for many, is still very much a necessary part of their lives, whether for personal or business reasons.  That is why we hope that our two large airport facilities in the area will do everything possible to ensure the safety of travelers who use Dulles and Reagan National in the coming weeks and months.  The more we can slow the spread of the virus, the more time it gives healthcare professionals in our area to prepare, which will result in better care for those potentially affected. 

We appreciate the steps that MWAA, CBP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the airlines are taking in terms of identification and screenings.  We must work together to ensure we are doing everything possible to protect travelers, airport employees, and Virginians in the surrounding communities.  We also ask that you please keep us apprised of your ongoing response to the virus.  We stand ready to help in any way we can.

 

Sincerely, 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner urged leading gig worker platform companies to commit that independent contractors who deliver their services will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures to protect the public from further spread of the coronavirus.

In letters sent to the CEOs of UberPostmatesLyftInstacartGrubhub, and DoorDash, some of the leading U.S. gig worker platform companies, Sen. Warner wrote, “As the United States mobilizes to respond to the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, I write to urge you to publicly commit to prioritizing your workers’ economic security and the broader public health during this response.”

He continued, “I strongly urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for your workers if they are sick or have to self-quarantine during this time. In order to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that platform companies lead by example by committing that economic uncertainty will not be deterrents to their workers following public health guidance during the response.” 

In the letters, Sen. Warner acknowledged efforts by some platform companies to provide guidance to workers about how to protect themselves and customers against the spread of coronavirus. However, as the Washington Post recently wrote, gig workers – and contingent workers more broadly – are among the most vulnerable workers to a potential spread of the coronavirus. Because they are classified by platform companies as independent contractors, many gig workers do not have access to paid leave, employer-provided health insurance, and other benefits. As a result, many of these workers risk missing income or paying high out-of-pocket healthcare costs if they fully comply with public health instructions to be tested, self-quarantine, or take other “social distancing” measures. 

Yesterday, Sen. Warner led a group of 14 Senators in urging major U.S. employers to commit that workers will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures to protect the public from further spread of the coronavirus. He also joined with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) in sending a similar letter to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

This morning, the President signed a bipartisan $7.8 billion emergency coronavirus response funding bill that Sen. Warner voted for in the Senate. The legislation also includes language based on Sen. Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, which reduces restrictions on the use of telehealth for public health emergency response, as well as $500 million to facilitate its implementation.

 

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, amid reports of the first cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the national capital region, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) urged the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to continue to work to ensure the safety of employees and travelers who rely on Metro trains, buses, and other facilities. In a letter to WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld, the Senators urged WMATA to continue activating its Pandemic Flu Plan as it closely monitors the outbreak of the virus.  

“WMATA provides critical transit services for millions of people in the Washington D.C. region, including thousands of commuters and tourists. Each weekday, Metro trains carry an average of 634,000 passengers, with an additional 359,000 passengers riding Metro buses,” wrote the Senators. “The Metro transit system forms the backbone of travel infrastructure in our area, making WMATA’s coronavirus preparations a critically important part of protecting Washington area residents and visitors to our region.” 

“As are many Americans, we are concerned that with the fast-paced spread of the virus, it is inevitable that we will see additional cases in our area. We want to ensure every effort is being made to slow the spread of the virus through our travel centers – particularly our mass transit systems,” continued the Senators. “While many Americans will need to practice social distancing in some way, we recognize that traveling via Metro, for many, is a requirement of their daily lives. That is why we hope that you will continue to do everything possible to ensure the safety of travelers who use Metro services in the coming weeks and months.”

As the capital region’s main transportation system, WMATA is critically important to the functioning of the U.S. federal government. About 40 percent of Metro’s daily ridership during rush hour consists of federal employees who commute to hundreds of federal facilities in the national capital region.  

In their letter, the Senators emphasized the importance of slowing the spread of the virus in order to provide health care professionals time to prepare for a potential outbreak. They also urged WMATA and its Pandemic Task Force to continue to monitor COVID-19-related developments and keep the Senators apprised of its ongoing response to the virus.

 

The letter is available here and below.

 

Mr. Paul J. Wiedefeld

General Manager and CEO

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

600 5th Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20001

 

Dear Mr. Wiedefeld:

As many organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is taking to protect employees and travelers who use Metro trains, buses, and other facilities throughout Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. 

WMATA provides critical transit services for millions of people in the Washington D.C. region, including thousands of commuters and tourists.  Each weekday, Metro trains carry an average of 634,000 passengers, with an additional 359,000 passengers riding Metro buses.  Roughly 40% of Metro’s daily ridership during rush hour consists of federal employees who are commuting to hundreds of federal facilities in the national capital region.  The Metro transit system forms the backbone of travel infrastructure in our area, making WMATA’s coronavirus preparations a critically important part of protecting Washington area residents and visitors to our region.

As the first cases of COVID-19 in the Washington D.C. region were confirmed in the last 24 hours, we appreciate that you have released information publically about WMATA’s preparations, including activating the initial phase of its Pandemic Flu Plan on January 29, 2020, based on early reports that COVID-19 had the potential to reach pandemic status.  We understand that subsequent phases will be activated following an outbreak of confirmed cases in the Metro service area.  As part of the Pandemic Flu Plan, WMATA has stood up its Pandemic Task Force, chaired by WMATA’s Chief Safety Officer.  Metro has taken the following steps to date: 

  • Set up direct lines of communication with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), local and state public health authorities, and other transit systems.
  • Increasing Metro’s on-hand warehouse inventory of essential supplies, such as hospital-grade disinfectant, wipes, face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other items used by Metro’s front-line employees.
  • Established daily absenteeism monitoring across the workforce to quickly detect any significant change in employees illness patterns.
  • Reviewed cleaning protocols and modifications where deemed effective and appropriate, based on medical guidance.
  • Initiated regular communication with the workforce to keep employees informed about the disease, our response, and guidance to prevent the spread of illness.

As are many Americans, we are concerned that with the fast-paced spread of the virus, it is inevitable that we will see additional cases in our area.  We want to ensure every effort is being made to slow the spread of the virus through our travel centers – particularly our mass transit systems.  While many Americans will need to practice social distancing in some way, we recognize that traveling via Metro, for many, is a requirement of their daily lives.  That is why we hope that you will continue to do everything possible to ensure the safety of travelers who use Metro services in the coming weeks and months.  The more we can slow the spread of the virus, the more time it gives healthcare professionals in our area to prepare, which will result in better care for those potentially affected. 

As WMATA and the Pandemic Task Force continue to monitor COVID-19-related developments and activate Metro’s Pandemic Flue Plan, we urge you to continue your devotion to passenger safety and the ability to quickly take necessary actions, and continue consulting with public health authorities.  We also ask that you please keep us apprised of your ongoing response to the virus.  We stand ready to help in any way we can.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a group of 14 Senators in urging major U.S. employers to commit that workers will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures to protect the public from further spread of the coronavirus.

In a letter to major industry groups, which together represent thousands of major companies employing millions of Americans, the Senators wrote, “As the United States mobilizes to respond to the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, we write to urge your member companies to prioritize their employees’ health, economic well-being, and security during this response. The companies you represent are some of the largest, most high profile companies in the United States.  The broader business community watches their actions closely and we believe they have an opportunity, and an obligation, to lead in this moment.”

Continued the Senators, “No one should be penalized by their employer or put in any financial duress for following CDC guidance. To that end, we encourage your member companies to commit to ensure that any employees or contractors who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities can count on basic protections like preservation of their employment status and basic financial forbearance.”

Specifically, the Senators called on employers to:

  • Ensure that workers will not lose their jobs if they are forced to self-quarantine or stay home to care for a sick family member;
  • Not require employees under quarantine to deplete sick or annual leave;
  • Offer flexible scheduling options, including telework and unscheduled leave, if employees are unable to report to work;
  • Ensure workers have access to financial assistance in the event of a sustained or widespread disruption due to coronavirus;
  • And work with insurance providers to ensure that workers can affordably access preventive care and treatment for coronavirus.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Copies of the letter were sent to the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

A similar letter was sent to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce by Sens. Warner and Kaine.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued a statement today after the Senate approved a bipartisan emergency funding bill to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) on a 96-1 vote:

“We are pleased that Congress quickly passed this important coronavirus response package on a bipartisan basis, and with sufficient funding to meet the threat posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. While the Trump Administration's initial $1.25 billion request fell far short of what state and federal agencies need to combat the spread of coronavirus, this $8.3 billion package will immediately direct needed resources to Virginia and other states – including funding for diagnostic testing, vaccine development, and additional resources for state and local responders who are on the front lines of a potential pandemic,” said the Senators. “This legislation is about making sure costs don't get in the way of a strong response to the threat posed by the coronavirus. Once it is signed into law, the Commonwealth will immediately receive $13.3 million in federal funding to help cover the costs of preparations for this public health emergency.”

“With the President's signature, state and local agencies in Virginia will be able to apply for further federal funds to reimburse for the costs of detecting, tracking and controlling the spread of the virus. While Virginia is fortunate that we have not experienced an outbreak, this bill sets aside $350 million that will be available to local authorities if our region does get hit. It also provides $500 million for masks, medication, protective equipment, and other much-needed medical supplies that can be distributed directly to hospitals and local health care providers. We are committed to working with federal, state and local health officials to make sure the Commonwealth is getting the federal support it needs to prepare for coronavirus, and we encourage all Virginians to follow the guidance of public health professionals to protect against its spread,” concluded the Senators.

The legislation also includes language based on Sen. Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, which reduces restrictions on the use of telehealth for public health emergency response, as well as $500 million to facilitate its implementation.

Earlier today, the Sens. Warner and Kaine wrote to the leadership of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce encouraging the organization's member businesses to commit that workers will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures to protect the public from further spread of the coronavirus. Sen. Warner also led a group of 14 Senators in urging major U.S. employers to make the same commitment. 

In a letter sent yesterday, the Senators urged health insurers and federal and state officials to eliminate cost burdens that could disincentivize people with coronavirus symptoms from seeking testing and treatment for the contagious illness. In a separate letter, the Senators called on the Trump Administration to end efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act that could jeopardize America's coronavirus response.

These letters represent the latest in a series of efforts by the Senators to push for a robust response to the threat of coronavirus. In January, Sens. Warner and Kaine asked the Administration to redirect available public health funds to combat the virus and to inform Congress of any additional resources needed to respond to the coronavirus. Earlier this week, in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence – who has been tasked with coordinating the federal government’s coronavirus response – Sen. Warner expressed concern over how the U.S. government has mobilized to combat the outbreak of coronavirus and urged the Vice President to devote the resources, expertise, and manpower needed to prevent this virus from spreading while also improving the government’s communication with Congress and the American public. This week, Sen. Kaine joined letters calling on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to provide details on their Departments’ plans for preparedness and response efforts to protect the safety and health of students, teachers, school staff, and workers in light of the emerging threat of the novel coronavirus.

The House of Representatives passed this coronavirus response package yesterday by a 415-2 vote. With Senate approval, the bill now heads to the President's desk, and President Trump has announced he intends to sign it into law.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued a statement today after bipartisan Capitol Hill negotiators reached an agreement on an emergency funding bill to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19):

“After the Trump Administration initially requested just $1.25 billion in new money for federal agencies to combat the spread of the coronavirus, we’re pleased to see that congressional negotiators were able to agree on an emergency spending package totaling $7.8 billion to help prepare for and treat the spread of coronavirus – including funding for diagnostic testing, vaccine development, and additional resources for state and local responders who are on the front lines of a potential pandemic,” said the Senators. “Once this bill is signed into law, Virginia will immediately receive $13.3 million in federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to cover some of the costs of preparing for this public health emergency.”

“Under the terms of this bipartisan bill, states and localities will also be able to apply for further federal funds to reimburse for the costs of detecting, tracking and controlling the spread of the virus. Furthermore, this bill sets aside $350 million that will be available to local authorities if our region gets hit by an outbreak – as well as $500 million for masks, medication, protective equipment and other much-needed medical supplies that will be distributed directly to hospitals and local providers. We will continue to work with state and local health officials to ensure that the Commonwealth is getting the federal support it needs to prepare for coronavirus, and we encourage all Virginians to heed the warnings of public health professionals to protect against its spread,” concluded the Senators.

The agreement also includes language based on Sen. Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, which cuts restrictions on the use of telehealth for public health emergency response, as well as $500 million to facilitate its implementation.

In January, Sens. Warner and Kaine  asked the Administration to redirect available public health funds to combat the virus and to inform Congress of any additional resources needed to respond to the coronavirus. Earlier this week, in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence – who has been tasked with coordinating the federal government’s coronavirus response – Sen. Warner expressed concern over how the U.S. government has mobilized to combat the outbreak of coronavirus, and urged the Vice President to devote the resources, expertise and manpower needed to prevent this virus from spreading while also improving the government’s communication with Congress and the American public. This week, Sen. Kaine joined letters calling on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to provide details on their Departments’ plans for preparedness and response efforts to protect the safety and health of students, teachers, school staff, and workers in light of the emerging threat of the novel coronavirus.

Earlier today, the Senators urged health insurers and federal and state officials to eliminate cost burdens that could disincentivize people with coronavirus symptoms from seeking testing and treatment for the contagious illness.

Draft text of the emergency funding bill is available here. The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation before the end of this week.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Patty Murray, Ron Wyden and 35 of their Democratic colleagues in demanding that Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar take immediate action to address the many ways the Trump Administration’s health care sabotage has undermined our preparedness for and ability to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Specifically, the Senators asked Secretary Azar to commit to making any potential coronavirus vaccine affordable to all, stop promoting junk plans that don’t cover the care necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, and stop promoting efforts to undermine Medicaid that jeopardize people’s health care.

Warner and Kaine believe no patient should be discouraged from accessing necessary medical care because of the risk of large bills or a lack of health coverage—especially the midst of a public health threat. But, as the Senators outlined in their letter to Azar, the Trump Administration has advanced a laundry list of policies that have made it harder for patients to get care, and thus weakened our ability to respond effectively to the coronavirus outbreak.

“When a patient who has potentially been exposed to the virus develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they should be able to seek appropriate medical care without being deterred by the risk of large bills. Patients often forego recommended tests and treatments because of cost,” said the Senators. “For this reason, we are deeply concerned both by your refusal to commit that a potential vaccine for coronavirus will be affordable to anyone who needs it, and this Administration’s numerous policies that make it harder for patients to get care during an outbreak.”

The Senators urged HHS to prioritize our nation’s public health and:

  • Commit to ensuring any future coronavirus vaccine is affordable for all. The Trump Administration has thus far refused to put in place price guardrails that would ensure everyone could access a potentially critical vaccine.
  • Rescind the junk plan rule. The Trump Administration has expanded and promoted junk plans that discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions  and don’t cover essential health benefits like hospital care, emergency care, laboratory services, or preventive services. These plans have already left a patient with an exorbitant bill for necessary care to help combat the spread of coronavirus. Junk plans could even stick patients with the bill for a potential coronavirus vaccine.
  • Withdraw the 1332 waiver guidance. The Administration released guidance encouraging states to apply for waivers that allow for the sale of coverage that doesn’t meet consumer protections for comprehensiveness and affordability. Reducing the comprehensiveness of coverage could leave patients paying bills for necessary care, like tests or vaccines.
  • Stop working to undermine Medicaid by promoting barriers like work requirements. Medicaid is crucial to our ability to respond to public health crises, but the Trump Administration’s attacks–like promoting harmful work requirements–have already led to patients being kicked off the program and losing access to health care.

The Senators also urged the Administration to stop undermining the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a partisan lawsuit. If the lawsuit is successful, millions of families could lose access to health care or be covered only by a junk plan, and any patient who contracts the coronavirus could face future discrimination from insurers for having a pre-existing condition.

The full text of the letter is below and HERE.

Dear Secretary Azar,

We write to express our serious concern that this Administration’s health care sabotage and absence of a plan to lower drug prices undermine our ability to respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and future infectious disease outbreaks within the United States. In a February 25th briefing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that a domestic COVID-19 outbreak is inevitable, warning “it’s not a question of if, but rather a question of when and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”[1] It is clear that all available measures should be employed to address this urgent public health threat.

When a patient who has potentially been exposed to the virus develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they should be able to seek appropriate medical care without being worried they cannot afford it. Patients often forego recommended tests and treatments because of cost.[2] For this reason, we are deeply concerned both by your refusal to commit that a potential vaccine for coronavirus will be affordable to anyone who needs it,[3] and by this Administration’s numerous policies that make it harder for patients to get care during an outbreak.

In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, when asked whether your Department would ensure that a vaccine will be affordable for anyone who needs it, you replied that you would “work to make it affordable,” but stopped short of committing that patients and families would be able to afford a vaccine. One consumer advocacy group estimates that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have already invested $700 million in coronavirus research, while this Administration is refusing to place guardrails around the cost of a potentially critical vaccine in the middle of a global outbreak.[4] We call on you to commit -- as Administration policy -- that anyone who needs it will be able to afford a vaccine for coronavirus.

This Administration’s health care sabotage also undermines readiness for a COVID-19 outbreak in the United States by endangering patient access to care.  The Administration has promoted junk insurance plans that can discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and that do not comply with consumer protections like the essential health benefits and out-of-pocket limitations, distorted 1332 waivers to permit states to undermine the market for comprehensive coverage, and proposed damaging changes to Medicaid – which is critical to helping states react to public health emergencies – like block grants and work requirements.

Just this week, a patient in Miami, Florida presented at a hospital with flu-like symptoms after returning from a work trip to China.[5] He realized his symptoms might not be a simple common cold and felt compelled to get tested for coronavirus. Fortunately, tests confirmed he had seasonal influenza and not COVID-19. Unfortunately, two weeks later, he received a bill with charges totaling $3,270 and a note that his short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI) or “junk” plan would not pay the costs without further documentation. More bills may follow, and the insurer that sold his “junk” plan is requiring the patient to provide three years of medical records to prove that his flu is not related to a pre-existing condition. Even if the insurance covers the encounter – which it’s not clear they will – the patient would still be on the hook to pay $1,400 out-of-pocket for the brief diagnostic encounter.

This patient’s experience is a foreboding tale about the public health catastrophe that will ensue if patients avoid seeking a diagnosis because the Trump Administration is once again allowing insurers to stick patients with huge bills for necessary care. As the patient put it, “How can they expect normal citizens to contribute to eliminating the potential risk of person-to-person spread if hospitals are waiting to charge us $3,270 for a simple blood test and a nasal swab?”

Insurers who sell junk plans are allowed to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions by denying them coverage, excluding critical benefits and charging higher premiums. Additionally, the Trump Administration does not require junk plans to comply with consumer protections that limit out-of-pocket costs or require coverage of essential health benefits, including those that are needed to pay for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19 like hospital care, emergency care, laboratory services, or preventive services. Junk plans aren’t even required to cover preventive services at no cost to patients, meaning they could stick patients with the bill for a potential coronavirus vaccine in the middle of an outbreak.

The Trump Administration’s subsequent 1332 guidance creates additional risks for addressing outbreaks. In addition to expanding the sale of STLDI, this guidance proposes that states allow the sale of other kinds of plans that would not cover essential health benefits, including laboratory services, hospital services, emergency care, and preventive care. This guidance would even let states encourage residents to sign up for junk plans by using taxpayer dollars to subsidize them.

Additionally, instead of promoting policies to support one of our most effective public health tools, the Medicaid program, this Administration is doing everything in its power to undermine it. Medicaid plays a critical role in helping states respond to disasters and public health emergencies. For example, Medicaid was able to provide enhanced funding and coverage in response to public health crises such as the Zika virus outbreak in Puerto Rico, the water contamination in Flint, Michigan, and the national opioid epidemic.[6]

Yet, this Administration continues to attack  the Medicaid program at every turn. As part of its 2021 budget, this Administration proposes to slash Medicaid by $920 billion. It has also proposed to gut Medicaid through block grants and caps that would restrict the ability of states to respond to public health emergencies like the coronavirus. It continues to support other harmful proposals, including policies included in the Medicaid fiscal accountability regulation that would slash funding to states, rescissions of access protections, the public charge rule and more that threaten  access to essential care for those impacted by public health crises. It also has promoted harmful proposals like work requirements, which have led to patients being kicked off the program and losing access to affordable health care.

Finally, if successful, the Administration’s ACA lawsuit would rip away health coverage from millions of Americans benefiting from the Medicaid expansion and the exchanges who depend on these programs for access to essential care including preventive services such as vaccines and diagnostic tests. The Administration is trying to allow all insurers to once again be able to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. If the lawsuit is successful, a patient who comes down with COVID-19 could face future discrimination by their insurer, denying them crucial care.

To give patients and providers the tools to grapple with this developing public health crisis, we ask that you take immediate action to ensure the affordability of a potential coronavirus vaccine. We also ask that you rescind the Administration’s “junk” plan rule, withdraw the 2018 guidance that undermines implementation of the1332 waiver guardrails as Congress intended, and stop the ongoing attacks on the Medicaid program, including the recently proposed block grant policy and other policies that would undermine this critical public health tool. Now more than ever, it is essential to protect patients and families and to encourage them to seek appropriate care when they become ill. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today urged health insurers and federal and state officials to eliminate cost burdens that could disincentivize people with coronavirus symptoms from seeking testing and treatment for the contagious illness.

“We are fortunate that to date there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Virginia. While public health officials have warned us to expect the virus to spread, we must work to contain the virus as much as possible. In order to limit the spread of this deadly disease, we must ensure that at-risk individuals seek medical care as soon as possible – and that potential cost burdens are not a deterrent to seeking diagnosis and treatment. In Virginia, about 10 percent of residents lack any form of medical insurance. Among the insured, many individuals still face high deductibles and additional out-of-pocket costs that could be a deterrent to seeking medical care in a timely fashion,” wrote the Senators in several letters today to Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Association of Health Plans and the State Corporation Commission, which regulate various health care plans in Virginia. 

The Senators continued, “It is uncertain what the entirety of patient costs associated with COVID-19 may be, but we have already seen disturbing reports of patients left with enormous bills after appropriately and responsibly seeking medical care. In Miami, a patient with healthcare insurance returned from China and sought medical treatment for flu-like symptoms, but still received a $3,270 dollar medical bill after his hospitalization. An American who was evacuated from Wuhan received a $3,918 in medical bills after he and his 3-year-old daughter were required to spend several days in an isolation unit at a local children’s hospital. If patients fear the financial consequences of seeking appropriate screening, treatment and quarantine, it will severely handicap the government’s ability to control the spread of this virus.”

A copy of the letter to Vice President Mike Pence can be found here.

A copy of the letter to Governor Ralph Northam can be found here.

A copy of the letter to the Virginia Association of Health Plans can be found here.

A copy of the letter to the State Corporation Commission can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed concern over how the U.S. government has mobilized to combat the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), including how the Administration is communicating with state, local and federal officials, and Americans impacted by the virus. In his letter, Sen. Warner urged the Vice President to devote the resources, expertise and manpower needed to prevent this virus from spreading while also improving the government’s communication with Congress and the American public.     

“I am concerned that the Administration’s response to date has not been aggressive enough to effectively combat the virus and fails to underscore the threat posed by this virus,” wrote Sen. Warner. “I have been deeply frustrated with the U.S. government’s communication with Congress, my constituents and their family members impacted by the virus, and the American people more broadly.  I understand that individuals at the State Department, including in embassies around the world, the CDC and other federal agencies, have been working around the clock.  Yet despite this flurry of efforts, the U.S. government has not established an effective communication plan that tracks specific cases and communicates out guidance to individuals, their family members and Congressional offices working to get them help.  Nor has it effectively pushed back on disinformation around the coronavirus or given adequate information to the American public.”

“Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, I have been in frequent communication with a number of Virginians, who were traveling in Asia and were unable to return home,” he continued. “The U.S. government’s task force was unable to provide these folks with basic information on a timely basis about what they could expect for the next 24 hours and how they could be medically cleared.  Questions such as where they would sleep the following night, whether they should book a hotel or flight, and how they could be reunited with their spouses in country, went unanswered for far too long.  In addition, my office, despite repeated outreach to numerous government entities, struggled to get the basic information these constituents needed.  This process was opaque, time-consuming and ultimately unsatisfactory for my constituents.  We must do better.  We need to put better systems in place, especially as the virus continues to spread.”

To date, coronavirus has sickened more than 90,000 people around the world, killing more than 3,000 individuals. In the U.S., 88 cases of the virus have been confirmed and there have been two fatalities.

In his letter, Sen. Warner also emphasized the need for a government response that includes, at a minimum, a request for emergency funds from Congress, and an established communications strategy to ensure that government officials and the American public have the latest information they need to remain prepared and safe.

In January, Sen. Warner asked the Administration to redirect available public health funds to combat the virus and to inform Congress of any additional resources that are needed. The Administration has since requested $2.5 billion in emergency funds – an amount far below what most public health experts believe is needed to adequately prepare and respond to the virus. Congressional appropriators from both parties are currently working to negotiate and draft an emergency funding package to combat the coronavirus, which the Senate is expected to take up in the coming days.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

Vice President Mike Pence

The White House

Office of the Vice President

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Vice President Pence:

I am writing to convey my concerns over how the U.S. government has mobilized to combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), including how the Administration is communicating with state, local and federal officials responding to the virus and Americans at large impacted by the virus.  As you take over the leadership of the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus, I ask that you devote the resources, expertise and manpower needed to prevent this virus from spreading and that you improve the U.S. government’s communication with Congress and the American public.  

As you well know, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 90,000 people around the world, and killed more than 3,000 people to date.  While there have only been 88 confirmed cases in the U.S. and two fatalities, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that the virus is expected to spread within the U.S.  I am concerned that the Administration’s response to date has not been aggressive enough to effectively combat the virus and fails to underscore the threat posed by this virus. 

Earlier this month, I wrote to the Administration asking them to redirect available public health funds to combat this virus and to inform my colleagues and me of any additional resources that are needed.  This week, the Trump Administration asked Congress for only $2.5 billion dollars in order to contain the coronavirus and to try to prevent it from spreading in the U.S.  A number of independent public health experts have expressed concern that this amount will not be enough to effectively prepare, and both Republican and Democratic Members of the House and Senate have publically agreed this request is likely insufficient.

In addition, I have been deeply frustrated with the U.S. government’s communication with Congress, my constituents and their family members impacted by the virus, and the American people more broadly.  I understand that individuals at the State Department, including in embassies around the world, the CDC and other federal agencies, have been working around the clock.  Yet despite this flurry of efforts, the U.S. government has not established an effective communication plan that tracks specific cases and communicates out guidance to individuals, their family members and Congressional offices working to get them help.  Nor has it effectively pushed back on disinformation around the coronavirus or given adequate information to the American public. 

For example, since the outbreak of the coronavirus, I have been in frequent communication with a number of Virginians, who were traveling in Asia and were unable to return home.  The U.S. government’s task force was unable to provide these folks with basic information on a timely basis about what they could expect for the next 24 hours and how they could be medically cleared.  Questions such as where they would sleep the following night, whether they should book a hotel or flight, and how they could be reunited with their spouses in country, went unanswered for far too long.  In addition, my office, despite repeated outreach to numerous government entities, struggled to get the basic information these constituents needed.  This process was opaque, time-consuming and ultimately unsatisfactory for my constituents.  We must do better.  We need to put better systems in place, especially as the virus continues to spread.

I urge you to prioritize implementing an effective and reliable mobilization effort to support our nation’s response to the threat of coronavirus.  This response – at minimum – should include an emergency appropriations request to Congress with sufficient funding levels based upon recommendations from public health experts on the front lines of this outbreak.  In addition, I urge you to establish an organized and reliable communications strategy that ensures state, local and federal officials and the American public have the most up-to-date information they need to remain prepared and safe.  Thank you in advance for you attention to this letter, and I look forward to working together on this critical issue moving forward.

Sincerely,

MARK R. WARNER

 

cc:       

Secretary Alex Azar

Secretary Mike Pompeo

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) addressed the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and what it means for individuals in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Specifically, Sen. Warner expressed concern with the Trump Administration’s response to the outbreak, and stressed the need for a more aggressive response in order to effectively combat the coronavirus. He also encouraged Virginians to heed instructions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and directed Virginians to the CDC website for the most up-to-date information.

A transcript of his remarks is available below:  

“Hello, I’m Virginia Senator Mark Warner. Today, I’d like to talk to you about the coronavirus outbreak and what it means for the Commonwealth.

“As folks may know, coronavirus has sickened more than 82,000 people around the world. Almost three thousand people have died – now, mostly all in China. In the United States, there have been sixty confirmed cases – none of which are currently in the Commonwealth. However, the Center for Disease Control – CDC – has stated that the virus is expected spread within the U.S. on some level.

“My office has been in regular contact with officials on the ground in Virginia. Our priority is to make sure they have the resources they need and are fully prepared to respond to any potential cases of coronavirus in the Commonwealth. In addition, I’ve been closely tracking the actions of the Trump Administration and working with federal officials to make sure they’re taking this threat seriously.

“Earlier this month, I wrote to the Administration asking them to redirect available public health funds to combat this virus and to inform me and my fellow Senators of any additional resources they may need. This week the Trump Administration asked Congress for $2.5 billion dollars in order to contain the coronavirus and to try to prevent it from spreading in the U.S.

“I am reviewing this request, but frankly, based upon the initial feedback of public health experts, I am concerned that the Administration’s response to date may not be aggressive enough to effectively combat the virus. I’m also concerned that we will need a more robust response – particularly in funding – if we are going to be fully prepared.

“I plan to continue working with folks in the Commonwealth and at the federal level to ensure the health and safety of all our fellow Virginians. In the meantime, I urge all Virginians to heed CDC advice, including travel advisories and tips on how to keep your family safe. For more information, visit www.CDC.gov. We will get through this. Thanks so much.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in sponsoring a bipartisan Senate resolution (S.J. Res. 6) that would immediately remove the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Following this month’s elections in Virginia, the Commonwealth is poised to be the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA. If ratified, the ERA would finally guarantee full and equal protections to women in the Constitution.

“More than 96 years after the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed, Virginia is about to take a giant step forward for women’s equality by becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA,” Sen. Warner said. “This resolution will ensure that, even though this fight took decades, women’s equality will finally be fully and expressly recognized in our Constitution.” 

“This year marks the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th amendment, yet women are still not explicitly recognized as equal under our Constitution,” said Sen. Kaine. “This resolution would ensure there’s still time to ratify the ERA, which will finally guarantee equal protections to women and strengthen our ability to fight gender discrimination. I hope Virginia will make history by becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA.”

“Thank you to Senators Warner and Kaine for their strong support of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex.  Today I filed my first bill for the 2020 General Assembly Session, to make Virginia the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing women the same legal rights and protections as men under the law. Our Commonwealth stands poised to make history – and with champions like Senator Warner and Senator Kaine in Washington, we can finally make sure that the Equal Rights Amendment becomes a part of the U.S. Constitution,” said State Senator Jennifer McClellan, who filed a resolution in the Virginia Senate today to ratify the ERA

“Having worked with so many activists across the Commonwealth on two ERA bus tours, I know how important this issue is to women across Virginia. And as one of the first women to graduate from Virginia Military Institute, this fight is personal. It's time to enshrine women’s fundamental rights in the United States Constitution, and I thank Senators Warner and Kaine for being steadfast advocates for equality,” said State Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who filed a resolution in the Virginia House of Delegates today to ratify the ERA.

Thirty-seven states, of the 38 needed, have already ratified the amendment, which Congress approved in 1972. Only one more state is needed among Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah. The Virginia Senate passed a federal Equal Rights Amendment measure in January, but it was blocked by the then Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates. With both chambers now under Democratic control, Virginia is expected to soon become the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

The bipartisan U.S. Senate resolution (S.J. Res. 6) supported by Warner and Kaine would immediately remove the ratification deadline, paving the way for full and equal protections to women in the Constitution. Article V of the Constitution contains no time limits for ratification of amendments, and the states finally ratified the Twenty-Seventh Amendment in 1992 regarding Congressional pay raises more than 200 years after Congress proposed it in 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights. The ERA time limit was contained in a joint resolution, not the actual text of the amendment, and Congress has already once voted to extend the ERA ratification deadline. The bipartisan resolution sponsored by Warner and Kaine would put to bed any potential ambiguity over adding the ERA to the Constitution once Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify. 

The Equal Rights Amendment would finally give women full and equal protection under the Constitution. It reads as follows:

  • Section 1.  Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
  • Section 2.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
  • Section 3.  This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

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